Aspen: Mountain and Maroon Views

I had built up so much anticipation for this morning, the day we were going to Aspen. I was especially excited because it would just be me and my friend Veronica, we would be able to have some girl time. As we begun our drive from Colorado Springs, I soon realized that this would be an exceptionally scenic ride. We began the journey by cutting our way though the red rocks of Colorado Springs. During this time, I saw the Manitou Incline from the road, a 2000 feet vertical hike up the side of the mountains. While planning my trip, I actually considered this climb. Hearing the amount of steps and seeing it are two entirely different things. There’s no way I could have made it to the top. The air is so thin here that I can barely do a flight of stairs in Colorado without having to catch my breath.

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After passing through a couple old Western looking towns, we were finally on the open road. We drove though various landscapes on our road trip. First, the red rocks. Then what seemed like a desert, with colorless plains and hills that went on a on. I swear there were even some sand dunes, but that was just my eyes playing a trick on me. It was all just dirt as far as the eye could see.

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The ride got more and more beautiful as we continued down US Highway 24. The colorless plains were in our rearview mirror and all around us were mountains. We pulled over to a rest area to take in the Collegiate Peaks. The Collegiate Peaks includes some of the highest mountains in the Rockies, which were named after prominent universities. This includes Mount Harvard, Mount Yale and Mount Princeton. We used our time at this scenic overlook to stretch our legs, take in the view and use the restroom. The restroom were just fancy looking port o potties. There were toilets a top holes in the ground. What did I expect? We’re in the middle of no where.

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We knew that the town of Buena Vista was coming up soon so we planned to stop there for lunch. Turns out, there is nothing in Buena Vista besides beautiful views. There wasn’t a single place to eat. We thought there would be a fast food restaurant or a deli but we didn’t see a thing. I’m sure there was a restaurant of grocery store in town, there must’ve been. However, we didn’t want to spend too much time sitting down to eat somewhere. So we continued our ride, this time along the Arkansa River.

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Since we were driving in the Summer, we were able to take the Top of the Rockies Scenic Byway to Aspen. This road is closed during the Winter because it is far too dangerous. I had read about a spot called Twin Lakes that was right off the road when you first got on the Byway. I did not however think that I would be able to see it from the road. We turned the corner and saw the most spectacular view of Twin Lakes. The lakes were the brightest blue, they were electric. We only had time for a quick stop, but I knew on our way back that would stop here again. This would not be the last I saw of those mesmerizing lakes.

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After passing those lakes, the ride got exciting. I could see why this road would be closed in the Winter. Now, the mountains were not only in view. We were on a mountain. We were driving up the side of a mountain on a very small, windy road. In most spots of the byway, there weren’t even guard rails. It didn’t even look like a car could possibly fit on the narrowing roads. We stopped at just about every scenic overlook. Every time we stopped, there were a few other cars pulled over to take in the view as well. When I got out of the car at these scenic overlooks, I realized the sheer magnitude of where we were. We were standing at the edge of a mountain. I could feel my legs shaking beneath me as I approached the ledge wanted to get the best view of the river valley below and the mountains around me.

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There were so many interesting places to stop. You could probably spend a week just doing the activities along the byway. There were spots where you could go hiking, white water rafting and rock climbing. We pulled off to watch some rock climbers who were hanging off the side of the Rockies. Wanted to get in on the action, we climbed up a few large fallen boulders. We were definitely not in rock climbing gear, but you don’t have to be a rock climber to climb  one rock.

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The drive in itself was well worth the trip. I could turned around and been content. Yet, that was not the plan. This drive, while an adventure in itself was only journey to our final destination. We knew that we were approaching Aspen when we started to sporadically see large houses in the mountains. As the houses became more frequent, we knew that we made it to Aspen. We were staying in the Holiday Inn in Snowmass Village so we still had a little while to go. The houses here were so luxurious and the views were priceless. I could see why the rich and famous choose to come here to ski. At this time of the year though, Aspen is very quiet. It’s as if the entire place shuts down for the Summer. We arrived at the Holiday Inn Express and checked into our room. The front desk clerk was very nice and arranged for us to have a room with a view. I was very happy to see that our room had a patio with a gorgeous view of the mountains. Yet, I don’t think there could have been a bad view. We enjoyed a snack of brea, crackers and assorted deli meat. I have never felt so fabulous as I did in this moment. I was eating cheese on my patio in Aspen.

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It was nearing 5:00 p.m. and time for us to go to where we came to Aspen to see, Maroon Bells. We made our approximately 20 minute drive from our hotel to Maroon Bells. During our drive, we passed the Aspen airport. The Aspen airport is misleading on a map. It is barely an airport, just a lot filled with private jets. I’m starting to think that it’s very difficult to get here in the Winter unless you can afford to fly private, which I unfortunately can not. As we got closer to the Bells, my anticipation grew, which was only amplified by the fact that we were stuck behind bike-riders riding 5 miles per hour. Soon enough we were able to pass them. While driving 5 miles per hour behind the bicyclists, I saw a farm off the side of the road. On the farm there was a tiny bridge over a tiny stream. It was like a fairytale. I half expected Alice in Wonderland to walk across the smaller than life sized bridge.

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We waited until 5:00 p.m. to go to Maroon Bells because you can only drive into the park after 5:00 p.m.. And you can only take public transportation before 5:00 p.m.. It’s a weird rule, but we followed it. As it was approximately 5:30 p.m., we paid our $10 to park and drove into the park. As we entered the park, we were surrounded by Aspen trees. They were off white trees, creating a majestic forest. I could only imagine these trees covered in snow. We parked and approached Maroon Bells. I was wearing a dress. I didn’t see a need to wear hiking gear if I’m not on a difficult hike. We were just planning on doing the scenic loop hike of the park and continued to other easy trails through the park. Maybe I have a little Alice in me, but I for one don’t mind hiking in a dress. As long as I have appropriate footwear, I’m comfortable. Nothing can describe my feeling when I saw Maroon Bells over Maroon Lake. I had to have taken hundreds of pictures of the exact same thing. But the sun kept shifting and the reflection just kept intensifying. I was awe struck. Everyone was in peace here. I saw a girl cupping water from the lake, drinking in the beauty. I found friendship in the people around me, who seemed just as blissed by  this beautiful Earth as I was. While the sun was shining bright at the peak of the mountain, it wasn’t the best lighting for the reflection.

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We continued our hike away from the bells for now. As we walked around the perimeter of the lake, the colors intensified. The refection on the water was so vibrant, I could’t believe it. A couple we met told us about Crater Lake, where the mountains extend right out of it. We continued along the trail but only went so far as we were chasing daylight and saw countless warning signs of bears! While we didn’t make it to Crater Lake, the hike brought us along a stream that weaved through the park.

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We turned back to find that the sun had dipped behind the mountains. At this point, the purple mountains reflected majestically on the glacial lake. This moment is what I came here for. Everyone stood, silent, watching. I tip toed across the rocks to be right on the lake, surrounded by the water. I wish I could jump right into the water, but I wouldn’t dare to cause even a ripple in the refection. That would be like vandalizing a painting.

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