Sometimes at the end (or even in the middle) of the hustle and bustle of the holidays, one feels the need to run screaming from the house, snippets of tissue paper and curling ribbon trailing behind like a comet's tail. Who couldn't use a vacation to someplace warm and tropical? But who can afford it at this time of year?
Instead of checking Travelocity and Priceline for airfare, just pack a bag for the weekend and head for Buena Vista. More particularly, head just south of Buena Vista for Nathrop, and take a weekend relaxer at Mount Princeton Hot Springs Resort. Sure, the 300-foot water slide is closed for the season, but you can still bob around like a waterlogged turtle in a medium-hot swimming pool or a Jacuzzi-hot swimming pool, both fed by the area's natural hot springs. If you can find your pool shoes, you can still take a creekside stroll and see how many of the 30 natural pools you can find. (Caution: some of these pools get HOT, so always stick your hand in first.)
Rooms at the resort won't ever get a five-star rating, but they are impeccably clean, comfortable, and have astounding views of the surrounding mountains. There's a family restaurant with a full bar on the premises too.
It would be a pity, however, not to explore some of the local eateries in Buena Vista proper. Casa del Sol, for example, is an excellent Mexican restaurant, with some of the friendliest and most accommodating staff I've ever encountered. Our hostess brought our daughters her "super secret special drink" (nonalcoholic, of course) from the bar, colored pink and filled with maraschino cherries.
We started our meal with a cup of Albondigas (Mexican meatball soup), the perfect size to whet our appetites. Our waitress thoughtfully brought the enchilada sauce on the side for one daughter, since their sauce is New Mexican style, earthy and pungent with freshly ground red chilies. It's a comfortable place with heaping plates of delicious food, and some of the best chips and salsa I've ever tasted. I believe it was over dinner at Casa del Sol when I first said of Buena Vista, "I could live here."
If you're strolling around in need of a snack, consider stopping by Pancho's. It's real short-order fast American and Mexican food that smells divine. I highly recommend the ice cream, however -- soft-serve vanilla or chocolate, and the vanilla can be swirled with one of 16 different flavors. It's pretty to look at and makes you feel about 10 years old again, as you stand in front of the large wooden sign trying to decide on a cup, a cone, a sundae or a banana split.
A little farther down the street is the Buffalo Bar and Grill. This seems to be where the local folks hang out and chow down. I had misgivings when our waiter first appeared, since he was very young and looked like he had just fallen out of bed and into whatever wrinkled clothes were handiest. So I was pleasantly surprised when he turned out to be very knowledgeable about both the menu and the wine list, and was very attuned to the needs of younger diners.
Watching other diners, I would say you couldn't go wrong ordering whatever the daily special is. But if you must order off the menu, you can't go wrong with the steaks. From $14.95 for an 8-ounce teriyaki-marinated coulotte steak to $18.95 for a 9-ounce buffalo steak, which was cooked absolutely to perfection, you'll be satisfied with the way they treat red meat. They also smoke chickens on the premises, available as a quarter ($9.95) or half ($13.95), and the result is beautifully moist and rich, imbued with a subtly sweet smoky flavor. Make sure you get some barbeque sauce on the side, a perfect blend of tangy and sweet. You can also get ribs ($14.95), salmon ($15.95) and several preparations of shrimp ($9.95-$17.95), plus burgers ($7-9) or pasta ($14 and under).
Think about it. In just about two hours (not counting the time to unearth your swimming suit and pack it), you can be soaking in a natural hot spring and contemplating a weekend of delicious meals in a stunningly beautiful location. Isn't this why we all live in Colorado?
Mt. Princeton Hot Springs Resort 15870 County Road 162, Nathrop 888/395-7799.
Casa del Sol 333 U.S. Highway 24 North, Buena Vista Open for lunch and dinner 719/395-8810
Pancho's 215 U.S. Highway 24 North, Buena Vista Serving breakfast, lunch and dinner 719/395-2863
Buffalo Bar and Grill 710 U.S. Highway 24 North, Buena Vista Open daily for dinner only 719/395-6472