5,490 km: Fat City & Rifle

Taking a day off from serious driving on account of it being the end of the Labor Day weekend.  I stayed in a motel in Glenwood Springs last night and my intention is to go check out the Woody Creek Tavern, the late Hunter S. Thompson’s watering hole of choice.  Since Aspen is on the same road, only about 10 or 15 miles further, and it’s early morning, I head into Aspen first.

I park and walk around.  Looks nice – smaller and more low key than I expected – but very expensive, boutiques aren’t really my scene.

Buy more stuff

Some decent looking taverns but it’s only 9 am and drinking all day doesn’t sound appealing (only because I don’t want to pay for a room here).  Looking at a map of the area, the town seems to be literally surrounded by hiking trails so I find one and head down it.  These trails are only a couple minutes from downtown, good stuff:

Aspen trail

Now I know I’m out of shape, but these trails really knock the wind out of me.  I hit one little section of switchbacks and I have to stop and take a breath every 10 or 12 feet I ascend.  Aspen’s elevation is only about 6,000 feet (I think), I wouldn’t have thought it’d be that significant.  Go for an hour or so and head back to town.

I roll out of town and head to Woody Creek.  The tavern isn’t hard to find – the town’s population is about 250 and aside from the tavern, the only other non-residential building looks to be the post office.  The tavern’s also crazy busy, with people lined up outside the door at 11:30 am.  Mostly mountain bikers but a good amount of traffic around it too.

The interior of the tavern is covered in pictures, bumper stickers, drawings, license plates, that sort of thing.  There are plenty of hilarious things stuck up there, but one bumper sticker makes me lose it – it’s some guy (I don’t know who) giving two thumbs up and it says “Honk if you’ve had sex with my ex.”  Amazing.  Anyone who wants their picture on the wall can just ask the bar staff to take one and they’ll put it up.  Despite being well-known as HST’s haunt, there isn’t too much about him that jumps out immediately – a picture on one of the beer fridges behind the bar, a pencil sketch near the door, a photo portrait on a back wall, and a handful of “Gonzo” and “Freak Power” stickers.  Also, this:

Thompson for Sheriff

HST ran for the sheriff of Aspen in 1970, a story documented in The Gonzo Papers Vol. 1:  The Great Shark Hunt.  He made several interesting election promises, one being to rename Aspen to “Fat City” to stop people from capitalizing on the Aspen name in branding.  The symbol in sheriff’s star is a two-thumbed fist clutching a peyote button.  I had a few beers and some killer enchiladas and hit the road.

I think about camping back near Glenwood Springs but it’s early so I decide to test my luck on the I-70.  It’s not as bad as I expected so I drive for a while until I reach a town called Rifle.  About fifteen miles behind Rifle are two state parks with camping, Rifle Gap and Rifle Falls, and I grab a walk-in tent site at the latter.

Rifle Falls carpark

The state park’s eponymous falls:

Rifle Falls

I hike up a little trail to the top of the falls, and then down another that goes behind my campsite:



Then head back to my tent to chill and read, until my site is inundated by wild turkeys that I put the run to.  They headed down the trail, not terribly perturbed:

Turkey run

In retrospect I should’ve driven a little further west before setting up camp.  Rifle Falls seemed really warm when the sun was up, but it’s at an elevation of over 5,500 feet.  I only had two yoga mats under me for insulation, so I spent the night sleeping one way for twenty or thirty minutes, waking up chilled, rolling over, and repeating.  By about 5:30 I got sick of the routine and hit the road.

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