You know that moment when you meet your soulmate? When all the hard questions have easy answers…
Do you want more children? – Snarl.
Can you love me for my vices? – They are my vices too. We are both thrill seekers.
What do you want to do this year? – Leave Tucson.
Where will we go? – The beach.
What’s after that – Twenty years of semi nomadic travel.
Where will we retire and settle down? – Pagosa Springs.
Couple Looking For Cool Mountain Town with a Lot of Snow
I’ve never been to Pagosa but Jenn described it as a cool mountain town with a ski area she wouldn’t be tempted to hurt herself on and a lot of snow. She went once in her twenties, so she had a vague memory of what it was like. For me, it was not Ohio – QED. I don’t mind being easy to please but we figured we should actually go and check the place out. The desire to spend one night in Pagosa Springs launched two weeks of travel to Antelope Canyon, Durango, Sedona and Phoenix (both ways). Here we were at the culmination of our road trip and my first exploration of our potential final home.
Our attraction to Colorado mountain town living was reinforced in during our recent Durango trip. We could see ourselves in a two bedroom ski in/ski out condo at Purgatory Ski Resort. Jenn felt confident with everything that mountain could throw at her. The biking was fantastic. The Animas River could be a lot of fun and Ft Lewis College kept the town young and hip. I was excited. If Durango was this good then Pagosa could be incredible.
Highway 160 east to Pagosa wasn’t the best welcome. I have heard of people making an epic ride from Durango to Pagosa, but the shoulders were death-wish narrow and the scenery was kind of meh, until the end. Once you get to Chimney Rock and roll into Pagosa things get more interesting, but not epic. Of course, the first thing we did was to roll right out the back side and check out Wolf Creek.
The Road to Wolf Creek was Epic
Hwy 160 from Pagosa to Wolf Creek was epic. It followed the San Juan river and was flanked on either side by gorgeous meadows, rustic (actually sprawling and flash) cabins and incredible mountain views. The shoulder was super wide and smooth and would make a fantastic ride for the 17 miles from Pagosa (7,100’) to Treasure Falls (8,100) at the base of Wolf Creek Pass. The falls themselves are the #1 rated activity in Pagosa. They were thumping from the spring snow melt so we had to stop and park. We didn’t make the ¼ mile, 300’ climb to the top of the falls that day but we did come back the next day for a picnic. On the top of the trail is misty deck which was more like a shower with the spring floods. Well worth the short hike.
Sometimes, you have to trust your gut and tell your GPS to piss off. Jenn pulled out her cell phone and started navigating to Wolf Creek Ski Lodge which the Google Machine said was 26 miles away. We left town with a quarter tank of gas since the sign in town said 26 miles to the ski area. Things weren’t adding up. We weren’t going to make the google round trip with the remaining gas but the physical signs back in town said we were fine. We looked up from the phones and actually observed our surroundings. The road started to go straight up and if we kept going up like that for 26 miles we would be on top of Everest. I said “Not Today Google” and headed up the mountain.
The Road Headed Up, Straight Up
The road got steep, narrow and winding. There was some sign for a scenic view but my eyes were straight forward and hands at 10 and 2. Out of the corner of my eye, I saw the prettiest run-away truck ramps I have ever seen. They were wide with fresh gravel as well as fresh ruts from trucks that have actually used them. Right after the opening hairpin turn at the lookout, we came to snow, actual snow, replete with some snowboarders doing a little hike-and-board. Shortly thereafter was Wolf Creek Pass and the Wolf Creek Ski Area. We had climbing 3000’ to the Continental Divide in 8 miles since Treasure Falls. I don’t know what felt better, knowing that I was right or not running out of gas in the mountains.
We liked Wolf Creek in theory because it gets the most snow in Colorado and has one of the longest ski seasons in Colorado that usually starts before Thanksgiving. It was more a little more challenging than Purgatory with some fun terrain. This might be too much temptation for Jenn’s new titanium knees.
Wolf Creek Pass is the highest pass on the Continental Divide. We were literally on top of the world. Down the other side of the mountain is memory lane for Jenn. There is Keystone Mountain, where Jenn got her first skiing job. Red Rock Amphitheater where she saw Blues Traveler on the 4th of July, and any number of Wide Spread Panic and Grateful Dead shows. There were even a few trips to Pearl Street Mall in Boulder for Halloween (back when it was really a party). Unfortunately, this was the end of the road for us but here are some of the best day trips outside of Denver that we will have to come back for.
Yup, top of the world and not a condo in site. The last house we saw was about 10 miles back past the falls and there was no way we could afford it (and travel). Just like that, reality had to come in and messed around with our plans. Not only were there no houses but there were no toilets either. We took a constitutional back down at the scenic pullout and wow- what a view. You can see the entire San Juan valley from here. Just look….
We returned to town and checked into The Spring Resort. We knew we wanted to visit the hot springs and stay overnight somewhere. By packaging the two together we saved some money, logistics and were able to have 24 hour access to the pools. Plus, they had some monthly discounts we took advantage of so we felt pretty good. We got the cheap rooms in the old lodge and paid $177 for the night. The two days of premium soaking would have cost us $206 and we still wouldn’t have a bed – score. The lodge had the layout of an old motel but the rooms were recently remodeled, clean and very comfortable. The wall art above our bed showed this building had been around since before the invention of color. The room really was nice but it didn’t take us long to get into the pools.
The Pagosa Hot Springs Hotel and Spa had 23 pools with temperature ranging from the Lobster Pot at 117 to the Burg at 50. They are all fed from the Mother Springs which is the deepest geothermal hot springs in the world. The Guinness people plumbed it at over 1000’ deep until they ran out of line. All these springs put an ever-present smell of sulfur in the air which wasn’t bad, and you got used to quickly. The majority of the clientele were local, country and a little older. The grounds were well laid out with lots of nooks and gorgeous views of the river. We soaked for a couple of hours and headed into town for dinner.
The resort was right across the river from downtown (such as it is). We crossed on a pedestrian bridge, took the riverwalk, and .3 miles later we were at the Lost Cajun. It was solid food, consummate with the price point. The ambient zydeco, sample plate of their gumbos, and friendly staff made this an enjoyable meal but the downtown wasn’t as hip and cool as Durango. We kept walking down the river trail. In my mind, I was looking for a giant gazebo which I imagined was part of the namesake for the town. Upon fact checking, I learned that Pagosa is a Ute word for water (Pah) which has a strong smell (Gosah). Once again, we Americans have worked foreign words into our language in a peculiar fashion. Pagosa Springs is as linguistically redundant as The La Brea Tar Pits. We did see a class performance from a youth guitar lesson playing in the park. Being young here would be incredible. Imagine your middle school right next door to an outdoor outfitter and guide service, but by the end of the walk, knew we didn’t want to grow old here.
The magic happens at midnight. By now, you can imagine Pagosa as a sleepy, country town, although some people consider it one of the best small towns to visit in America. It is a little more country than Durango, which itself is a country version of Telluride. What could the nightlife offer? We opted for more soaking. The starlight and cool breezes were super pleasant in themselves. We brought in our girly drinks of apple ale (cans only, no bottles) and relaxed. At 11:00 we had a very nice surprise. Hotel security cleared out the few remaining day use guests and everything got quiet. Only hotel guests had 24 hour access to the pools. This was awesome in and of itself, but we imagined coming back on a full moon or meteor shower and having the celestial double dip.
Wrapping Up Pagosa
The next day we crossed the bridge to River Pointe Coffee House for some yummy coffee and breakfast burritos, soaked, did our aforementioned hike and then back to the Springs for more soaking. The hotel stay got us entrance all the next day from the bathhouse next door. Pagosa was charming but a little too quaint for us. We would come back for the hot springs and biking up the 160, but we are still on the look out for our future home.
Ed and Jenn
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