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.
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.
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.
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.
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!