Saturday, February 12, 2011

Stories from the Road -- Glenwood Springs, CO

I visited Glenwood Springs back in 2008, as a part of a summer trip to Colorado. Glenwood Springs is a convenient location for a lot of places to visit in central Colorado, including Aspen (which a few friends and I would visit the following day). But there is reason to make Glenwood Springs a "destination" as well as a stopover.

One of the best reasons to visit Glenwood Springs is the Glenwood Caverns, located "above" the city. Some of the cave was manually built, and I found this section to be rather bittersweet. Although the rock formations were indeed beautiful, it always rang false to me because it was essentially created by humans. Now, I'm not one of those "leave everything on Earth alone" people, but there are some things that are ethical gray areas for me. As much as I love Mount Rushmore, a (small) part of me wonders why we thought it was necessary to carve so much rock (and, inevitably, habitat) into four Presidents. Sure, it's beautiful, both as a pure sight and as a memorial, but doesn't this seem a little overkill? And don't even get me started on the nearby Crazy Horse...

Then again, this argument can be taken to extremes. Golf courses are essentially altered habitats -- personally, I can't stand them, in general. So is farmland, cities, basically "anything" man has touched. Where does the argument end? Originally, I believed that it became troublesome when the natural destruction that ultimately comes with human construction provided virtually no benefit to humankind. Problem is, how do you define "benefit", and what gives me (or anyone) the right to claim when some sort of human construction is not benefiting someone at some point?

With some cases, such as Mount Rushmore, I see benefits: public awareness in our history being the biggest. With others, such as Crazy Horse, I see a group of people attempting but failing to do the same. Instead, I see an elaborate financial sinkhole, both for the tourist and for the architects. And I see a lot of damaged landscape as collateral.

With the first portion of Glenwood Caverns, I see a benefit and a disadvantage. Sure, there's a nice view, increased public awareness of local history, and even a scientific discovery element. On the other hand, there is a bigger, more beautiful, and far more satisfying natural cave just next to the man-made labyrinth. So what was the point, other than the view? (Well, to be fair, at some point in the past, there was a point -- mining -- but it still doesn't completely explain the destruction after the mining.)

The natural portion of Glenwood Caverns was exceptional. At the end of the (public portion of the) cave, an exquisite room full of stalactites and stalagmites awaits. Unnatural lighting provides an even greater "ooh, ah" moment when the cave formations are lit in wondrous yellows and oranges. It is an absolutely gorgeous sight, and one worth visiting if traveling through the Glenwood Springs area.

We visited during the summer, which inevitably means there will be storms in the area each afternoon. (A rare exception would be the next day, when we spent an absolutely splendid day in Aspen and the Maroon Bells area.) After our guided cave exploration, we exited the cave with a small spattering of rain and a beautiful rainbow over the Glenwood Valley area. Glenwood Springs is located at the intersection of the Colorado and Roaring Fork Rivers. Both form beautiful valleys/canyons near the city, and the views from the caverns are simply spectacular. The town itself is actually quite small (<10 000 people) and seems even smaller when viewed atop the mountain just to the north.

The visit to Glenwood Springs was a test balloon for me. I knew about the caverns, and have always loved taking tours of caves, but I had no exceedingly high expectations of the place. But Glenwood Caverns is certainly worthy of a visit, as is the quaint town located nearby. It's in the Colorado Rockies. What more do you need to know?