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National Geographic Adventure – September 2003

National Geographic Adventure
September 2003
Jeff Rennicke

Fall’s Fast Escapes
Buena Vista
Sawatch Studies

THIS PLACE HAS IT ALL: High peaks, wild rivers, shady trails, historic sites, all just three hours south of Denver. To the east of the laid-back village of Buena Vista flows the wild Arkansas River, to the west are the endless crags of the Swatch Range (a name, one miner said, better sneezed tan spoken), and all around: hot springs and ghost towns.

DAY 1 Raft the rapids of the Arkansas. Within minutes of shoving off from Fisherman’s Bridge in Browns Canyon, you hit four miles of continuous white water. Dropping 30 feet a mile, the 12-mile run is a daylong carnival of Class II and III rapids—Zoom Flume, Big Drop, Staircase, Jump Rock. This is a hands-on ride, fast and furious.

DAY 2 Make an attempt on Mount Yale, one of a collection of peaks named for the Ivy League schools. Despite its 14,119 feet, Yale’s smooth slopes make it a great hiker’s mountain (no technical skills required). Start in the aspen groves at the Denny’s Creek Trailhead on Cottonwood Pass Road, 12 miles out of Buena Visa. From there, it’s a tough six-mile round-trip hike with fantastic views of Mount Princeton, Harvard, and Columbia, and the sea of stone that is the Sawatch Range. By the time you return to the trailhead, you’ll be ready to soak in the 104-degree pools of the Mount Princeton Hot Springs Resort, 11 miles south of town ($8).

DAY 3 Ascent Mount Antero’s long razor-sharp southern ridge aboard a hired “iron mule.” Outfitter Bob Kirby’s white-knuckle four-wheel-drive trip departs from Buena Vista, tightropes up a string of steep, narrow switchbacks with names like Get Out and Walk (a spot so treacherous some folks do just that), and climbs into an alpine zone of mountain goats, soaring hawks, and stupendous views of nearby Mount Shavano and Tabeguache Peak. On top, stop to dig for gemstones like aquamarine and onyx, abundant in these parts.

Dvorak’s Kayak and Rafting Expeditions (day trip, $76; 800-824-3795; Colorado Mountain Club (303-279-3080; High Country Jeep Tours (day trip, $86; 866-458-6877;