Travel After 50: Explore outdoors, culture of great west
The rugged landscapes and rough-and-tumble legacies that define Colorado are even more larger than life in The Great West, a vast and scenic region encompassing five counties and 17 historic communities, all linked together by the Northwest Colorado Cultural Heritage Program.
A one-time stomping ground of dinosaurs, indigenous peoples, homesteaders and outlaws, Colorado’s Great West continues to beguile travelers eager to leave the beaten path. Bordered by Wyoming on the north, Rocky Mountain National Park on the east and Utah on the west, the region offers everything in epic abundance — from outdoor recreation to exciting events to historic and cultural sites that keep Western traditions very much alive.
This geographically diverse region is a playground for outdoor enthusiasts, with dramatic peaks, expansive river valleys and untouched wilderness as far as the eye can see — plus fascinating history around every bend and scenic byway.
Steamboat Springs (Routt County) is well known for its Champagne Powder® and swanky ski resorts, but it’s also home to Howelsen Hill, the oldest operating ski area in North America. Opened in 1915, the mountain has been a training ground for nearly 90 Olympians, and today is famed for its pristine Nordic trails ideal for snowshoeing, cross-country skiing and fat biking. Head to the Steamboat Springs Chamber to explore the many things to do before and après-ski.
Steamboat Lake State Park is a year-round mecca for outdoor recreation ranging from fishing, camping, hiking and swimming in the summer to snowmobiling, ice fishing and cross-country skiing in the winter. Take in the sweeping views in Hahns Peak (Routt County), the site of a former gold mining camp, and keep your eyes peeled for mule deer, red fox and more than 200 species of migratory and resident birds, including golden eagles and greater sandhill cranes.
From the Ute Indians to today, adventure-worn travelers have long sought the healing waters of Glenwood Springs (Garfield County). Soak your bones in the world’s largest mineral hot springs pool at Glenwood Hot Springs Resort, which boasts a spa and family-friendly lodge. Also in the area, Iron Mountain Hot Springs comprises 16 soaking pools dotting the banks of the Colorado River, while Yampah Spa and Vapor Caves features geothermal steam baths in subterranean chambers.
At Rifle Falls State Park, discover lush flora and a cascading triple waterfall — once the site of a hydroelectric power plant that made nearby Rifle (Garfield County) one of the first Colorado towns with electric lights. A network of limestone caves sprawls beneath the falls, and you can retire to a drive-in or walk-in campsite after a full day of exploring.
Go way back in time at Dinosaur National Monument in Dinosaur (Moffat County), where thousands of fossils remain embedded in the rocks where dinosaurs once roamed. Millions of years later, this far northwestern corner of the state was home to the Fremont people, Ute and Shoshone tribes, and you can see numerous petroglyphs from this period throughout the park. Enter at Canyon Visitor Center to learn about activities, exhibits, campgrounds and more.
Plenty of wide-open space awaits adrenaline junkies in the Meeker area (Rio Blanco County). The Wagon Wheel OHV Trail offers camping, hunting, fishing and plenty of off-road fun, with 250 miles of roads, trails and interconnecting loops in the East section. Off-highway vehicles are welcome on city streets in Meeker and on designated county roads as well. From Meeker, the Flat Tops Trail Scenic Byway rambles 82 miles to Yampa, offering access to both the Flat Tops Wilderness and White River National Forest, with exceptional scenery, solitude and wildlife viewing along the way.
Venture north near the Wyoming border to visit Walden (Jackson County), situated in the North Park valley and considered the moose-viewing capital of Colorado. A great place to spot them is at State Forest State Park, located along the stunning Cache la Poudre-North Park Scenic Byway. Start at the Moose Visitor Center, which has observation areas, alpine shopping and a virtual tour of the park.
HISTORY & HERITAGE
Echoes of Colorado’s colorful past still rattle around the canyons and sage-covered rangelands of The Great West — much of which appears just as it did thousands of years ago. Visit museums, preserved frontier settlements and other places where the past lives on.
Housed in the former Colorado State Armory in the quaint town of Craig (Moffat County), the Museum of Northwest Colorado features one of the largest collections of cowboy and gunfighter artifacts on display anywhere, including spurs, chaps and guns, as well as Americana bric-a-brac and an exhibit on the early history of the Ute Indians. Admission is free.
The Tracks and Trails Museum in Oak Creek (Routt County) has indoor and outdoor displays that highlight the area’s coal mining, railroad and ranching history. The museum also has special projects on display, including a 1937 Fire Engine Structure and a restored schoolhouse from 1925, and hosts delightful holiday events and festivals throughout the year.
See another restored schoolhouse at the Historic Battlement Mesa School in Battlement Mesa and Parachute (Garfield County). The Grand Valley Historical Society has restored the circa-1897 school as well as the adjacent Glover Cabin, an example of an early 1900s pioneer ranch home. Also in Garfield County, Silt Historical Park in Siltencompasses an old sheepherder’s camp, blacksmith shop and other buildings filled with historic artifacts, where you can learn about local families through period-accurate stories and demos.
If you’ll be setting out on the Flat Tops Trail Scenic Byway, prepare for your journey at Crossan’s M&A Market Visitor Center in Yampa (Routt County). One of Yampa’s first general stores, Crossan’s has been a fixture on the corner of First and Main streets for more than a century and is currently being restored to accommodate Yampa Town Hall and a visitor center, with plans for curated exhibits.
Coal was discovered in the mountains surrounding New Castle (Garfield County) in the 1880s, but production ended in the early 1900s after a series of explosions in the Grand Hogback coal seam caused fires that still smolder today. From Main Street, you can see the burn scars (and steam rising from the seam in winter) on Ward’s Peak, now known as Burning Mountain. Visit the New Castle Chamber to find more things to see and do in the area.
ARTS, CULTURE & EVENTS
With an endless stream of inspiration and unfettered space for creativity to flourish, Colorado’s Great West has become a haven for artists and makers, with a year-round calendar of special events that carry on time-honored traditions.
More than 200 artists and creative entrepreneurs call the Carbondale Creative District(Garfield County) home. An anchor of the Colorado Creative Corridor — a string of five state-certified Creative Districts — the town of Carbondale is chock-full of galleries, boutiques, small-batch distilleries and lovably quirky events like Mountain Fair, an arts-and-crafts fest that has been drawing devoted crowds since it began in 1972.
Music lovers shouldn’t miss the TANK Center for Sonic Arts, a water tower-turned-music venue and recording studio in Rangely (Rio Blanco County). Known for its unique resonance, the space hosts eclectic performances throughout the year. Experience this one-of-a-kind sonic environment for free during Open Saturdays from May through October and stick around to explore more Rangely sights and sounds.
If the clip-clop of hooves quickens your pulse, experience the Old West glory of the Great American Horse Drive. Every spring, hundreds of ranch horses are corralled and steered across 60 miles of open range over the course of five days, which includes a parade right through the heart of Maybell (Moffat County). Cowboy entertainment, horse clinics and a chuckwagon cookout are all part of the excitement. While you’re there, head just west of town to the Sand Wash Basin to see one of the only wild horse herds in Colorado.
The Routt County Fair in Hayden (Routt County) has been delighting families for more than 100 years. Held each August, the fair features good old-fashioned fun, like a demolition derby, open horse show, exhibition hall, contests, a barn dance and food vendors galore.
This article originally appeared on Colorado.com. Visit the site to learn more about things to see and do around Colorado.