August 22, 2021
A few drops fell during the night and we saw lightning in the distance but the worst of the weather stayed away. It was about 50 degrees and sunny when we left the campsite, headed in the direction of Grand Junction, Colorado. After yesterday’s long drive, today would be leisurely.
We’d driven only a few miles before spotting the Tie Fork Rest Area. The surprisingly beautiful rest area was more like a museum, set up like a train roundabout with signs about the history and natural beauty of the area. We learned the area had been settled by homesteaders in 1880 and a sign listed their several children born to the wife, three of whom sadly died at birth, though that didn’t stop them from eventually having a total of ten. We were definitely in Mormon country.
We left the rest area and continued along nearly empty Utah Highway 6 toward the small town of Price. The drive was through mile-high country between canyons with mountainous backdrops, including surprisingly beautiful Price River Canyon. We stopped for coffee in Price then drove for about 2 hours until we reached Colorado.
First stop, gas in Grand Junction where we fueled up for .50 a gallon less than California prices. A few months ago we’d explored Colorado National Monument which towers over the western side of Grand Junction, but we’d never explored the town itself. We saw on the map that the Colorado River runs along the edge of town and there was an adjacent trail and park. We’ve come to really appreciate morning walks and this looked like it would fit the bill.
Most of the riverfront park looked newly made, with a wide paved path, new bathrooms and a large amphitheater. An entire island was set aside for frisbee golf and we watched serious players with smaller versions of golf carts dragging them behind as they played. Apparently, it’s a big thing in Grand Junction.
After about a mile we turned around and headed back to the truck to continue our journey. The river views from the walking path were somewhat disappointing, it was getting to be quite warm and we were eager to reach higher elevations. The road out of town went parallel to the river and we gazed up at the (undoubtedly expensive) homes perched high above with water views on one side and the Colorado National Monument on the other.
From Grand Junction, we drove to Glenwood Springs, which is a small but prosperous-looking town at the confluence of the Colorado and Roaring Fork Rivers. Large posh resorts rose along the rivers, catering to tourists who wanted to experience the hot springs the area is famous for.
When we spotted an ice cream parlor and an adjacent coffee shop along the shady main street, we made a spur-of-the-moment decision to indulge. As Susan sipped her iced coffee and I enjoyed my ice cream cone, we took an exploratory walk through the little town. We’d gone only about two blocks when we met Peggy Ann, or at least we assumed that was her name because that’s what her RV was called. She’d happily left “the world of marriage and mortgages” to wander the country with her dog. She’d completely painted her 26-foot RV with flowers from top to bottom as her “Covid project” and after a nice chat, she smiled at us as we waved goodbye.
We continued our walk through Glenwood Springs and discovered foofoo shops and cafes as well as an entire developed area beneath an overpass. The town is a popular winter destination for skiers from nearby Aspen seeking hot springs to warm up and soothe achy muscles after days on the slopes.
We also discovered a pedestrian bridge over the Colorado River that provided access from the resorts on one side to the shops and restaurants on the other. We climbed the stairs and crossed to the center of the bridge where we had great views of the town and the river. All in all, we liked the small town even if it was a bit pretentious.
We left Glenwood Springs and headed up along the Crystal River towards “our own” hot springs. Penny Hot Springs sits just off the highway with very little parking available. But we found a spot and scrambled down to the river, joining twenty or so people already there. Hot water flowed from several spots along the base of a steep bank into the river and visitors had formed small pools to warm the cold river water. We learned quickly that the hot water was really hot. The river was unusually muddy due to recent heavy rains that had even caused mudslides that closed nearby Interstate 70. When we saw how much mud was in the crevices of our toenails we realized we’d been soaking in something more akin to a mud bath than hot springs.
But we relaxed for a while in the warm water and mud and chatted with some of the locals. One suggested a place to camp for the night down the road. We washed the mud off as best we could, then returned to the truck where we changed back into clothes from our swimsuits (we’re glad to have heavily tinted windows in the truck) and proceeded up the road, alongside the river.
We checked out the suggested camping site a couple of miles up a rough dirt road, but it was occupied so we headed back down. Instead we turned off on a different nearby (paved) road that brought us to McClure Summit at nearly 8,800 feet.
From the summit, we turned off onto a different dirt road, where we found a tiny hidden road heading downhill. After a hundred yards, it opened up into a small private campsite in a grove of aspen trees with a stunning view of the nearby mountains. Perfect!
After dinner, we walked back up to the summit parking lot and chatted with a local couple on a new BMW K1600 GTL motorcycle who regaled us of the beautiful rides in this part of Colorado. As we left, we traded phone numbers and invited them to visit (and ride with) us the next time they rode to California.
Not long after a late dinner, the sun began its descent. We knew it would be chilly at night around 9,000 feet so we slipped comfortably into our warm bed.