My husband nailed it again. He took us on another surprise trip near Salida, Colorado. He revealed the itinerary last Friday as we drove towards the mountains. I had honestly accidentally seen our camp site reservation a few weeks prior and kept it to my self. Little did I know, this was only a fraction of the amazing weekend he planned for us.
What surprised me was how much closer Salida is to our house compared to Ouray and Telluride. I entered Ouray and Hooper into my GPS last night, just to see where they were on a map. They’re 3 1/2 hours apart, and yet, when you zoom out, you see how the drive doesn’t look too bad compared to the entirety of the state. Basically, this state is huge.
Nonetheless, we camped about 30 minutes past Salida Friday night at Vallie Bridge in the Arkansas Headwaters Recreation Area. This was the spot I read about a few weeks prior. Keegan and I both agreed the campground sucked. The sites were stacked on top of each other, and the bathrooms were literally a quarter-mile away. That’s not a long distance when you’re hiking, but when you have to pee in the middle of the night, you may as well drive or pop a squat.
I woke up several times throughout the night thanks to some older folks blasting Pink Floyd and others walking so closely by our tent. It’s not their fault they had to walk past us to get to the restroom, but I woke up in some sort of mood.
We were the last to arrive and the first to leave. As soon as we finished cooking breakfast, we left. We continued our journey to the UFO Watchtower in Hooper, Colorado.
On the way, we found an interesting coffee shop. Mirage, rightfully named, offered $2 CBD shots in your coffee and plastered signs all over the bathroom walls asking guests not to flush the toilet. Apparently it costs $260 a month to have their septic tank serviced, so “Let the Yellow Mellow” will stick with me forever and has basically ruined my love of Mellow Yellow. My iced mocha latte was strong though; I’ll give ’em that.
I’m telling you guys, I’ve never been to such a quirky, eclectic roadside attraction in my life!! When Keegan shared we were going to a UFO Watchtower, I didn’t know what to expect. I was just grateful that he found this place online and assumed I would like it. He knows me all too well.
The proprietor, Judy Messoline, provides an online history of how the Watchtower came to exist. If you go to the website and click on the garden link, you’ll find information about the two vortexes, one rotating clockwise and the other counter-clockwise.
The couple we met told us all about the valley, the mountains and the visitors that have left descriptive accounts of meeting the aliens, some of which have reportedly been abducted. With so many “not responsible for abductions” warnings everywhere, I honestly felt a little uneasy to camp there. “Is this a cult?”, I wondered. Would someone seriously try to kidnap me in the middle of the night? The valley’s so flat and wide open, it seems like it goes on forever in all directions but west where the mountains rest. The lack of trees to hide beneath made me nervous in the exact opposite way that some folks experience claustrophobia. The expanse of the valley left me feeling exposed and vulnerable. There’s just this energy, this feeling, of needing to be careful and cautious and aware of your surroundings. But when in Rome, right? I’ve survived listening to something die in the dark in the middle of the night in Utah. Surly this couldn’t more terrifying.
So I paid the $10 fee and reserved a camping spot about 50 yards from the tower. We were sold when we were told we’d have access to the tower at night. The wind blew through the valley so intensely as we set up camp, we wondered if our stakes could truly secure our tent at one point. But with extra rope and stakes, we made it work.
I was so glad to set up in the daylight; albeit it windy this direct, overhead sun, this was much easier than setting up in the dark the night before. The woman at the watchtower told us about a snack bar just a few miles away with a community pool, so we headed that way for lunch.
Next, we drove to the hot springs Keegan found online. It was way cheaper than the last place we tried in New Mexico, and everyone was super friendly…almost a little friendly.
First I got hit on in the bathrooms by a woman staying on site. I shrugged it off and proceeded to meet Keegan outside. Later on, Keegan admitted a guy hit on him, too, and we wondered if this place may be a low-key hub for swingers, not even kidding. The overall vibe of this place, at least when we went, was very flirtatious, suggestive and unusual. There was other things we noticed, such as interactions among guests, but it’s all good. We’re not judging whatsoever; the vibe just threw us off lol. The patrons we spoke with were friendly enough, and that’s all that really matters.
Keegan and I tried the coolest pool first. 98-100 degrees wasn’t nearly warm enough for me, so we hopped out and went to the hottest pool next, 108 degrees.
This pool had the best views and the warmest temps and was thus my favorite. After 30 minutes or so, we grabbed two lounge chairs and took a nap. I woke up feeling so peaceful and calm. We got back in the water for a few and left soon after. It’s hard to choose a favorite when you’ve been to three different hot springs, but I think this may be the one. I appreciated the value of this place compared to the first one we visited, and the one my Dad and I checked out was awesome too, but our options were limited. This hot springs was only $15 for admission, and overall we enjoyed our stay.
Keegan and I didn’t plan a spot for dinner; we decided to wing it and wound up in Leadville at a place called Quincy’s Tavern. Well drinks advertised at 2.25 reeled us in, and this place literally only serves salads, steaks and baked potatoes. We loved it! The simplicity of the menu with unbeatable prices is unique and memorable. I’ll keep this place in mind if we ever return, for sure.
Afterwards, we drove to Monte Vista to the Best Western Movie-Manor. This eclectic motel purchased a historic drive-in many years ago, and you can watch the second screen from many of the rooms on-site. Such a neat concept! Keegan thought to bring our new camping mattress to place in the bed of the truck, and this marked my most cozy experience at a drive-in movie. We watched Solo and enjoyed our adult beverages. All in all, we had an amazing night in the valley in the middle of nowhere.
We didn’t leave the drive-in till midnight, so by the time we got back to camp, it was absolutely silent. On the way, we noticed several large mice scurrying across the road. I began to feel creeped out but reminded myself it wasn’t nearly as bad as when we were in Utah alone in the wilderness. Nothing will ever scare me as bad as hearing something die nearby in the dark.
As tired as I was, I still really wanted to visit the watchtower. We tread quietly across the terrain till we reached the base. We climbed the creaky stairs and looked up at the stars. I wished certain things for certain people and prayed. It’s funny what losing someone you love will do to you.
Before we returned to camp, I entered the garden and left a note. I focused my intentions on the future and what possibilities may come. Keegan and I enjoyed the silence and eventually returned to our tent for an excellent night of sleep.
The next morning, Keegan grabbed breakfast for us down the road. A local woman suggested arriving to the sand dunes early; the sand becomes hot mid-afternoon and can burn your feet. So instead of cooking breakfast at our site, we opted for frozen coffees and snacks from the pool-side bar.
The sand dunes were fun and weird to say the least. If you click this link, you can learn all about how the mountains and the sand dunes formed. A unique piece of land, it feels like you’re seeing a mirage when you arrive to this national park. The coffee shop down the road dons such an appropriate name.
We brought large Tupperware lids assuming these would work in the sand for sledding. Unfortunately, this wasn’t the case. We begrudgingly drug ourselves back down the dunes and to the truck to rent sleds just past the park. We returned to the Sand Dunes triumphant and finally able to sled, which was really all I wanted to do at this park.
I’m sorry, but walking two miles in the sand is tough. Fuck hiking, unless I absolutely have to to reach a solid sledding slope. Between the heat, the resistance of the sand and PMS, I just wasn’t in the mood to hike in the sand. Sledding, on the other hand, was super awesome and fun.
We took several turns on the sled before we were sandblasted and left. This marked the most rugged park I’ve ever been to: High winds, hot temps and sand blasting you in the face. We wore our hats and sunglasses, but what we should’ve brought was bandanas to cover our faces. So if anyone’s reading this and considering a trip to the sand dunes, bring a bandana! And just go ahead and rent the damn sleds. Don’t try to save money like us, only to climb the fucking dunes and realize you’re shit outta luck LOL.
I left happy with the end result. With rented sleds, the mission was accomplished. The last stop on our trip before dinner in the Springs was Zapata Falls. The road was super bumpy but accessible without 4-wheel drive. I keep referring to this beautiful destination as the Fall Creek Falls of Colorado. This spot reminds me of the section of Cane Creek Cascades near the suspension bridge. With only a half a mile hike and a crisp, cold creek to walk through, Zapata Falls was more beautiful to me than Bridal Veil, and that’s saying something. Zapata Falls is so gorgeous and easy to hike, I’ve noticed this place on several lists of waterfalls you should hike in the state. I really hope we can come back here one day. I honestly loved the waterfall more than Sand Dunes, which was so unexpected.
I fell asleep on the drive home while Keegan headed towards the Springs. He found an Italian restaurant called Paravicini’s featured on the Food Network, and damn it was good. It was a great way to wrap-up the weekend. Keegan knows Italian is my favorite (besides BBQ) and couldn’t have chosen a better place to eat.
Overall, this trip will be remembered as the weekend we enjoyed so many eclectic activities. Mirage offered CBD shots in our coffee. We camped at a UFO watchtower and looked for aliens at night. We listened to stories of cow mutilations and wondered what the fuck is going on in the valley and northern New Mexico. We soaked at a hot spring with some interesting characters. We tried a steakhouse with a very modest menu. We noticed weird alien and Jesus propaganda everywhere and watched a drive-in movie at a motel. We encountered mice on the highway and trekked the sand dunes twice the following morning. Without exactly being able to describe the unusual vibes we encountered throughout the weekend, I’ll leave you with this: Be prepared to get weird if you ever visit this side of Colorado.