Saturday, November 4, 2017

Maroon Bells and glorious Aspen, Colorado

We’re heading out of Aspen,Colorado to hike around the Maroon Bells, the most photographed peaks in North America.  These two peaks in the Elk Mountains are the main reason my husband Larry and I wanted to spend a night in this well-known ski destination on our September road trip.  No snow has fallen yet, but the temperature is 37 degrees, and we expect it to be cooler in the mountains.
Reflections of Maroon Bells near Aspen, Colorado
We grab a couple of breakfast burritos at a local French bakery and quickly drive 20 minutes to the Maroon Bells-Snowmass Wilderness Area.  Vehicles are only allowed to enter before 9:00 a.m. or after 5:00 p.m. During the day, visitors must take the bus from Aspen, which conveniently drops you off at the base of the Maroon Bells. A five-day pass is $10, but our National Park Senior Passport saves us the fee.

Path to Crater Lake is flanked by
brilliant aspens.
After parking we follow the trail to Maroon Lake for our first view of the twin peaks.  The path is filled with strollers, kids, and amateur photographers, but no wonder—the view is stunning, and reflections are spectacular.
We decide to hike to Crater Lake, just under four miles round trip, in hopes of moving beyond the crowds.The trail winds through an aspen forest and ascends 600 feet over rocky paths.  The initial incline is moderately difficult, partly because the altitude here is 9,000 feet, and the air has less oxygen. 

View for the trail
Golden-leafed aspens glow in the sunlight, draping the trail in luminous beauty on this excellent fall foliage hike. At one point we look back to see Maroon Lake framed by a clear blue sky and colorful leaf display--a postcard-perfect scene. 
After an hour we arrive at Crater Lake, which is surrounded by fallen logs and boggy ground, still a little crunchy from overnight frost.  The water level is low, but that’s normal for the fall season.  Snow melt in spring will fill up the lake again. The weather is surprisingly warm, and we shed layers of clothing, stuffing jackets in the backpack until it won’t hold any more.  Because the air is dry, we must drink plenty of water.

Aspens glimmer in the sunlight.
Upon returning to Maroon Lake, we find fewer people milling about. Reflections are even more glorious in bright sun and clean, clear air.  This scene is so irresistible that we are thankful for the large capacity (and delete feature) of digital cameras.
Aspens can be red, too. We saw
several of these trees in town.

Back in Aspen we check out of the charming Molly Gibson Lodge where we had spent the night and take a quick tour through downtown and pedestrian malls. Aspen Park provides the perfect spot for a leisurely picnic lunch before departing for Rocky Mountain National Park.

If Aspen’s ritzy reputation has been reason enough to by-pass the town, you might be surprised, as we were, to learn how affordable it can be. Sure, Aspen is high on the radar of celebrity skiers (or après skiers) during the winter season, but it becomes an excellent value during spring, summer, and fall. Downtown is easy to explore on foot, and Aspen’s fleet of free buses connects visitors to all local destinations and attractions including Maroon Bells.
Photos by Larry and Beverly Burmeier


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