I live in a beautiful place. It’s called Boulder, and sits at the foot of the Rocky Mountains. From this little bubble of healthy living, I’ve branched out and explored around the U.S., one town at a time. One trail after another. A wondering spider web of pencilled in lines across my ever aging maps. It’s what I do to stay sane, and although I feel like I’m ever more rooted into where I live at the moment, I can’t imagine a life without a liberal sprinkling of wanderlust across its surface.
So, it was with great pleasure that I directed my parents towards Salida for a chunk of their stay in Colorado. It’s a town without a reputation. Coloradans know of it only peripherally as the place on the way to other places. It’s lost in a network of highways careening to mountain mecca’s such as Crested Butte and Durango. For those who know it, the normal response is “Why would you visit?”. The triangle of highways around the outside of town are littered with neon-emblazoned motels and petrol stations touting to the long distance driver. It’s not until you delve into the alphabetically numbered streets that the secrets start to uncover themselves.
Tenderfoot Mountain comes into view as you drive down ‘F’ street towards the river. the big white S on the hill towers over the Victorian brick buildings. The Arkansas River rumbles along next to the huge railway sidings – a leftover from the once prosperous Denver to Rio Grande Railway line that snakes it’s way towards Leadville. In 1909 the Palace Hotel was built by the river to service the ever increasing tide of rich prospectors who had meandered their way into the Arkansas Valley in search of riches. The hotel reflected this, and Salida built itself up as a luxury service town.
As the gold bubble burst, and the mines gradually closed their doors, Salida suffered. The closing of the railway was the final straw for this town. Buildings crumbled and businesses closed. It wasn’t until a new rush of prospectors moved in that the town started to pick up. This new crowd wasn’t looking for mineral wealth though; just the environment that housed the minerals. The rivers and mountains were now the attraction as rafters realised the rushing water of the Arkansas was the perfect place to find adventure. Later, Mountain Bikers realised the southwest facing hills above the town stayed dry almost all year round. They were the perfect place to build winding trails that could be enjoyed nine months a year.
The businesses that have sprung up in Salida now reflect this eclectic crowd. Art Galleries fall over each other to offer you local (and not so local) wares. It’s pretty easy to pick out the genuine artists in the town though, and avoid the generic stuff that will naturally die out. Alongside the creators are the providers; bars and restaurants are on each street corner. An amazing amount of eateries for a town so small. For a little town to need reservations for a table is crazy, but it shows that the town is drawing in people from all around. Cars on the street were all topped with skis, reflecting the fact that Monarch Mountain is just a short drive up the hill.
We found a comfortable place in a converted auto body-shop that now houses Woods Distillery. Woods is a little company making small batches of spirits to keep one warm on a mountain night. Their gin is one of my favourites, and it was a fantastic opportunity to find out how and where it was made.
So, Salida. The transformation from Victorian train lines to modern singletrack is almost complete. It’s a place that has depth beyond what most long-time Coloradans know. Spend a weekend enjoying the scenery and the trails or river, and you’ll be rewarded with a glimpse into a cool community that is building itself up in its own way.