The magical, the mystical, the beautiful, the fascinating…Colorado. Recently I’ve returned from a trip with a dear friend of mine to Denver and the surrounding cities. No matter how many times I’ve visited, the fascination never fades with this lovely state. This was my sixth visit to colorado and the discovery grows each and every drive throughout this state. We began in Denver and spent the night relaxing after a long day of travel. Next stop was Woody Creek, en route to Aspen.
Woody Creek was an important stop for me, as one of the most influential authors in my life was Hunter S. Thompson, who not only ran for mayor of Aspen in 1970 on the “Freak Power to the Rockies” ballot, but chose residency for him and his family and ultimately ended his life there. We spent the next three hours heading through some of the most mind-blowing twists and turns of the continental divide, stops off at Independence pass, torrential downpours through the never anticipated one lane snaking mountain passes and a whole lot of crumbs in the car and wardrobe additions as the air grew thinner.
Bucket list time. The Woody Creek Tavern, the local watering hole of Mr. Thompson himself. The Woody Creek was coined as his favorite late night hang out and with only four stools at the bar, it came as no surprise that they would stay open late, on multiple occasions, only for him and him alone. Not gonna lie, my hands were shaking upon entry, I could physically feel the overwhelming power this place and it’s importance held over me.
Tucked into what can be best described as a hipster trailer park, with a 10 mph speed limit and a mini residency, the Woody Creek Tavern was exactly what I expected. Walls covered floor to ceiling in Thompson For Mayor posters, “Stay Weird” placards and stapled-up polaroid photos from travelers, admirers, nomads and freaks alike. I was lucky enough to get us on the wall, to the right of the men’s room. I ordered us two shots of Wild Turkey, to fit the bill and give my tribute. Tears welled in my eyes as I felt a connection that will stay with me for the rest of my life. My traveling companion was nice enough to humor me in my sentimental mood.
Once we did what we had to do in Woody Creek, it was back on the road to Aspen and turned in for the night, but not before having an awesome raclette dinner prepared by our friend, who is a local chef there.
Drinks followed and then, finally a much needed good night sleep. One of my favorite, unchanging aspects of traveling out west as an east-coaster, is how early I rise when I am out there. No matter what the night before consisted of, I will always rise between 7:30am and 8:30am. For some of you, you’re snickering at why this is exciting and foreign to me, however as a service worker at a bar that stays open (to customers) until 4am every single night of the year, that is a time when most of us are finally getting into a rhythmic slumber. Perhaps it’s the sun, the air, the excitement of the beauty presenting itself outside each and everyday, however it works like a charm every visit and I’ll take it.
The following day we arose and decided to grab some grub at a local restaurant. Instantly I squealed at the name alone, Breakfast In America. For those of you who don’t know why, the restaurant matches the title of an amazing album by Supertramp that I have not only enjoyed since I was a child, but actually holds specific meaning to several other trips I’ve taken, so I saw it as an omen of sorts.
Loaded up on carbs and coffee, that you go refill yourself (my kind of place), we were off to hike some trails close by. The sun was high and hot (not always the best choice when not properly hydrated). Smuggler’s Mountain Road had just what we were looking for. Smuggler’s mine, established in 1880 sits a few hundred yards into the hike and is a little visual trip back in time. This trailhead offered a nice hike passed the mine and up to a beautiful lookout about 1.43 miles up winding, dirt road switchbacks. It was hot and grueling, but quite breathtaking (mentally and physically if you get right down to it).
The view at the top offers a look out and the trailheads to many of the longer, more intensive hikes. The full Smuggler Mountain trail tops off at 14.5 miles and climbs 3,077 vertical feet total. This is my buddy Shifty and I at the lookout post that sits at 8,800 feet above sea level.
There were amazing trails with lots of Colorado native plants, one of my favorite being White and Lavender Rocky Mountain Columbine. When you pass them, you can run your hands down their stalks and smell their amazing aroma, which I then like to rub into my hair. However, they can be enjoyed from afar as well, if you’re not a weirdo like me.
After that we ventured back into downtown Aspen for some more coffee, intentionally cold this time and some brief shopping before headed back to our meet up with our hosts. We were off to knock off a second bucket list item of mine, hot springs. We ventured to the Glenwood hot springs to relieve our muscles. Some of the pools were way too hot for me, remembering not to walk in the streams, I found one I could handle for a bit. The mix of beauty towering around us in the form of rocky red cliffs speckled with bustling green pines and the cold river running along the springs, was so perfect with the setting sun, happy dogs and kind folks, I could’ve gone back everyday. Damp and tranquil, we stopped by a local burger stand, Fat Burger I believe was the name, for a bite to eat. We all slept well that night, full from stomach to third eye.
The next day Shifty and I thanked our hosts and ventured to breakfast at Cafe Bernard in Basalt, Colorado for a quick bite and we were back on the road. Back through Woody Creek to send out my postcards and then the same road back through Aspen on the way back to Denver. We stopped off to hike Weller Lake, which was another load of switchbacks and a bit more rocky, but worth the short gaunt into the woods. The trail number was 1986, the year I was born and I found it mildly amusing.
Back on the road to Denver. Last stop off along the way was a brief halt at Twin Lakes. We stopped at what I assumed was a trailhead, however I must’ve pulled off too early and will a little steep climbing, I made my way to a small trail. There was a man sitting by himself, with just a scope to a rifle, I said hello and he went onto engage in a conversation. “I’m not shooting” he said, “hunting season doesn’t start until tomorrow, there are guys up there already hunting elk and such but I’m just practicing my aim.” We gave some back and forth about our home towns, his (and my) love for Colorado, the weather, casual chatter about nature, wishing each other luck on future endeavors and our conversation ended. Back down the rode a mile or two and we hit Twin Lakes. Sitting across from the Twin Lakes is a small hotel stinking of firewood and good food, we enter the Twin Lakes Hotel for a bite to eat and a break from the winding road. Next to the solitary general store, ran swimmingly by a radiant 8 month pregnant woman and her husband, sat this hotel. Their view was outrageous, but what a strange stretch of nothing the area was. Camp sites and rest stops was all we encountered besides mountains and stationary a sheriff nodding off in front of the twin lakes trailhead. Denver and the rush hour traffic is what awaited us.