What started out as one family’s personal outdoor escape is now available as a boutique-style vacation destination. The accommodations are modern and more upscale than rustic but not so much that you can’t trudge back to your room after a dusty trail ride.
Starting at $500 a night per person all-inclusive, what you’re paying for at Canyon Madness Ranch is access to owner Dennis Law’s mostly unspoiled Southwestern terrain along with the equipment and expert staff he’s assembled for his favorite outdoor activities, with an emphasis on equestrian and firearm-related sports.
The staff at the ranch called my cellphone a few hours before we were scheduled to arrive to remind us to fill our vehicle with gas before getting on Highway 120. There would not be anywhere to refuel once we turned onto the state highway in northeast New Mexico, and there would be at least a 30-minute drive on gravel roads when we left that highway. Cellphone service for this portion of the drive would be unlikely, they said, adding a warning to slow down for the first big hill, then slow down more for the next one.
Once on the property, a working ranch with about 100 head of Angus cattle, more than 30 horses, and nearly a dozen employees, we were two hours from the nearest grocery store and hospital. The nearest commercial flights land 160 miles southwest in Santa Fe, though just 80 miles away is Las Vegas (New Mexico) Municipal Airport, the nearest general aviation airport with services. Rent a car or arrange in advance with the ranch staff for transportation; you won’t need a vehicle once at Canyon Madness Ranch.
Law said he has plans to add a helipad in the near future, followed by a private airstrip if there is demand from guests. The 73-year-old retired surgeon explained that he always prefers driving to the ranch from his home in Denver, even though aviation plays a critical role in the Mile High City practice he was involved with—it was among the first in the region to offer air ambulance service using rotary-wing and fixed-wing aircraft.
The Canyon Madness project started five years ago when Law bought 14,000 acres of the former Maddox Ranch to build a home where his large extended family could vacation together among the canyons, hills, valleys, and streams and enjoy some of their favorite outdoor activities: sport shooting and a variety of horse-riding styles.
“I don’t like to hunt but I do enjoy shooting as a sport, from shooting clays to long-range, sniper-type shooting,” Law said.
He also envisioned a remote space where the family could hunker down together if necessary. That happened sooner than he expected with the coronavirus pandemic in 2020, just as construction of the lodge was finishing.
Law said he spent about $1 million to improve access roads and $7 million to build the 18,000-square-foot lodge designed by architect Alejandro Uribe, with whom he’d previously worked on a project in Cabo San Lucas, Mexico. The architecture is unexpected in this setting, though it blends in with nature as much as possible and creates stunning views from every room of the lodge.
There are eight suites with king-size beds spread out across a pair of two-story structures, and the buildings are connected via bi-level great rooms and massive metal-alloy decks cantilevered about 700 feet above Canadian River Canyon, The top level has an open-air game room; the ground level great room has an enclosed dining and lounge area alongside a commercial kitchen.
Law completed the lodge’s interior decorating himself, using his private gun and art collection. I found myself wanting to know more about the eclectic mix of paintings, sculptures, and artifacts from international artists. A large outdoor whirlpool spa is tucked next to the lodge and has the same canyon rim view.
Newly built equestrian facilities include a covered riding arena, several stabling facilities, a jumping course, and a variety of trails. There is a pistol range, rifle range, and championship sporting clay course; plus, trap shooting, an archery range, axe throwing, and long-range shooting experiences.
Construction took about three years, and Law said the massive effort made him want to open the ranch to guests so that it could be used more than the cumulative four weeks he’d likely spend there in a typical year. (The name Canyon Madness is a result of frequently hearing he must be mad to build such a structure in so remote an area and perched on a cliff.)
He may have inadvertently stumbled into the next travel trend: remote vacations that offer plenty of outdoor space, no more than 16 adult guests, no standing in lines, and all food and drink prepared by an on-site chef and lodge supervisor.
Plan on no cell service on property and though our suite had a television, the satellite TV service wasn’t working. I didn’t mind one bit—madness would be coming to Canyon Madness Ranch and staring at a screen instead of the jaw-dropping scenery everywhere you turn.
The drive onto the property offers sweeping views of the ranch, but the most stunning vantage points are found once you’re out of your vehicle and surveying the ranch’s two bookend canyons. The steep Canadian River Canyon, with layers of red sandstone and moss rock, plus sunset backdrops, is visible from the lodge. A view from the rim of Encierro Box Canyon is a short walk (they’ll outfit you with snake guards to wear) from the lodge, or a ride on an ATV to an area where you can see the deep crevices in the red soil. They are spectacular from above, but go down into the canyon to get a sense of how deep they are.
“These crevices are 20 to 40 feet wide, 20 feet tall. You might think you’re on Mars except for all the green in the landscape,” said Law, adding that his favorite activity on the ranch is riding one of his Gypsy Vanner horses through the otherworldly setting.
It was also one of our favorite areas to explore. We stayed four nights and spent our days on guided ATV rides to scenic overlooks and down into the canyons; hiking from the lodge to the river and scenic rock formations; shooting $20,000 rifles we’ll likely never have the chance to shoot again; and spending time with the ranch’s three dozen horses (the ranch offers quarter horses, paints, and others in addition to the Gypsies).
We appreciated that the staff was willing to tailor the activities to our experience and comfort levels. It was easy to see that their expertise would allow them to handle customization, whether you’re looking for a tame first-time experience or an extreme adventure.