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The Palisade Pool at Gateway Canyons Resort
Landscape Architecture by DTJ DESIGN


The Palisade Pool, which opened in 2013 at Gateway Canyons Resort in Gateway, Colo., was designed by the landscape architecture team at DTJ DESIGN, led by associate Greg White. The team recognized that the stunning natural beauty of the area would be impossible to compete with, and so instead sought to complement it and make it look as though the pool belongs in this setting. Native plants, locally sourced boulders and inspiration from the natural surroundings were all a part of the success of the project.

The Gateway Canyons Resort is located at the dramatic confluence of the Dolores River Canyon and the Unaweep Canyon in Gateway, an unincorporated community in western Colorado. The resort provides an educational experience in a luxury setting combined with an extensive offering of adventure and outdoor activities. In 2013, the Palisade Pool was added to the resort amenities.

DTJ DESIGN created the setting, including the design of the pool, pool features, and the architecture for the integrated Cantina bar and grill, to meet the luxury standard that resort guests have come to expect. Greg White, landscape architect from DTJ DESIGN, says, "As a designer it's easy to recognize that you cannot compete with the stunning beauty of this place in the canyon. The challenge then becomes how you create an environment that looks and feels like it belongs here. Using the native rock in combination with the pinyon pines found on the hillsides all around creates a strong texture and color connection to the surrounding landscape. Layer in organic shapes, natural colors and a desert inspired landscape and it all works together to reinforce the sense of place of the canyon."


All the materials, from the boulders to the paving to the coping, were selected to create a calming, unified look with the same color tones that complement the natural rock formations beyond the resort. A combination of Pavestone's 'Holland,' 'Villa,' and 'City Stone Square' pavers cover a Therma-HEXX glycol heating system, which heats the pool while cooling the pool deck. Read more about how this works at

Designed by Nature
The design team found inspiration in the small rock pools that are found naturally at the mouth of the adjacent canyons. These unique pools are formed when small stones are spun by strong currents during rain events, carving out a smooth circular form in the bedrock of the canyon mouth. To mimic these rock basins, the DTJ DESIGN team created two organic form pools with waterfall features.

The pools within the resort imitate the journey of water from side canyons as it heads to the Dolores River. Focusing on the guest experience, the physical design intent of the pool complex was to create smaller "cove" areas for use by multiple groups. Each pool is made up of a lower pool and an upper level spa or cold pool with a view of the adjacent canyon features. Waterfalls provide a relaxing place to sit, and the ambient sound of the water can be heard throughout the area. Using local boulders harvested on site to create the pool features, the complex blends seamlessly into the natural setting. Three custom fire pits were also installed throughout the complex to enhance the guest experience and extend the pool hours. The fire pit locations were selected to create the unique vantage point of seeing the fire across the water.


Custom designed and constructed of natural stone, three gas fire pits around the pool, two of which are visible here, are lit with HPC Hearth Products' gas inserts and a 'copper canyon' colored fireglass. Beyond, a waterfall feature separates the pool from the elevated spa. While the waterfall gives the illusion that the spa water is tumbling into the pool, in reality, pool water circulates up through the wall and out the sandstone weirs that keep the two bodies separate.

Initial site challenges included integrating the pool complex closely with the existing setting on the resort grounds, buffering the adjacent parking area, and creating a strong connection with the Palisade Casitas, which were being designed by the same company at the same time. To overcome the adjacent parking lot visual impact, DTJ DESIGN created a continuous architectural backdrop using the restaurant, windowed walls, and a "grand cabana" structure. This worked not only to conceal the parking lot, but also to house the significant mechanical equipment needed for the pools. This combined functional visual screen defines the pool space and focuses the views of the surrounding sandstone cliffs. With the resort grounds immediately adjacent to the pool, efforts were focused on finding a way to create an unobstructed visual relationship to the adjacent landscape and resort facilities. Working closely with Mesa County officials, DTJ DESIGN proposed a downhill wall pool barrier solution, incorporating the principles of a historical "Ha-Ha." A Ha-Ha is a recessed landscape design element that creates a vertical barrier while preserving an uninterrupted view. In this case, the barrier is the wall. This allowed the elimination of the typical pool enclosure fencing seen on most pools, and created unobstructed views of the adjacent grounds and surrounding towering canyon formations.



The resort has two pools, each with an adjacent spa. Both pools use custom boulders and sandstone cap in-pool seating to create separated spaces. The boulders were all locally harvested to complement the natural environment. When moving the boulders to their new position, living lichen and moss were left intact where they would be above the surface, but not in the pool. Surfaces that would be below the water line were scrubbed with wire brushes and clear sealed to minimize bacterial growth potential.

Sustainability and Efficiency
Within the pool complex, the designers strived to create elevation changes for interest, and to allow multilevel water bodies for both pools. The upper pool has a recirculating waterfall feature that drops into the main body of the pool. The lower pool has a visually integrated spa that appears to flow into the main body of the pool. In reality, the spa water recirculates within itself for energy efficiency, and the pool water is pumped up through the pool/spa wall to spill down a carefully crafted natural stone weir, giving the appearance of water coming from the spa. The waterfall features were strategically located to be seen on arrival from all three points of access into the complex, as well as positioned specifically to create in pool seating on direct view axis with prominent canyon features such as the Palisade.

Artful integration of on site quarried boulders in and around the pool creates a sense of visual connectivity to the surrounding landscape. These boulders were meticulously picked, strapped, and stockpiled in the construction staging area. Many hours of hands-on boulder selection and placement by the design team, in close coordination with the contractor, went into creating a natural feeling that complements the canyons' spectacular setting. Great care was used when moving and setting each boulder as to leave the lichen and moss intact where used in ground. Boulders placed in the pool itself were scrubbed with wire brushes and clear sealed at and below the waterline. The result of this intensive field approach is apparent in the built result.


Architects from DTJ DESIGN were working on the adjacent Cantina bar and grill at the same time as the landscape architects were working on the pool. Close collaboration between the two teams resulted in the built environment framing views of the natural environment; in this photo, that would be the Palisade sandstone formation. The buildings also serve to block the view of the parking lot and provide housing for the pool equipment. Custom cabanas located around the pool provide shade and stylistic elements.

In keeping with the sustainable initiatives of the resort, alternative energy systems were evaluated for a source of pool heating. Solar was considered, but eventually a subsurface thermal panel system was chosen, as it had several technical and aesthetic benefits over solar panels: there is no need to hide a subsurface thermal panel system, and it has the unique ability to pull heat from the pool deck. The Therma-HEXX panel system installs below the pool deck pavers and has a closed loop system of glycol, which pulls heat from the concrete pavers and is then returned to the mechanical room. Through the use of a heat exchanger, the thermal energy is transferred and used to heat the pool. In fact, the boilers for the pool system seldom run.

Pavestone concrete pavers were used for the pool deck, which are ideal for heat transfer from the surface to the panel system. In turn, the system cools the pool deck, around 50 degrees cooler, which provides a huge impact on guest comfort. Careful analysis was performed to understand the ROI for the thermal panel systems cost upgrade, and the energy cost savings are quickly showing. For more details on the paving system at Gateway Canyons Resort, visit


The landscape architect selected and hand-placed most of the plants to make sure their placement responded to site lines. Ornamental grasses were chosen in poolside planters to minimize leaf litter in the pool and to create soft, arching forms - and it doesn't hurt that these plants are not favored by bees. Cast brass Kichler path lights accentuate the landscape as well as the paving. A cool, blue tone emitted from the underwater pool lights creates a soothing effect.

To coincide with the organic feel created by the boulders, the landscaping in and around the pool creates a soft feel and helps to separate the many spaces within the pool deck area. Well-coordinated placement of utilities, drainage systems, pool walls, and thermal pavers was necessary to ensure unencumbered planting pits. Directly adjacent to the water, small planting areas soften the overall aesthetic of the pool deck and provide natural transitions from the upper levels to the lower levels within each pool area. Ornamental grasses were featured in these poolside planters to minimize leaf litter in the pool while providing soft arching forms near the water. A highly xeric plant palette was used to reflect the local desert environment, and plants directly adjacent to the pool areas were selected partially because bees tend to dislike them. The landscape architect hand-placed the majority of the plants to ensure the planting responded to the rock placement and critical site lines.

Creating a natural style pool and landscape requires a shared vision between the design teams and the contractors. Fortunately, the client understood the importance of having the landscape architect on site and involved with specific rock selection and placement, tree staking, and specific plan placement for critical areas. On-site coordination and in-the-moment sketching helped the dialog between designer and contractor, which led to successful execution of the rockwork and planting installation. Greg White, landscape architect from DTJ DESIGN says "We worked closely in the field with FCI Constructors, Heritage Masonry and the team from Valley Crest developing an understanding of the critical aspects of the style we were looking for. These teams and their crews were outstanding at executing the work and demanding the same level of attention to detail that I envisioned." The reward of this collective work is to see the guests enjoying themselves in a beautiful environment that has a true sense of place in the canyon.

As seen in LASN magazine, July 2016.

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October 15, 2019, 10:54 pm PDT

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