Great side trips from Aspen
February 11, 2004
Until your first foot gets dunked into the 104-degree pool, then your second foot and then the rest of you, you won’t know what you’re missing if you bypass the Glenwood Hot Springs. Within minutes, you’ll be reduced to rubberized humans, lying lazily among other comatose humans on the stone steps of the therapy pool. Lay back and listen to the soft hum of traffic, Jacuzzi chair bubbles and Union Pacific trains passing by. Look up at the old red-stone bathhouse and imagine what President Teddy Roosevelt and Baby Doe Tabor must have thought decades ago about this unusual mountain oasis, whose reputation apparently challenged the most lavish spas of Europe. Lush green grass invites lounging on a beach blanket with a bestseller, packed lunch and bottle of water. Depending how much relief you need, the pools themselves could suffice. For the more seriously stressed, the Hot Springs Lodge and Pool has professional massage therapists. The next-door Yampah Spa and Vapor Caves also offer soothing, with massage, herbal wraps, mud baths, rose-petal masques, facials and a full hair salon. At the spa, the pampering-yourself options are nearly unlimited. The caves, which cost $8.75 to get in, are heated to 112-degrees or more by steam from the geothermal springs. Like the hot springs, the Ute Indians used the caves for purifying sweats, to cleanse the physical and spiritual toxins from their minds and bodies. Marble benches line the caverns where mineral-rich vapors do their thing. Summer hours: 9 a.m. to 9 p.m. Call the pool at (970) 945-7131 or the caves at (970) 945-0667.
This former mining camp is now a Victorian hamlet of 100 souls, many who are artists, tucked up the breath-taking Crystal River Valley outside Carbondale. In summer, its main drag, Redstone Boulevard, lures hordes of visitors for its art galleries and quaint shops. The back deck at Dorle’s is an exceptional spot; so is the riverfront seating of the Crystal Club. The Redstone Inn sits at the end of Redstone Boulevard and is often at the beginning or end of a Redstone tour. The town is filled with other charming historic structures, many now converted into shops. The Inn was originally built in 1901 as worker housing for bachelor miners. Now, it’s a beautifully restored, with 40 rooms. It serves up tasty meals and an incredible Sunday brunch (963-2526). Nearby is the extravagant Cleveholm Manor or Redstone Castle, built in 1902 by mining baron J.C. Osgood and open for tours and spa-like offerings. With 42 rooms, it was dubbed the “ruby of the Rockies.” Now a bed-and-breakfast, the opulent home cost $500,000 in its day, complete with mahogany woodwork, vast fireplaces and green leather wallpaper in its library. Call to organize a tour, (970) 704-1430. The mountains that guard the town offer amazing trails (most are fairly steep); many are a gateway to the Maroon Bells/Snowmass Wilderness. But you can venture into Coal Basin, a former mining area recently acquired by the Forest Service, (Braderich Trail, for instance) for more moderate trails. Ask at the Inn or Sopris Ranger District (970-963-2266) for directions and the best routes. Marble, an even smaller burgh 10 minutes south of Redstone, is a breath-taking valley with amazing Forest Service trails. The place also draws many sports/game enthusiasts, photographers and nature lovers. Historic buildings abound.
It’s estimated that nearly 10,000 Latinos live in the Roaring Fork Valley, and many restaurants and stores have sprung up to serve them. That means not only wonderful authentic Mexican restaurants, but Mexican groceries and gift shops. Need tomatillos, Oaxaca cheese or chorizo for a recipe? Stop in Teresa’s Market on Two Rivers Road in Basalt or Mercado San Jose on Highway 133 in Carbondale. Both have extensive inventories of ingredients for authentic Mexican cooking, plus they have music, tortilla warmers and other goods. The Mercado also has a wonderful restaurant so you can eat before or after you shop. Also new to Carbondale: a tortilleria and carneceria — for homemade, authentic tortillas and fresh meats. There is also a new authentic Mexican restaurant called Taqueria El Zarape, located just off of Sopris Park in Carbondale. Spanish-speaking visitors might also like to rent videos at Joe’s Videos, a few feet away.
It’s been said that all the “real” artists have left Aspen. Of course, that’s not true, but many Aspen creative types have sought out cheaper digs down the valley and now have studios in Basalt, Carbondale, Glenwood and Redstone. A similar trend is also happening with art galleries. Basalt now has some great galleries. And both Carbondale and Glenwood each have a handful — many are new, vibrant and exciting, showing off work by locals and non-locals alike. Start a tour of downvalley art galleries by visiting the David Floria Gallery, next to the Woody Creek Tavern in Woody Creek. Housed in a log cabin, this charming gallery typically shows contemporary and folk art. Also in Woody Creek is the Wyly Community Art Center at the Aspen Community School. Set on a bluff, this art center typically features work by artists in residence and students. In Basalt, check out the Keating gallery (contemporary paintings and sculpture by American artists) and Basalt Gallery (contemporary and traditional fine art from valley artists).Down the valley in Carbondale are galleries and places to buy exquisite art for homes — things like art glass and hand-made carpets.There’s the Main Street Gallery, Galleria Bucovina, William Thomas Gallery and Crystal Glass Studio. All are downtown. Don’t forget Redstone and Marble: galleries in that hamlet offer art from many working artists in the valley. In Glenwood, check out the new CMC gallery, featuring works by instructors and students of that community college, the Webb Gallery (works on paper, oil paintings, sculpture and more), Center for the Arts and the Main Street Gallery (original graphics, etchings and lithographs).
With its vast acreage and its virtually unlimited recreational and fishing possibilities, the Frying Pan Valley is a world onto itself, and the town of Basalt is the convenient gateway to that world. Long before there ever was a Basalt, there were pockets of commerce and rustic living in the Frying Pan Valley. It’s hard to believe now, but that valley was the main thoroughfare for those getting to and from Leadville from this part of the Roaring Fork Valley. The Colorado Midland Railroad route was built over the Continental Divide at Hagerman Pass in the late 1880s. James J. Hagerman was the man from Milwaukee whose capital and influence turned the bold dream of the Colorado Midland into the first standard-gauge railroad in the Colorado Rockies. Although the rail lines were pulled out in 1921, traces of that rail route and rail history are visible throughout the 30-mile-long valley (30 miles is just the paved portion. In the summer, the road is passable with four-wheel drives all the way to Hagerman Pass). In this beautiful valley — surrounded on three sides by wilderness areas — there are old railroad tunnels, lime kilns, old hydroelectric plants, historic cabins and historic settlements (Thomasville, Meredith, Norrie Colony to name the most recognizable ones). One of its most popular attractions, Ruedi Reservoir, is fairly recent history: built in 1968 by the federal Bureau of Reclamation. It’s located 13 miles upstream from Basalt. For more than 100 years, fishermen have recognized the wonder of this red sandstone valley. Back then, anglers would simply hop off the rail, camp and fish for a few days and catch the train back to town. Today’s anglers still have plenty of room to spread out, with lots of public access along the river’s stretch from Ruedi to Basalt. The crystal clear waters of the Frying Pan are among the few classified as “gold-medal” by the state Division of Wildlife — named for their spectacular angling opportunities.6. Fish in golden watersThe rivers are what lure many people to visit Basalt and midvalley, and they are no ordinary waters. Of the more than 9,000 miles of trout streams in Colorado, only 168 are designated as “gold medal” — meaning the waters provide outstanding angling opportunities for large trout. The 14-mile stretch of the Fryingpan, from the 1,000-acre Ruedi Reservoir to the confluence of the Roaring Fork in Basalt, is among the nation’s prized fisheries. So too is the 12-mile stretch of the Roaring Fork, from the confluence with the Crystal River outside Carbondale to the confluence with the Colorado in Glenwood. The Fryingpan, Crystal and Roaring Fork rivers all cascade down through some spectacular scenery. The Fryingpan, below Ruedi Reservoir, spins through a red sandstone canyon with steep timbered slopes, basalt outcrops, and past beautiful meadows. The Roaring Fork tumbles down from 12,000-foot Independence Pass, and through classic ranch and meadow country. One of the most beautiful stretches of river near Aspen is the Dart Ranch property in Snowmass Canyon. The Dart Ranch is managed fishing access on the Roaring Fork River. It offers some superb habitat in a pristine setting. The historic ranch, home to a large herd of elk and deer, is privately owned, but an arrangement has been made that opens it to anglers. Five free permits are allowed each day; pick one up at the Taylor Creek Fly Shop in Basalt (970-927-4374). The shop will give you directions to the best parking spots along Highway 82 or on River Road.
Sure, Aspen’s got great sushi, Italian and world cuisine, but there’s even more diverse ethnic foods down the valley. There’s Cajun in Glenwood, two French places in Basalt (The Bistro and Cafe Bernard), and many, many Italian places. Plus, some offer deals that you just don’t get in Aspen. Like two-for-one sushi rolls at Sezen in Carbondale (on Tuesdays) or the less-than-$10 entrees at The Bayou in Glenwood Springs. If beer is what you like, the Rainbow Grill (on the Frying Pan river) has more than 100 brands from around the world; its beer menu takes pages and pages, and there’s no more choice spot than sitting on their deck on a warm summer night. You can’t go wrong with any of the fine dining spots in downtown Basalt or in El Jebel. All are locally famous, popular and have great reputations. In Carbondale and Glenwood, Italian places seem to rule: Il Pazzaluna in Carbondale is about two years old and offers “Aspen quality” Italian and a wonderful atmosphere (Be sure to try the wedding soup). In Glenwood, Florindo’s is an old-time favorite where everything is homemade; it’s packed on weekends. Of course, there are plenty of other wonderful spots, but those will be up to you to find.The West Elk Loop Scenic BywayScenic drives just don’t get much better than the West Elk Loop Scenic Byway, which begins in Carbondale and forms a sort of 205-mile lariat, passing through Redstone, Paonia, Hotchkiss, Crawford, Gunnison and Crested Butte. “It is the closest you can come to a wilderness experience in a passenger car,” says a U.S. Forest Service brochure on the loop, adding that it “provides a unique combination of geological, historical, recreational and scenic features.” Much of the loop includes Hwy. 133, which Travel & Leisure magazine called “one of the lesser-known natural beauties in Colorado.” The loop includes some unpaved roads as it encompasses parts of the White River National Forest, Gunnison National Forest and the Curecanti National Recreation area. Given anything short of horrible weather, the non-paved roads are passable for the main summer months, even with two-wheel drives. During transition seasons in late spring or early fall, it always pays to check road conditions. The loop also offers easy access to the Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Monument, a dramatic national treasure with its river-cut canyon, hiking trails and camping opportunities. Other attractions include two designated historic districts, many historic railroad and mining sites, access to the Raggeds Wilderness, passage through a few of Colorado’s best small towns (our biased opinion) and views that literally change mile by mile. Our advice is to start early and make a day of it. It’s really THAT special a drive. Kids, in particular, will be enchanted with the historic sites and opportunities for spotting wildlife and ranch animals. On a recent journey, we saw a just-born calf (its mother still cleaning it off), a wild turkey, deer, a bighorn sheep and a bald eagle.
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The Flat Tops Trail Scenic Byway winds 82 miles across the Flat Tops mountains above Glenwood Springs, with 40 miles of road that’s open from June through October (depending on snow). It takes 2 1/2 hours of driving time (if you start at I-70). Bbut there are plenty of stops and most locals would suggest allowing at least five hours for the tour. The Flat Tops were formed millions of years ago from lava springs that broke out of the earth and flowed across the surface. During the ice age, glaciers melted and pushed downward to gouge out valleys and create lakes in the mountain folds. Trapper’s Lake, one of the most popular sights on the drive, is known as the “Cradle of Wilderness” because it was there in 1919 that Arthur Carhart, a landscape architect hired by the Forest Service to plan the lake’s development, instead recommended that the government halt any such construction and preserve the area. The concept of protecting such areas from development is considered the beginning of the Wilderness Movement that led to the landmark 1964 Wilderness Act. Trapper’s Lake holds the largest population of native Colorado River cutthroat trout in the world. It’s also the second largest natural lake in Colorado. Reaching it requires a quarter-mile hike from the end of the road. Hand-propelled craft can be rented at a lodge nearby. There are a couple dozen “points of interest” along the byway, along with 16 National Forest campgrounds and more than 300 miles of trails through wilderness areas. (Since it’s wilderness, there are no bikes allowed.) Audio tapes of the byway are available for sale or rent at local Forest Service offices or at the Meeker Chamber of Commerce (970-878-5510).
On a simmering summer night, those who have long since passed the age of being carded can enjoy a breather from the heat, the feeling of the wind in their face and hear the unmistakable sound of the go-kart’s revved-up engines. Funland, near Glenwood Springs, is the valley’s only go-karting operation. It boasts views of Mt. Sopris and sits in a valley of pinion, juniper and sage-covered hills; it opened for business four years ago. Slightly retro and certainly spare, Funland fills a welcome recreational niche and a place to have some good, clean, goofy fun. Just don’t arrive at Funland inebriated or even a trifle tipsy. The rules state that pretty plainly. Other no-nos on the long list of don’ts include smoking and chewing, bumping karts or cutting off other riders. Also, “keep both hands and feet inside the Kart” (was this edict borrowed from Disneyland?) and hair that’s longer than shoulder length has to be cinched back (but isn’t part of the attraction of go-karting feeling the wind in your hair?). Yet once on the track, it seems like anything goes in terms of driver etiquette. Funland, located at the corner of Cattle Creek and Hwy. 82, about six miles south of Glenwood Springs, also offers a maze and batting cages. For more information, phone (970) 945-5278.