The Explorer's Guide to the Roaring Fork Valley

Ahead of a scheduled work trip to Denver, B + I had a hankering for wandering. So we extended our stay a couple days in order to head into the mountains and get lost. We spent no time planning what we might want to do and experience and certainly did not plan on flying with bald eagles and bathing in hot springs.  Take our cue and let go of your plans, magic will unfold. Here are our favorite field notes to a winter adventure like no other. 

HOW WE GOT THERE

Bryan had been in Denver for a few days on business and I caught a Southwest Airlines flight right behind him.

From the airport I jumped on a half hour train ride to Union Station, which is a gorgeous spot to grab a healthy bite to eat at Mercantile Dining and Provision. After my refuel, Bryan pulls up in our rental to take a sunset cruise to our resting place for the evening.

The sunset we witnessed was a masterpiece. The light bouncing off the clouds, the snow, and the Rockies was every color of the rainbow.

We have worked with SilverCar over the last year and totally recommend renting the Q5 Quattro for rolling through mountain passes. Plus, the heated seats and wifi make this explorer feel like a lady of leisure. 

The beginning of our adventure included a work meeting in Carbondale around lunch time.  So we arose early and pointed our Audi towards the Rocky Mountain Range for the Roaring Fork Valley. 

The journey is all part of the excitement. We started our ascent into the mountains. Winding along beautiful roads, hanging on cliff edges, and weaving through tunnels cut in rock listening to a curated playlist courtesy of DJ Buse.

WHERE WE STAYED

After playing businessman for the first half of the day, Bryan put on his explorer hat. First we needed to find shelter.

Walking a portion of the 42 mile Rio Grande trail, we called around to a few lodgings while listening to woodpeckers leave their marks on the surrounding Aspen trees. Kelly from Dandelion Inn called us back with a room right off Main Street in downtown Carbondale. And so the path begins to unfold…

We laugh while unpacking because our home for the evening is so much like our cozy one in Austin with its wooden vaulted ceilings and bifold bathroom door!

Kelly told us of a local hot spring here on the Crystal River. It doesn’t pull up on GPS and there is no service in this Valley, so we took the paper map she drew an X on and set out to find it. 

WHAT WE DID

Following alongside the Crystal River with map in hand, we kid you not, a bald eagle soared eye level alongside our car for over 200 yards. Guiding us to Penny Springs. When we saw the sign for Avalanche Ranch we knew were close.

Parked on the side of the road we scaled down frozen rocks into Penny Springs. Where hot natural sulphur springs are trickling out of the mountain and merging with the ice cold snow melt of the Crystal River. Locals have built up pools using river stone to collect the hot springs like little jacuzzis.

We soaked our bones in these healing waters and watched the sun set on the mountain views around us through the steam.

WHO WE MET

We had the best encounters with natives of the area. We started up conversation with some locals in the pools. They tell us all about the Valley, these thermal hot springs, and abandoned gold mining towns that are hidden throughout the valley. I think we scored some points with them when we proved we could handle a Wim Hof plunge into the ice water, because they invited us to dinner in Snowmass. Do you see how things just unfold?

Other locals to keep an eye out for are the cutest mule deer that amble around in the wild, but it will be stags, jumping and frisking along the drive in fields of white snow, who steal your heart.

WHERE WE PLAYED

The next morning, we decided over a lazy breakfast that we should go see about a little place called Aspen and quote Dumb and Dumber all day.

We park along the base of the mountain and step out for a walk when I hear someone yell my name from across the street. I turn in confusion and see my childhood family friend Joel Smith running up to us! He just happened to see us walk by his place of work and spotted dad’s old film camera first before realizing it was us. Obviously another magic moment! Joel ended up giving us a mini tour of Aspen as we caught up on life. 

He recommended we peep the Aspen Art Museum and the John Denver Sanctuary, which we did like two kids.

We found shelter for the evening in the Historical Redstone Inn built in 1902.

The next morning, after eating homemade oatmeal with blueberries by the cozy fire place, we decided a morning dip back in the hot springs was necessary to start our day. It was 11 degrees outside and completely worth it.

WHAT WE SAW

Our friend Joel had mentioned sightseeing lift tickets as the best way to experience the mountains, and since Bryan and I were not equipped to ski this time around, we followed his advice and ended up summiting Buttermilk, Aspen and Snowmass Mountains.

Riding lifts and gondolas up and down, taking in the unbelievable views in complete awe of the natural beauty.

Snuggled up near a roaring fire in the ski lodge with complimentary Lavazza lattes. It was quite romantic and a relaxing last day in the rockies.

Before our last day an expected snow storm was set to roll through the Valley and us Texans do not handle weather like that very well, so we hit the road for Golden. The next morning we stroll down Main Street and find ourselves amongst over a thousand golden retrievers. A golden walk in Golden!!! We laughed with tears in our eyes surrounded by every shape, size and age of pup. And thanks to that snowstorm, we were in the right place at the right time. Again, do you see how things unfold perfectly when you let go of control?!