The tag line on the visitor’s guide website is Pagosa Springs: Refreshingly Authentic, come to Pagosa Springs, Colorado and enjoy simplicity on a grand scale.
We walked through the front door of Riff Raff Brewing Company after a morning of hiking with good friends and former Arkansas residents Stephen and Randi Lynne Durham. The Durhams have been host to many an Arkansas mountain biker since they made the move to Pagosa Springs. The reasons behind their enthusiasm for sharing their new environs with friends were evident within minutes of arriving in this beautiful town shadowed by the San Juan Mountains, beauty abides in this place. Apparently the staff at Riff Raff feels the same way about The Dude, for The Dude Abides in Pagosa Springs as well, even if it is in the form of a menu partially based on quotes from The Big Lebowski. I was particularly fond of the Big Lambowski Burger as it really tied the whole room together. While waiting for my burger, a refreshingly sweet Raspberry Honey Kolsch began to alleviate the sensation that I had been chewing on shredded paper all day as a result of my failure to acclimate to the altitude and the low humidity.
Open just over one year ago, Riff Raff is housed in a historic downtown Victorian house which has been home to many businesses and came into the hands of the brewery complete with ghost stories which Hoperations manager Randy might be willing to tell if asked. When walls talk, I love to hear the stories and Randy is a good story teller. When we told him about our morning hike he responded with “My wife calls that the thigh-master death-march.” Brewmaster with a good sense of humor? Give us a tour, funny man! In between entertaining us with hiking stories about his wife, Eleanor, who is also Riff Raff’s master brewer, Randy revealed the philosophy of the brew house: use the gift that the springs have given, geothermal energy. The building is heated by piping water from the hot springs keeping the tap room toasty even on the coldest of Colorado winter days. The system will also be used to pre-heat the water for brewing. Co-owner Shelly Cox explained more of Riff Raff’s green philosophy:
“As Brewmaster and a conscientious consumer, I’m excited for this opportunity. Being green is important to us, and it’s another reason why being downtown was paramount. We also sell beer to go in stainless steel growlers to help cut down on waste-so people will reuse them over and over again- plus the beer stays colder and fresher.”
Sitting outside pondering the possibilities of harnessing the natural gifts of the town while watching kids, adults, and four legged friends frolic in the water of the San Juan River was the perfect continuation of our morning spent hiking the beautiful forests that encompass the town. As I looked out at the bustling downtown I replayed the memory of our morning. HIking from the Little Blanco Trailhead at the end of Mill Creek Road we climbed among the Aspens and above the treeline into the Weminuche Wilderness. We were early enough in the summer to enjoy a few snow patches in the shadows at higher elevations, the cold crunch beneath our boots a welcome relief from the high temperatures of home and we were just early enough that the famous Colorado wildflowers were only beginning to bloom.
The weather was perfect, cool enough to need a long layer and sunny enough to make a hat and protective eye wear essential, not just a fashion statement. We climbed for a couple of miles, enjoying the occasional views of Nipple Mountain and Blackhead Peak, eventually reaching a place our companions and guides called The Window at close to 12,000 ft. Looking down on a plateau, we spotted a herd of elk grazing on the green grass. Some of the herd decided to move on so they called out to the others, sounding like trumpets. We sat mesmerized as more than thirty of the beasts fed, played, leaped, galloped, lumbered, and eventually ambled away as the trumpeted the call to each other that it was time to move on. We moved on as well, to find ourselves at the point where many hikers were heading toward or coming from the Continental Divide. Stopping to appreciate a small glacial lake and the stone tributes others have left there, I built my own stack while Joe rested in the sun, tuckered out from climbing up the still snowy slope in an attempt to get a view of Quartz Lake on the other side of the ridge. The expansive views inspired reverence and awe. I was thankful for the quiet minutes spent attempting to fix in my memory the magnificence this landscape.