Memorial Day weekend in Colorado is a total crapshoot, weather wise. Some years it’s cold and rainy. Some years it’s warm and sunny. Some years it snows. And some years it does all of these things and then some… which, to be honest, is kind of what happened this year. But I digress.
Despite the frustratingly variable weather, I’m not one to pass up the opportunity to spend a four-day weekend out in nature. Last year, we spent Memorial weekend in Dinosaur National Monument, a wonderful trip which included a one-day whitewater rafting excursion. Inspired by last year, I once again booked us a Memorial weekend rafting trip, this year on the Arkansas River. I’ll talk all about our day on the river in an upcoming post, but this post and the next are going to be about the other pieces of our trip.
Our home base for the weekend was BV Overlook Campground, located about 5 minutes east of the town of Buena Vista. (And because Colorado apparently has to anglicize everything, Buena is pronounced byoo-nuh, not bway-nuh. It annoys me to no end, but I’ll spare you the longer version of this particular rant.)
Anyway. BV Overlook was a pretty good place to stay. They have some of the cleanest campground bathrooms I’ve seen, free showers with decent water pressure and relatively stable temperatures, and many other amenities including a pool table, board games, laundry, free coffee and tea in the morning, and a Saturday evening ice cream social. They also actually enforce the posted quiet hours, a fact we learned when we had to call the after-hours phone number to report the group of campers who were still hooting and hollering at 11:30pm, seemingly oblivious to the fact that the rest of the campground was silent and most of us were attempting to sleep. The owner immediately came out to tell them to shut up, which we (and I imagine most everyone else) really appreciated.
Buena Vista is only a couple hours from Denver, so we arrived relatively early on Friday with plenty of time to start exploring the area. First up was Cottonwood Pass, a 12,000+ foot (3655+ m) paved highway over the Continental Divide that was plowed and open just in time for the long weekend. The road is curvy and a little narrow and steep, but relatively tame as compared to some of the mountain passes here in Colorado. There are periodic pullouts to stop and enjoy the view and a parking area at the summit. The Continental Divide Trail crosses the road here. There was still a lot of snow in places, but we did manage to follow the trail about 0.2 miles (0.3 km) up to a high point adjacent to the road, from which the views were panoramic.
We then drove about 1 mile (1.6 km) down the west side of the pass to the picnic area. It was a little too windy to eat lunch outside, so we ate in the car while enjoying the view.
We opted not to go any further west (that’s a whole future trip of its own, there’s so much to see and do on the west side) and instead headed back down the east side.
Once we were back in the Arkansas River Valley, we detoured onto Cottonwood Lake Road to visit – you guessed it – Cottonwood Lake. From the short amount of time we spent here, it was very clear that this area is mainly used by fishermen.
Back in Buena Vista, we spent the remainder of the day exploring the town. It’s relatively small, home to about 3,000 people. The Arkansas River Valley was the original homeland of the Ute people, who were displaced by the influx of white settlers in the mid-to-late 1800s. As with most towns in the Colorado Mountains, Buena Vista was built around mining and the railroad. At one point, three different railroads served the town en route to and from Denver and various mining claims. Later, the Colorado Midland Railroad grade was turned into a highway. Today it’s no longer the main thoroughfare, but you can still drive the dirt road through the four original railway tunnels. Elsewhere in town, the grade is now a bike path along the Arkansas River.
In fact, much of the area along the Arkansas River is maintained for recreation. Buena Vista in particular, and the Arkansas River in general, is a popular place to partake in many water-based sports. During our walk along the riverside path, we saw rafters, kayakers, whitewater paddleboarders, and swimmers.
We also checked out the depot and caboose on display at McPhelemy Park. Tours of both are offered during business hours, and we intended to come back when they were open but couldn’t manage to squeeze it in. We were still able to read the outdoor signs and enjoy the park, though.
In the evening, we took a stroll through the downtown area. It’s only a few blocks long, quaint and with a little bit of an old west vibe.
Of course, no visit to a town in Colorado is complete without sampling the local beer. I ordered a flight and Pat a pint at Eddyline Brewery and we enjoyed our beers in their outdoor seating area.
And this is where I will leave off for today. Stay tuned for next week, when I will recap our visit to one of the most intact ghost towns in the US!