1. In early August 2013, my wife and I, along with my sister and her two sons, got to spend four days in the Aspen, Colorado area. We'd been there only once before for a very brief afternoon and were anxious to explore the area more. A college friend of mine owns a condo in Snowmass Village, a ski town just to the west of Aspen - and he was gracious enough to allow us to stay in his condo for four nights. This is an image of Snowmass (locals don't use the phrase "village" afterward) as you head up the five-six mile Owl Creek Road that takes you up to Snowmass from Highway 82.
2. The condo we stayed in was in a complex called "The Crestwood." We got good use out of their hot tubs and met some interesting people that way in the evenings.
3. Snowmass has free gondolas (known as the "Skittles") that take people from the lower area, where our condo was (the "base") up to a higher area known as the "mall," where there is a small complex of restaurants and shops. We used them several times to grab a bit of pizza or a snack.
4. Here is that row of shops and restaurants at the top of the village ... there was a band playing near where the gondolas drop you off two of the nights we were there. You can also go up - with your bike, as well - higher, to the top of the mountain - for a charge.
5. That's me to the left with my sister. My wife is camera shy - thus no images of her in this album as I respect her wishes.
6. Much of the Snowmass/Aspen area looks like this ... condos and inns close to ski runs, with beautiful views of surrounding mountains all around.
7. I am an early riser ... two of the four mornings we were there, a hot air balloon was up very early, shortly after sunrise, off in the distance. This is looking straight north from our condo balcony.
8. We spent two evenings walking around the town of Aspen. You can see from this shot, taken near sunset, that the town is right at the bottom of a multitude of ski runs.
9. Aspen has several large parks ... this one is Wagner Park, near the Wheeler Opera House, the stone building you can see in the background. You can't go wrong with hula hoops!
10. Many of the streets in the center of Aspen look like this, with aspen trees in the center and many outdoor tables, making for some very pretty strolls.
11. The shops of Aspen are way out of our price range - my wife and I are both teachers - so after dipping into a few shops those two evenings, we found ourselves plopping ourselves down on various benches and enjoying some intriguing people watching. We did not see any celebrities, but encountered some very interesting dogs. In fact, other than some cities in Europe, I don't think I have ever seen so many different dog breeds out for evening strolls.
12. The previous time my wife and I were in the Aspen area briefly, we only had time for a quick drive up to see the Maroon Bells mountains. This time, we had all morning to get in a hike and explore the area better. If you drive up to the area and arrive before 9am (or after 5pm), you can park right next to the lake you see here, if you're lucky enough to find a spot - we got one of the last ones at 8:45am. If you arrive between 9-5:00, in the busy summer months, the road is closed and you will have to take a shuttle up to the area, either from further down Maroon Creek Rd ... or from the town of Aspen.
13. This is Maroon Lake, looking back northeast, as we headed up a 3.6 mile round trip hike up to Crater Lake. The views were very nice all along the trail and took about 2 1/2 - 3 hours with many relaxed stops along the way. The early part is fairly steep and I believe this trail is usually listed as moderate. The flowers you see here are fireweeds.
14. Here's a fireweed up close ... I was pretty happy with the display of wildflowers along this trail and all around Maroon Lake. They made my camera quite pleased!
15. The trail up to Crater Lake goes through several beautiful aspen groves, one of which you can see here. I have been to Colorado many times and I never, ever get tired of seeing aspens.
16. We were surprised at the number of dogs on this trail. The bulldog in the front of the image was struggling and its owner ended up not completing the trail.
17. As a teacher, I don't get to travel in the autumn. One of the things I look forward to most about retirement (still six years away!) is getting to travel in late September and October, when prices are lower, crowds are down, the air is cool, and the aspens you see here would be a gorgeous bright yellow. But even in the summer time, they are striking!
18. There were all sorts of varied foregrounds for the famous "bells" in the background.
19. And yes, the ever present ground squirrel, usually begging for food.
20. I am a serious gardener and have several types of columbines in our backyard. I always enjoy seeing them while out on hikes.
21. Here's Crater Lake, at the end of the trail. The lake itself is not necessarily spectacular, but venturing up to this spot does get you up much closer to the Maroon Bells for looks quite different than what you see around Maroon Lake.
22. If you go up a bit past the far end of Crater Lake, there are a few rock piles with marmots all around.
23. If you have only a day or two in the Aspen area in the summer time and you have already seen the Maroon Bells, next I would recommend going back Highway 82 to the Glenwood Springs/ Colorado River area. If you go west on Interstate 70 from Denver to get to Aspen, you will likely notice rafters on the Colorado River. There are many companies that will take you down the rapids. We have done three white water rafting trips in Colorado, but never one from this area. This photo was taken from the rest area, just east of Glenwood Springs by about ten miles. Three kayakers had just entered and the family in the distance was going on a "do it yourself" raft trip down the river. Even if you don't get out on the water somehow, getting out at least once off of I-70 to see the canyon from the edge of the Colorado River is definitely worth the time.
24. I was planning on hiking the Hanging Lake trail with my wife and sister, but alas, we got to the adjoining parking lot too late that day and it was full. This is a very popular hike! Since I have done the trail several times in past years, I volunteered to drop my wife and sister off to hike, while I drove down I-70 several miles to park in the rest area lot. I just sat and read for a couple hours while they all completed the hike. Thus, this and the next two photos are ones I actually took about fifteen years ago (pre-digital), when we did this trail when my son was just four. One of the reasons the Hanging Lake Trail is so popular is that the hike mostly follows the stream you see here. The whole hike is about 3.5 miles round trip and has a pretty steep climb in parts, with a few parts requiring a bit of boulder scrambling.
25. Here's what you get for your reward after the climb ... a very pretty small lake, with two scenic waterfalls, side by side.
26. You can walk underneath one of the falls, as you see here! That's my son - at four, with the hat on ... we did a lot of hiking out west when he was young, hopefully imprinting him on a love of nature. I think it worked - he now at nineteen, adores hiking.
27. This is the hot springs pool at Glenwood Springs. The water is naturally heated and has to be cooled down for the large hot tub you seen in the foreground. The very large pool in the background has warm water ... the whole area has a slight sulfurous odor that you get used to pretty quickly. It costs adults $18 now, after a recent price hike. We have been here many times ... it's one of my wife's favorite places to hang out. I am not crazy about the crowds and the high admission price for a soak, but the backdrop is never the less, spectacular ... and I never tire of seeing it.
28. As I mentioned before, I am an early riser - on trips, I am usually up by 6am or earlier. My wife likes to sleep in some, so my camera often drags me out the door to go on a solo ride for 2-3 hours. The early morning light is good for photography and there are fewer cars out on the roads. One morning, I chose to drive out Castle Creek Road to the ghost town of Ashcroft. The road veers left at the same roundabout that the Maroon Bells road takes off from, off of Highway 82. I spotted this gargantuan house off of Castle Creek Road. Some of the houses listed in the Aspen area real estate guides are in the $20-30 million range!
29. The state of Colorado routinely gets listed as the fittest state in the country. In addition to hikers, skiers, and snowboarders, there are an unbelievable number of bikers out on the highways. That morning, out on Castle Creek Rd, I must have seen at least 30-40 bikers climbing up the steep inclines ... legs of steel, I presume!
30. This is the tiny ghost town of Ashcroft. There are 6-7 buildings or so, all completely abandoned in the late 1890s. The town used to have several dozen buildings, with at least a quarter of them being saloons! There are interpretive signs to help you visualize what life was like for the miners. The town only lasted a very brief time - less than a decade - as the silver ran out quickly, just as its neighbor Aspen began to thrive.
31. You can walk inside some of the buildings. None of them are set up with any furniture - they're all completely empty. I spent about a half hour or so reading the signs and contemplating how lonely and tough life must have been for the miners up at such a steep elevation. This wouldn't be for everyone, no doubt, but if you have an interest in Western history, driving up the scenic route to Ashcroft may very well be worth your time.
32. The next five photos are from another short early morning drive - about two hours total - I did toward Independence Pass, east of Aspen. I didn't get all the way to the pass, but stopped and hiked around a while at the Lincoln Creek drainage on Highway 82. The drive out that way, east of Aspen, has some pretty narrow passages, down to not much more than one lane some of the way, with lots of steep drop offs. If mountain driving makes you nervous, this might be one to avoid!
33. The aspen groves along the way in the early morning light were just beautiful!
34. A very pretty lake along the way, as seen from a lookout on Highway 82.
35. This is the type of formation at the Lincoln Creek drainage - between Aspen and Independence Pass, right off of 82 - known as "the grottos." It was a pretty cool area to just walk around for an hour or so ... I spent way more time there than I anticipated.
36. Right next to "the grottos" is this spot along the Roaring Forks River (I believe), with several small cascades. A very scenic area! This particular spot is directly under Highway 82. There was nobody else around that early in the morning. Such places - where I can just sit for a while alone and be contemplative - go a long way toward recharging me for the school year ahead (I teach high school biology in the Chicago suburbs).
37. All the remaining photos are from a drive I did one day on my own down Highway 133 - south of Carbondale - one morning/afternoon when my wife wanted to do a long bike ride from Snowmass to Aspen. I just had a hip replacement surgery a couple months ago and wasn't confident enough to negotiate a bike, so I chose instead to go on a long drive with the destinations being the town of Marble and the McClure Pass. This image was taken from the east side of Highway 133, looking south toward Mt. Sopris. It certainly looked like a 14er from all angles, but is sadly 47 feet short of that magical distinction. That's yet another bike route in the foreground, very close to the highway. Bikers have it SO good in Colorado - such beautiful scenery all around!
38. There were many interesting looks at the Crystal River, which Highway 133 follows.
39. The small town of Redstone was definitely worth a stop. It's tiny, but has some interesting shops and charming homes, all along one central street.
40. On the other side of the road from 133 that leads into the town of Redstone is this preserved (and restored) set of beehive ovens for producing coke from coal. They operated for just about ten years in the late 1800s. The miners burned the coal in a way inside these special ovens that removed impurities. I knew nothing about this process until reading the explanatory plaques. I try to stop at such places when I have the time - that day, I happily did.
41. Just a little south of Redstone, directly off of 133, is a a pretty small waterfall - Hays Creek Falls.
42. My main destination that day was the town and surrounding area of Marble. The narrow road (314) past Marble was winding for sure - I saw several drivers in front of me turn around. But the road went up the surrounding mountains past some beautiful serene valleys, such as you see here. I am always impressed with the many gorgeous areas of Colorado that are completely off the main tourist radar.
43. The end of that road takes you to this lookout, where you can see the white marble quarry from a distance. The quarry is still producing white marble, after about a fifty year hiatus - during which the price of white marble dropped and was out of favor, compared to other types of marble. Just a few years ago, an Italian company bought it and began mining operations again. It now ships over 90% of the marble mined back to Italy. Many of the famous monuments in Washington DC got their marble from this very quarry. Unfortunately, tours are no longer given.
44. I stopped back in the town of Marble once coming back down that twisting road. The only store I stopped at produced an amazing coincidence ... the owner and I got to talking, once I started asking him questions about the mine. We discovered that we are both from the same city in Iowa - Cedar Rapids - and that we both went to the same high school ... and we are both from the same graduating class! Yet neither us knew of the other - there were 600 in our graduating class, so I suppose it's not that unusual. He has been carving white marble for most of his adult life.
45. There were a few large - and unique! - white marble carvings all around the town.
46. The town of Marble has three six day seminars per summer for people interested in learning how to carve white marble. When I learned they were in session, my camera and I took a stroll and started asking questions. I ran into some interesting characters, who were all happy enough to explain what they were carving that week. There are about sixty people per session - they camp along the adjoining river or stay in local B & B's; part of their fee gets them a 500 pound block of marble and each person then carves what they want for six days, under the guidance of expert carvers. I was charmed by their stories.
47. Lots of dust coughed up by the chiseling and sawing processes ... hence the masks.
48. The furthest I got on that drive was to the McClure Pass. This image is looking north along the Crystal River, just before reaching the pass. Beautiful area!
49. And this final image is taken from the same area, just east of McClure Pass, now looking south. I try to end such photo trip reports with a sunset image, but in the mountains, that's usually difficult, so this will have to suffice. It was a short trip to the Aspen/Snowmass area, but very relaxing and enjoyable for all of us. ... If you have questions, please fire away and I will try to respond via the link that got you here. As always, Happy travels! ... Mike