Walden, CO to Hot Sulphur Springs, CO

61.1 mi / 11.6 mph / 2428 ft. climbing
Home: Hot Sulphur Springs Resort and Spa

We headed straight south out of Walden, with a plan to exit the mountain-encircled North Park basin via yet another crossing of the Continental Divide at Willow Creek Pass. A shorter, lower-elevation route to Kremmling would be to take CO-14 southwest, but the emptiness we found on CO-125 told us immediately that the extra miles would be worth it.

Heading south on CO-125, through the Arapaho National Wildlife Refuge.
A family of pronghorns keeping an eye on us. There were actually a bunch more on the ridge, and it seemed like this guy on the right was the true sentinel, watching us carefully while all the rest munched on grass.

It was so empty that it was possible for a van to just sit stopped facing us on the road half a mile ahead. I didn’t know what they were doing, but as we approached and saw the driver leaning out the window, it turns out they were waiting for us. “GOD’S RESCUE TEAM” was painted in large red letters on the van’s side. “Y’all got chains? There’s snow up in the mountains”, he squints at us, with a demeanor that felt much more like the Serpent than the Samaritan. “Really? Snow? On the road surface?”, I ask in surprise. We had hit a new record-low of 33F when we woke up in Walden (elev. 8100 ft.), so it wouldn’t have been surprising that temperatures dropped below freezing on the road ahead, 1500 ft. higher, and any overnight precipitation could have fallen as snow up there. But…I could see the mountaintops that the our road would cut between, some of which exceeded 12,000 ft., and they didn’t have snow on them, so… “Yep, not too deep but you better be careful”, he replied, implying that I shouldn’t believe my lying eyes. “Ok, thanks!” I shouted as we got moving onward as quickly as possible.

Rett disappearing over the next rise on her way to the distinctly non-snow-covered mountains.
Some of the life in the Arapaho National Wildlife Refuge is a bit less-wild (I’m assuming these guys were just outside the border).
A fixer-upper.

It was 32 miles of gradual climbing to the top of the pass, and it was interesting to observe the treeless grassland morph into forest as we ascended. The actual steep climb at the end was only 500 feet, so our 10th crossing of the Continental Divide was pretty easy. And, there was not a hint of snow anywhere.

Not an especially-epic divide crossing, but definitely the best-marked!

On the descent we entered a forest that had been decimated by the East Troublesome Fire in October, 2020. It was the second largest fire in Colorado history, and CO-125 cut right through the heart of it. I had read that the deforested hillsides tend to slide down and cut off the road during storms, but everything was clear for our passage, and there were even a lot of sections of fresh pavement (maybe restoring fire/fire-fighting damage?) And now especially after our Yellowstone experience, it’s always interesting to witness forests in the process of regeneration.

The East Troublesome Fire, the 2nd largest in Colorado history, ripped through this area three years ago.
I guess one benefit of the fire is that it made this improbable fin of rock more visible.
The rock fin from another angle, showing that it’s literally a vertical stone wall. There were other really incredible formations in this section, but we were going too fast on the downhill to get photos.
Growth follows the burn.
Our first view of some of the high mountains that Colorado is known for.
As we get closer to the ski-resort/vacation-homes-for-Denverites area, some rich-people houses begin to appear, the first we’ve since like this since…southern Montana?

We hit US-40, and made a sharp right turn to head directly west(?!) for a stretch. More-important than the road, we also shared the valley with the Colorado River, pretty close to its origin.

Our endpoint was the town of Hot Sulphur Springs, and specifically we got a room at the actual Hot Sulphur Springs Resort and Spa. After our brief experience at Saratoga’s public hot springs, we decided to spring (pun intended!) for the full version here. We needed to pay for this version (as part of our room charge), and in exchange we got access to 18 different pools (vs. the 2.5 at Saratoga), and a somewhat more-developed experience (though it’s still far from being confused with a sanitized, glossy, “luxury” experience). The individual pools come in all different temperatures, and span a wide variety. Some are literally plastic hot-tubs, some are rough stone grottos, some have space for two or three people, some have space for thirty. In some the water is clear, some it is milky-blue. And some have “showers” of hot water falling from a higher pool, allowing the water itself to give a back massage. Honestly in a place where chemical-laden magma-heated hot water is constantly coursing out of the ground, it just wouldn’t feel right if it was too pristine, and this place was perfectly our speed.

We explored a bunch of pools before we even checked into our room. Then after dinner, when all the day-visitors had gone, we took advantage of our staying-on-site situation and went back for a second round. Regarding “sulphur”, I have a shirt that I didn’t wear into the pools at all, I only put it on over my slightly-wet skin after getting out, and it smelled like sulfur across multiple washings, for weeks!

The day’s ride didn’t feel particularly long or difficult (we reached our destination before check-in time!), so it’s wild to realize that it was the 5th-longest ride of our nomadacy. It’s amazing how much our idea of “normal” can shift, just by surrounding ourselves in “abnormal” for a period. But maybe the hot soak was more necessary than I realized!

A pool at Hot Sulphur Springs. This was a hot one where I sat half out on the steps most of the time. When we’d both get in, the water would overflow the top, but then it would be quickly replaced. Because this hot-ass water just constantly comes out of the hillside here! Crazy!
A more magnesium-heavy pool, with a fountain spitting out onto Rett’s back.
The California Zephyr, the very Amtrak train we will be boarding in 9 days. While it passes within 50 yards of our room in Hot Sulphur Springs, it doesn’t stop here so we’ll have to meet it in Denver via a much different route.
My once-silver wedding ring, turned to blackened rainbows by the reactive hot spring water.
Evening session, in the most-distant secluded pool. The water just flows out of the lip behind Rett’s shoulder down into the pond below, and then eventually into the Colorado River.
#FindRettsFeet demonstrating the water’s opacity.
We’re in a hot spring!



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