A decent weather forecast for today provided an opportunity to view the Maroon Bells and hike to Crater Lake, an awesome alpine lake where we can have lunch on the shoreline with the Bells in the background.
Our trip to Aspen took us over still another pass, Independence Pass. Independence Pass, at elevation 12,095 feet is on the Continental Divide in the Sawatch Range. The pass is midway between Aspen and Twin Lakes just west of Buena Vista. After Cottonwood Pass to the south, it is the second-highest pass with an improved road in the state, the fourth-highest paved road in the state, and the highest paved crossing of the Continental Divide in the U.S.
A scenic overlook near the pass allows visitors to take in the alpine tundra environment above treeline, and offers excellent views to the east of Mount Elbert, Colorado’s highest peak and the second-highest mountain in the lower 48 states. On the west side, the paved road is one way in several places, with rock overhangs above roadway. We made it up, over, and down without incident.
Vehicular, bicycle, and pedestrian traffic increased as we approached Aspen. Access to the Maroon Bells is now by $6 shuttle bus ride, except early and late in the day, because of the volume of “visitors” to the area. When I last visited, in the late 1970s, it was much less crowded. Anyway, the shuttle bus ran every thirty minutes, and we were unsure of the bus stop location; however, there was good signage, and we arrived, parked, bought tickets, and waited in queue just a short time. The bus filled to capacity with people and dogs–dogs on trails seem to be quite popular this year.
A narrated, sometimes funny bus ride ascended the valley, and dropped us off at Maroon Lake; there were people everywhere. We sought information from a National Forest Service volunteer who politely advised us to forego the hike to Crater Lake because of low water levels in the lane and poor trail conditions. She suggested we hike to the end of Maroon Lake, and then hike the loop trail to a small waterfall. It was an innocuous hike, but did provide some good views of the Maroon Bells.
We hiked along the lake edge looking for a place for lunch, and finally settled on a bench overlooking Maroon Lake and the Maroon Bells.
Rather than take the shuttle back down to Aspen, we opted to hike the 3.5 mile creekside trail, Maroon Creek Trail, partially down the valley, and catch the shuttle there for the remainder of the descent. Though downhill, the multi-use trail was more challenging than expected with misting rain and lots of horse manure to walk over, through, and around, making slick conditions even worse. We passed through and by several stands of aspen trees, gently “quaking” at the occasional puff of wind.
At the bus stop, we visited with other trail hikers waiting on the bus, including a family from Dallas, one from Waco, and a couple of young female models from New York. The quick bus ride ended near the parking lot, and we immediately began our drive back to Salida. Our intent had been to drive to Crested Butte, then over a couple of passes to Taylor Park Reservoir, and then back to Salida, but lack of time prohibited this route. Instead, we drove back over Independence Pass, and this time, Kay’s acrophobia got the best of her on a couple of occasions; but she just sat back, closed her eyes, and “enjoyed” the ride as best she could.
Finally down the mountain, we drove to Salida, and then to adjacent campgrounds—one private and one public—along the river that Wayne had suggested we investigate. Though there were some discernible differences, the major difference was price—the private campground was $30+ a night, the public campground was free!
Back in Salida, we saw the twin mule deer fawns again, munching grass next door to the motel.
An early, quiet evening ended the day.
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