October 5, 2012, Steamboat, CO: You know you’re getting close to Steamboat Springs when bright yellow billboards begin to pepper the landscape. Every two minutes or so, another sign for F.M. Light and Sons blurs past, promising travelers Levis and cowboy boots, Stetson hats and Woolrich blankets upon their arrival in town. The store’s advertising is comparable to that of Wall Drug or South of the Border, so excessive that anyone arriving there would assume they’re in for a similarly overdone tourist trap. For those who live here, maybe it is, but it’s also an moderately sized family business on the main drag of this old mining town, in operation since 1905 when the Light family first arrived in Steamboat via stagecoach. It’s one historical marker in a town that’s grown considerably since, radiating outward from F.M. Light and Sons and building upon its traditional Western roots.
These days, Steamboat is perhaps the most athletic town I’ve ever visited, full of Olympic caliber skiers and snowboarders who mountain bike on Emerald Mountain, catch fish in the Yampa River, and train for marathons and triathlons as they wait for snow to fall. In this season before winter, the scenery is a golden backdrop for conversations about camping trips farther afield and bears in the backyard. Upon this autumn landscape, residents spend idle hours sipping coffee in the Steaming Bean or eating lunch at Sweet Pea on a deck overlooking the Yampa, savoring the sun. No one here wishes they were somewhere busier. The texture of this town is fleece, the smell on the cold morning air rich with bacon.
This is the west these days in this season: rugged, expansive and golden. The landscape is a yellow blur as we pedal riverside from one end of Steamboat to the other, reminiscent of the billboards that led us to town.