I love the Western United States. It really does feel like the “Wild West” — even though it’s far more populated than it used to be. The mountains… the plains… the Cowboys-and-Indians culture… it’s hard to explain. But unless you’re stuck in a traffic jam in Denver, things ”out west” just feel so open and free. It reminds me of my early childhood, playing on the prairies near my grandparents’ house and going on camping trips to the North Dakota Badlands. These landscapes of the Wild West are deeply embedded in my soul. Just driving through the area in a rented Nissan Versa is enough to make me feel like a lone cowboy riding the range.
So, it felt like a special treat to fly out to Colorado a week before my family, to help get this summer’s Leadership Training program off the ground. An unseasonably late snow storm shifted things around a little bit. But we were still able to get everything started! And when I wasn’t working, I had time to hike every day, and eat at interesting restaurants (often western-themed, in some way), and just generally soak up the Wild West scene.
On my last day in Colorado, before a brief Graduation Vacation back in Ohio, I decided to undertake some extra adventures. My friend Chad was also out west for the first week of the Leadership Training program. So he agreed to be the “Tonto” to my “Lone Ranger” (for at least part of these adventures). So we started by driving the Peak-to-Peak Highway from Estes Park to Idaho Springs, with almost two hours of spectacular mountain views. We got to Idaho Springs just in time for lunch at the original Beau Jo’s Pizza. And their ”mountain pie” was every bit as good as I remembered it.
Then, after lunch, we went to an old resort, originally established in the 19th Century, called Indian Hot Springs. I booked a room at the resort (for less than the cost of a room at the nearest Hampton Inn), which was strategic because of its proximity to Beau Jo’s and the famous Red Rocks amphitheater (more on that in a moment). But it also entitled me to two days of access to their natural hot springs.
The natural hot springs could be accessed through Geothermal Caves, a Mineral Water Swimming Pool, Outdoor Jacuzzis, and Indoor Private Baths. So Chad and I had a tough choice to make. We ultimately decided we’d try the Geothermal Caves. But the woman at the resort’s front desk warned us that we would need to drink lots of water because the Geothermal Caves were like a jacuzzi and a sauna all in one. And she said that if we felt like we wouldn’t be able to handle the heat, we could come back to the front desk and swap out our cave passes for something else. That got us wondering and worrying. But it still seemed so unique that we needed to try anyway.
As soon as we walked into the cave area, we felt the temperature creep up. We were buffeted by billows of warm, moist air, even in the locker room area. There we also encountered two completely-naked men lying spread-eagled on wooden drying racks. << Gulp. >> Even so, we weren’t prepared when we finally stripped down to our swimsuits and entered the caves. The air was so warm and moist that my lungs spasmed. The water was even warmer! And things just kept feeling weirder and weirder. The lighting was dim. Signs discouraged talking or making noise of any sort. The nudity was more overwhelming than I expected. So, after maybe ten minutes, Chad and I nodded and whispered to each other. We couldn’t take the heat. We were ready to trade in our cave passes.
We chose to switch to the Mineral Water Swimming Pool. And even though there’s a little bit of shame that this cowboy wasn’t tough enough for the Geothermal Caves, I must say that the Mineral Water Swimming Pool was lovely. Tropical plants bloomed under a greenhouse dome, fed by the warm, moist air. The water temperature was maybe 100° Fahrenheit. I swear that free-floating in the water felt like being back in the womb. It was amazing. Maybe not quite the ”Lone Cowboy” thing to do. But still. It was a ”Wild West” adventure.
After our time at Indian Hot Springs, Chad and I parted ways. He had further responsibilities with the Leadership Training program back in Estes Park, whereas I was about to head back east for my daughter’s high school graduation. First, though, I had one more Wild West adventure: a concert at Red Rocks amphitheater.
A couple of months back, I had figured out that one of my favorite contemporary artists, Rex Orange County, was going to be playing at Red Rocks. And even though the schedule wouldn’t allow me to attend with any of my kids (which would have been the dream scenario), there was just enough alignment of circumstances that I could attend the concert on my own. So, I did.
It was an amazing show. And an amazing venue. I’ve watched enough Instagram stories from friends at concerts to know that the experience doesn’t translate well through another person’s smartphone. So, you’ll just have to take my word for it. All 10,000 seats in the amphitheater were sold out. And we had a lovely night together.
I went back to the Indian Hot Springs resort after the concert. And I had a decent (but not amazing) night of sleep in my room (which probably had not been renovated since the 1920s). In the morning, I got up, had another soak in the Mineral Water Swimming Pool, and then started out for the airport.
It was a fun week out in the Wild West. But it also felt surreal. Especially being disconnected from the rest of my family. I spent a lot of time thinking about my wife and my kids and my parents, wondering what they were doing while I was ”riding the range.” It was lonelier than I expected it would be. Surprisingly-long conversations with strangers don’t mean the same as ongoing day-to-day dialogue with loved ones. So, I was glad when it was time to ”hang up my spurs” and rejoin civilization back east.