Category Archives: Hot Springs

My 3 Favorite Things about Steamboat Springs, Colorado

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After spending 3 days in Steamboat Springs last weekend, I was reminded of all the reasons I love that place. At about 6,500 feet, it’s much lower than where I live and seems to always be much warmer. There’s lots of good food (including my all-time favorite pizza place, Beau Jo’s), a cute downtown, two hot springs, a great river, a ski resort, and the oldest operating ski hill in the country. Here are my 3 favorite things about Steamboat.

The snowy aspens of Steamboat Springs ski resort. Photo credit to Alex Romanyshyn.

The snowy aspens of Steamboat Springs ski resort. Photo credit to Alex Romanyshyn.

Steamboat Springs Ski Resort

This was my second winter snowboarding at Steamboat, and both were incredible. I might just hit this mountain on good powder weekends, or maybe it dumps perfect fluff 6 months a year there…I don’t know. But I’ve definitely experienced some good snow on this mountain. Steamboat is known for its super-light champagne powder, and when you glide through that stuff it feels like floating. This year, we hit the chutes of Steamboat and were greeted with thigh-deep powder and self-inflicted white outs. At one point I had a powder mustache from all the snow flying back off the front of my powder. Sidenote: As a snowboarder, I feel obligated to tell you that areas of Steamboat’s chutes will lead you straight into miserable catwalks that seem to go on for miles. Yes, I bitched about this part. To avoid this, stay high and to the left at the top of Morningside lift. Other than the powder, the thing that really makes Steamboat mountain unique in my mind is the aspen trees. I’ve never been to another resort that boast aspen groves all over their runs. Riding or skiing through these glorious forests is mystical; the white snow and the white tree trunks blend together and suddenly you think you’ve just died and gone to heaven.

Strawberry Park Hot Springs in summertime.

Strawberry Park Hot Springs in summertime.

Strawberry Park Hot Springs

Summer, Fall, Spring, or Winter. Take your pick of season, and let Strawberry Hot Springs do the rest. This hot springs maintains a natural feel, with gravel-bottomed pools set into an aspen-crowded hillside. Right on the banks of Strawberry Creek, the pools range in temperature. The hottest is at the top and the coolest is closest to the stream. You can visit for $10 a day or stay overnight in a campsite, covered wagon, or train caboose. This is a family-friendly spot in daylight hours, but clothing is optional after dark.

Fuzziwig’s Candy Factory

You’ll definitely feel like a kid in a candy store when you walk into Fuzziwig’s Candy Factory in downtown Steamboat. Colorful bins of jelly beans, chocolates, and seasonal treats greet you here, along with countless bins full of the most unique gummy candy varieties I’ve every come across. Try grapefruit slices, gummy teeth, or giant gummy bears. A visit to this candy store has become a Steamboat winter tradition for us.

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Glenwood Springs Hot Springs pool

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I have a picture of myself when I am a little girl in a patterned one-piece swimming suit, playing with a herdof My Little Ponies on the side of the Glenwood Springs Hot Springs pool, paying no mind to passersby. I remember sitting in my polka dotted dog intertube here, taking afternoon naps with my dad on the grass, and being heartbroken the year I couldn’t ride down the waterslides because I broke a blood vessel in my nose and had to have it cauterized.

Hot springs have become a bit of a hobby for Alex and I in the last few years, but Labor Day in Glenwood Springs has been a family tradition since before I was born. Now I have grown out of my blissful girlhood and am admittedly irritated with parking and waiting in line among the holiday weekend masses. When my sisters and I were growing up, my parents would get up early and leave the campground to get a parking spot at the pool. When we all woke up we would eat breakfast there and head into the pool to pick our prime spot on the grass before the crowds flocked in. But now each of us girls have built little families of our own, adding husbands (for me, a fiancé J ) babies, and dogs to the tradition. This year we didn’t get to the pool early and had to contend with mid-morning crowds. But once we got inside it was just the same as ever.

There are 15 different minerals in the water, and the springs that fill the pool deliver 3 and a half million gallons of hot water each day. Needless to say the pool is huge, leaving plenty of room for groups of visitors to have their own space. Kids climb the stairs on the west end of the pool to wait in the line at the top for a ride down a waterslide. People’s bare feet slap along the wet, narrow pool sides as they make their way to the bathrooms, snack shack, or hotter pool on the east end. The smell of sulfur is subtle in the air and the polished rock bottom of the pool cast the water in brownish hue.

Our family breaks into small groups, traversing the pool from our grassy daycamp at one end to the hot pool at the other. We watch my nephew proudly jump off the side and I realize my parents were doing the same thing with his mother-their first kid- 30 years ago at this pool.

A holiday weekend visit to Glenwood Springs certainly doesn’t offer the quietude that I often seek in the outdoors, but as my irritation with the crowds dwindles I realize that the familiarity of a lifelong family tradition is a pretty cool feeling too!

Hot Sulphur Springs

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The name for the hot springs in this tiny Colorado town is fitting. They are definitely hot, with some pools getting up to 109 degrees, and, well, they smell like hard-boiled eggs. It took months to get the smell of sulphur out of my towel and swimsuit last time we visited these hot springs (don’t wash your towel with other clothes…or everything will smell like sulphur). This resort has 22 pools, some only big enough for one person; two if they don’t mind rubbing up against each other. There is a pool for every preference it seems: covered pools, a mountain view pool, super hot pools, a cold pool, pools out of the way of the others, a pool with a waterfall, pools that seat 1,2,4,10 people. Most of the pools have underwater benches in them, which makes it easy to lounge and relax. Because of the lack of shade and the heat of the pools, I find Hot Sulphur Springs hot springs in the summer to be more enjoyable at night than during the day. However, I look forward to going back this winter (when it just might be negative 56 degrees) since I live right around the corner from these hot springs.
We were at the hot springs until closing time and then went to camp with our friends at the free campground right across the train tracks. The pros of this campground are that it’s free, it’s easy, it’s in pretty good shape, it’s on the river, and I don’t think it fills up too fast. Suspicions about why it doesn’t fill up fast? One: There are frequent trains that barrel by, honking and rattling and screeching, on the tracks right next to the campground.Two: There’s a steady flow of people (we thought they were high schoolers) speeding by on the dirt road that goes by the campground. Three: Hot Sulphur Springs is weird and gives off creepy vibes…I don’t really know why. With the fire ban in Grand County lifted, we were able to enjoy the campground with a long fire before we good ol’ fashioned Coloradoans retired to bed in our Subarus for the night.
The last part of our visit to Hot Sulphur Springs was 18 holes of Frisbee golf the next day. This was a challenge. The course has a lot of long holes and is also populated by many trees, bushes, and tall grasses to lose a disc in. It’s possible that we spent a longer time searching for discs than actually playing, the climax being when we kept throwing them over the fence that blocks the course from the train tracks (lucky for us, someone who must play the course frequently cut conveniently-placed holes in the fence for disc retrieval). After this hours-long game in the midday sun, we stopped at the Dairy De-lite for a satisfying dipped cone.

Mt. Princeton Hot Springs, faulty fuel pump adventure, and family camping trip near Hancock Pass

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To get there: To the hot springs: From the town of Buena Vista head south on U.S. 285 to County Road 162 and turn right. Follow the road to the hot springs resort, which will be on the left.  To the campsite: Continue past the hot springs until you see a turn off for Hancock Pass on the left. This is about 1/4 mile before the town of St. Elmo. Continue on this road for about 5 miles and take your pick of free campsites!

The Plan: Drive from our new home in Fraser to a remote campsite near St. Elmo on Friday to meet Alex’s family for a camping trip. Spend Saturday climbing our third 14er of the season, Mt. Princeton. Spend Saturday afternoon or Sunday soaking in the nearby Mt. Princeton hot springs to get all those 14er aches out. Drive home Sunday.

What really happened: We set out to meet Alex’s family at the campsite five miles from St. Elmo on Friday at about one o’ clock. His uncle had directed us to go through Buena Vista, turn right on County Road 162 and continue for about 17 miles. Then we were to turn left at a junction a quarter of a mile from St. Elmo. It was 17 miles up County Road 162 that the trouble started. We could see our turnoff when Alex’s accelerator stopped working. This had happened the previous week and all he had to do to fix it was turn the car off and back on. He tried that now, only to find that the car was shuddering and shaking…and not going anywhere. I tried once by myself to push the car to a pullout. But it was really heavy so I gave up and flagged down some friendly Texans to help us out. Once we were safely in the pullout Alex tried again and again to start the car, and even opened up the hood to peer in at the disobedient/broken engine.
“Well my limited knowledge of all things car tells me it’s probably the alternator,” he told me.
It was now about 4 in the afternoon and we were stuck on the side of the road with no cell phone service. But who needs modern technology to call for a ride when you’ve got good walkin’ legs? We packed a bag and started up the road, hoping that we would, in fact, find our family at this campsite. We walked about 2 and a half miles as ATVers zipped past, heading the opposite direction of us. Eventually, some were heading our way and I flagged them down. I scooted into the third seat of the vehicle- a kind of big-wheeled golf cart with a windshield- and Alex crawled into the mini-bed of the cart.
“I hope he’s okay back there,” the lady said, her Oklahoman accent coming through.
“We just spent two months in Africa and had lots of uncomfortable rides. I think he’s okay,” I assured her.
We thanked them and went on in slight confusion, looking for our campsite half a mile up the road where we thought it would be. We stayed on with them for another two miles, until the bottom of Hancock Pass. They wished us luck and, after a minute, we spotted our group out in the trees.
Alex’s uncle gave him a ride back to get our stuff and we resolved to skip the 14er hike and get our car fixed the next day. After a few drinks and a few hours in the cold, high elevation air the rest of the hiking group backed out too, so we didn’t feel so bad.
We left our campsite, at 11,000 feet, early in the morning to get Alex’s mom to a lower elevation because she was suffering from altitude sickness. While in Buena Vista, we made numerous phone calls to tow trucks and mechanics and resolved to ask Alex’s uncle to use his Jeep to tow our broken car to town. As the rest of the family prepared to hike near our campsite that afternoon, Alex’s mom and I headed for Mt. Princeton Hot Springs. 
From the parking lot we took a flight of steep steps down toward the pools and bought our tickets. Right off the building there are two swimming pool-sized hot springs pools. The pool closest to the building is hotter and its neighbor is cooler and includes lap lanes. We soaked in the hot pool first and then back to our chairs to eat lunch. In the intense mountain sun, I was surprised and a little disappointed that there was absolutely no shade in the hot springs area. After lunch I took my book down to the Arkansas River, which runs below the large pools and is lined on one side by natural pools of hot springs water. Sitting down in a pool, I leaned back on a flat rock and read until I almost dozed off. Paradise! With mountain views from the river, I contemplated which of the nearby towering giants was Mt. Princeton; surely we could see it from here. After a couple more dips in the big pools we inquired about Mt. Princeton’s wedding facilities (Alex and I are planning our wedding for next fall!) and headed back up the hill to our campsite. The next day, Alex’s uncle towed our car into Buena Vista and we got a ride back to Fraser!

 

Six Days in Southern Colorado

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Repelling down the trail to the bottom of the Black Canyon of the Gunnison. Photo by Alex Romanyshyn

Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park: The 150 minute mile
There is a nervousness settling in my stomach as we pack up our backpacking bags in the visitor center parking lot. Why am I nervous? I have hundreds of miles of backpacking excursions under my belt. But not this season. I realize that backpacking is a hard hobby to get sick of because it feels kind of new at the beginning of each season. Having 8 or 9 months a year away from a hobby can make a person feel a bit rusty at confidence and outdoors skills. Needless to say, in travelling around Africa for the past 2 months, I have become more comfortable with my pack on my back than without it. It’s the beginning of June and my pack is dirty and worn. It’s been used; it’s not empty. Most years, the beginning of June is the time for digging out backpacks and the things that fill them and remembering how they all fit together. I sling the thing on my back with ease and we set out on our first backpacking trip of 2012. It’s one mile and 1,800 feet to the bottom. Other than walking around Africa, we really haven’t done any physical activity since, ohhh, maybe March 15. So, this hike is really hard! Maybe in August, the month I when I tend to be in the best shape, it would be easier. It doesn’t take long for my thighs to start trembling as I hold the weight of myself and my backpack back on the descent. About a third of the way down, there is an 80 foot long chain to hold on to as you do a slow repel through the eroding gulley of trail. The combination of my Jell-O legs and the constantly moving dirt and scree under my boots causes a few slips and falls. It’s the first hike of the season and I’m feeling battered already. Admittedly, I am slightly distressed when we reach the bottom of the canyon, sweaty and shaking and feeling pathetically weak. I stumble like a drunk over to the tent site, unable to control the strange ways that my knees are wobbling. On average, I hike a 25 to 30 minute mile with a full pack on; this mile took us 150 minutes. It’s beautiful here: looming, craggy walls and the flowing river. We are alone, just the two of us, and it’s easy enough to settle in and enjoy this place with sitting and fishing and reading and eating. The hike back up starts the next day, before it’s too hot. It is sweaty and shaky just the same, and I don’t hesitate in mentioning that I’m glad we did this, but will never do this again. We camp at the East Portal campsite that night and drive the rim road through the park. The treat in being at the top of the Black Canyon is an orange and pink sunset to the west and the cool, blue rise of the full moon to the east.

Sunset over The Black Canyon of the Gunnison.

Sunset over The Black Canyon of the Gunnison. Photo by Alex Romanyshyn.

 

 

 

 

 

The town of Telluride and Telluride ski hill

The town of Telluride and Telluride ski resort. Photo by Alex Romanyshyn.

Telluride: Mountains and millionaires

This is a place that overwhelms me over the course of our two-day stay. This is the place where culture shock sneaks up on me. By the time we reach Telluride, we have been back from Africa for a week and a half. As we walk and drive through town, contrasts are running through my mind. And they won’t leave me alone. Sights, sounds, smells, people, houses, dogs, safety, money, money, money; my senses are overloaded here. Telluride is a gorgeous mountain town in a gorgeous mountain valley full of gorgeous mountain homes. I appreciate it for this, but something about it makes me squeamish right now. Despite my reeling mind, I can still enjoy it. We walk through town park, the site of most of Telluride’s summer festivals (there is a festival every weekend but one, at which time there is the ‘Nothing Festival’). We take a drive up toward Bridal Veil Falls, where Alternating Current Electricity was first generated and is still used to power all of the town’s streetlights. We go with Alex’s brother, who has just moved to Telluride, to a wooden swing hanging on a tree overlooking town. These things bring on that mountain feeling that you just cannot get anywhere else: peacefulness, contentedness, okay-ness with a life that is really not figured out, happiness at good company and great scenery. Our two days here are sort of strange for me with good mountain feelings and creeping culture shock running through me.

 

The Cliff Palace at Mesa Verde Ntl. Park

The Cliff Palace at Mesa Verde National Park. Photo by Alex Romanyshyn.

Mesa Verde National Park
We spend only half a day in Mesa Verde, doing what we could to get the most out of it in such a short time. We go to the Cliff Palace Overlook, where we see Mesa Verde’s famed multi-story cliff dwellings that were inhabited by Native Americans in 1200 AD. To go down into Cliff Palace requires waiting in a long line to purchase tickets beforehand. We skip this, and instead do a ticket-free walk through the Spruce House. If you have more time to spend in Mesa Verde you can visit their extensive museum displays and go on a guided hike into the cliff dwellings.

 

 

The Springs hot springs in Pagosa Springs

The Springs hot springs in Pagosa Springs.

Pagosa Springs: Desitnation deepest geothermal hot springs in the world!
Alex and I developed a hot springs hobby without meaning to, so we often end up in Colorado’s mountain towns soaking up healthy minerals and relaxing. So far we’ve been to Glenwood Springs, Cottonwood Hot Springs in Buena Vista, Strawberry Hot Springs in Steamboat (still our number one pick), Hot Sulphur Springs in Hot Sulphur Springs, Indian Hot Springs in Idaho Springs, Sol Duc Hot Springs in Olympic National Park, Washington, and, now The Springs in Pagosa Springs. The Springs are the world’s deepest geothermal hot springs and were first discovered by white men more than 150 years ago. Native Americans had been using them long before this. Now, there are 18 pools ranging from about 86 degrees to 112 degrees, with names like “Clouds in my Coffee,” “The Lobster Pot,” and “Columbine Pool.” When things get a little too hot, it’s easy to step into the San Juan River; The Springs are right on the eastern bank. Kayakers, rafters, and tubers pass by and there are some warm pools along the edge where hot springs water is bubbling up from the sand. This hot springs doesn’t have the ‘spa rules’ of some of the others we’ve been to so there are kids splashing and milling about. Nonetheless we spend 9 hours relaxing here, moving from pool to pool to warm up and cool off as we feel the need. Next on the list for hot springs this summer is Conundrum Hot Springs, the highest hot springs in North America and only reached after about 10 miles on foot!

Fun in the Sand Dunes

Playing around in Great Sand Dunes National Park. Photo by Alex Romanyshyn.

Great Sand Dunes National Park
Like Mesa Verde, we only spend about half a day in the Great Sand Dunes. We wander through the visitor’s center, learning that the sand making up the dunes was brought here by creeks and winds. As we go hiking up into the dunes, this fact becomes pretty unbelievable. Each dune in itself is large; from on top of them the people below look like they are inches tall. And there are a lot of them. 14ers tower to the east and smaller mountains are seen to the north. It takes us under an hour to trek up to a pretty vantage point. From here we can go running and jumping and sliding down the steep sides of the dunes, listening to the odd, suctioning thump that hills of sand make under impact. There are people hiking up with their kids, sleds in tow for a quick ride down. At the almost-dry creek below the dunes muddy kids are digging, dogs are splashing, and people are sitting in camp chairs soaking up the sun.

 

This trip was a perfect way to kick of the summer hiking/spending-time-in-the mountains season, and allowed us to hit three of Colorado’s four national parks, one hot springs, and one funky mountain town. If I had more time to spend in Southern Colorado, I would go the Ouray Hot Springs pool, backpack in the San Juan mountains, take a train ride in Durango, and make a quick jaunt down to Taos, New Mexico.

Indian Hot Springs

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Indian Hot Springs community pool

How to get there: From Denver head west on Interstate 70 and take exit 241A at Idaho Springs. Merge onto Colorado Blvd. and take a slight left onto Miner St. Turn left on Soda Creek Road.

Banana trees, palm trees, and a robust rubber tree border the indoor hot springs pool. Smaller tropical plants grow under them: agave, spider plants, geraniums, bromeliads, and much more. I have a quick flashback to a Costa Rican waterfall adventure, but there is snow on the ground outside. The Indian Hot Springs community pool is in a green house, which holds humidity well and lets the tropical plants flourish.

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