We awoke early the next day and wandered down Main Street in Steamboat Springs for coffee and a quick exploration through a local store that had wall-to-wall cowboy boots (we purchased flip flops).
After, we headed off to our first activity, swimming in hot springs in Strawberry Park, CO which was just a few miles outside of Steamboat. Our awesomely friendly hotel front desk lady gave us directions and a map and warned us that the admission fee is cash-only. We made a quick stop at Walgreens for an ATM, water bottles, and a conversation with an unusually peppy but slow-moving cashier who found it necessary to review the entirely of our 3 inch receipt with us, including the amount of tax we paid and how much our rewards card had saved us that day.
We got to the bottom of the road that led to the hot springs and were greeted by a sign that read “4-wheel drive or snow tires only on road” and another that simply stated “pavement ends”, which it promptly did. Luckily, Katie had checked the website earlier which informed us that the road is accessible by all vehicles during the summer time. Despite this claim, it was frighteningly steep and entirely dirt for several miles before the springs. We worried audibly about whether the car could chug through without slipping backwards, but the wheels turned and we made it there in one piece. We paid our $10 entry fee and rented our towels. The climb up the curvy dirt road proved more than worth it, as the springs sat quietly nestled into wooded scenery in secluded beauty. This was our first natural hot spring experience, so we set down our things and tested the various pools surrounded by rocks and noticed that each varied slightly in temperature. Finally dipping into the warm water and slipping into hot-tub style relaxation, we understood what all the fuss was about. The air was warm, but if you draped your arms over the cool rocks that sectioned off the pools, you could catch a perfect cool breeze that was a nice contrast from the steaming water. Who needs a tropical vacation when you can sit in naturally hot mountain water in a gentle forest on a Monday morning. Not me….
We lay out under the warm sun for a couple of hours, letting the rays wake up our ghostly winter skin, before venturing back down the dusty road and off towards Aspen, which would be our home for the evening. We stopped for lunch in an itty bitty sleepy (tiny font on the Atlas which corresponds with population) town called Oak Creek which didn’t seem to have anything open except a little BBQ joint called Rachel’s Smokin’ BBQ. Since it was almost 3pm and we were starving, we decided to chance it. A woman who I can only assume is Rachel herself greeted us and when we asked if she was still open she responded:
“I can turn the lights back on”
Katie was thoroughly weirded out by the nobody-around-at-all atmosphere but I convinced her to give it a chance. I ordered a beef brisket sandwich with baked beans, which was the best BBQ I have had since I visited Texas during our first road trip. I could taste the smoke in the meat and the tang of the thick homemade sauce and it was clear that my theory that the best BBQ comes from the tiniest, most obscure joints is still entirely accurate. I chewed through the fall-off-the-bone meat on it’s fluffy potato bun in record time, and we left that sleepy town behind with our love.