By: Paul S. Cilwa Viewed: 7/17/2019
Posted: 7/3/2010
Topics/Keywords: #BuenaVista #Colorado #GlenwoodSprings #Travel #Zachary Page Views: 3485
Zachary and I spend his first day in Colorado.

My grandson, Zach, told me that what he really wanted for his birthday was to go on a rafting trip, as we had done last year on the Upper Salt River. However, he told me this after it was too late to add him to my reservation for the last trip of the season. And I so hated to disappoint him. So I told him we would go rafting, but it would have to be on some other river. He was okay with that as long as the river had "lots of Class IVs!" and let me know that Class Vs would be even better.

I had to do some mighty shopping to create a trip that would fit my budget; but thanks to Priceline and some ballsy bidding, I managed it. The plan was to raft the Arkansas River through Browns Canyon, near Buena Vista, Colorado. However, commercial flights don't fly into Buena Vista. We would have to fly either to Colorado Springs or Denver. I got an unbelievable price for the latter, so the plan began to come together.

Since our trip would involve camping, one caveat was that we would have to bring camping gear, something I've never before attempted in conjunction with air transportation. I normally keep my stuff in plastic crates, so for each trip I just select the crate with the appropriate-sized tent, already packed with air mattress and sleeping bags; another crate with comforters and pillows, and another with kitchen gear if I intend to cook. But on this trip, Zach and I would have to compress everything down to the bare essentials—what would fit in my largest suitcase, and weigh in at or below the maximum of 50 pounds.

I fit in my 3-man tent, including fly and composite poles; two single-sized air mattresses that together make a king; a 12-volt air pump, and two sleeping bags rated at 40F, the expected overnight low temperature in Buena Vista, according to WeatherBug, which I have on my phone.

Zach and our camping gear, packed.

Zach and I each also had a carry-on with our clothes, first aid kit, vitamins and supplements, the GPS, and my camera.

We left the house yesterday at 11:30 am and I drove us to Michael's school to give him the car. (He couldn't come to Colorado with us because he has medical school finals next week.) He ran us to the nearest Valley Metro light rail station and soon Zach, myself, and our bags were traveling by light rail to the airport. This was Zach's first trip on the light rail system; so, for him, the adventure had already begun.

The airport shuttle met us when we disembarked from the light rail and took us to our terminal. I had already checked us in online and printed our boarding passes; I had also pre-paid the camping gear suitcase as checked baggage, so the only fear was that it might be too heavy. We had weighed it on the bathroom scale at home, but still—how reliable are those things? So it was a relief to read the result on the baggage scale at the US Air check-in counter: 49.5 pounds!

Our flight to Denver left on time and was pleasant enough. Zachary had an iPod to occupy him but of course he was more interested in what I was doing on my phone. "Playing FreeCell," I explained. "A variant of Solitaire."

"Aw," he said, earnestly, his face falling, "Solitaire…a game invented for the lonely."

Have I mentioned Zach's deadly sense of humor before?

We arrived in Denver a few minutes early and took the shuttle to Alamo for our rental car (which I had gotten for about half the list price by bidding on it) and, again, I stressed a little because you never know what kind of hassle they will give you. The car was prepaid, but would they insist I get the extra, unneeded, insurance? Would they give me a hard time because I am using a debit card rather than a credit card? But no, this time, it went smooth as silk and in no time we were driving westward in a new, silver, Hyundai Accent on I-70 toward Glenwood Springs.

One of my requirements for the car, besides that it be an economy model, was that it accept my USB flash drive full of music tracks I had prepared for the trip. This is still relatively new technology, but many rental cars have it; you just have to check each model out till you find one in your rental class that does. In this case, it was in the third car we checked. So, as we drove, we could listen to a mix of older tunes for me and the hip hop music that Zach prefers.

Again, we had bid a low rate and paid in advance for our motel room in Glenwood Springs; again, they were expecting us and checking in was stress-free—they didn't even want to see my debit card! The bed was comfortable, and the only downside to the night was that the air conditioner didn't work, we being expected to open the windows, which we did. But sometime around 4 am I was awakened by the smell of cigarette smoke and the hacking sounds of a terminal smoker overcome by Colorado's excess of fresh air. And then, at 7, there was a series of thuds from the room above ours, loud enough to awaken both Zach and me. Zach frowned sleepily. "Isn't it a bit early to be playing Twister?" he asked.

Glenwood Springs Motor Inn Motel

But we got up and showered, and stepped out to our first daytime view of the Glenwood Motor Inn Motel, and Rosi's Little Bavarian Restaurant & Pastry Shop, where we decided to have breakfast, as Zach likes French toast and they were likely to have that, there. The food was terrific and soon we were on our way to go swimming.

Here's the thing about Glenwood Springs: It is the home of Glenwood Hot Springs, one of the most famous therapeutic spas in the world and also the world's largest hot-spring-fed swimming pool. I had been here a few times before, once with my daughter, Dottie, and my granddaughter, Cailey, who was just a baby at the time but loved playing and bobbing about in the warm water. So I wanted Zach to have a chance to see it.

Zach in the therapy pool at Glenwood Hot Springs.

The complex includes three pools. Shown above is the therapy pool, where the water is 104. Behind the camera is the kiddie pool, which we didn't explore. In the background of the above photo, between the therapy pool and the mountain, is the recreational pool, where the water is maintained at 93 by adding cold mountain water to the water from the hot spring.

Zach, of course, was more interested in the recreational pool, which includes a diving board. Zach was anxious to show off his diving prowess.

Zach demonstrates his diving style.

There were also a pair of water slides, for which I had bought tickets. Zach rode each several times, then insisted I accompany him—twice!—on which we shared a double inner tube. "I really want you to go with me," he pleaded when I tried to beg out. "Your weight makes us go faster." Well, I could hardly argue with that logic. Especially after seeing the photo Zach took of me diving.

Your blogger diving in.

More than once, Zach came up to me and said, "Thank you so much for taking me, Papa! I'm having such a great time. So far!" One of the amazing things about Zach is he seems to have come with a built-in sense of good manners, or maybe it's genuine gratitude. He never fails to thank people who've done something for him, and I don't remember ever hearing anyone having to tell him to do this, not even when he was very small. Of course, this trait just makes people want to do things for him all the more.

After three or four hours enjoying the pool, Zach and I showered and dressed, and got into the Hyundai to head for Buena Vista, Colorado.

Although I've been in Colorado many times (mostly notably once during a blizzard in which I was trapped, literally, two nights in Denver Airport), I had never been far off the interstate highways. So this was my first chance to see the "real" Colorado, beloved of John Denver and Dan Fogelberg.

The real Colorado.

Zach was an enthusiastic passenger, pointing out sights I might miss and making photographic suggestions: "Look at that, Papa! It's like a postcard!"

Colorado: Like a postcard.

At one point we stopped to photograph a vast, beautiful, valley. A sign informed us that, a century ago, this valley contained three mining towns. The mines shut down by 1950, as the price of molybdenum dropped. To allay the increased danger from the decaying buildings, not to mention their unaesthetic look, the valley was filled in with tailings from the Climax Mine and is now returning to a natural state.

A valley reclaimed from three old mining towns.

We stopped briefly in the town of Leadville, hoping to find an outfitter's where we could buy Zach a pair of river shoes. There was such a store, with a sign in the window that read, "BACK IN '0 MINUTES". I think it meant "10" but the paper on which the sign had been hand-printed was torn and the first digit was mostly gone. We waited for a bit, then gave up when I got the idea that Zach might be able to fit into my sandals, inherited from my deceased friend Willis, and which I would not be wearing on the river.

Situated at an elevation of 10,152 feet, Leadville is the highest incorporated city and the second highest incorporated municipality in the United States. Despite its name, silver was the metal mined in this area. I suspect that "lead" describes the feeling of one's feet when trying to walk at this altitude.

I had pre-loaded all the addresses we'd need into the GPS; thus we drove directly to Arrowhead Point Resort, a campground with a few cabins and even yurts (permanent tents). The lady who checked us in was a bit puzzled when I asked to rent pillows and towels, as they are normally rented to users of the yurts or cabins. But I explained that we didn't have room in our checked bags for pillows; and she willingly added them to our bill.

A minor downside: I had not carefully read her email when I made my reservation and didn't realize the campground was not prepaid. Fortunately, that was not a problem. But if I had many more of these, it could become one, as I was, as always, on a very tight budget.

We set up camp, then drove into the village of Buena Vista for dinner. Zach loves the Subway sandwich chain and had given every town we passed a "You rock!" or "You suck!" based on whether they had a Subway franchise there. In fact, our first meal out of Denver was at a Subway. But I didn't want to eat at Subways all weekend. So we went to a local fast food joint called K's. (That's right, just the letter K, in possessive form.) Zach had a couple of corn dogs, while I had a pork tenderloin sandwich—a midwest delicacy I've never found in Arizona.

By now it had been a very full day and I was zonked. We got back to our campsite, where I turned in while Zach went "roaming" as he put it. Sometime after nightfall, the sky filled with stars but no moon, I heard him calling me: "Papa!" He'd gotten lost in the dark and couldn't locate the tent. I answered and he followed my voice back.

Zach at our campsite.

It did get chilly during the night; Zach had to get into his hoodie and I into a fleece pullover, in addition to our sleeping bags. But it wasn't bitter, and snuggling made up whatever difference in temperature control there might have been.

And, in any case, we were now in position for tomorrow's adventure: Rafting the Arkansas River.