Road-Tripped: Colorado's Crystal River Valley

Crested Butte is more or less the end of the road come winter, but in the summer, seasonal mountain passes open up access to regions that are many hours' drive away otherwise. In late June, my wife Lori and I rallied over Kebler Pass and then McClure Pass before descending into the the Crystal River Valley, en route to Avalanche Ranch Hot Springs. I could smell burning brake pads as we coasted downvalley to Redstone, a historic mining town turned tiny tourist hub. Coke ovens (used for cooking coal) lined the road like stone igloos.

We celebrated the first night of our "Five-Year Anniversary" vacation by grabbing a fresh-cooked pizza, a slew of snacks, beer and wine at the general store in Redstone and then continuing up Highway 133 to our cozy cabin at Avalanche Ranch. If you don't get supplies in Redstone, the next hub is Carbondale (about 15 miles away). Back at the ranch the three tiered hot springs pack plenty of heat, and are surrounded by a collection of cabins and funky mobile "homes" for nightly rental. Sheep, a donkey or two and other farm animals are corralled in large open spaces. The hot springs sit up high, creating the sensation of looking through a Bonsai tree canopy. The vibe was mellow (no over-the-top hot springs weirdos to speak of) and our dog was allowed (in the cabin, not the springs) for a small fee.

We used the ranch as our base and in-between soaks day-tripped over to Marble, like Redstone a historic district renowned for mining. Marble's mining history dates back to the late 1880s when surveyors discovered the largest vein of pure, white marble in the world. The marble was turned into edifices for government buildings all over the United States, including the Tomb of the Unknowns, and pillars for the Lincoln Memorial in Washington, D.C. The mine is back in operation after a lengthy closure.

We scoped out the sites and marble sculptures in town and then drove up towards the quarry and parked the car near the Yule Pass trailhead. The path lead us into the Raggeds Wilderness and up a steep climb and then a series of switchbacks. Heavy tree cover blocked out the blazing sun for the most part and there was plenty of water to keep the dog stoked. We climbed to the top of Anthracite Pass and then turned back with an afternoon hot-springs session in mind .

That evening we drove to Carbondale and had a bomb dinner at Town, a new restaurant that uses a ton of locally-sourced ingredients in their food and pairs it with good wines, cocktails, and Colorado beers. More than satiated, we made our way back to the hot springs ranch and watched the full moon rise behind the mountains and through the steam. —MH

More Info/Links:

Avalanche Ranch Hot Springs: You can drop in for the day ($15-$18) or stay the night (check site for rates).

Town Restaurant: Be sure to make a reservation (esp. on weekends). We ordered a bunch of "small plates" to share and it was perfect. Sit outside if the weather is nice.

Town of Redstone / Town of Marble