By Will McGough, Wake and Wander
Sitting in the nearly 100-degree water, among several naked bathers in the Conundrum Hot Springs near Aspen, Colorado, I looked around at the pine trees and boulders and white clouds over the mountains, the green of the valley below and the tight groups of Aspen trees. It’s not hard to figure out why so many people are willing to walk 8.5 miles to get here.
The secluded location simultaneously relaxes and excites, the booze sipping and joint passing further fueling the overwhelming feelings of freedom that the springs incite. The beauty and brightness of the large valley provoke a free spirit in all its visitors—it’s almost as if nature is calling you to go on, cut loose.
And cut loose they do, both in a good way and a bad way. Uniting with a hundred people in the middle of nowhere seemed to me even more special (and rare) than two days of solitude. But popularity can certainly tear something down in a hurry. Overuse has become a problem in the eyes of the U.S. Forest Service, the increase in human presence degrading the once pristine valley.
Andrew Larson, lead wilderness ranger for the Aspen-Sopris District, told the Aspen Times in May that maintaining the natural conditions at Conundrum is difficult due to the remote location and newfound fame. “We're supposed to provide for a primitive experience,” he said. “A lot of people come up here for a party experience.”