Leaving Pagosa Springs on Route 160 heading to Breckenridge, what initially looked to be a relatively boring road turned out to be stunning. We climbed up and over a pass that reminded Ian of Switzerland. Unfortunately, there was nowhere to pull off and take pictures, but the scenery was equal to what we had seen a few days earlier on the train.
We were both a little nervous about what the next week held for us. Ian having spent a few days in Breckenridge many years ago and suffering severe altitude sickness which almost caused him to abort the trip and move to lower ground. Ann because she was worried that the higher altitude would cause her nosebleed to come back. Thankfully neither scenario played out.
Along the way, we stopped at Joyful Journey Spa on the recommendation of our friends, Art and Sharona. What a great afternoon! We met some interesting people and had great conversation. What made Joyful Journey special wasn’t just the three tubs (all enjoyable) but the setting out in the middle of nowhere with the mountains looming in the distance. The tubs had different temperatures, each one getting hotter. Our favorite was the second tub. The hottest tub is clothing optional on Friday evenings. Definitely worth a stop if you are in the area. If you want to stay overnight, in addition to the hotel rooms, they offer tent and RV camping, teepees (supplied with bare cots), and yurts (heated and available with one queen bed or 2-4 single beds).
After leaving the spa, we were expecting to be in Breckenridge in two hours. But then we saw a sign for Soulcraft Brewery in Salida, CO. Since Ann was hungry and it was a detour of only 4 miles, well, we think you can guess the rest. It turned out to be not a brewpub but a tasting room with a food truck outside. An unexpected great stop, the beer was very tasty, our favorite being the Coconut Milk Stout (Simm’a Down Mocha Oatmeal Stout was runner up). We arrived at happy hour so pints were only $3. The food truck served Mexican fare. A few tacos along with nachos was lunch and dinner for the day. Making it a bargain, another unexpected gem that is worth a stop.
The final part of the journey brought us over Hoosier Pass at 11542 ft., very close to the tree line. Then we dropped down (Imagine referring to 9600 ft. as “down”!) into Breckenridge. Our condo for the week was at Grand Timber Lodge (an exchange through Interval International using our WorldMark points). The condo was huge, 3 sinks, a whirlpool tub, granite counter tops and a huge island where Ian could work without taking up the dining room table like he did in Pagosa. The grounds are tastefully done, but without the Pagosa Springs view, although we could see the mountains peaking over the tops of the resort buildings.
While Breckenridge is definitely a tourist town with pricy real estate, it didn’t seem over crowded like Durango had the previous week. (Can’t say what is would be like during ski season) We expected to have issues finding reasonably priced restaurants, but fortunately we were wrong. Our first morning, before going grocery shopping, we had breakfast at Columbine Café – definitely recommend their homemade corned beef hash. Another evening we went to Breckenridge Brewery during Happy Hour, $3 beers and half price appetizers. We had three beers between us and two appetizers for $20 and made dinner out of it. Our final evening we went to Happy Hour (detecting a pattern yet?) at Mi Casa, 3 tacos for $5, wings for $6. and house Margaritas for $4.75.
We also visited the Breckenridge Distillery which has free tours and tastings. Of course Ian purchased the upgraded tasting. Followed by sampling the wares at Broken Compass Brewing, a few minute walk from the distillery. Our favorite beer in Breckenridge.
The Breckenridge International Festival of the Arts was in progress during out stay. We were fortunate to catch a musical trio (cello, viloin, and mandolin) called Tree-O. They played mostly original compositions while perched in trees.
The first few days we hiked down into town and along the river walk. By the third day, we were able to walk back up (accomplishment!) the hill to our condo.
Probably the highlight of our week was Friday afternoon, the first day that it broke 70 degrees. We took the free gondola, which makes three stops: Shock Hill, Peak 7, and Peak 8. Peak 8 offered all sorts of activities: mountain biking, a luge run, and a maze. However, the only way to ride the chair lift up to the top was to purchase a $56 day pass, so we passed and took the gondola back to Peak 7. A hike to the Shock Hill gondola stop through the Cucumber Gulch Preserve was recommended. Who knew? Wetlands at 10000 ft.! Hiking through the wetlands, we looked out over dams created by beavers, and all around us the smell of what we thought was decaying forest but might have been beaver musk wafted about. We got a little (well, maybe more than a little) lost and instead of finding the Shock Hill gondola stop, we found ourselves all the way back in town. Along the way, we walked behind quite a few monster houses, definitely 1% country. A hike of about 3 hours highly recommended, mostly downhill except for the occasional hills we had to climb, not a problem if it wasn’t for the 10000 ft. elevation. We were exhilarated and exhausted by the end.
Saturday (our last day n Breck), we lightened our load by donating a few items that we didn’t need to the thrift shop, walked back to town, and had the aforementioned Happy Hour at Mi Casa.
- Free buses – An extensive route map meant that the car never left the garage the whole week.
- Free gondola – To Shock Hill, Peak 7, and Peak 8 right from the middle of downtown.
- Trail along the river.
- Breckenridge International Art Festival – Performance art every day we were in town, and the majority were free.
- Well run – Everything in town just seemed to work as expected. They even have employee housing at the north end of town.
- Elevation – Just too darn high for us at 9600 ft., meaning that the smallest hill seemed like a mountain. We both woke up with headaches most mornings – might not have been so bad if we could have said it was because we partied the night before. Well except of course for the distillery and Broken Compass evening.
- Weather – Because of the elevation it was too cold for at least one of us. The weather never even hit 70 until the sixth day we were in town, and this was August. If the sun was out, it felt warm, but as soon as it went behind the clouds (a lot of the time), it felt colder. We never knew how to dress.
Hmm….guessing the locals know how to dress. And speaking of locals, when we were chatting with a local, and we commented on the traces of snow we could see at the very top of the mountains, she informed us that there had been some new snowfall up there the previous week…in August!
While we certainly enjoyed our time in Breckenridge, we’re not sure if we will be back unless they figure out how to move the town down to about 7500 ft. Our condo here was way nicer and more polished than the one in Pagosa, but there was something about the rustic vibe of Pagosa that captured us (not to mention the view). If you are in Breckenridge, we can certainly recommend staying at Grand Timber Lodge.
Next stop: Estes Park, on our first trip to Colorado one of our favorites because it’s the gateway to Rocky Mountain National Park. We are also looking forward to dropping back down to 7600 ft. elevation.
Ian & Ann