From the Vault: Gary Morris (2001)

Gary Morris finds renewed spirit in his Colorado retreat.

Originally published in the Feb. 6, 2001 issue of Country Weekly featuring Tim McGraw on the cover. This story is presented here in its entirety.

Gary Morris steps outside his home and inhales a full breath of clean, Colorado air. His surroundings are like a postcard, the Navajo Mountain base and the snow-capped Banded Peaks in the distance, a stream running through the property, an ocean-blue sky.

“Everything I ever really loved in life is right here,” says Gary, pointing like a tour guide. “I can fly-fish, hunt, take out my guitar and write music. It’s a place where a man can feel comfortable in his own skin. It’s so peaceful.” And tranquility is what he’s marketing. This remote, get-away-from-it-all unspoiled beauty is not only Gary’s home, but also the site of an exciting new business venture.

Gary bought the property two years ago to fulfill his dream of owning a hunting and fishing retreat. Last summer the master plan became reality when Mountain Spirit Lodge officially opened for business. Up to 20 paying guests at a time can share the rustic life at Mountain Spirit. “This has some of the best trout fishing and elk hunting in Colorado,” he raves. “If you love the outdoors, this is the place.”

At the same time, Gary hasn’t forgotten the great indoors. Mountain Spirit features two furnished guest houses, a restaurant offering everything from steaks to Mexican fare and fresh salmon, and a heated sauna. “We also have some tepees in the mountains,” adds Gary with a smile, “where you can literally sleep under the stars.”

Getting in touch with nature is part of the Mountain Spirit way. The lodge lies in a tucked-away tract of Colorado, where the closest “big towns” are Durango and Pagosa Springs. Urban sprawl and e-commerce? Forget about it.

“That’s why I picked this area,” explains Gary. “I wanted a kick-back, stress-free kind of place that would be a retreat. The only real condition I have for our guests is that they stay a minimum of three days. We won’t book any less.”

There’s a reason behind that. “My experience in traveling around the world and performing is that it takes at least three days for you to get over the stress of getting there, first of all, and then trying to forget your worries back home,” says Gary. “We don’t want you to worry about anything when you’re here.” Gary pauses and grins. “We’ll have computer access if you need it. But we’re hoping you won’t.”

Gary’s also hoping that Mountain Spirit can reap the same benefits as his musical career. He was one of the 80’s hottest hitmakers, reaching No. 1 with “Baby Bye Bye,” “I’ll Never Stop Loving You,” “100% Chance Of Rain” and more. His soaring tenor lent itself perfectly to what became his best-loved single, “Wind Beneath My Wings.”

But in 1984, Gary radically shifted gears. He secured a lead role in La Boheme, opposite Linda Ronstadt, the first time a country singer had starred in a legitimate opera production. Then four years later, Gary furthered his stage-acting career by landing the coveted part of Jean Valjean in the theatrical smash, Les Miserables, on Broadway.

Gary’s last country hit came in 1991. But he’s kept his ties to the business with a song publishing company in Nashville, where a young Faith Hill once worked as a receptionist, and touring. “I perform when people want me,” he continues. “Mainly, I play a lot of symphony dates and performing arts centers. I still do a Christmas concert tour every year.”

Offstage, Gary assumes the identity of Renaissance Mountain Man. “I get up early in the morning and jog, and then do a little fly-fishing or bow-and-arrow hunting,” he says. “I’ve just recently gotten into painting, so on some mornings I take out my watercolors and acrylics and paint for a couple hours.”

But first things first. Grabbing a fishing rod and a pair of wading boots, Gary heads for the nearby stream on the property. He makes one cast and immediately feels a tug on the line. “Get over here, fish," he playfully commands, as though the enemy could hear. Gary proudly holds up the catch. “Yahoo! Look at that—I’d say it’s about a four-pound trout.”

Another one, though, swallows the bait and gets away. “That one was even bigger,” he figures. “At least a five-pounder.”

Later that afternoon, Gary hops in his truck and sets out to shoot with a bow and arrow. The field where he stops is abundant with white aspen. “They turn gold in the fall,” says Gary, almost in awe. “Everything around here is just beautiful.” It’s especially fun when Gary’s 3-year-old son,
Garon, visits. Gary—separated last spring from wife Elizabeth, whom he married in 1996—has two grown sons and is discovering the joys of parenting.

“I’m 52, and I’m finding this a great time to be a dad,” Gary reveals with a gleam in his eye. “I can spend more quality time than someone who’s in his 20s or 30s and is still building a career. Garon and I go riding on a four-wheeler, we cook, draw pictures—it’s great.”

When Gary says he cooks, he’s not just blowing smoke. As dinner time nears, Gary whips up a healthy salad, baked chicken breasts and vegetables with a chef’s smooth strokes. He also shares his favorite recipe for cooking trout.

“I gut the fish, add some butter or garlic salt, then wrap it in a paper towel,” he begins. “Put it in the microwave for about two minutes. The skin sticks to the paper towel and all the meat just falls off the bone.”

On many nights, once the dinner hour ends and darkness falls, Gary gets together with his ranch hands for an old-fashioned campfire and sing-along. It’s a far cry from star-studded industry parties and hobnobbing with the famous—which is just fine with him. “I really don’t miss all that,” says Gary, flashing a wry grin. “I still have a house in Nashville where I stay when I need to do my business. But this is the place that’s home now.

“I’ve always considered myself a sportsman,” he says, brushing back a tangled nest of hair off his face. “I also love to sing, write and entertain. Here, I can do both. I can still get anywhere I need to, so it’s not like being totally isolated.”

Gary sits in front of a crackling fire and watches the sparks fly. He feels a gentle rush of contentment. “For a lot of people, this wouldn’t be enough,” he says, poking at the ashes. “But for me, it’s more than enough.”

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