Getting the Vapors Jun18


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Getting the Vapors

And on the third day the rain rested. But only after it had thoroughly saturated fields, bathed many a cow and horse that stood miserably in them, filled rivers up to their tree-lined edges, and driven two RV-bound women to a crazed hour of weird hair-dos. The day after our visit to Colorado National Monument, we rode out the storm inside. We thought about driving up to Grand Mesa, one of Grand Junction’s other notable sights, but even though there were small breaks in the rain throughout the day, the mesa was wearing a giant tutu of clouds around its middle and we were pretty sure it would be snowing at the top.

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The next morning we were greeted by spots of blue sky when we popped out of the rig early to start our tear down. We’d made the decision the night before to change our plans from a longer drive to Steamboat Springs who’s higher elevation made it a likely candidate for colder, wetter weather, to Glenwood Springs. The Yampah Hot Springs and its vapor caves had intrigued us along with a hike to Hanging Lake. Since this was one of the few times we didn’t already have a reservation, we were free to flex our prerogatives.


Happy to have a forecast of only scattered showers ahead of us, we got on the road and quickly met up with the Colorado River who kept us company for most of the drive. On our way out of town we captured a shot of one of Grand Junction’s more intriguing aspects, numbered street names with fractions. I’m forced to assume there was poor planning on someone’s part, maybe a too conservative estimate of the growth of the town that led to this unwieldy nomenclature. I imagine a moment of “Aw crap, now we need more streets.”


Glenwood Springs is a canyon town, framed by mountains and carved out in wide places by gorgeous rushing rivers. The RV resort welcomed us with no problem and we pulled into our new 4-night home down by the river and the train tracks, got set up and had a reservation at the hot springs for that afternoon, all by 1pm.

Camping by the river, watching the train go by

Camping by the river, watching the train go by

Momma rainbow on Mother's Day

Momma rainbow on Mother’s Day

Ali opted for a massage in addition to our hour in a private hot spring room, but the experience began with a trip down, down, down into the vapor caves. Naked, but for the short, thin spa robes they provided we headed down the narrow stairs until we met up with a plastic curtain hanging across the entrance to the underground tunnels. Pulling the plastic aside released an assertive wave of wet, hot, sulfury steam that had me blinking and scrunching up my nose. I’m a huge fan of saunas, I love the dry heat, and I do also like steam rooms, but I could tell right then that this was going to be a set of extremes I might need some time to process.

The first puzzle was deciding where to go since the tunnels split into a couple of rooms and hallways which led to more plastic sheets. It didn’t really matter which direction we picked, they all led to the same place, each new curtain guarding a hotter steamier and more ballsy smell. I don’t mean it smelled like balls, though an argument could be made there, it was more that the smell had an attitude. It climbed up into your nostrils, took up a stance, put its hands on its hips and said, “YO! Take a whiff of my action!” By this time, 2 minutes in, our robes were wet and already clinging to our skin. It was that steamy. We passed a woman on her way out who had a bathing suit on and then made our way through a big open room passed another woman, also clad in swim wear, cooling off at a hose. Hmm, perhaps our nakedness-robe combo was not the appropriate choice, maybe even a violation of the rules.

Yampa-Teaser2 On the far side of the big room there were three openings to different smaller rooms, so we simply bee-lined to the first empty one, straight ahead. Once inside our small steamy cove, we didn’t quite know what to do. There was a plastic tub on the floor, two stone benches to sit on, the ceiling was very low and the lighting was dim, 13-lightening-bugs-in a-jar-dim. We had brought towels so I folded mine into a cushion, set it on one of the stone benches and sat down, still robed. Ali followed suit, but quickly figured out that the plastic tub could be filled with cold water from the hose and used for feet dipping. She ventured out into the big room, acquired a second tub and got us each set up. Soon, even though the rest of me sweltered, I was Cool Foot Lin.

We sat in our cave and briefly discussed the robe versus swim suit situation, heads hanging down in utter submission to the heat. Then, there was silence. Sweat beads crawled across my scalp, they formed rowdy gangs at my eyebrows and then streaked one by one down my nose like Olympic ski jumpers. After our eyes adjusted to the light, we noticed the scum-bubble covered channels of hot water running underneath our benches – the source of the steam and the smell.

Limits. Natural hot springs are super cool, vapor caves doubly so, but at that point I was bumped up hard against my limits. Odor, temperature, moisture, a sticky robe, thick breathing, light-headedness, pores in overdrive, the constant dripping, lashes, the last defense of my eyeballs, failing miserably – I had to get out of there. I semi-spastically stood up and told Ali I needed to take a break, so we picked our way back out through various curtains to the cooler tunnels, but that wasn’t even enough. I actually had to go stand in the stairway outside the entrance to recover. We did venture back in for another 10 minute spell of vapors and I was able to connect a bit more with several aspects of experience on my second round, but there was no way to really put a positive spin on that smell.

On to our private hot spring soak which was delightful. Soft music, a pitcher of ice water, lit candles, face towels with the fragrance of pink grapefruit, beautiful flowers in a vase on the ledge and a clear opportunity to finally drop our robes. After the near torture of the vapor caves it was wonderful to be swaddled in such comfort. Forty-five minutes later Ali was taken off to another room for her massage and I wandered out to the sun lounge in the main spa area, plopped myself down in a reclining chair and promptly fell asleep. I had been thoroughly Yampah’d.

It rained that evening and into the next morning so we decided to pack a lunch and drive an hour into Aspen that day to see if we could find a little better weather there. No such luck and on top of the grey weather our timing couldn’t have been much worse, we were too early for the Independence pass to be open and too late for the ski resorts.

It was mostly clear on the way up

It was mostly clear on the way up


For the longest time, as I was still dreaming about the “van plan”, I had a photograph of the Maroon Bells as my desktop background image on my laptop. They represented the incredible beauty and distant adventures I wanted to chase, an important visual I had hoped to see for myself some day. They were so close to us in Aspen, it would have been an easy drive, but they are only accessible during the summer months because the road gets buried with 10 ft or more of snow each winter.


Instead we took some advice from the gal at the information center and drove up a different windy mountain road to visit a “ghost town”. It was ghosty alright. Not really any structures to speak of beyond a square hut or two, but the surroundings were pretty in a new way to us. Browns and oranges mottled the banks of a glassy dark grey-green creek that grew into a faster-paced river as we followed it down hill.


Our picnic lunch spot

Our picnic lunch spot

After all the rain in Grand Junction, then our driving/spa day in Glenwood Springs, followed by a mostly car-bound trip to Aspen, we were THRILLED to have a bright sunny day. Finally we would be able to be outdoors. The plan was to take a long bike ride along the paved path that follows the river through town and out into the country-side. We rode until our butts hurt, 10 miles, stopped for lunch and then turned back. It was glorious.







There’s one more day and adventure to document for Glenwood Springs, but the Oregon coast and its charming lighthouses are calling to me, so I think I’ll wrap this post up and start a fresh one for Hanging Lake this evening.