Willowtail Springs Nature Preserve and Education Center

Integrating the Arts and Natural Sciences

WTS Blog

Where in the World is Mancos, CO?

Willowtail Springs Nature Preserve and Education Center is located in Mancos, Colorado.

Mancos, CO?  Where in the world is Mancos, CO?

We are seven yes seven, hours from Denver.  We are 4 ½ hours from Albuquerque, NM and Santa Fe, NM; 90 minutes from Telluride, CO; 45 minutes from the Four Corners Monument; 30 minutes from Durango, CO and 10 minutes from Mesa Verde National Park. For everything that is around us we are, technically, centrally located. Getting here can be an adventure – an adventure well worthwhile.

Mancos Colorado

Mancos is a small town with a population of approximately 1,300, surrounded by ranch land, mountains (La Plata Mountains, San Juan National Forest), desert, ancient Anasazi ruins, and the Ute Mountain Ute and Southern Ute reservations and the Navajo Nation. We are enveloped by a natural beauty that inspires residents and visitors to create, learn and explore.

You could easily drive through Mancos in the blink of an eye, but we encourage you not to do this. It is a sleepy, small town, but there is more going on than you might expect.

Mancos (and Montezuma County) has a thriving food movement which promotes awareness, education, wholesome food and community through the Montezuma Farm to School program, Orchard Restoration Projects, small-scale farms, established family-run farms, two local vineyards, the reemergence of the Mt. Lookout Grange, and local farmer’s markets.

There is a wonderful and diverse art community that is continually growing and evolving. Mancos is a Colorado Creative District Candidate. Colorado Creative District’s purpose, in essence, is to promote growth and sustainability through the arts in communities throughout Colorado, and Mancos is currently working towards its certification.

Mancos Colorado Mesa Verde National Park

If you are one for hiking, biking, camping, climbing, rafting, boating, fishing, canoeing, or horseback riding we have it all. One of the benefits of this land being relatively undeveloped is the vast number of mountains, hills, streams and valleys that are available and accessible to enjoy.

We live here, work here play here because we watch bald eagles fly overhead while filling up our gas tank, because we can listen to the wind, see the seasons change and know our neighbors; because this is a common sight on Main Street*…

dog riding cow mancos colorado

We live here, work here and play here because there is a strong connection to the land.

We live here, work here and play here because Mancos has soul.


*Photo Credit, Sam Green/Mancos Times

Surrounding Willowtail: Sights, Food, and Fun Activities

Small Town, Big Adventures

Willowtail is located in Mancos, CO of the 4 Corners. We are surrounded by small towns and large mountains. Even though it seems like you can go through the towns in a blink of an eye, there is so much you can miss you if do blink. There are numerous outdoor activities to do, many great local eateries to try, and lots of wonderful sights to see. Willowtail Springs offers lots to do but, when you have done it all, go out and explore the area.

Outdoor Activities

When the weather is perfect, don’t spend it indoors. Get outside and see all that the area surrounding Willowtail has to offer. Go hiking, biking, and even rafting down the rivers. Mesa Verde National park is only 10 minutes from Willowtail Springs so why not check it out? It is home to 5,000 archeological sites, leaving much to see and explore. Scale ladders and wander through the tunnels, coming across Cliff Palace and the Balcony House. There are also two other trails you can take to find even more dwellings and spectacular views. Once you have explored Mesa Verde, there are more places to check out, like Hovenweep National Monuments and Canyon of the Ancients. Like MVNP, discover the ruins that are still there, emphasizing the rich history this area holds.

If you like to move a little faster, there are plenty of well-known bike trails surrounding Willowtail that you can ride to discover beauty and history. Phil’s World is popular around here and it is unique because it dries out earlier in the springtime due to being at a low elevation. After being cooped up all winter, this trail is waiting and ready to give you challenging yet fun rides. Rib Cage is another well-known trail here, with flowy and curvy sections containing jumps that will leave you having a blast. Other trails include Sand Canyon, Ledges Loops and Abajo Trail, with more beautiful views of the area that you can’t find anywhere else.

When the sun is out and the temperatures are soaring, why not go on a guided rafting tour? The Dolores River is a wonderful place to float down and enjoy the beautiful scenery. Through Durango, which is only 45 minutes from Willowtail Springs, there are more rafting expeditions you can take advantage of. There are either single day trips or trips that last days as well as family-friendly specific trips. See a whole other side of Southwest Colorado, all while keeping cool, and having fun. Check out our page  to find other rafting expeditions, and outdoor activities, that are available to you and your family.

Delicious, Local Eateries

While you are out discovering everything surrounding Willowtail, don’t forget about the delicious, local eateries in the area. The Absolute Bakery in Mancos is a popular hot spot, serving breakfast and lunch. They serve food made from scratch, with local and organic ingredients. They are a welcoming place that is very homey and comforting. The Farm Bistro in Cortez is another local and delicious place, with a warm and fun atmosphere.

If you need a quick pick-me-up to start your day, Fahrenheit Coffee in Mancos is one of many wonderful stops. With many freshly roasted coffees and various snacks to choose from, you will always start your day off right with a quick stop here. Or, if you are on your way to Cortez for a bike ride or a hike, The Silver Bean is a coffee shop that you should put on your list of stops. Working out of an Airsteam trailer, they serve coffee, smoothies, and breakfast burritos that are sure to get your day off to a good start. Of course, there are many other delicious places available to you, so check them out!

Come Explore!

Willowtail Springs has more to offer their guests than fishing, bird-watching, and art classes. It is located in the beautiful Southwest Colorado, with so much to do, see, and eat. Why limit yourself? Stay at Willowtail Springs and discover the surrounding area with a hike, bike ride, or even a rafting trip. Give your taste buds a fun time too and try the delicious and local food.

Gone to the Bees – Crystal Hartman

It is spring here at Willowtail and no better time to shake out the dust and recommence our blog!

Our first Artist in Resident (through our partnership with the Durango Arts Center and the DAC In-Residence Program) just completed her residency.

If you received our newsletter you will know that Crystal Hartman’s proposal was to study pollination and pollinators – specifically bees. (If you are not on our newsletter mailing list, please, sign up!) As is normal when artists come out to Willowtail, their art and their purpose here take on a life very different than what they may have imagined from the comforts of their own homes. Crystal began her bee research and bee art before she arrived – she dove into research, spending time reading about the unpleasant issues regarding pesticides that surround the honey bee and other pollinators; she created pieces of art using pen and ink, creating tight and detailed clusters of bees. Her work, pre-Willowtail, was self-described as, “cold […and] influenced by the harsh realities of their situation.”


Once she was here, when everyday life dissolved; once she found the bee trees* and sat, for hours, watching and listening to the bees go about their daily routine, her art work began to take on a new life: “Everything changed. My whole approach to their [the honey bees] story and the way I want to share their story is much warmer. I am now more interested in their beauty, their movements.” Crystal began to work on larger pieces (“scrolls” as she called them) with bright, warm and lush watercolors the color of honey, exuding energy and creativity. By the end of her residency Crystal’s scrolls hung from the ceiling covering walls and windows, her passion for the honey bee – its history, its purpose, its beauty and its plight – only deepening and widening.

We asked Crystal what her interest was in pollination, pollinators and the honey bee. She confided that her interest was twofold with the combination of long ago studies in femininity and an awareness regarding the wax she uses in her jewelry, which drove her to begin reading about the honey bee, who lives in wax and whose colonies are most entirely female. After a bit of research she began to “fall in love with them, they grabbed my heart.” From that moment on an interest has turned into an obsession, in the best sense of the word.


Crystal’s enthusiasm and passion are infectious. It is difficult to describe it adequately in writing (stay tuned for a short video documenting her process). We can, however, dive into the information that has consumed her by exploring here ever expanding biblography:

Brackney, Susan. Plan Bee: Everything You Ever Wanted to Know About the Hardest-Working Creatures on the Planet. A Perigree Book, Penguin Group (USA) Inc., New York, NY 2009.

Lu, Chensheng, Kenneth M. Warchol, Richard A. Callahan. “In Situ Replication of Honey Bee Colony Collapse Disorder,” Bulletin of Insectology, June 2012.

Lu, Chensheng, Kenneth M. Warchol, Richard A. Callahan. “Sub-lethal exposure to neonicotinoids impaired honey bees winterization before proceeding to colony collapse disorder.” Bulletin of Insectology, online, Friday, May 9, 2014.

O’Toole, Christopher. Bees: Bees: A Natural History. Firefly Books Ltd., Buffalo, New York, 2013.

Paull, Laline. The Bees. Fourth Estate, Great Britain, 2014; Ecco, United State, 2014.

Stewart, Tabori & Chang, Abrams. The Beekeeper’s Bible. New York, NY 2011, HarperCollins Publishers, New York, NY 2010.

Zuckerman, Laura. “Portland Bans Insecticide to Protect Declining Honey Bees,” Reuters, Wednesday, April 1, 2015.

(Willowtail’s personal endorsement for a spectacular, well-researched, fictional read is Laline Paull’s The Bees. Think Watership Down crossed with The Handmaid’s Tale.)

Crystal will be showing a selection of her work at Studio Colfax in Denver, Colorado beginning April 11, 2015.


Keep a close eye on Willowtail’s blog. We will continue to document Crystal’s process as she dives deeper into the world of bees – apprenticing with a local bee keeper, applying to other residencies where the location has been instrumental in bee history (France), exhibiting her work in additional galleries, and, hopefully, returning to Willowtail this Fall to complete (as much as an artists’ work is ever complete) her bee heavy year.

*What are the bee trees? On Willowtail’s property there are two trees that house two bee hives. These bees come and go as they please, pollinating and foraging in the ample gardens on the property.

Packages: Weddings, Family Vacations, Getaways

So Much to Do

Willowtail Springs has so much to offer its guests! We provide more than peace and quiet, relaxation, and a getaway for artists and scholars. As a family, you can come to enjoy all the outdoor activities that the area has to offer, plan a secluded, intimate wedding with us, or even plan your next exciting family reunion. If you do not find what you want on the property itself, visit the surrounding area and discover what else is available to you. There is a little something for everyone who visits, guaranteeing that our guests are always happy and willing to return.

Intimate Weddings, Elopements, & Honeymoons

We have 60 acres of beautiful and peaceful land, gardens, streams, and mountain views. These intimate locations provide the perfect destination for your small, personal wedding or elopement. We offer various personalized packages and we are even available for your honeymoon. 12-14 overnight guests can easily be accommodated with us, with a separate cottage for the bride and groom. There are surrounding hotels for more guests. For a ceremony and/or reception, Willowtail Springs can accommodate up to 25 people. The bride and groom can enjoy a romantic honeymoon in one of our charming and elegant cabins. Enjoy the solitude on your first morning as a married couple and take advantage of the surrounding beauty. Click here to see the various packages we have to offer!

Relaxing, Fun Family Vacations and Reunions

Whether it is just you and your spouse, your whole family, or even a family reunion, take advantage of all the fun activities we have to offer. We are considered a fishing heaven so why not fish on our private lake? Catch and release a variety of fish such as trout, bass, sunfish, and grass carp on our canoes or rowboats. If you prefer to do more watching, then enjoy all the various bird species found on our property. We are a soft-release site under the guidance of the Durango Wildlife Rehabilitation Center. Our bird species include birds of prey – owls, hawks, and eagles – songbirds, ducks, and many more. You will always see something new and beautiful while birdwatching.

If you would like to go beyond Willowtail Springs and see the area, there is even more to do together. Visit the historic Mesa Verde, Canyon of the Ancients, go hiking, horseback riding, or take a jeep tour. You can even visit Mesa Verde in the winter or enjoy various outdoor activities. Take advantage of it all now! When you choose to stay with us, you can take advantage of all the available amenities. Utilize the fully equipped kitchens and dining areas, indoor and outdoor, fishing gear and poles, complete library, and even spa products. All of our various activities will allow you to break away from everyday stress and technology and allow you to connect as a family. We can be a home away from home! Check out our available cabins we have to accommodate you and guarantee you have as much fun as possible!

Peaceful & Quiet Getaways

Need a stress-free getaway? We can offer you just that! Take advantage of our beautiful views, our amenities, and the secluded spaces we have for our guests. Drop the stress, become inspired, and savor the solitude. Utilize your own kitchen and enjoy a quiet meal either with someone else or on your own, visit the beautiful lake, soak in the hot tub that overlooks the lake and mountains, order a massage or romantic dinner for two, or even wander the beautiful gardens. Become inspired to join an art workshop that may be going on and get in touch with your creative side. We offer so much to families looking to have fun adventures together but we also offer couples or individual people a place to escape it all and find some peace and quiet. Book a cabin with us now and let your relaxing vacation begin sooner rather than later.

Art Classes and Workshops

Become Inspired

At Willowtail Springs, we offer various art classes and workshops. We have recently partnered with the Mancos Public Library, which is another location for some of these classes. They are taught by professionals, allowing you to have a fulfilling and cultured experience. The classes are offered throughout the year and can range from one day to five days long. Join others, create friendships, share inspiration, and just have fun. Whether you have experience or not, these classes are available to all who are interested. We always have something going on so sign up for a class today.

Art Classes and Workshops by the Owners

Some of the classes we offer here include areas such as visual arts, writing, poetry, music, theatre, filmmaking, gardening, landscape design, and the sciences as well. Within the sciences, learn about ecology, conservation, wildlife, water, air, forests, math, astronomy, Tai Chi, and nature walks. The owners, Peggy and Lee Cloy teach their own classes as well – painting, sculptor, poetry, and Tai Chi. Peggy Cloy is a painter, sculptor, and poet herself, making her perfect to be the one to critique your work and give suggestions for moving forward. She offers one hour sessions at $50. Lee Cloy is a Tai Chi instructor and he leads Nature Walks on Willowtail Springs Land. Find inner peace and balance or see the beautiful land that is Willowtail. Both of these activities are $50.

Discover Your Passion

With the various areas covered with the classes, there is always something for you to discover and learn about next. Whether you want to learn something new or learn more about an already existing practice, the classes can be incredibly beneficial. Some of the artists we feature include Dan Groth who is a painter, printmaker, and poet. His upcoming class on April 30 is focusing on autonomic drawings and paintings to expand one’s creative approach. David Holub is a writer, playwright, and an editor for DGO Magazine. For his workshop on May 6, you will discuss the various forms and examples of literary humor and discuss what makes for effective literary humor-pacing, clear POV, concision, and more.

A photographer and pastel painter, Deborah Sussex is another well-known artist. She will help the students explore with pastels and have discussions on materials, color use, generating sketches, and composing paintings. This particular workshop is offered on May 7. Crystal Hartman is a painter, jeweler, and printmaker who is offering a class on June 3rd. She will explore the concept and storytelling of drawing and train our eyes to see form, contrast, and details. Kit Frost is another known artist, focusing on photography. She focuses on landscapes over an extended period of time to capture their essence. She works with traditional film, digital, and smartphones. Learn more about the artists and their classes to see if this is just what you were looking for. The prices vary and if you cannot find what you want now, always check back in because there will always be more artists and classes.

Reserve Your Spot Today!

If you want to join one of these classes, the fees are paid to Willowtail Springs. These various classes and workshops are interactive. The costs of teaching and property rental are funded by those who take these classes. If any are taught at Willowtail Springs, we have cabins for you to stay at and enjoy. Sign up today and learn something new. Interact with new people who share your same interests. Inspire yourself and others and create new things.

Barbara Grist, Month Long Residency, January, 2014

The experience of being at Willowtail Springs is not easy to put into words, it is something you need to feel.  My month long artist residency at Willowtail is just what I needed to feed my artistic soul.  Time to be awakened each morning by the light coming into my bedroom window and then have the time to watch it’s rays fall on objects in it’s path until dark.  My senses had time to open up and soak in all the variety of things that create an experience.  Willowtail Springs is a perfect place to let the muse back into an artist’s life in a peaceful, beautiful and comfortable setting. 

Barbara Grist, Photographer



Spring in Progress

Spring is a busy time around WTS, and this year is no exception.

In a word (or two words actually), Tree Trimming, and we don’t mean the lights and tinsel kind. It has been quite a while since we’ve been able to devote this much attention to the forest but the results are clear to see. The grounds are looking wonderful with lots of light and more vistas, especially in the garden areas. Peggy is ecstatic to have help on this project since she can cut and trim all day long while helpers drag it all off to the chipper.

Some work is beyond the scope of mere arms and legs, which is when we call in our friend George and his big toys. With his backhoe George has been repairing our catch basin and stream inlets so that our numerous water sources can flow more freely into the lake and gardens. In spite of breakdowns (mechanical, not emotional) and a few days of bitter weather, we managed to accomplish a lot.

Over the years we’ve created extensive gardens throughout the property. As all experienced gardeners know,tearing out and replanting is periodically required to keep things healthy and thriving, especially in the many iris beds. In the two decades since many of these gardens were started the consistent moisture and improved soil has attracted tree roots and other native inhabitants. A few of these areas have been identified as good candidates to let go back to nature which will conserve water and and garden labor as well as to add even more wild beauty to the Preserve.

Reworking the gardens ultimately involves moving large rocks and building or rebuilding rock walls, one of Peggy’s favorite challenges. George’s Bobcat made easy work of moving large rocks into beautiful new configurations.

While much work has been happening outdoors,  as much or more has been taking place indoors as well. We have reconfigured the Treehouse Gallery furniture so that it can now accommodate more people comfortably.

We’ve also been busy over the winter working on the new non-profit, whose website you are currently enjoying. This project has taken an enormous amount of work and organization to bring things to the point where we can now begin offering our first education/conservation programs which begin in May.

We invite your participation in any of these exciting new projects as well as your ideas and suggestions as we nurture and preserve beautiful spaces for all of us to enjoy and benefit from together.

All the best,

Peggy and Lee



New light and vistas after extensive tree trimming


Reworked and re-purposed gardens around the Preserve


Removing tons of collected debris from streams and inlets to restore free flowing water sources


A beautiful rock wall, not yet complete but well underway


George artfully placing gorgeous rocks for all to enjoy




Winter Nourishes, Promises of Spring

Another beautiful snowfall and the snow pack is up again. Water for Spring!!!!!

Our daily walks with Beau and Bear feel like the transition from winter to spring. I keep looking at the bones of the garden and day dreaming.

The team at WTSNPEC is busy setting up programs and people for spring, summer and fall.  We have many ideas which have been bubbling for years and many wonderful people both locally and nationally who want to participate. It is a busy and exciting time!

We are about to launch some new programs and have several upcoming events.  We will announce all of these as soon as they are completed, which will be very soon.

Stay tuned.