Hike among ancient trees and explore an old gold town southwest of Denver
When July weather brings a blast of heat to Denver, there's no cooler outing than a trip to the town of Fairplay (elevation 9,950), a two-hour drive southwest into the Rockies.
Stretch your legs at nearby Windy Ridge Bristlecone Pine Scenic Area (elevation 11,714 feet), a fun-house forest of trees twisted by the harsh climate. On even the hottest summer day, you'll find a refreshing breeze and snow patches big enough for a slushball ambush. Head back down to Fairplay for a hearty lunch, then explore the town's historic buildings and eclectic shops. You're certain to have a cool day.
Windy Ridge Bristlecone Pine Scenic Area. WHAT: Meandering footpaths lead through an alpine tundra to scattered stands of the gnarly trees―some 800 years old. You'll get awesome views from the ridge, where you'll also find alpine wildflowers this month. Go early to avoid midafternoon thunderstorms. HOW MUCH: Free. WHERE: From Alma, take unpaved County Road 8 (you'll also see a sign for Buckskin Gulch) 21/2 miles; turn right on Forest Road 787 and go 31/2 miles, cross Dolly Varden Creek, park, and hike (the last 1/2 mile is for high-clearance vehicles only). Check road conditions first ( www.fs.fed.us/r2/psicc or 719/836-2031).
Front Street Cafe. WHAT: Rib-sticking comfort food, like 1/2-pound burgers, in a former house painted in wild colors. WHEN: Lunch and dinner Thu-Mon, brunch Sun. HOW MUCH: $$. WHERE: 435 Front St.; 719/836-7031
Silver Scoop Creamery. WHAT: With a pressed-tin ceiling, granite counters, and rich ice cream, the old-timey-looking soda fountain is actually a cleverly renovated gas station, but when you're licking a cone, who cares? WHEN: Daily. WHERE: 456 Front St.; 719/836-3403.
South Park City Museum. WHAT: Stroll boardwalks past 36 Gold Rush-era buildings―including saloons and a schoolhouse―that look as if the occupants just stepped out. WHEN: Daily. HOW MUCH: $6.50, $3 ages 6-12. WHERE: 100 Fourth St.; www.southparkcity.org or 719/836-2387.
Colorado Mountain Hat Co. WHAT: Custom-made hats fashioned from fur felt, beaver, and blends; it's where real cowboys get their hats. WHEN: Daily. WHERE: 491 Front St.; www.cmhats.com or 719/836-1411. ―Lora J. Finnegan
INFO: Fairplay is 85 miles southwest of Denver, off U.S. 285; visit www.parkchamberofcommerce.org or call 719/ 836-4279.