I still grin like a kid in Wonkaland when I lay eyes on a bud bar. Yet, as dispensaries go, there are the good, the bad, and every shade of green in between. There are those that sell amateurish product resembling something grown in your 8th-grade cousin’s closet, and others who vend bud that assuredly needs to be in a hall of fame. It’s an adventure, for sure. As 303′s MMJ dispensary blogger, I’ll be seeking out and reporting on the best our city has to offer. I hope to become your trusted source in separating the kind from the shake.  From time to time, I’m going to take a look at some out-of-Denver dispensaries. If you have a favorite, leave me a comment and I’ll add it to my list for review. -CC

One of the best things about living in Denver is the accessibility to the mountains. I totally would live in the Vail Valley if I could, but right now it’s just not possible. So this is why road trips to Vail are essential, especially on powder days. Now, as anyone with their medical card will tell you, hitting the back bowls can take its toll on a body. Thankfully, there are awesome folks in the hills who make it their life’s work to produce medicine for whatever ails ya.

First up, Herbal Elements in Eagle Vail.

Sometimes you just have to follow your nose. In fact, that’s how I was able to find Herbal Elements, nestled into the second floor of a building in one of Eagle-Vail’s few nondescript office parks. As I wandered about, GPS telling me I had arrived, yet still feeling like I was in the wrong place (mainly due to the cop shop a few doors down…), the wind shifted and the sweet, sweet smell of ganja wafted into my sniffer. I knew I had the place.

I was cheerfully greeted by budtender Harrison, who welcomed me into the comfy office. The front space was decorated much like a relaxing waiting room – couches, a table, bookshelves with reading material, and a desk. But…what’s this? I spied also large bags of soil, some watering equipment…could it be? Yep. This dispensary has its grow operation on site. In other words, patients can see exactly where their medicine comes from and check it out for themselves. And, as I learned, it also grants the extra bonus of Smell-o-Vision. Delicious.

One of the things I love so much about Vail is the laid-back attitude of the people calling this mountain haven their home. With the valley invaded for months on end by demanding tourists, locals seem to take it all in stride, balancing their hard work with plenty of playtime and smiles. This awesome and easy-going attitude came across in spades from the guys at Herbal Elements – both from the openness in their on-site grow operation and the super chill vibe in the medicine room.

Herbal Elements usually has about 20 strains of flower for sale along with over 30 strains of clones available.

To that end, the medicine room reminded me partially of a college dorm room. Decked out with classic rock LPs lining the wall, along with colorful and intricate artwork (some created by budtender Harrison) the entire vibe of this place was super chill. Yet, don’t assume this is one of those annoying dispensaries that plays right into the stoner culture Spicoli bullshit. Herbal Elements strikes a perfect balance between laid back attitude and professionalism, allowing clients to feel relaxed and at home while also expertly catering to their medical needs. I was very impressed with Brown’s bedside manner and consulting skills – he’s an expert listener and made solid recommendations to several patients during my visit.

That said, Herbal Elements definitely caters to the Vail crowd. Their bud selection leans towards sativa-heavy for the active mountain types who are less prone to want to be couch locked on a powder day. And, for ease of portability and chairlift consumption, nothing beats edibles … and it’s clear Natural Elements takes this knowledge and runs with it. In addition to labeled jars of gorgeous bud strains, they also boast a the largest selection I’ve seen yet of candies, cakes, sodas and other yummy things. They also have salves, tinctures and other topicals for sore après-shred muscles.

So, let’s talk bud. I was immediately attracted, as I tend to be, to unique strains with interesting names. Along with the usuals – Jack Flash, ChemDawg, to name a few – they also had beauties like Dynamite, Bubblecious and Juicy Fruit. I left with several samples in hand to try out.

Rocky Mountain High-lights:

Some bubbly, ma’am?
The Bubble Citrus smelled really, well, citrusy. Go figure. A lush bud coated with lots of crystals to the point of almost looking snowy. Of the four strains I tested, this one was cured the best, and it had a mild and sweet taste that surprisingly gave me a bit of a light cough. I got an intense body buzz from this hybrid which mellowed into a very clearheaded euphoria that lasted a few hours. I expected couchlock, but was pleasantly surprised with an energetic, floaty feel. Really fun stuff.

About 90% of Herbal Element’s crops are soil-based, with very few grown hydroponically. This is both because they are above an architect's office and don't want to run the risk of leaks, and also because they try to stay away from heavy chemicals and grow as organically as possible. Pictured here, Bubba Kush.

The Usual Suspects
I had to try the Chem #4 since it’s one of my favorite strains in existence. As expected, it had a strong pine smell. I did not, however, expect the wet grass odor, which was really interesting and a possible indicator of not being cured correctly. Still, I gave it a try with an open mind. It had a coniferous taste -savory with a sweet finish, very yummy, and a VERY nice high. I was up, energized and quite hungry. So, while the munchies will likely sidetrack my plans to fit into that bikini this summer, the hunger was a welcome side effect to my frequently-recurring nausea. I’m fairly convinced the curing process on this one was rushed though – this bud was very wet and sticky to the point that even those who prefer dark, wet bud might find it a little too wet. Still, it did the trick and offered a very uplifting high.

Jumping Jacks
The Jack Flash was a surprise. Again, an overly-wet cure made it a bit spongy when broken open, but the aromas of orange and pine, and the gorgeous, fluffy green bud with plenty of orange and red hairs almost made up for it. It was a light, sweet smoke that gave me a mellow buzz, heady high and body tingles. Very relaxing, very stoney. Worked wonders on my stomach, but also left me a little couch-locked as well. Perfect for a day where there’s not much going on, or just to relax after a long day. Delicious.

Candy Rain, Coming Down
I had never smelled anything like the Juicy Fruit before, and I was eager to give it a try. This beauty has a sweet, citrusy, candy smell like, well, Juicy Fruit gum (go figure) all wrapped up in snowy light-to-lime green buds with gold hairs. The cure was much better on this one – it was a little wet, but it broke up nicely and wasn’t too sticky. I was quite surprised to get pine and vanilla flavors upon smoking. Coupled with the citrus, it was a delicious smoke that left me really smiley, a bit hungry and very, very floaty. Kind of like a kid who just got a fresh pack of gum.

Bottom line: Herbal Elements has gorgeous strains of new flavors and old favorites, alike. Their staff is knowledgeable and warmhearted, and they are clearly in business to help their patients instead of just trying to turn a dollar. If they get the cure process down pat, this location and product, along with their wonderfully caring nature, is a perfect stop before a day at Beaver Creek or après ski.

Herbal Elements: 51 Eagle Rd, Eagle-Vail, CO 81620/ 970.949.7008
Hours: Monday – Saturday 111 a.m. – 7 p.m.
: $45 per 1/8th ($15/gram) across the board. Edibles: vary depending on brand and product. Pre-rolls $17. Drinks $6-7.
Website: http://www.medicalmarijuanavailvalley.com/
Specials: Frequent Flyer program: buy 10 1/8ths, get one free. Also will reimburse the $90 Colorado license charge if made caregiver.