Photo courtesy of Vail.com
Colorado is one of those places that has always fascinated me, even before I got to see it in person. The allure started with a somewhat obscure country song from the 80’s, Kathy Mattea’s “She Came from Fort Worth,” which told the story of a girl who leaves Texas behind for a chance at love in Colorado. As a kid I was enamored with this thought, and even long after the words to the song faded from my memory, this romanticized image of how I pictured Colorado – “where the wind can sing you love songs / beneath snow-capped mountain peaks” – stayed with me to adulthood.
So you can imagine my disappointment when I arrived at Denver International Airport, expecting to emerge in the wilderness. It was summer, and not only were the majestic pine and spruce trees of my imagination missing, but the horizon was flat as a pancake. Rays of light shone through the clouds on a forsaken-looking patch of land across from the airport as if it were hallowed ground, but the scene was less than heavenly – as I headed west, the only backdrop was a billboard promising a casino’s loose slots and a trailer dealership touting a hail damage sale. It wasn’t until I broke further onto the highway, Route 70, that things started to transform. Evergreens popped up, and the car passed a stream of emerald-colored water gushing through boulders. Craggy rock protruded through the peaks of pines. Striated layers of vivid yellow and orange hued stone jutted out of the earth and towered over either side of the highway. A rainbow hovered over a valley in postcard-perfect fashion. This was more like the Centennial State of my dreams.
I was headed to Vail and Beaver Creek, year round havens for outdoor pursuits that somehow balance luxury and pampering seamlessly with some of the grittiest kinds of sports and recreation. The two destinations often boast about their 300-plus days of sunshine each year, and in the golden rays of summer and autumn, it’s difficult to convince yourself to do anything indoors. Though I’d find the lobby of my Beaver Creek hotel, the Osprey, was divinely designed for socializing, I ended up preferring to spend my evenings at the nightly poolside bonfire with a bottle of wine and some new friends. Between yoga, hiking, rafting, riding, and exploring, I forgot to shop for souvenirs – a real first for me, as I treasure the relics of travels-gone-by that are scattered in my apartment. Instead, I brought something else home, a sort of epiphany out there in those glades of Aspen and pine, which I think is what I’d expected to happen all along: For four days, I’d seized Colorado like a bull rider might hold on to that bucking hunk of beef for sweet life at the Beaver Creek Rodeo. The splendor and the majesty of the nature outside of these villages had awakened the same kind of resolve to grab my own bull by the horns at home – and try to live everyday with the same enthusiasm and awe.
Below is a snapshot of activities perfect for rounding out the summer as Colorado makes its transition into autumn. (And for the record, visitors to the Vail area can bypass the drive from Denver when the Eagle County Regional Airport reopens this month.)
The Betty Ford Alpine Gardens
During the warm months on Monday and Friday mornings in Vail, yoga is held in the Betty Ford Alpine Gardens on a rock patio in front of a waterfall that cascades over granite boulders. (So picturesque is this area that when I went back to photograph it later, I was ushered away from the wedding ceremony that was taking place there.) I lingered after the session to take in the vibrant colors of the garden’s alpine flowers, which at mid-summer, were some of the boldest and most unique I’ve seen.
Visitors may be familiar with Vail Mountain’s gondola or the lift to Spruce Saddle in Beaver Creek during ski season, but during the summer and fall the hoist to the top of the mountain is also a gorgeous ride overlooking the villages and the greenery (you can also bring you bicycle up if you want to ride down). Be sure to bring something warm, because the temperature at the top of the mountain drops. And when storm clouds rolled in just as I stepped off the lift, some money dropped too – on a snuggly Vail fleece to wear on a horseback riding adventure in the back bowls of the mountain.
Rain was no worry for the young wrangler that led my horse along the trail overlooking many of Vail’s top ski routes and clusters of Aspen trees – but if we saw lightening, we’d have to turn back, he said. Weather can turn nasty quick during the season in this part of Colorado, and it shuts down not only the horseback riding station but also the gondola that takes you back down to the village. Luckily, the drizzle lasted only a few minutes and the only disruption to the ride was a horse stubbornly weaving to the side of the trail to grab a mouthful of tall grass.
The view from Spruce Saddle in Beaver Creek
If it’s warm enough to get wet, head out on the Colorado River for a whitewater rafting adventure. Timberline Tours transported a group of thrillseekers out to the Glenwood Canyon section of the river. Since there were no children with us and our raft was smaller than the others, our guide Travis was able to make the trip even more exciting, directing us how to navigate through class III rapids to make the biggest splash, or showing us how to do tricks, like make the raft stand up on end (which resulted in a capsizing and an exhilarating dunk in 60 degree water). Travis was also very knowledgeable about the surrounding area, and pointed out when we passed by old abandoned mines, paused when we approached natural hot springs that bubble up the center and sides of the river, and noted the point where glacial runoff runs visibly separated until the temperature reaches an equilibrium with the rest of the water. My arms were achy from the adventure but the adrenaline and scenic payoff (and picnic afterward) were well worth it.
For a morning hike, I visited the Beaver Creek Hiking Center for a private guided trek on trails surrounding the village. It lasted about four miles and took the small group of us through the woods and to scenic overlooks. I felt great afterward, and almost foolishly, decided to take the lift to the top of Spruce Saddle and hike four more miles down the mountain on a trail deceivingly named “Cinch.” Hiking downhill sounds effortless, but as my glutes would report back to me the next day, it’s easier imagined than done. That evening I soaked through the soreness in the Jacuzzi at my hotel, the Osprey, a beautifully redone boutique hotel that was formerly known as the Inn at Beaver Creek.
ARTS AND ENTERTAINMENT
When evening arrives, check out the schedule of events at the Vilar Performing Arts Center in Beaver Creek and the Gerald R. Ford Amphitheater, located just next to the Betty Ford Gardens in Vail. Summer nights in the area are full of culture – the Vail International Dance Festival, the Bravo! Vail Valley Music Festival, and the Bud Light Hot Summer Nights free concert series make the cultural calendar a full one at the amphitheater, and the Vilar Center has hosted acts like Diana Krall and renowned dancer Wendy Whelan. During the fall, the schedule is a bit more open but still speckled with various artists, shows, and events: Look into the Beaver Creek Film Series at Vilar, the Vail Jazz Festival, and Oktoberfest, all happening in September.
The Arrabelle at Vail Square, near the gondola base, is a lovely place for a leisurely walk
If you’re heading to the amphitheater in Vail, bring a picnic and spread out on the lawn, or make an après show reservation at Terra Bistro – I enjoyed one of their killer cocktails (the Moonflower, a blend of dragon fruit, vanilla vodka, muddled strawberries, and ginger beer) and their signature baked kale, salted and peppered to perfection, and as crispy and addictive as potato chips…but a hearty helping healthier. By my last day in Colorado, I had eaten the best in organic, nutritious cuisine and had exhausted every major muscle group in my body.
To get started planning your fair weather escape in Vail or Beaver Creek, visit summer.vail.com or http://www.beavercreek.com.