A cheaper place to stay in the mountains
September 8, 2005
GLENWOOD SPRINGS – Of the 3,000 record albums Gary Grillo stores in crates on the floor of the Glenwood Springs Hostel, Iron Butterfly’s “In-A-Gadda-Da-Vida” is his favorite.”Most of my records are from my original collection,” said Grillo, the youth hostel’s first and only owner who lives in the third-floor apartment in the main house.The album came out in July 1968, around the time Grillo was serving in Saigon during the Vietnam War. The 1966 draftee said Vietnam was more like an adventure for him than a bad experience.”I didn’t mind it,” he said. “Luckily it was good duty. It was an exotic country.”After nearly 40 years, Grillo hasn’t changed much.The 62-year-old is as mellow as a High Country spring and still likes traveling around the world, listening to Jimi Hendrix and Doors records, meeting new people and sharing good conversation, he said. Those were some of the reasons he established the Roaring Fork Valley’s only hostel, on Grand Avenue, in February 1989. The hostel now has a second house in the back with private rooms.
“I could travel forever. I could live out of a backpack – I like the simplicity of that,” he said. “I had stayed at a couple hostels in New Mexico. I looked for a town that didn’t have any other hostels. It’s one of the easiest businesses to have.”More than 16 years and thousands of records later, the hostel’s vintage vinyl is what Grillo said makes his accommodations distinctive.”It’s just the personality of the house; it’s just what you make of it,” Grillo said. “That’s what independent hostels are, they are all different. … We want to make it an environment where people get together and talk about things.”Rocky Mountain wayA former painter in Hollywood, Calif., Grillo leads a simple life highlighted by the hundreds of people who come through his hostel’s doors each year. Like youth hostels in Europe, Grillo’s is a place where travelers can stay cheaper than any hotel in the area, make lifelong international friends and learn about local culture and customs. Grillo charges $14 a night, or $44 for four days, a rate he said is one of the cheaper in the country.
Grillo, who is also a welder, has put his own personal stamp on his 42-bed hostel by hanging some of his own artwork on the walls, and building some of metal tables and furniture. “One of the reasons people stay in hostels is because they like to meet other people, and they don’t want to be in a hotel room by themselves watching TV,” he said. Even though the official term is youth hostel, Grillo said there’s no limit on age or how long a person can stay. Brigitte Koegler, a Waldorf School teacher from Germany, who visited the hostel 16 years ago when it first opened, knows that policy well.She was back in Glenwood recently with a friend, Imke Biekehoer, also of Germany, to revisit the past. Sitting in the hostel’s colorful living room, Koegler reminisced about friends made, loves lost, and the walls painted brighter hues than in 1989. Back then, two months turned into two years for Koegler, a 24-year-old architecture student at the time.”I came here for summer vacation and went down to Aspen. People said ‘go to Glenwood Springs, there’s a nice hostel there,'” she said. “I went rafting and hiking and I went up to Hanging Lake. (Grillo) used to have a big fancy American car.”I was staying here and I hitchhiked to Rifle because I was interested in the county fair, cowboys and Native Americans,” said Koegler, who remembers paying $8 a night and $50 a week the first time she stayed at the hostel.
She said when she hitchhiked back, a rancher pulled over and gave her a ride. That’s where the love story begins. “I fell in love with him, that’s why I remember him. I lived here, then I moved to the ranch,” she said.Travelin’ lightWhile Grillo and Koegler shared stories downstairs, guests in the men’s dorm stirred upstairs. Most were leaving that day for different adventures, including 20-something Brian Kelly, an engineer from San Diego on a three-month hiatus to go mountain biking.”I’m out of here today, I’m jumping on the train,” he said. “I go with no real plan – I started in Santa Fe, N.M., the first week of August. I came over Pagosa Springs, up over the San Juan Mountains and through Silverton.”Kelly said it’s the people that motivate him to seek out hostels when he’s on the road.”They’re neat for people traveling by themselves,” he said. “It’s the social aspect of it.”
He sat on the floor with 27-year-old Carlo Picciotti, of New York, discussing the Appalachian Trail and different routes they have taken during their travels. In the last year and a half the footloose New Yorker has visited Colorado, California, Oregon and Hawaii – all on a $4,000 budget.Picciotti said he likes the diversity and knowledge that staying at a hostel provides.”It’s a good heads up to see what’s going on in the community,” he said. “And the shower and laundry is nice, too.”We are the WorldWhile the youth hostel may be foreign to some Americans, especially to those from the Midwest where they are very few and far between, the houses are familiar to international travelers.Grillo even had some high-elevation visitors to his hostel.
“We had four sherpas stay here who were here to do roofing work. All of them had summited (Mount) Everest,” Grillo said. “There was an Australian named Frank, an 80-year-old who had skied 90-straight days at Aspen and Sunlight.”Grillo said from American writers to a doctor from Gola, India, his clientele is a mix of both nationalities and personalities.”One Christmas we had people from 15 different countries,” Grillo said. “We get a lot of people from different countries who talk about politics and what is going in the world. Once you meet someone from a different country, your perceptions change.”Vail, Colorado