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By Kathleen O’Connor

There’s something altogether thrilling about defying the laws of gravity. Just ask 70-year-old Kentucky native Bob Lawrence, who travels to Durango religiously every spring with one goal: to fly through the air with the greatest of ease on opening day at Soaring Treetop Adventures.

“It’s just a thrill,” Lawrence said. “You can do tricks on some of the lines, which I’ve become pretty good at. Especially hanging upside-down.”

Remotely located 32 miles north of Durango amid the pristine beauty of the San Juan National Forest, this exhilarating zipline experience is like no other. Touting 27 scenic spans, 34 platforms, and over 1.5 miles of ziplines, Soaring Treetop Adventures is the longest (and first-ever) zipline course in the United States.

But adrenaline-charged ziplines are only part of the story. Soaring also offers a richly interwoven family history and a profound sense of harmony and connection to nature, courtesy of the surrounding aspen and old-growth ponderosa pine trees.

The seeds for Soaring Treetop Adventures were planted by a curious kid, Denny Beggrow, who fell in love with the beauty of the San Juan Mountains during family vacations at the former Ah! Wilderness Dude Ranch. In 1969, 19-year-old Beggrow purchased 180 acres adjacent to the dude ranch and started creating his vision of a secluded five-star luxury resort from the ground up. He opened Tall Timber Resort in 1971, and the destination quickly grew into one of two five-star accommodations in Colorado, a distinction it held for 40 years. For Beggrow, the focus was always on offering an exceptional guest experience and many activities, including horseback riding, tennis, fly fishing, golf, and helicopter picnics. Tall Timber became a popular posh retreat frequented by celebrities and honeymooners.

By the early 2000s, the property operated as a family affair, with Beggrow’s son, Johnroy, running the resort. Under Johnroy’s helm, the family pondered, “What else can we offer our guests?” The answer was, of course, ziplines. The Beggrow family brainstormed how to build ziplines while protecting the property’s 200-year-old (and older) ponderosas. Johnroy designed and patented a tree trunk hugging system that tightens during zipline loading and releases as the platform unloads. This unique design requires no hooks, bolts, or screws penetrating the trees or bark. Sap flow and growth are unimpeded, so the system does not harm the trees.

In 2004, the family built the first few spans with one image in mind: the ethereal, forested, elven village of Lothlórien from J.R.R Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings. Lights strewn from the trees invited night soaring into the activity mix. The Beggrows built more spans and platforms, and ziplining took on a life of its own. After much success with the course, the family phased out the resort entirely in 2008.

Today, Soaring opens to adventure-seeking visitors from mid-May to mid-October. Like Lothlórien, its mythical inspiration, the voyage to this treetop haven is an adventure of its own. Soaring’s remote alpine location is accessible only by train, so guests ride the historic, scenic Durango & Silverton Narrow Gauge Railroad, passing glacier-carved gorges rising above icy whitewater rapids. Upon arrival, guests are greeted outside by attentive, friendly zipline guides known as “Sky Rangers” and members of the Beggrow family, including Hunter, the lovable and chatty chocolate Labrador Retriever. After donning harnesses, the Sky Rangers lead the guests safely to the first of many stainless-steel platforms for their initial voyage through the trees.

Throughout the journey, knowledgeable Eco Rangers share engaging facts about the ecology and biodiversity of the San Juan Mountains. For example, did you know that in a pinch, the bark of the aspen tree produces a white powder that, when applied to the skin, acts as a natural sunscreen? One of several highlights of the day includes meeting “Sheila,” a majestic ponderosa pine over 300 years old. Guests are encouraged to sniff her bark, which smells delightfully of vanilla cream soda with hints of butterscotch reminiscent of weekends at Grandma’s house.

After a delicious four-course gourmet lunch served on elevated platforms among the trees, guests continue their flights of fancy, zipping through aspen groves and traversing the boisterous Animas River. The day culminates with a 1,400-foot span that has guests reaching invigorating speeds of up to 40 miles per hour. As Bob Lawrence from Kentucky pondered, picking a favorite zip is “like trying to pick your favorite child.”

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