Feature

Colorado's Best-Kept Secrets

There are still plenty of places left to be explored in the Centennial State—like these 88 overlooked gems.

September 2016

Forget Utah. Explore the red rocks of Rattlesnake Arches in western Colorado.
—Photo by Taylor Franta

It may be difficult to believe, but our thoroughly explored state still has some secrets left to reveal. Discover Colorado’s clandestine side by seeking out these 88 under-the-radar finds, grouped by region.

DENVER

Treasure Hunting

Some legendary Colorado relics reside at the Denver Museum of Nature & Science—but you have to know where to find them.

1. Aquamarine

Along with collections displaying gold and minerals sits the largest pocket of aquamarine (our state gemstone) ever discovered in North America. The massive specimen, which has about 120 rods of the blue-green mineral shooting out of it, was unearthed on Mt. Antero, outside of Buena Vista, in 2004. 

Find It: Coors Gems & Minerals Hall

2. Ground Hog Wire Gold

Move over, gold nuggets: This rare find is wiry, curled like a horseshoe, and still partially implanted in rock. Even more unusual are the dark striations along the gold. The small piece of metal was extracted from the Ground Hog Mine near Red Cliff in the late 1880s.

Find It: Coors Gems & Minerals Hall

3. Folsom Spear Point

Museum researchers uncovered this spear point in Folsom, New Mexico, in 1927. Its discovery allowed scientists to postulate that humans were in North America earlier than previously thought. 

Find It: Prehistoric Journey area

4. Grizzly Bear Skull

The last known Colorado grizzly bear was killed in 1979 by local hunting guide Ed Wiseman. In a story fit for the campfire, he was mauled by the animal but managed to fatally wound it with an arrow—by hand. Wiseman suffered serious injuries but survived. The grizzly’s skull is on display at the DMNS; the rest of her skeleton and her hide are kept in the underground Avenir Collections Center for future study.

Find It: Bears & Sea Mammals Hall 

5. Peace Medals

In early interactions between white settlers and Native Americans—in Colorado and across the country—peace medals were traded to improve diplomatic relationships. Images, such as presidents’ faces, and epigraphs are imprinted on the silver and bronze tokens. The DMNS’ 90-medal collection is among the best in the world, but only one is on display: an 1889 Benjamin Harrison peace medal. 

Find It: Ute exhibit case, North American Indian Cultures Hall

Behind the Scenes 

The Avenir Collections Center opened in 2014 to house the DMNS’ entire collection in one place for the first time. While not accessible to the public, members can peek behind the locked doors during special events. Or volunteer to work in research and collections to get up close to these precious items. 

—Photos courtesy of Denver Museum of Nature & Science


Curated Discoveries

Four more secrets buried inside Denver museums.

1. Wash your hands in either first-floor restroom in the Denver Art Museum’s North Building, and you’re in for a treat: Denver-based sound artist Jim Green rigged the sinks to play one line of “Row, Row, Row Your Boat.” 

2. Walk through the quirky bubble garden installation on the top floor of MCA Denver and up a short ramp, and you’ll find the tucked-away Upper Idea Box. Four times a year, youth involved in the Failure Lab teen internship program curate an exhibition here. See what the next generation of artists is dreaming up when a new show opens in November.    

3. It’d be challenging not to find a treasure at the Forney Museum of Transportation. The often-overlooked nonprofit is home to Amelia Earhart’s car (pictured), one of only eight surviving Union Pacific Big Boy locomotives, and Denver’s sole remaining cable car. 

4. Near the fire exit in a back hallway of the Clyfford Still Museum hangs a letter written in 1999 from Still’s widow, Patricia, to their nephew (who lives in the Mile High City). In it, she inquires about locating the artist’s museum in Denver. Twelve years later, the doors opened. 

—Photo courtesy of Forney Museum of Transportation


Hidden Hangout: Secret Garden

Where: Up the stairs to the right of Heidi’s Brooklyn Deli at 17th and Lawrence streets in downtown Denver

Why You Should Visit: Enjoy your lunch al fresco on one of the tables or benches in this second-floor garden (stairs are located on both Larimer and Lawrence streets, between 17th and 18th). If your putter is in your car, bring it along too: There’s a small putting green. Just know that there’s zero shade. 

When: Any lunch hour when the sun’s shining.


Out-Of-Sight Accommodation: Hostel Fish

Denver’s only downtown hostel is reminiscent of that European spot you stayed in after college, insofar as it has a bar, dorm rooms, and inexpensive rates (bunks start at $45 per night). Beyond that, the year-old lodge sets itself apart with 11 themed rooms and Wednesday bar crawls that introduce guests to the Ballpark neighborhood. 

—Photo courtesy of Hunter Lawrence


Food Confidential

Even die-hard Denver gastronomes might not know about these covert delights. —Amanda M. Faison & Callie Sumlin

Order This: Loaf of sunflower rye
At: Raleigh Street Bakery
When: Fridays from 10 a.m. to 7 p.m.
But: Arrive early because David Kaminer (who operates his bakery out of his home, thanks to the Colorado Cottage Food Act) only sells an extremely limited number of these hot-from-the-oven loaves.

Order This: House-made hot sauce
At: Brider
When: Anytime
But: If you want to add some heat to your Madras curry bowl, you’ll have to ask your server for the condiment; it’s stashed behind the counter.

Order This: Denver sandwich
At: George's Cafe
When: Lunchtime
But: Taste the original Denver omelet—in which the egg dish is placed between two slices of bread— at one of the only spots in Colorado that serves it.

Order This: Scallion Pancake
At: Zoe Ma Ma
When: Anytime
But: It’s not on the menu, so ask quietly if you don’t want to let everyone in line in on the secret.

Order This: Litmus
At: Amethyst Coffee Company
When: Anytime
But: Save this off-menu order for the a.m. It combines a small brewed coffee (choose hot or cold) and what owner Elle Taylor calls a “one and one”—a petite cortado and a short, straight espresso.

Order This: Surf 'n' turf taco
At: Tacos Tequila Whiskey (Pinche Tacos)
When: Anytime
But: You have to request this off-menu combo of crispy beef tongue and fried shrimp.

Order This: Whole Chinese-style duck
At: Lucky Cat
When: Dinner or takeout (with 48 hours notice)
But: The feast—one roasted duck, scallion pancakes, kimchi fried rice, pickled veggies, two sauces, scallions, cucumbers, and fortune cookies—feeds four to six people and costs $45. A credit card is required to reserve your bird.

Order This: Taiwanese-style shaved snow
At: SnowLab
When: Anytime
But: If you follow the nine-month-old shop on Facebook, you’ll be the first to know when limited-time-only flavors (such as Earl Grey, watermelon, and lime) make appearances.

Surprising Sips

The scoop on Denver’s little-known tipples. —CS

1. Former Future Brewing Co. is transforming into Black Project Spontaneous & Wild Ales. Taste its experimental brews during monthly release parties.

2. At the Oxford Hotel, sample the Oxford 1891 Bourbon, a single-barrel batch by Laws Whiskey House that you can’t find anywhere else. 

3. For three years, a secret has been brewing in Black Shirt Brewing Co.’s cellar: the Unrehearsed ale, which contains wild yeasts hand-collected on the Western Slope. The lambic-style brew will be tapped this fall. 

4. State 38 Distilling’s recently released WI McKenzie is the first made-in-Colorado Scottish peat-smoked whisky. Drink up.

5. Call to Arms Brewing Co. keeps it local—really local. The year-old brewery only distributes its Tennyson Standard Kölsch to businesses on its namesake street. Now you just need to decide which bar to hit up for happy hour. (Pssst: We like Berkeley Untapped.) 

6. Denver’s newest speakeasy is tucked behind an innocent-looking freezer door at Uptown ice cream shop Frozen Matter. Grab a seat at three-month-old Retrograde’s 1960s-inspired bar for a Little Green Ghouls (gin and tonic flavored with lime, rosemary, and cucumber-infused ice). 

7. Devil’s Head is the only distillery in Colorado making aquavit. This earthy, caraway-forward spirit is best enjoyed in a straightforward old fashioned at the industrial-chic Englewood tasting room. 


NORTHEAST

Land of Plenty

When they have a free weekend, most Denverites head west. But there’s good reason to instead drive toward the Eastern Plains, where unexpectedly cool scenes are (almost) as common as cattle. Let us introduce you to the flatlands’ eclectic, less-visited offerings.

The Inn at the Feed Store: After stopping at the Feed Store in Byers—headquarters for M12 Collective, a nonprofit arts organization—head next door to drop your bags. The unassuming brick building is actually a modest bed-and-breakfast ($95 per night for single occupancy). Just be sure to say we sent you—reservations are by referral only. 

M12 Collective Experimental Site: A couple of miles south of the dilapidated Last Chance Motel (on CO 71), eight wooden squares (pictured above) stand tall among the prairie grasses. The Last Chance Module Array is one of M12’s latest projects. Visit at sunrise or sunset when the light perfectly aligns with the crossbars.

Underground Jail: A secret lies beneath the second bridge west of Last Chance on U.S. 36. Pull your car off the road and walk down the hill on the north side. There you’ll see a small barred window. Peek through with your flashlight (or open it if the latch isn’t set) to find a large room with a dirt floor. This gloomy space is rumored to have once been a below-ground jail intended to house prisoners who were helping build the new highway. 

Deer Trail Pioneer Historical Museum: Schedule a tour of this small reserve of historic memorabilia with proprietor Susan Eldringhoff, whose great-grandfather moved to the railroad town in 1882. The main building holds photos, turn-of-the-century items and clothing, and Eldringhoff’s grandfather’s old chuck wagon. Also on the property: part of an authentic 1880s log house, a one-room schoolhouse, and a railroad depot and freight room. 

Longhopes Donkey Shelter: Down a dirt road in Bennett, more than 40 donkeys roam. They’re tenants of Longhopes, a nonprofit shelter for Colorado’s “forgotten pioneers.” Since 2000, Longhopes has rescued 890 donkeys from being put down, 824 of which have been adopted by ranchers and, yes, families looking for atypical pets. (You can also sponsor a donkey awaiting adoption through the E.A.R.S. program.) Visits are by appointment only. 

High Plains Diner: Fuel up for the 40-minute drive back to Denver with a slice of homemade pie at the High Plains Diner in Bennett.  The cherry and pecan varieties are mighty tasty. Order them à la mode, of course.

—Photo courtesy of Anthony Cross/M12 Studio Image Archive


On the Calendar 

Find inspiration in three unexpected places this month.

Roam: Black Cube, a new nomadic contemporary art museum, presents Roam by artist Jon Geiger: a billboard-shaped sculpture displaying five neon tumbleweeds that are lit in sequence to mimic rolling. View it on the rooftop of the Rocky Mountain College of Art & Design through October 17.

Jessup Farm Fall Festival:  An abandoned farmstead in Fort Collins has found new life as Jessup Farm Artisan Village. The buildings—which are more than 100 years old—were restored and opened to the public last November with a coffeeshop, brewery, restaurant, and more. Visit during the fall festival (October 15). 

In Plein Sight Kickoff: On September 19, Plan Jeffco’s inaugural plein air showcase, In Plein Sight, launches with a free display of pieces that have never before been publicly shown. They’ll be exhibited in the rotunda of the Jefferson County Administration & Courts building through October 9. 


Hidden Hangout: Phantom Canyon Preserve

Near: Fort Collins

Why You Should Visit: The only way to experience one of the Front Range’s last remaining roadless canyons—home to nesting bald eagles!—is to participate in a guided hike or volunteer to help protect it by restoring trails or planting seeds. The 1,120 acres of land were purchased by the Nature Conservancy in 1989. Since then, the nonprofit conservation group has worked to protect the area’s rare and diverse flora and fauna. 

When: April through September, when you can sign up to volunteer or join free informational hikes


Out-of-Sight Accommodation: Claremont Inn & Winery

Ditch your everyday obligations and escape to the 10-room Claremont Inn & Winery in Stratton, 148 miles east of Denver. The Taste, Dine, and Stay package (starting at $297 per couple per night) includes your room, a happy hour wine tasting, a chef’s menu dinner, and a full breakfast. The bed-and-breakfast added an on-site winery in 2012 (the grapes are imported), so make sure your visit coincides with the inn’s new-for-fall private dinners with the chef and winemaker. 

—Photo courtesy of Claremont Inn & Winery


Secret Piece of History

If you manage to climb the popular Bastille Crack in Eldorado Canyon State Park, you’ll spot a seemingly random piece of one-inch-thick wire and bolts at the top. Those pieces of hardware are leftovers from Colorado high-wire artist Ivy Baldwin’s dozens of canyon crossings, which he continued to make into his 80s.

—Photo credit: History Colorado


Drinking Games

Doing downward dog at your local brewery has almost become cliché. But fear not: There are less obvious ways to earn your pint(s). —Lauren Saxe

Cycling: Taste samplers of beers at Odell Brewing Company and three other breweries of your choosing while taking in FoCo’s scenery; you’ll pedal three to six miles around town (wheels are provided) during Bike & Beer Tours’ daily Brew Cruises. $50 per person (beer not included)

Disc Golf: Drink a Sour Apricot at Dry Dock Brewing Co.’s North Dock location while enjoying friendly competition on the Aurora brewery’s new 18-hole, nautical-themed disc golf course out back. Free

Rock Climbing: Sip a Joe’s Pils at the Spot Bouldering Gym while doing your best to ignore your burning forearms after you explore the Boulder venue’s six climbing areas; a selection of Avery beers is available anytime after 4:30 p.m. $17 for a day pass, $5 for shoes

Trivia: Savor a Juicy Bits New England IPA at WeldWerks Brewing Co. while enjoying Wednesday night trivia, during which you’ll geek out over eight rounds of heated competition for the chance to win gift cards to this Greeley hot spot. Free


Special Menus

Three mountain-town dining experiences foodies should know about but probably don’t. —CS

Win The Potluck At Broken Compass Brewing Company: During these Monday night potlucks in Breckenridge, locals and visitors come together to dine and compete. Attendees vote on the top three dishes; winners receive BC swag. It’s free to participate—just bring enough to share.

Ride A Snowcat To Cloud Nine Alpine Bistro: Hop on a snowcat for a 30-minute ride to this cabin at the top of Aspen Highlands’ Cloud Nine lift for a four-course meal (think: red wine risotto with duck confit and Colorado lamb sirloin). You’ll never look at après-ski the same way again. 

Cross-Country Ski To Magic Meadows Yurt (pictured): You’ll have to work for your supper at Crested Butte’s Magic Meadows. Cross-country ski or snowshoe one mile on a groomed trail to reach the large yurt. Inside, you’ll find a roaring fire, craft cocktails, live music, and gourmet eats. 

—Photo courtesy of Xavier Fane


Hidden Hangout: McInnis Canyons National Conservation Area 

Near: Fruita

Why You Should Visit: Some call this hiker’s heaven Colorado’s Moab because of the winding trails and curious rock formations—such as the Aztec Window, a lone slab of rust-colored rock with a small hole in the middle, and Rattlesnake Arches, a geologic stunner just begging to be photographed. Both are located in the protected McInnis Canyons National Conservation Area, so the only way to see these wonders is to hoof it yourself or to let a horse do the hoofing for you.

When: Fall offers ideal temperatures for a day of hiking. —Molly Longman


Out-Of-Sight Accommodation: Villard Ranch

At this 87-year-old working ranch in Craig, you won’t just be counting sheep in your head—they’ll be right outside your front door. Book an overnight stay (starting at $200) in one of the three mobile sheep wagons (actual wagons that sheepherders sleep in while on the job), and you’ll get to pick where to sleep, whether it’s tucked away in the aspen trees or at a campsite overlooking the property. The primitive accommodations sleep two to four people and have propane and wood stoves. 

—Photo courtesy of Villard Ranch


Wild Life

Impress your friends with your ability to locate, and identify, some of Colorado’s difficult-to-find creatures. —Mary Clare Fischer

Critter: Flammulated Owl (pictured)

Features: Picture your average screech owl—and then shrink him down to six inches tall.

Spot ’Em: The trunks and branches of ponderosa pines serve as highly camouflaged owl living rooms. Scientists once believed the birds to be incredibly rare; turns out, it’s just really difficult to detect them. Get your binoculars ready the next time you’re trekking through Pike National Forest.

Critter: Pine Marten

Features: Chocolate brown with an orange chest, this weasel has a catlike face and whiskers to match.

Spot ’Em: Bright-eyed and bushy-tailed, pine martens play in subalpine coniferous forests. Keep your eyes peeled on hikes in Rocky Mountain National Park.

Critter: Pika 

Features: Put Stuart Little’s face on a hamster’s body, and you’ve got this adorable fur ball.

Spot ’Em: These pint-size animals enjoy rocky terrain and cooler temperatures. Catch a glimpse on Loveland Pass when they’re gathering food for the winter after their breeding season in May and June.

Critter: Cave Worm

Features: Thin and long, these blood red worms look like the kind of creatures you’d see on Bones.

Spot ’Em: Scientists equipped with special breathing equipment safely locate and study this newly discovered species in a cave in Steamboat Springs—which has toxic hydrogen sulfide gas inside. If you’d like to stay alive while viewing these slimy invertebrates, visit the DMNS’ Avenir Collections Center.

—Photo courtesy of Coconino National Forest


NORTHWEST

Preserving The Past

In 1997, the nonprofit Colorado Preservation Inc. launched the Endangered Places program. The goal: to raise awareness of historically significant but threatened buildings and landscapes in order to inspire communities to find creative ways to conserve them. Since then, CPI has identified 110 sites, 39 of which have been declared “saved.” Of course, that means many more are still vulnerable. With the help of CPI, we selected four once-forgotten pieces of Colorado history worth a visit.

Crossan’s Market: You may not be allowed inside this dilapidated building—yet—but you should still stop to take a photograph of the faded white exterior the next time you’re driving through Yampa. (May we suggest boating on nearby Yamcolo Reservoir or hiking in the Flat Tops Wilderness?) Preserved inside the mercantile building are still-stocked shelves and calendars forever turned to 1964. A dedicated team of volunteers has been working to conserve the venue, but there is still a lot left to do.

Satank Bridge: You may not realize it when you reach this Roaring Fork River crossing in Carbondale, but you’re biking over a bit of Colorado history. Likely the last remaining 19th-century timber wagon truss bridge in the state, Satank is the perfect stopping point along the Rio Grande Trail (between Aspen and Glenwood Springs) to hydrate and take in the view of 12,953-foot Mt. Sopris. Plan your bike trip at sunrise or sunset, when the bridge, which CPI pronounced saved in 2011, takes on a pinkish hue. 

Hahns Peak Fire Lookout: In the early 1900s, the U.S. Forest Service began constructing lookouts for fire management. The one on Hahns Peak, outside of Steamboat Springs, was among the first in Colorado. It was decommissioned during the middle of the 20th century as airplanes came into favor for fire-spotting. Today, you can view the structure (which CPI has marked as saved) at the end of the 1.4-mile (one way) Hahns Peak Trail. 

Interlaken Resort: You could ride a boat across the Twin Lakes to reach this former resort community, but we recommend going by foot. The three-or-so-mile hike (one way) begins at the eastern end of Independence Pass. Dexter House (named after founder James Dexter) is the first building you’ll reach. Explore its two stories before heading to the resort. In its heyday—the late 1800s—the property boasted a hotel with two dining rooms, a dance hall, and a barn. More than $1 million has gone into restoring the buildings. 

—Photo courtesy of Colorado Preservation Inc.


SOUTHWEST

Underexplored

Everyone knows about the Great Sand Dunes, but beyond those geologic wonders sits the rest of the San Luis Valley, just waiting to be discovered. Here are four ways to survey one of Colorado’s least-visited regions. —Chris Outcalt

Ride A TrainThe most relaxing way to climb the Sangre de Cristo Mountains is the Old West way: by train. The Rio Grande Scenic Railroad (tickets start at $39) sets off from Alamosa and traces steep and rocky La Veta Pass on tracks that were laid in 1878. The area isn’t accessible by car, so you’ll get a peek at panoramas that few Coloradans have seen. But the scenery isn’t the only treat: If you book a ride that stops at Fir Amphitheater, you’ll get to experience Colorado’s only music venue accessible exclusively by train. Shows are held weekly on Saturdays and Sundays, from June through September. 

Hop On A BikeGet your fat-tire fix in Del Norte. Earlier this summer, the Bureau of Land Management and the Del Norte Trails Organization opened another 6.5 miles of single-track just south of town (adding to the dozens of already-built trails). The remote slickrock routes in the Pronghorn area remind us of Moab, Utah. A visit to the more established Lookout Mountain trails adjacent to town isn’t optional—mostly because you can finish your ride at Three Barrel Brewing Co. 

Take A HikePenitente Canyon, about 18 miles northwest of Monte Vista, is known as a rock climbing destination. But the desertlike landscape’s 22 miles of trails are also hiking-boot-ready. Get an easy introduction by ascending the 334 vertical feet of 2.6-mile-long Penitente Canyon Trail near the canyon’s entrance. At the end, you’ll spot wagon wheel tracks, 160-year-old leftovers from traders’ wagons bumping along the Old Spanish Trail en route to California. And it’s possible you won’t have to share the view. 

Get CulturedIn Conejos, visit the oldest church in Colorado: Our Lady of Guadalupe, built in 1863. Pop over to neighboring Antonito to get your Hollywood fix; Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade and A Million Ways to Die in the West were both filmed, in part, in the tiny town. Then head north to Westcliffe, where a former Hollywood actress restored the Historic Jones Theater to show first-run flicks and quality stage productions. (This month, nab $15 tickets to an evening of 10-minute plays.) Afterward, visit the town’s new Smokey Jack Observatory to take in a spectacular view of the Milky Way. 

—Photo courtesy of the Rio Grande Scenic Railroad


Hidden Hangout: Unaweep Canyon 

Near: Grand Junction      

Why You Should Visit: If they’re willing to spend a little extra time in the car, rock climbers will be rewarded with hundreds of routes and problems of varying difficulties. Two creeks split at the Unaweep Divide, and the granite walls rising up from them are ripe for exploration. Check out the Fortress and Quarry walls, where routes go up to 5.12.

When: Spring and fall offer cooler temps. —ML


Out-Of-Sight Accommodation: Starlite Classic Campground

After enjoying the decidedly modern offerings at Royal Gorge Bridge and Park (zip line! skycoaster!), travel back a few decades at nearby Starlite Classic Campground. Here, nine vintage trailers (starting at $79 per night) await your family (two to six people) with linens, towels, and dishes provided. Try out the Flamingo Lounge camper—where adorable pink plastic birds greet you in the front yard—before the campground closes for the season on October 2; it reopens in May.

—Photo courtesy of Robert Hicks


Searching For Seams 

Think there aren’t a lot of lonely stretches of public water left in Colorado? We know otherwise. Clearer water, spawning brown trout, and less varied food options mean September can be an angler’s paradise. We consulted the experts* to find trout-full holes you may have all to yourself. —Lindsey B. Koehler

*The Experts: Stuart Andrews, ArkAnglers; Raymond Kemper, Rio Grande Anglers; Will Sands, Taylor River Fly Shop; and Rob Schmidt, Duranglers 

—Photo courtesy of Alamy


To the Bat Cave

Find your Halloween spirit a little early this year. 

Since at least 1967, the abandoned Orient Mine near Villa Grove has been the summer home of 250,000 Brazilian free-tailed bats. See the mostly male colony for yourself during a free two-mile guided hike from the Orient Land Trust Welcome Center to the cave opening. Concerns about white-nose syndrome, which can wipe out entire colonies, mean visitors cannot currently enter the mine, but as dusk settles in (bring a headlamp) you can watch the winged creatures’ evening outflight, which sometimes lasts up to 30 minutes. Arrive at the welcome center by 6 p.m.—from mid-June through mid-September—so you don’t miss it. 

—Photo courtesy of Phil Mainelli


Secret Colorado Landmark

A Colorado landmark is hiding in plain sight in Delta: the 214-year-old Ute Council Tree (located near 530 Gunnison River Drive). The Ute tribe’s Chief Ouray would meet with white settlers under the 85-foot-tall cottonwood. His wife, Chipeta, is said to have been the only Ute woman permitted to sit in on council meetings, also held at the site. 


SOUTHEAST

The 1,200-mile-long Santa Fe Trail was built in 1821 as the country’s first commercial highway. More than a century later, the 195 miles of former trail (which often overlap with modern highways) inside Colorado were designated a National Historic Trail. Since then, the roadway has been relabeled the Santa Fe Scenic and Historic Byway—and you can follow it to a variety of attractions, both old and new. Get started with seven of our favorites. —Haley Gray

1. Monday, Bloody Monday: In April 1914, the Colorado National Guard engaged in a gunfight with striking Colorado Fuel & Iron Company mine workers and torched their encampment. The number killed is unknown. Learn more at the Ludlow Massacre Memorial monument, erected on the site of the burned camp, outside Trinidad. 

2. Westward, Ho: Today, the Iron Spring Historic Area viewpoint’s namesake—a natural spring that served as a popular water-supply stop—is located on private property. Instead, focus your camera north to glimpse six 15-foot-wide swales rising over the hill; they were pounded into the earth, in part, by the trail’s travelers. 

3. Show Time: In 1935, the Grand Theater of Rocky Ford was a bustling vaudeville entertainment hall. Almost 60 years later, the bootstrapping Rocky Ford community restored it to its former glory. Today you can enjoy contemporary flicks on its new silver screen Friday through Sunday; tickets top out at $5. 

4. Farm Hands: Hanagan Farms was founded in 1905 and remains in the Hanagan family. Visit the 1,500-acre homestead south of Swink to get a taste of ranch life by picking your own tomatoes and chiles (the staff will even roast them for you). Then muster some courage to taste the Mirasol chile—this local favorite is too spicy for most palates. 

5. Sacred Art: The Koshare Museum, built in 1949, houses a vast collection of Native American art. The building also has an attached round room similar to a kiva (a ceremonial structure used by the Ancestral Puebloans) that claims the record for the world’s largest self-supporting log roof, constructed from 40 tons of white pine logs. 

6. Leading Ladies: Just south of Las Animas, you’ll find a pair of homes that were the property of two pioneering women: Rumalda Luna Boggs (the Boggsville settlement that was once in this area was named after her family) and Amache Prowers, daughter of Cheyenne Chief Lone Bear. Learn about their lives with a visit to these well-preserved abodes. 

7. Wind Powered: The past meets the present around Lamar. Drive south, off County Road E, and you’ll spot more than 160 wind turbines rising from the grass. Many of them are part of a massive wind farm that occupies the property of locals Bob and Helen Emick. At their ranch, you can contrast those modern marvels with 30 antique windmills. 

Insider Tip: John Carson, great-grandson of Western folk hero Kit Carson, is one of the rangers leading tours at Bent’s Old Fort National Historic Site, a reconstructed 1833 trading hub near La Junta. He’s on-site Wednesday through Sunday; call ahead to find out what times. You won’t want to miss the amusing stories about his famous ancestor. 

—Illustration by James Grover


Open Studio

No matter where you point your Subaru in Colorado—outside the metro area—you’re nearly guaranteed to drive through a small town (or five). But some, like La Veta (population: 800), are worth hitting the brakes for. Over the past couple of years, this undiscovered enclave has been evolving into something of an arts hub; there’s even a Fourth Friday art walk. It’s no RiNo, but La Veta offers at least four reasons you should stop by on your next road trip.

1. Discover striking designs and intricate patterns at Ricky Tims’ Art & Quilt Studio; a Tokyo quilting show once named the artist one of the 30 most distinguished quilters in the world. 

2. The nonprofit Spanish Peaks Arts Council (SPACe) is celebrating 40 years of promoting arts in the region with a fund-raiser. Local artists decorate square panels of wood, and beginning on September 19, you can buy them for $40 each. Part of your purchase will go to the artist; the rest benefits SPACe. 

3. Visit Desert Expressions, an eclectic shop that’s bursting with everything from locally made jewelry and home decor to scarves and eye-catching wall art, for a souvenir with Southwestern flair. 

4. At Kathy Hill’s Studio, take a bit of that southern Colorado view home with you after perusing oil, watercolor, and acrylic paintings that depict the nearby Spanish Peaks. 

THIS MONTH: Visit La Veta from September 22 to 25 for the annual Spanish Peaks International Celtic Music Festival—and don’t miss the outdoor concert at the top of La Veta Pass.

—Photo courtesy of Beth McCoy Evans


Tuned In 

Let the bright lights of Pueblo’s Neon Alley draw you into Songbird Cellars’ recently opened tasting room. Not only are there appealing new vintages to taste, but the venue also hosts some of the coolest concerts in the area (Ray Wylie Hubbard recently stopped in). Check the website for upcoming dates and times; tickets range from $5 to $60 for intimate—and tasty (bring your own food!)—musical experiences. 


Hidden Hangout: Trinidad Lake State Park 

Near: Trinidad

Why You Should Visit: This small southeastern city isn’t on most people’s lists of places to recreate, but the 800-acre lake just west of town offers a wide array of outdoor opportunities: fishing, boating, waterskiing, and even geocaching (visit geocachingcolo.com before you go). In the evening, head to the amphitheater to cook your catch on the horno stove, a replica of the adobe ovens used by Spanish settlers and Native Americans in the late 1800s. 

When: September, so you won’t cook like your walleye. —ML


Out-Of-Sight Accommodation: A Three Dog Night Guest House

After your morning exploration of Bent’s Old Fort, unwind in this tucked-away guesthouse ($95 per night) outside of Sugar City (it’s about 45 minutes from the historic site). The small space includes a queen bed, twin sleeper sofa, and kitchen. It also sits right on four-mile-long Lake Meredith, so bring your fishing gear and motorized boat; the public dock is just three miles away. 

—Photo courtesy of Kiki Monnet Medina


Secret Shrine

If you’re in the Broadmoor Valley and notice a pleasant ringing carrying on the wind, you’re not hearing things. The Will Rogers Shrine of the Sun—a 114-foot-tall granite monument above Colorado Springs—has a 50-bell carillon that tolls every quarter hour. 

(Discover even more of our state's secrets in 5280's first "Hidden Colorado," from 2013.)