Driving through parts of Colorado is like driving through a painting. My first real experience with the state started only a few years ago, and for someone who has spent much of his life traveling, especially stateside, and now, after having spent a good bit of time there, it seems a bit outrageous that I'm so unfamiliar with the state. I was driving through a landscape that couldn’t have been real, sailing through the mountains of southern Colorado that was just too natural, too agrarian to be real, at least in the world as we know it. Colorado was wild, nothing like the world I was familiar with, Idaho, Utah, Texas, and New Mexico included. The first moose that I’ve ever seen was casually walking across a creek as I happened to glance to my right, in the direction on my way to Pagosa Springs.
Pagosa Springs, Colorado, is as much of a mountain town as a town can be, it was beautiful driving in from the south on highway 84, and then from 119, I came from over a mountain looking down on the town as I drove in. I don’t know what it is about looking at a town from above, especially one nestled among the mountains, the beaks of roofs peeking from lumbering evergreens, and as you come down the mountain and into the town and cross the San Juan River, even the town didn’t seem real. It seemed more like a set out of a movie or, perhaps, as if nobody actually lived there, like it was a place where everyone was always just passing through. I parked on Pagosa Street in a lot that overlooked the river across from the Pagosa Bar. I peaked my head into a few shops along the main street there and then wandered down to the San Juan River.
The town smells of sulfur. There are hot springs on either side of the San Juan River in the heart of Pagosa Springs, the larger of the springs, opposite the river from main street, has been commercialized and harnessed, things like that make me sad, there are three small hot springs near where I parked and I took of my shoes, rolled my pant legs up passed my knees and waded into the springs. I sat there watching people in rafts enjoying the river as they passed me by. I put on my shoes and walked the trail next to the river to the rails end at town park before retracing my steps and continued along the path to 6th street. I didn’t go to Pagosa Springs for any particular reason other than that I had never been and thought I might spend a day there.
I walked to Riff Raff Brewing Co., a promising local hang out, by the looks of the building and the menu; I was excited to sit down and order almost anything on the menu, it all looked good. Unfortunately, after waiting for the host by the podium for several minutes and then trying to get the bartender's attention to help me find someone, and then waiting another several minutes for anyone to help me I finally left, feeling very disappointed. I walked back toward the river and was going to eat at a Mexican restaurant with a patio that overlooked the river and on my way there I happened upon a pair of policemen. I asked them where I should eat and they redirected me to the Lost Cajun, “famous for its Po’boy’s.” I should have gone to the Mexican restaurant. There was nothing special about the Lost Cajun. My experience looking for a place to eat soured my impression of the small Colorado mountain town.
I was only in Pagosa Springs, Colorado that one time, I’ve never been back or had the desire to. I have wondered if I had eaten at Riff Raff or Tequila’s Pagosa if I would have headed back for New Mexico feeling excited for my next visit to Pagosa Springs, instead I left feeling grateful that I have the means to spend the day in a place like Pagosa Springs but eager for an experience almost anywhere else. I feel almost compelled to prospect for towns like this, Pagosa Springs, as if I were searching for something, a feeling, some form of contentment or pieces of fulfillment that when placed together create a bigger picture of something that looks a lot like my bliss. Pagosa Springs is a small piece of that, some places make up bigger pieces, stories of my life, Pagosa, though smaller, still represents a piece and although I know the memory will be a fuzzy one, it’ll still be a memory.