A Travel essay about Pagosa Springs, Colorado by James Bonner

Pagosa Springs, Colorado : An Afternoon In A Colorado Mountain Town

Driving through parts of Colorado is like driving through a painting. My first real experience with the state started only a few years ago, 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 was so picturesque it couldn’t have been real. 

Sailing through the mountains of southern Colorado was just too unaffected 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. I saw the first moose I’ve seen in the wild, walking casually across a creek off the side of the road on my way to Pagosa Springs, Colorado.

Pagosa Springs, Colorado, is as much of a mountain town as a mountain town can be. It was beautiful driving in from the south on HWY 84, and then from HWY 119, I came from over a mountain looking down on the town. I don’t know what it is about looking at a place from above, especially one burrowed 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. 

Nothing about my experience driving in Pagosa Springs seemed real, it was too beautiful. Pagosa Springs seemed more like a set out of a movie or a place where everyone was always only passing through. I parked on Pagosa Street in a lot that overlooked the river across from the Pagosa Bar. I peeked into a few shops along the main street and wandered 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 the 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 off 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. 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 continuing along the path to 6th street. I didn’t go to Pagosa Springs for any 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 hangout, 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. After waiting for the host by the podium for several minutes, trying to get the bartender's attention to help me find a host to seat me, and then waiting another several minutes for anyone to help me I finally left. 

I walked back toward the downtown area, planning on eating at a Mexican restaurant with a patio that overlooked the river I had seen after I parked. On my way, I happened upon a pair of officers. I asked them where I should eat and they redirected me to the Lost Cajun, “famous for its Po Boys.” They said 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.

An afternoon in Pagosa Springs, Colorado, was more than enough to appease my curiosity. Pagosa Springs seems like a town built for Hollywood, polished and artificial. Nothing about the PS seemed real or captivating. Before I spent my afternoon exploring the hamlet, I had asked around, and a handful of people I knew raved about this amazing little place, one couple shared that they spend their anniversary weekend every year in Pagosa Springs, which intrigued me. 

I was excited to visit Pagosa Springs and imagined I would find myself spending many weekends there. Meh, the appeal is lost on me. I am glad I went, and perhaps if I find myself there again and eat at either Riff Raff or Tequila’s Pagosa, I’ll catch whatever it is that so many people seem to have. Until then, Pagosa Springs, Colorado, will be a Colorado town I can check off my list.

Back to blog

Leave a comment

Please note, comments need to be approved before they are published.