Blanca Peak

The drive from Colorado Springs to Pagosa Springs took about 4.5 hours, and was some of the best driving I’ve had yet. It started with a trip down the increasingly wild front range on I-25 and then followed US 160 west over La Veta pass and into the amazing San Luis valley. The scenery was increasingly excellent. In particular Blanca Peak was breathtaking in its imposing stance at the southeastern end of the valley. My friends in Colorado Springs spoke highly of the wilderness opportunities throughout the San Luis and I am excited to give this wonderful area a closer look in the future.

Between Pueblo and Ft. Garland it was very windy. Like, very windy. I was actually blown into the adjacent lane on a few occasions and I was glad there wasn’t much traffic. Once I got on US 160 I was headed straight into the wind, which made for easier driving, but can’t have been good for mileage. All the road signs along this stretch had been rotated parallel to the road by the wind, so it must be windy all the time here.

I stayed on US 160 as it raced across the valley floor and through Alamosa, which apparently is the coldest city in thelower 48. Whoa. Just outside Alamosa I picked up a great radio show called Woodsongs, a live, roots music variety show with some very cool music and good interviews. It was a great driving companion and I was sad when the mountains cut off the signal.

The mountains in question were the eastern edge of the San Juan range. I followed US 160 up over Wolf Creek pass and down to Pagosa Springs. The top of the pass was a bit shy of 11,000 feet and I suspect that it was the last time I’ll be anywhere near that altitude for the rest of the trip. The western side of the pass was steep and beautiful and it took real effort to keep my mind focused on staying on the road instead of marveling at the view.

Before I knew it I was in Pagosa Springs. The first task was to drive around like a creeper to find a good place to sleep for the night. With that accomplished I headed over to the library to get a little work done. On the way back was I greeted with a stunning view as the setting sun set off a ring of alpenglow in the surrounding mountains.

The San Juan river, hot steam, and downtown Pagosa Springs

The town itself is nestled in a little valley and mainly spread out along the San Juan river. Directly down town are the hot springs that the town is know for. There are a few businesses set up to take advantage of this natural bounty, ranging from small buildings filled with pools to large, resort-style hotels. My plan was to patronize one of the former, but before that I needed some dinner. I parked in a park along the river and had a very good time heating up food and jammin’ to some tunes. Dinner is better when you can stay outside.

After dinner I went to the local brewpub, Riff Raff Brewery. It was packed, but I was able to find a tiny seat at the end of the bar pretty quickly. Some live music was just starting and the chairs next to me were constantly refilled by friendly people who made the whole night very enjoyable. The beer was good but not amazing, just what a small spot in a small town needs. One thing worth mentioning was their Tonic IPA. I didn’t see it offered as a pint, but I got a Gin and Tonic made with the usual spirit and a dash of this Tonic IPA. I’m not sure it was a drink that needed to exist, but it was weird enough that I’m glad it did.


Suitably sudded I ambled down the street to the Overlook Hot springs. From the outside it looks like any other store on the main strip, but inside is filled with pools of different temperatures, all heated by the hot springs. On the roof were two of the hottest (and therefore best) pools and I spent a long time up there gazing out across the town and up into the clear, dark sky.

If Dan Carlin were to read my account as if it were an ancient text it might sound something like this:

Around my feet the last thrust of geologic energy from deep within the Earth boiled forth and condensed to steam as it reached for the heavens. Above me the moon, made luminous by its slavish devotion to the Sun, pierced through the night sky to impose its will upon the land. Closer to the horizon the great hunter Orion aimed an arrow straight at this transient interloper in an attempt to recapture his celestial dominance. Beneath this heavenly drama the town of Pagosa Springs slept, dreamily enveloped in a wreath of steam derived from energy primordial.

Needless to say I left the Overlook feeling slightly more connected to something or other. On the way out the proprietress said I had “good energy” and gave me a pass for a free future soak. I don’t know when I’ll be back, but it will certainly be too long.


Body still radiating residual geothermal energy I headed back to Van Halen and slept very well. When I woke up Surprise! Snow! It seems we had got about 1 inch over the night. I took advantage of the peaceful morning to walk along the river and see a quieter side of the town. Past the main drag some of the hot water formed a sort of marsh and with the steaming water and tall plants I half expect the Lady of the Lake to emerge and grant me the means to take back my kingdom. Sadly, no Excalibur emerged, but the scenery more than made up for it.

After a few hours in a local caffeinery most of the snow had melted and I was ready to hit the road for Durango, a mere hour to the west.

A few more small things:

  • There were two conversation topics at Riff Raff Brewery. The first was skiing, which makes sense because there are a lot of ski areas around. The second was oil drilling/prospecting/working, etc. etc. etc. Weird.
Nice park job
  • For breakfast I parked in a public lot while there was still a lot of fresh snow on the ground. Once the snow melted I was extremely pleased to see that I had somehow made it right between the lines. #nailedit.

  • I had heeded signs at the Overlook to remove silver jewelry (the sulfur will tarnish silver), but just walking by the river the next morning and exposed me to enough fumes that my ring took on a rather cool black shine. It’s already rubbing off, but I like how it looks.

    Black ring


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