Outdoor Adventures / Road Trips

Favorite Moments From Pagosa Springs

Pagosa Springs, Colorado

It’s amazing how the best moments in life can happen when you’re least expecting them.

Will has a timeshare that we trade in every year, usually for a week at a ski resort. This year we went to Powder Mountain, Utah (ingrained in our hearts as the epic site of his peak proposal!), but we ended up with extra points that we could put toward another week’s stay somewhere else. There weren’t enough points to send us to a fabulous destination like Hawaii or Mexico — in fact, the choices were embarrassingly limited. Did we really want seven days in Mesquite, Nevada? (Where? you say… Exactly.)

Out of the short list available to us, we randomly picked a town called Pagosa Springs, an unassuming little dot near the border of New Mexico. We figured that at least we’d be in Colorado and could drive to nearby Telluride if we got really bored. We had never heard of the place, none of our friends had ever been, and we had no expectations. We just didn’t want to throw away our points.

As it turned out, that one week in Pagosa Springs was enough to convince us to put Southern Colorado on our yearly road trip list. It was just that incredible.

It started with a beautiful drive through the Arizona high desert on Highway 40. With storm clouds over our heads and the sun waning on the horizon, the normally muted landscape was bathed in an extra rich golden glow. Just vast, wide openness everywhere.

Driving on Highway 40 through the Arizona high desert

Wide open land in the Arizona high desert

We opted to drive straight through from Los Angeles, making it to our doorstep in the middle of the night in a surprisingly painless 15 hours. My man is a machine!

Our condo sat on this lovely lake, which glassed off to an amazing sheen in the evenings.

Glassy lake in Pagosa Springs

Glassy lake in Pagosa Springs

The next morning we explored this tiny town, best known in the area for its natural hot springs. The San Juan River meanders through a quiet “downtown” that can be walked in 30 leisurely minutes.

San Juan River through Pagosa Springs

Parts of Pagosa Springs were pure and simple slices of Americana.

A pure and simple slice of Americana

Other parts were pure and simple slices of country life.

A pure and simple slice of the rustic life

This little glimpse into heaven made me realize that I’m really a country girl at heart, and I need acres of lush, green, mountainous, sprawling solitude in my future. Or at the very least, a small farm.

Sprawling ranch land in Pagosa Springs

Ideally, a farm with the sweetest llamas grazing on it.

Llamas in Pagosa Springs

Llama in Pagosa Springs

Llama in Pagosa Springs

We happened upon other wildlife too, all equally sweet.

Deer in Pagosa Springs

Sheep in Pagosa Springs

Sheep in Pagosa Springs

Wild turkeys in Pagosa Springs

One afternoon, we found ourselves on a magical, rainy day drive through the Piedra Wilderness.

Rainy day drive through the Piedra Wilderness

Rainy day drive through the Piedra Wilderness

Pondered life up on a cliff overlooking the Piedra River Canyon.

Overlooking the Piedra River Canyon

(Meanwhile, the sun started to peek out from behind the clouds.)

Piedra Wilderness

We stopped on the side of the road to photograph some beautiful, gentle creatures.

Sweet horses in Pagosa Springs

Horse in a meadow

Sweet horse in Pagosa Springs

Journeyed on endless dirt roads with lovely discoveries at every turn.

Endless dirt roads

Endless dirt roads dotted with treasures

We thought this rainbow was pretty special.

Rainbow over the Piedra Wilderness

And it turned out to be a double rainbow!

A double rainbow

But at the end of those rainbows, we had a momentary setback as the one and only road was washed out by a rocky creek.

Road washed out by a rocky creek

This creek… deep, cold, fast-moving.

Rocky, fast-flowing creek

Nothing that a few strategically rearranged stones couldn’t fix, and an all-wheel Subaru couldn’t ford.

Rearranging rocks to ford the creek

At the end of that road, we went on a drizzly-weather hike to Piedra Falls. We love these types of drizzly, muddy hikes. The earth smelled musky and fresh, the air crisp and clean and scented with pine.

Drizzly hike to Piedra Falls

Drizzly hike to Piedra Falls

WIld mushrooms

Wild thistle and spider

We listened to the leaves of quaking aspens rustle in the breeze.

Grove of quaking aspen trees

The artist in Will was overwhelmed by how much there was to photograph.

Photographing Piedra Falls

Piedra Falls was nothing short of majestic. Fed by late-summer monsoons, the water thundered down a cliff into a narrow bouldery canyon. It is much more powerful in person than it looks in the photo.

Piedra Falls

And through it all, we saw not a single other person. Just surrounded by the trills and chirps of forest life, the white noise of the river flowing past us, but beyond that… beautiful silence.

Cliff range in the Piedra Wilderness

Piedra River

Mountain range in the Piedra Wilderness

About Author

I'm a plant lover, passionate road-tripper, and cookbook author whose expert advice and bestselling books have been featured in TIME, Outside, HGTV, and Food & Wine. The No-Waste Vegetable Cookbook is my latest book. Garden Betty is where I write about modern homesteading, farm-to-table cooking, and outdoor adventuring—all that encompass a life well-lived outdoors. After all, the secret to a good life is... Read more »


  • Jeremy Heyl
    March 3, 2018 at 10:05 pm

    For some reason I thought I posted here several years ago. I looked this up again because Kathy and I are planning a trip out that way. My Grandparents lived in Pagosa Springs back in the late 70’s through the early 90’s. I loved visiting them and spending time out there when I was a kid. For an outdoorsy Chicago city kid it was heaven. My sister bought their timeshare at the place you stayed. Did you scope any campsites on your visit for a return? I have a couple in mind for our planned September trip through there and up into Montrose (where I have other family)- but I’d love to hear your thoughts. I haven’t been back since summer of ’90 so I’m really looking forward to it.

    • Linda from Garden Betty
      March 7, 2018 at 4:41 am

      We haven’t been back to Southern Colorado since this trip. We explored just north of there last summer, going west along 70 (after a couple days in and around Rocky Mountain NP), down 133, and looping back up to 50. It rained off and on so we didn’t camp much on that trip, but we did make it to Chinns Lake (cover of my camping cookbook, btw!) and spent the night at an off-road backcountry campsite.

      I know this isn’t close to where you’ll be, but if I were to return, I’d definitely want to camp along 133 from Carbondale just past Redstone (Crystal River Valley). It’s amazing there!

  • Candy
    August 14, 2013 at 8:33 am

    Really great shots! Great narrative as well.

    • Linda Ly
      August 14, 2013 at 3:32 pm

      Thank you! Still one of my favorite trips ever. Southern Colorado is gorgeous.

  • D. West Davies
    October 20, 2011 at 9:45 am

    Great shots!

    • Linda Ly
      October 20, 2011 at 9:19 pm

      Thanks! Although you can’t go wrong in a place like that.


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