Rocky Mountain High now comes in small 4 liter inhalers (Personal Oxygen) – a quick blast of 95% oxygen to get you over those gasping hikes up the side of the mountains. Very popular – 40 shots for ten bucks. Even the young buck in the bike shop admits to using it.
We spent 10 days just outside Vail, Colorado in the new development of Avon. Gorgeous scenery, healthy people, fresh air – who could ask for more.
Regardless of the hike you choose, it is going to be uphill. This area of Colorado is green, with periodic thunderstorms popping up in the afternoon like clockwork. It feels like spring, with wild roses, lupines, and columbine lathering the hillside.
We hiked up to 9500 feet to visit Boothe Falls, through aspen groves and mixed conifer forests (slowly decimated by beetle infestations). We heard the roar of the falls in the distance, but it continued to tease us until we were on top of the falls, shot like a cannon through a narrow gorge, and roaring so loud, that one could not carry on a conversation.
Just the mention of Aspen, Vail, Steamboat Springs, and Snowmass will bring salivation to even medium-core skiers and lovers of snow. But it is not just winter that brings a shine to this area – gondolas deposit hikers and bikers at the pinnacle of the peaks, for either a quiet downhill ambulation or an adrenaline-charged plunge down the mountain.
Vail, tucked next to I-70, has a high cuteness factor, decked out to fool you into thinking you are in some Austrian Village. It is imaginatively built along the Eagle River, and on Sunday, when we visited, a huge farmer’s market brought the beautiful and healthy people out in force. I liked Vail, especially the Betty Ford Alpine Gardens, although it’s proximity to the freeway costs it a few points.
Aspen, nestled back into the mountains a good 45 minutes from the freeway, has a richer pedigree, while still presenting a small community where people actually live and work, and not just fly in and ski. Speaking of flying in, the Aspen Airport is most impressive, with rows of Gulfstreams – or should I say Obama loopholes – parked wing to wing. Aspen is nice, quiet, off the beaten track, and has an active downtown. Maybe when I become rich, I’ll move here.
One of the newer developments in this area is Beaver Creek, carved on the side of the mountain, and built around a creek that crashes through the village. A two mile steep walk up from Avon, this will leave you gasping and reaching for that inhaler. On second thought, I’ll move here when I become rich. This town, although new, has a huge cuteness factor.
Steamboat Springs is a beautiful 90 minute drive through verdant valleys, where you seem to float among the majestic peaks. Bigger than the other villages, it also boasts an impressive mountain to accommodate the many people who flock here for the world-class powder snow.
After a quick tour of the downtown, we eschewed further shopping and headed to the hills – Strawberry Hot Springs to be exact. This used to be a hippie commune until the sixties-styled owner discovered capitalism, spent money on improvements, and started charging admission.
Nowadays, this classic hot spring is a popular destination, with people of all political beliefs sharing water in pools that range from very hot, to just plain hot, to warm, to frigid in the river that snakes alongside the hot pools. Even better are the majestic vistas through the aspens as you soak away and ponder life. You know, this town has a good vibe, and I threaten Marge with taking up skiing again and moving here.
Another day, we looped around through Leadville, an old silver mining town, before crossing Independence Pass – elevation 12,095 feet. A group of cigar-smoking bicyclists were celebrating their success at reaching the highest point of their journey. They had left South Carolina early in the summer and would conclude their odyssey in California.
Had I stopped in Colorado and not continued on to California back in the late 80’s, I probably would have stayed. Everything I like to do – outdoors, hiking, fishing – it has in spades. Perchance, we will have another opportunity some day.
John Denver had it right when he penned his namesake song “Rocky Mountain High” – this state will put you in that frame of mind. And if the scenery doesn’t take you there, then a quick blast of the personal oxygen inhaler will.