If you love driving a high-performance vehicle, but you’ve never piloted a Bentley Bentayga on a high-elevation dirt road through Colorado’s San Juan Mountains … well, then, you haven’t lived.
The Bentley Motors corporation recently offered me that opportunity on a visit to remote Dunton Hot Springs. Who was I to say no?
I don’t normally drive a luxury car. My everyday ride is an aged Toyota Camry. So it was a special treat, upon my arrival at the Durango-La Plata County Airport, to pick up a key to the world’s fastest SUV and follow GPS instructions for a 90-mile drive to an isolated Relais & Chateaux resort community.
The route took me from Durango, a historic Old West town of 17,000, to within a stone’s throw of Mesa Verde National Park, before it turned north toward the 14,000-foot peaks of the Lizard Head Wilderness. The nearer I got to the mountains, the more the driving conditions deteriorated — from U.S. highway to state and county roads, and finally to a graded dirt track that might have been more suitable for a horse and buggy.
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But with its 12-cylinder engine and balanced torque, the Bentayga performed as smoothly as it might have done on a superhighway paved with lambskin. I didn’t push it to its maximum velocity of 187 miles per hour — okay, I might have accelerated to half that speed on one long, lonely stretch of road — but I felt as though I could have taken the SUV anywhere without a worry.
Dunton Hot Springs
Dunton Hot Springs was a beautiful location for a rendezvous with Bentley corporate execs and a handful of writers from across the country. Nestled at 8,600 feet on the tranquil West Fork of the Dolores River, 20 miles south of Telluride, the 19th-century silver-mining village exists as a cluster of log structures focused around an old Saloon and Dance Hall.
This is the resort’s gathering place. While the rustic character of yesteryear was preserved in a seven-year restoration (completed by owner Christoph Henkel in 2003), you’ll find all the comforts of the 21st century within. That includes a level of dining that is decidedly gourmet, thanks to the executive chef Basil Yu, previously of the venerable Vanderbilt Hall in Newport, Rhode Island.
Lodging is full board. Thirteen log cabins are priced between $900 and $2,100 a night, Memorial Day weekend through October. (Prices drop about $300 in the offseason.) That may not seem a great deal for modest one-room cottages, albeit with attached private baths. But the units are impeccably furnished and decorated, and their distance from major supply centers greatly boosts the cost of maintenance.
The natural hot springs may be found both inside and outside a spacious bath house. Dunton’s springs seep through a tectonic fault over a riverside area of about 200 acres. Varying in temperature from 85 to 106 degrees Fahrenheit, their mineral composition is calcium bicarbonate with dissolved iron and manganese and a dash of lithium.
A short hike (and shorter drive) down the road from the main settlement is one of the best stretches of the West Fork Dolores for fly fishing. Here the stream is slow and meandering, having tumbled from its alpine source into this broad meadow. Cutthroat, rainbow and brook trout abound. The caddis hatch dictated my choice of fly when I donned my waterproof waders and plunged, step by step, into the chilly waters.
Either the fish weren’t hungry or my casting technique was flawed, but that wasn’t the point of this exercise. The point was to show off the Bentayga Mulliner, which Bentley’s promotional literature describes as “the most luxurious, hand-built, all-terrain vehicle on Earth.” This SUV offers a full fly-fishing setup as a custom option. Built into the rear of the vehicle was a saddle-leather pocket, trimmed with carpet, that contained four rods in cross-stitched tubes, a pair of landing nets, a master tackle station, a refreshment case and a trunk for stowing waders.
Pillars of Luxury
The “pillars” of Bentley auto-making philosophy are luxury, performance and versatility, product marketing manager Jon Simons told me. My ability to travel comfortably on an unpaved road 10,000 feet above sea level — dodging snowbanks, fallen trees and weatherworn ruts, and never once feeling like I was driving on washboard — was proof that Bentley has succeeded in its goals.
Given the Bentayga’s rigorous road trial schedule, it’s not surprising that it does well in extreme conditions. The SUV has been tested in the Arctic, in the Arabian dunes, and in the rugged Andean Antiplano. It is designed with increased axle articulation to enhance off-road grip, and an active-roll control system that minimizes body roll on corners and improves handling and comfort over bumpy roads.
Sharp lines and flowing curves characterize the design of all Bentley vehicles. The muscular front power line traces its origin to aerospace manufacturing. The handcrafted interior features solid metal detailing, framed by wood veneers and hand-stitched leather, lit by a panoramic sunroof.
Of course, this luxury doesn’t come cheap. Indeed, if you have to ask how much the Bentayga costs, you probably can’t afford it. For the sake of details, the standard Bentayga starts around $230,000, and fully loaded comes in at nearly $300,000. The even more luxurious Bentayga Mulliner, a special-order field sports edition, has a base price of about $300,000. There’s also a Bentayga Diesel, which can get 600 miles on one tank of gas.
Count on me to invest in a Bentley when I make my second million.