Colorado Escapist: Unleashing the power of water in Glenwood Springs
Editor’s note: For more of host Shawna Henderson’s adventures across Colorado, including backcountry skiing in Montezuma and wine biking in Palisade, see the sports section at http://www.summitdaily.com.
As the snow high above us quickly melts and runs down the peaks, the rush of water flows with furry into the rivers and streams of the Rocky Mountains.
On my recent trip to Glenwood Springs, I pondered the power of water in new ways. I give it the respect and admiration it deserves for creating massive, roller coaster-sized waves to play on with my whitewater kayak, but I often forget its role in carving out underground caves and formations like stalagmites and stalactites. Glenwood is the epicenter for incredible water creations, including the underground caverns, mineral hot springs and a whitewater play park located on the mighty Colorado River. The experience can be described in three words: powerful, restorative and mesmerizing.
After a scenic ride on a gondola perched high on a mountaintop, I reached the Glenwood Adventure Park and Caverns. The 360-view as I ascended from town kept me in awe, with views of snow-covered peaks and red rock formations.
I was mesmerized. Like a child, my eyes brightened as I passed by the roller coaster ride, also perched high on the mountaintop. The amusement rides at the adventure park were developed to keep folks entertained while they waited to view the caverns.
In 1897, the Fairy Cave was one of the first caves in the U.S. to have electric lighting installed. Historically, people traveled hundreds of miles to not only explore the caves, but also to view the first Edison electric light bulb in Colorado. Prior to electricity, brave spelunkers ventured into these dark spaces with nothing more than a metal can and a small candle.
Today, there are a few tours to choose from, including a well-lit walking tour or the more adventurous trip, the Wild Tour, that requires squeezing through small spaces on your hands and knees. Either way, let your imagination run wild here, bringing out that inner child and connecting to the underground world. Be aware: The Wild tour is not for the faint of heart. If crawling on your knees in plank position into small spaces is not your idea of a good time, then the walking tour is an excellent option.
Better than Dali
Caves are nature’s way of crafting a hidden underground masterpiece, and the Glenwood caves impress the visual senses with a mixture of minerals — the same minerals that transformed the bores with thermal sulfur waters. Beneath the surface, my eyes saw multiple images in the strange crystals and iron-colored rocks hidden within the cracks. Rocks, like clouds, created images that are frozen in time: dragons, fairies, even a polar bear. During the Wild Tour, I felt as if I had entered a Dali painting complete with bizarre images that appeared to be melting.
Laurie, the professional Wild Tour adventure guide, shared her knowledge of all things caving, pointing out cave bacon, cave popcorn and rocks that looked like blue cheese. Her interpretation of the features is fascinating, along with her stories of the cave’s legends. One tale suggests if you sing, the cave fairies will give you good luck with a kiss — that is, a water droplet that falls on your head.
Out of the caves, I tested my skills on the Colorado River with a lesson in stand-up paddleboarding with Charlie MacAruther.
SUP is a relatively new sport in landlocked Colorado, but it has quickly gained hundreds and thousands of converts. SUP originated on the islands of Hawaii as a way to easily catch waves with a paddle. A few pioneers, including MacArthur, helped bring it to the whitewater rivers. He’s a SUP racer and instructor who helped design the first inflatable SUP boards, which eventually took the sport from flat water to whitewater. He leads classes for beginner and veteran SUPers, along with kayakers and knows well the waters in the Aspen and Glenwood areas. For more info on lessons and SUP in Glenwood, see his website at http://www.aspenkayakacademy.com.
In my opinion, river SUP is probably the most fun you can have on Class I and II rapids. Using my core strength to stay upright and balanced, I slowly started to get the techniques — until I tried to push the button on the GoPro and splashed right into the river.
As we floated down the Colorado River just above Iron Mountain Mineral Hot Springs, I admired the view from the river. Every muscle in my body was engaged as we made our way through big wave trains en route to the Glenwood play wave, known for the best surf in Colorado.
I had the pieces to the puzzle — a background in both ocean surfing and river kayaking —but SUP is a whole different animal. It’s challenging yet exciting, less intimidating than kayaking yet more difficult to stay upright on big waves. Keeping our momentum moving, I carefully followed MacArthur’s lead, catching the nearby eddy (the part of the river that flows upstream) and prepared to river surf.
He made it look easy. He had a fine-tuned technique and could even stay up-right as he moved his SUP to the perfect spot to catch the wave. Myself, as well as others, opted to catch the wave like a surfer, dropping to our stomach before paddling hard to move into position. After multiple times swimming I still hadn’t made it to my feet, but the learning curve was part of the adventure.
Ahhh … hot springs
The perfect ending to an adrenaline-filled day was a relaxing soak in the Iron Mountain pools. Located in a quiet, intimate setting and heated only by the primordial energy of the Earth’s core, it is the perfect romantic getaway, or the ideal place to restore your mind, body and spirit for ultimate well-being after a day on the river.
Nestled next to the Colorado River, this newly opened location has a total of 16 mineral pools to relax and unwind. First stop was the reflexology pool, where smooth river rocks hit key points on your feet. Next, a glass of champagne in the heart-shaped pool to close my eyes and feel ultimate relaxation. I ended my visit under the waterfall next to beautiful poppy flowers, where I drifted off into a state of pure bliss.
Water is life, I thought. From the rush of rapids to timeless underground creations to luxurious mineral pools, Glenwood Springs is the place to be.
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