A bucket list for residents of Colorado’s West Slope
Sitting in a bookcase in my house is Patricia Schultz’ “1,000 Places To See Before You Die.” It’s one of the better travel books of the past decade, and apparently served as the inspiration for a Denver Post piece titled “Top 10 Things To Do In Colorado Before You Die.”
I’m a sucker for lists, particularly lists of things about which I’m passionate. That includes travel and Colorado, particularly western Colorado. In my view, the Post list, while not Front Range-centric, misses a few activities and sights that should be on any well-traveled Coloradan’s bucket list.
Here, briefly, is what the Post lists as the 10 essential Colorado activities:
✓ Climb a Fourteener.
✓ Attend a concert at Red Rocks.
✓ Explore Mesa Verde National Park.
✓ Visit Strawberry Park Hot Springs.
✓ See Great Sand Dunes National Park.
✓ Visit dinosaur country.
✓ Listen to elk bugle.
✓ Ride a narrow gauge train through the mountains.
✓ Go four-wheeling over a mountain pass.
✓ Raft the Arkansas River.
OK. That’s a good start. But let’s revise it from a western Colorado perspective. Or, more accurately, from one western Colorado columnist’s perspective.
Don’t climb just any Fourteener. There are 54 of them in the state, most of them west of the Continental Divide. If you’re going to do just one, do the one that on a clear day is the high point on the southern horizon from the north side of Grand Junction. Mount Sneffels is about five miles west of Ouray and rises to 14,150 feet. It is the most elegant of all.
I can’t argue with the Post about attending a concert at Red Rocks. We simply don’t have a venue like that in the western half of the state.
If ancient cultures are of interest to you, then by all means visit Mesa Verde. It’s a gem of a park. But it’s only a start to tracing the footsteps of “the Ancient Ones.” Don’t miss the Crow Canyon Archaeological Center near Dolores or, if you really want to see ancient dwelling up close and personal, cross the state line into Utah and go to Cedar Mesa, west of Blanding.
I must admit when I read the Post piece I had never heard of Strawberry Park Hot Springs. It’s near Steamboat Springs, I’ve since learned. But if hot springs are what you’re after, try Orvis Hot Springs, just north of Ouray. It’s a perfect après-climbing destination after your ascent of Mount Sneffels.
Sand Dunes is a wonderful destination, but there are some other parks that are every bit as spectacular. To the Post’s list I would add this: Spend an afternoon motoring across the Colorado National Monument. I don’t know how many times I took prospective employees on a trip across the monument and how many times that excursion may have been the tipping point that made them decide to locate in Grand Junction.
Yes, by all means, visit dinosaur country, and stay right in the heart of it in Grand Junction.
Rocky Mountain National Park, I’m told, is the place in Colorado to hear elk bugle. But I’m sure it’s not the only place. There are large elk herds all over western Colorado.
There are several narrow gauge railroads in the state. But the grand-daddy of them all is the Durango-Silverton route. Passengers on the coal-fired train pass through some of the most spectacular and inaccessible mountains in Colorado.
There are also any number of high mountain passes to test your driving skills. But the best are in western Colorado. Try Schofield, between Marble and Crested Butte, or Engineer, out of Ouray.
Instead of rafting the Arkansas, raft the Gunnison Gorge in Delta County. The rafting is every bit as good as the Arkansas, the scenery, with 2,000-foot granite walls, is better, and the fishing is unsurpassed.
There you have it. One guy’s version of how to spend some quality time in Colorado.
Oh, if you’re wondering how Colorado fared in the book “1,000 Places To See Before You Die,” here’s what Patricia Shultz recommended: Aspen, the Home Ranch (a dude ranch near Steamboat Springs), Mesa Verde, the Million Dollar Highway between Ouray and Silverton, Rocky Mountain National Park, Telluride and Vail. All, by the way, including much of Rocky Mountain National Park, are in western Colorado.