I’ve always wanted to go to one of our local hot springs. I’d heard of the Penny Hot Springs and the ones at Conundrum, and knew there were several others in the area, but had never been to any of them. I asked a friend what he knew about them.
He told me about Avalanche Ranch, a place I’d never heard of, between Carbondale and Redstone. He said they had hot springs, and cabins you could rent to stay the night. That sounded like a great idea, because we could have some drinks in the hot springs and not have to worry about driving back to Aspen.
We tried to get a group together, but everyone we asked either had to work on Tuesday night, or Wednesday morning, or had some lame excuse, like pre-scheduled surgery. (Hope you’re feeling better Boobers!) So Alex and I headed out of town Tuesday around noon, which was perfect timing because we were able to stop for lunch at Ho Palace, my favorite Chinese food restaurant in the valley.
After stopping for supplies in Carbondale, we headed 13 miles up Highway 133 to the Avalanche Ranch, which was, to my surprise, an actual ranch, with horses and chickens and other livestock. The property consists of a main house, a few pastures, and several cabins of various sizes. They even have three gypsy wagons (Google it).
We checked in and headed straight to our cabin. I asked twice where the hot springs were, and Alex waved in a sort of general, vague direction (“Over there”) but I couldn’t see them from the car. The cabin itself was nice, with a full kitchen, bathroom, dining area, futon that turns into a bed, one real bed downstairs and a mattress in the loft. The kitchen was fully furnished with everything but food, including metal plates and cups like you would take camping.
I put the food away and we both made a drink in the plastic cups with screw-on lids we bought at the store on the way. (No glass allowed.) With the sun shining, we headed down for our first dip in the hot springs.
When we got there I was surprised. Actually, shocked was more like it. You know how you get this idea in your head of what something is going to be, and then when you’re staring it in the face it is absolutely nothing like what you expected?
I expected the hot springs to be a “natural” hot springs, meaning a hole in the ground that, for some reason that is beyond my ability to understand, is filled with hot water from an underground spring. I pictured college kids, old hippies and lifties hanging out in the pool, drinking beer, smoking pot and possibly tripping on acid. I expected nudity and debauchery and a general sense of shenanigans.
So I was stunned when we rounded the corner and I saw two beautiful, small, man-made steaming pools feeding via a waterfall into a larger pool on the lower level. It was all made of stone, and boasted a small building with his-and-hers locker rooms (shower before entering) and a restroom. Two couples and a young family occupied the top two pools, and three 60-something women were in the lower one, floating with the aid of colorful Styrofoam noodles.
This was not tripping hippies and stoned lifties. This was middle America, and about as white bread as it comes. It took a few minutes to acclimate from my mind’s eye to the reality before me. I know how to act with hippies and lifties, but this was going to take some adjustment. Don’t cuss!
We got into the lower pool first, which was warm, but not nearly as hot as I expected. After a while I asked Alex, since he’d been there before, if the upper pools were warmer than the lower one. He couldn’t remember, so we headed up to the pool that feeds the waterfall.
As soon as I stepped in I felt relaxed. The water was hot, and I mean just-drawn bathwater hot. It was the kind of hot where you can sit in it in the 30-degree weather and sweat. It was amazing, and I could feel my muscles relax and surrender to the heat and minerals of the soothing water.
I wouldn’t have gotten out of that pool all night, except after about an hour my drink was empty. By then the sun had gone behind the mountain, so we went back to the cabin for a refill and some food. An hour later, we went back to the pools and this time, straight to the super-hot one. It was cool sitting in the pool at night under the stars.
Then something awesome happened: It started snowing. To be outside in 30-degree weather at night, under the stars in a steaming hot pool with snow falling around you, is a remarkable experience. The only bad part is getting out. Although it only takes a minute to dry off and get dressed, it seems like an eternity when you’re wet and it’s below freezing.
I volunteered to take the bed in the loft since I am significantly shorter than Alex. Seemed like a good idea, until I woke up at 3 a.m. with an epic case of cotton-mouth and an empty water cup. I stumbled through the dark, down the little ladder and through the cabin to the kitchen, trying not to wake Alex up. All was going well until, while feeling in the dark for the kitchen faucet, I accidentally knocked a metal cup into the metal sink with metal plates from our dinner in it. It sounded like 10 cowbells going off all at once. Sorry Alex.
It was absolutely nothing like I expected, but Avalanche Ranch is a treasure in our back yard. The cabin was only $175 a night and could easily sleep four, so if you and a few friends want to get away for a night, the cost is negligible. And it’s less than an hour away from Aspen. Just remember to take your own food because they don’t have any on-site.
I still want to go to one of the natural hot springs in our area to party with the hippies and lifties, and will make plans to do that soon. But 24 hours at the Avalanche Ranch hot springs was exactly what I needed, and I highly recommend it to overworked Aspenites who need a vacation from helping others have a great vacation.
Doug Allen didn’t want to leave. Reach him via email at Doug.Allen75@yahoo.com, or follow him on Twitter @Doug__Allen (two underscores).