It was in the high 90’s but felt like 110; the humidity was high and the car was hot as we headed out on our journey to Colorado. The middle of summer can be pretty steamy when you live on the Texas coast and we were looking forward to a cooler change of scenery.
The Colorado trip was part vacation and part work. The magazine wanted to do a feature spread on southern Colorado and had hooked us up with overnight stays in 3 different areas across the state. We would be staying 1 historic hotel and 2 unique B&B’s - breakfast was included at each one! Sweet!
The terrain noticeably began to change north of San Antonio as the foothills of the Hill Country appeared. The first stop on our journey was Big Spring, Texas and we would be staying overnight at the historic Hotel Settles.
As all Texans know, getting from one end of Texas to the other is more than a comfortable day's drive! So where was our first day of adventure going to find us?
A comment from Marie about Hotel Settles in Big Spring, Texas caught my attention and it was within 7 hours from the Coast.
Hotel Settles opened on October 1, 1930 and was built by Will R. and Lillian Settles, following the discovery of oil on their ranch. Designed by architect David Castle, the building was constructed as a solid concrete, 15¬story, 150¬room hotel with a restaurant and a pharmacy.
At the time, it was the tallest building between El Paso and Ft. Worth. The Settles family owned the hotel for two years, but sold it when the Great Depression gripped the nation and their oil revenues diminished. The hotel went through several owners in the ensuing years.
What would make this natural crossroad of Texas come to be? Its name says it all, Big Spring, a single, large spring that issued into a small gorge between the base of Scenic Mountain and a neighboring hill in the southwestern part of the city limits. It was of major importance to all life in the surrounding area.
In the early 1840s, it was the center of a territorial dispute between Comanche and Pawnee tribes, and has been a major watering hole for wildlife and prehistoric man in this semiarid area. Early military scouting reports and pioneer accounts describe the water as cold, clear, and dependable. The spring pool was approximately 15 feet (5 m) deep, with the overflow going only a short distance down the draw before it sank beneath the surface.
Long used by regional inhabitants, both permanent and nomadic, with a large number of locally collected artifacts testifying to its heavy occupation, the spring sat astride the several branches of the later developed Comanche War Trail as they converged on this important water hole from beyond Texas. As pioneers began to settle the western territories, the spring continued to serve as a major watering place on the southern route of the Gold Rush Trail of the early 1850s and continued in use well beyond that time, as the cross continental trail turned into a major road for later settlers coming into the area.
Now how cool is that? Just think about pioneers and Indians, prehistoric man and wildlife, a central place offering the wearied traveler a place to refresh and resupply. That sounds just about perfect as we rolled into town.
When we saw the Hotel Settles on the horizon, its stateliness commanded over the city. Its survival is all but a miracle. As the energy crisis of the 1970s came to an end, The Hotel was unable to sustain operations as well as repairs to a building that was now more than 50 years old. Sadly, the hotel closed its doors in 1982.
In 2006, G. Brint Ryan, a man with a vision, purchased the hotel. Ryan, who grew up in Big Spring, was determined to revitalize this aging landmark, and invested $30 million in its renovation. Under his guidance, the building was impeccably restored, and designed with the rich history of the area in mind. The original Grand Ballroom was fully refurbished, with meticulous detail given to its historic context. Other rooms were restored and given names in homage to their regional history.
After checking in, we stepped up the hotel’s grand staircase, and at the landing, we found a portrait of Ryan’s mother. Virginia Ann Wilson Ryan, an inspiration to her son, instilling in him to do difficult tasks the right way. The Hotel Settles is living proof of this inspiration. With a planned 1-night stay, we were anxious to discover the hidden gems of Big Spring. First on my mind though, was dinner. Hotel Settles offers two unique dining experiences, Settles Grill and the Pharmacy Bar & Parlor. Settles Grill is a Big Springs restaurant with delicious Texan comfort food for breakfast, lunch and dinner.
The Pharmacy Bar & Parlor mixes classic cocktails and offers a short but very selective menu for a more casual dining experience. Being as I’ll soon be leaving the Great State of Texas, it was going to be a steak night for me. Settles Grill offers the perfect choice, a medium rare, tender as your heart, 16oz ribeye steak! This gem is accompanied by garlic mashed potatoes, lemon butter broccolini, oak barrel bourbon steak sauce and tobacco onions. It was difficult not to tear into it while I waited on Marie’s choice to be placed before her. She settled on the grilled salmon, which was paired with Ginger BBQ butter, roasted pepper and asparagus quinoa and spiced pumpkin seed. If you're thinking that sounds good, it definitely was!
Headed back to the room with full bellies and looking to relax. We were extremely happy that the bed in our room was the same first class quality as everything else and sleep came easy and peacefully. Rested and refreshed, we were back on the road early and on our way to Durango, our first stay in our adventure of discovery of all that Southern Colorado has to offer.