This Aspen park is the most peaceful place in Colorado | Opinion

Editor’s note: This is part of The Know’s new series, Staff Favorites. Each week, we will offer our opinions on the best that Colorado has to offer for dining, shopping, entertainment, outdoor activities and more. (We’ll also let you in on some hidden gems).

If you grew up in Colorado — and are of a certain age — then it’s almost a given that you listened to a lot of John Denver while riding in the back of your parents’ station wagon on road trips.

His music was certainly the soundtrack to my family’s treks along Colorado’s country roads, from hits like “Rocky Mountain High,” “Sunshine on My Shoulders” and “Annie’s Song” to deeper cuts, like “Calypso,” “Fly Away” and “Grandma’s Feather Bed.”

Folk singer John Denver is shown in a undated file photo.

Associated Press

Folk singer John Denver is shown in a undated file photo.

One of those destinations every year was Aspen, John Denver’s home. My dad was a professor who attended a two-week conference there each summer – and brought us along to hike and take trail rides, go river rafting and explore. The Aspen that existed then, in the late 1970s and early ‘80s, is long gone now. But a little piece of it has been preserved in a park that was dedicated in 1998, many years after we stopped being able to afford to stay in town.

The 4.5-acre John Denver Sanctuary sits adjacent to Rio Grande Park near the Roaring Fork River, and it manages to roll together the spirituality of a Zen garden, the reverence of a cemetery, the joy of a quiet mountain valley and the fun of a children’s playground.

Criss-crossed by man-made streams (that also serve as part of Aspen’s stormwater filtration system), the park includes a “song garden” with some of Denver’s lyrics etched into river boulders and “placed in a perfect circle to represent the circle of life as a score of music,” according to the Aspen Chamber of Commerce. (Oddly, some of the lyrics to two of Denver’s songs, “Rocky Mountain High” and “Poems, Prayers and Promises,” were changed on the etched versions in the park, something that elicited criticism 15 years ago from the artist’s brother Ron Deutschendorf.)

Related: John Denver’s “Rocky Mountain High” turns 50: Love, censorship and constant tributes define song’s history

At the center of the stone circles is a single Colorado blue spruce, to “symbolize “the spirit of John.” In the summer, there is also a perennial flower garden.

It is a very peaceful spot. But I’m not the only one who thinks so.

A vacation rental company recently analyzed publicly available pages on TripAdvisor’s website and came up with a list of the most peaceful places in all 50 states. It made those determinations by counting the number of times “peaceful” is mentioned per 1,000 reviews.

The John Denver Sanctuary came out on top in Colorado, and was the ninth most peaceful place in the country, according to the company, Casago. The eight sites ahead of it were all temples or religious spots, which shows you how much Denver, who died in 1997, means to people.

Even the word “sanctuary” brings out that idea. At the time the park was created, Aspen’s parks and recreation manager, Jeff Woods, said the word was picked because it would serve “as a garden to capture nature’s spirit,” according to the Aspen Chamber. “We decided to call it a ‘sanctuary’ and that it should reflect John’s passion for nature and protecting the environment.”

Whatever you call it, the John Denver Sanctuary is a special place, and one that I try to visit any time those country roads take me home.

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