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October 31, 2014

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Historic preservation:

Elko mustang sanctuary being transformed into pricey safari resort

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The Daily Free Press, Ross Andreson / AP

This July 26, 2013, photo shows a variety of teepees that are available as accommodations at the Mustang Monument Wild Horse Eco Resort in Wells, Nev. The resort has a herd of about 700 free-roaming horses, and aims to be an engine for the nonprofit organization Saving America’s Mustangs.

Saving Mustangs

This July 26, 2013, photo shows the stars and stripes art work that greets visitors at the Mustang Monument Wild Horse Eco Resort in Wells, Nev. The resort has a herd of about 700 free-roaming horses, and aims to be an engine for the nonprofit organization Saving America's Mustangs. Launch slideshow »

Buzzing along U.S. Highway 93 at 70 mph, it’s easy to overlook the turnoff for an eco-sanctuary retreat hidden just beyond view in the valley to the east.

The resort, named Mustang Monument after the site’s distinguishing draw, a herd of about 700 free-roaming horses, is to be an engine for the nonprofit organization Saving America’s Mustangs.

Organization founder Madeleine Pickens, a successful businesswoman and wife of billionaire T. Boon Pickens, said the horses were headed for slaughter had she not purchased the lot at an auction several years ago and housed them on ranch property south of Wells.

Since then, Pickens and the U.S. Bureau of Land Management have slowly worked toward opening Mustang Monument for tourism, slated for June 2014.

A stay at Mustang Monument is meant to be a blend of rustic and luxury, an outdoor getaway to escape distractions with 24-hour on-call room service availability.

The guest facilities are clusters of high-end teepees. Walkways between teepee villages are lined with solar-powered lights. Each teepee cluster has a larger communal game room and dining room teepee where guests can mingle and socialize.

At the forefront, the resort bills itself as a place to see wild horses.

“It’s like a Western safari,” said Kristina Carlson, Mustang Monument sales and marketing manager.

In a covered wagon, visitors will have an opportunity to ride out on the range where the horses roam.

Organizers invited a number of guests and media recently for a sneak peek.

“It’s good to kind of get what people think about it first before we have customers so we know what we need to tweak,” Carlson said.

The teepee rooms, furnished and replete with decor, resemble catalogue set-ups. Trinkets, candles, decorative teacup holders and wicker baskets adorn dresser tops and desks. Extra blankets, sheets and pillows sit folded in an ottoman at the foot of the bed.

In the game room, a stocked bar hugs one side. In the center, a square table holds stacks of colored dice, surrounded by cushioned chairs. Upturned wine glasses rest in designed slots of the table’s wooden edge.

And how much does it cost?

The price reflects the posh: Per night, a single visitor will pay $1,200. A couple can share a teepee for $1,400 a night.

“While that price point might be high, it’s not that high when you think that it’s all inclusive,” Carlson said. “Three meals a day by a gourmet chef, all your beverages, all your activities are included.”

However, if customers wish to utilize the ritzy spa teepee where they can order a facial or massage, Carlson noted, that will cost extra.

The website states a minimum night limit might be set.

But while the comforts of luxury can attract visitors, steep prices that accompany it can also repel them.

The Elko County Visitors Authority has partnered with Mustang Monument and has begun to get the word out. For effective promotion, the visitors authority wants to know who the resort is targeting.

“Are they going after the billionaire-type, millionaire-type person and just making it kind of an eco-resort?” said Tom Lester, the authority’s tourism and convention manager. “Not too many people can afford $1,200 to $1,400 a night.”

But if the site offers overnight options for affluent guests and day-use options more modestly priced, its marketability opens up significantly.

Carlson said Mustang Monument also plans to offer day trips.

As part of a bus tour group, visitors can spend an afternoon, including lunch and a wagon ride out near the horses, for $150 per person.

Ideally, Lester said, Mustang Monument would offer something for sightseeing travelers driving through the county.

“I’m hoping that they do,” Lester said, “because that average tourist stopping through, they might stay the night” in Elko.

Carlson said that in addition to paying room taxes as other accommodations do in Elko County, Mustang Monument also hopes to benefit the local economy through cross-promotions with events and businesses in the area.

“We’re looking to get the local community involved,” Carlson said. “We could send guests off to the local brewery” — the Ruby Mountain Brewery just up the road.

“It’s a unique resort,” Lester said. “I know that (Pickens) has booked a few groups for next year, so we’ll just wait and see how we can tie in and help her promote and help create room nights in the Elko area.”

Representatives have promoted the resort at tourism shows. Mustang Monument has also had success advertising to foreign markets that have been known to romanticize the American West.

Corporations are another possible customer base.

Carlson said the eco-resort would be ideal for corporate and executive retreats. Daytime activities range from serene (photography tour) to cultural (Native American beading lesson), and aerobic (bicycle riding) to urbane (cheese and wine tasting). Possible team-building activities are just as eclectic. According to a resort pamphlet, groups can bond over a chili cook-off, on a geo-trekking quest or in a frenetic paintball team challenge.

Mustang Monument is looking to book Western-themed evening entertainment. Carlson jotted down names of performers who regularly grace the stage at the National Cowboy Poetry Gathering as possibilities.

Because the resort is essentially outside, Mustang Monument will be open only from June through September.

“Pretty much all the interest we have (so far) is from people who want to come for the mustangs,” Carlson said. “Staying in a teepee and having it be somewhat luxurious is an added bonus, but really they’re interested in the mustangs.”

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