Monday, August 10, 2009

Colorado Outdoors

Aspen Colorado is renowned as a hangout for the rich and famous. It is fun to see Lance Armstrong whiz by you on a uphill climb as if your bike were standing still or perhaps to see Goldie Hawn and Kurt Russell at a local restaurant. No matter how many celebrities you gathered together, however, the real vedette would still be the spectacular nature of Aspen and the surrounding region.

Recently we spent five days in the area with some favorite friends and relatives. There were picnics on the lawn of the Aspen Music Festival and School while listening to classical music played by the two Gold Medal winners of the Van Cliburn piano competition. We biked from Snowmass, where we were staying, to Glenwood Springs - an unbelievable 42 mile-trip that's all downhill along the Roaring Fork River to the Colorado. We hiked near the Continental Divide; into the secluded Hunter Creek Valley; and, most spectacular of all, from Aspen to Crested Butte.

Crested Butte is 25 miles south of Aspen, but by car, the shortest route is a bumpy 110-mile circuitous three-hour trip. As the crow flies or, in our case, as the hiker hikes, it's only about 12 miles from trailhead to trailhead.

It's no walk in the park, however. The first seven miles are all uphill, climbing from 9,580 feet of altitude at Maroon Lake to 12,480 feet at West Maroon Pass. Even more than the steep climb and the thin air, it's the sheer beauty of the place that takes your breath away.

Part of the 1.9 million acre White River National Forest, the Maroon Bells-Snowmass Wilderness Area covers 173,000 acres of some of Colorado's most beautiful scenery. Many of the trails in the area were first used by the Ute Indians, whose family groups once hunted and fished large territories in Colorado and Utah (whose name comes from the word Ute).

We began the hike at Maroon Lake, which mirrors the Maroon Bells, two peaks each more than 14,000 feet high. The early morning trout were rising, but there was no time to fish since we had a six to eight hour hike in front of us. After a mile and a half ascent through luminous Aspen forests, we arrived at Crater Lake, where the vista includes not only the Maroon Bells, but the 14,018 foot Pyramid Peak.

Between Crater Lake and the West Maroon Pass, there are two stream crossings. The water is cold and fast-moving, but we were able to wade across. Once above the tree line, the going was slow and hot. We were lucky - some years the pass is covered in snow even in July.

The top of the pass is a red-clay moonscape, but a look through the notch reveals a magnificent view of the Elk Mountains and miles and miles of verdant meadows. The surprise as you descend is that the fields are not green as they appear from above, but instead are alive with the vibrant hues of millions of wildflowers: orange, purple and red Indian paintbrush; pink, blue and white columbine; yellow lilies and sunflowers; magenta lupine; white candy tuft; cobalt bluebells and dozens of other varieties, small and large, cloaking the mountainside in a riot of color under a sun-filled, clear blue sky.

In "Afternoon on a Hill," the poet Edna St. Vincent Millay wrote:

I will be the gladdest thing
Under the sun!
I will touch a hundred flowers
And not pick one.

To see more photos, click here. 

Happy trekking,

If you would like to hike from Aspen to Crested Butte, check out these links:

U.S. Department of Agriculture, Aspen to Crested Butte
The Alpineer, Hiking Aspen to Crested Butte
For transportation back to your starting point, contact Jon Galli at BrioLimo.

Photos by Geraldine Calisti Kaylor


  1. That must have been spectacularly beautiful country to travel through. I've been to Colorado many times on my work travels, and it's just brimming with gorgeous vistas. Sounds like you got some good exercise there, too! Good for you! Your photos of those flowers and mountains and reflections in water are stunning.

  2. Great photos! I like your closing "happy trekking". Very appropreiate!


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