Tuesday we went to Maroon Bells, the site of our first hike here in 2011, the first time we visited Aspen, when Ken's parents were living here. This was before we had become vegans and before we had begun to be more active, so the only hike we did then was the Scenic Loop around Maroon Lake, which is basically a flat hike, with no serious challenges. Beautiful to be sure, but a very easy hike. Anyway, we wanted to go back there, since it's so beautiful. In the summer months they close the road up to the Bells to cars, so you have to take a shuttle bus. In years past they realized that once the place became so popular, there were just too many cars, and people were parking in the meadows and other places where the surface is just too fragile--since at higher altitudes the growing season is so incredibly short, there was a lot of destruction to the environment. So they decided to limit car access and just have people use the buses or bikes--great decision. Still possible for people to enjoy this incredible nature, yet taking precautions to preserve it for the future as well.
So we drove to Aspen Highlands, a ski area at the bottom of the mountain, where we caught the bus up to Maroon Lake. The bus driver was a riot, keeping us all laughing all the way up, but also passed on lots of interesting information about the history of the area, both during the time when the Ute Indians were the only inhabitants, and up through how the silver mines were the lifeblood of the economy in the 1830's and then about the development in more recent times. Very informative--one interesting fact I didn't know: the Utes came up with the first sunscreen! You can rub your hand along the trunk of an aspen tree and you come away with a chalky substance that you can then apply to your skin and it acts as sunscreen! Amazing--and here we too often think we "modern" people have come up with it all. Apparently the aspen bark sunscreen is only about the equivalent of SPF 5, so you have to keep applying it fairly frequently, but this is really no problem when you're hiking where there are so many aspen trees!
We got up to Maroon Lake and learned that the Scenic Loop, the easy trail around the lake, was closed due to some recent aggressive activity from some young bull moose. So we took to the Crater Lake Trail, and hiked up to this gorgeous lake. It is possible to climb to the summit of the Maroon Bells, above 14,000 ft., but the rock surfaces of the trail are really fragile and way too treacherous for all but the highly skilled. Even still, there are not infrequent deaths due to people stepping on what they thought was solid ground, only to find that it was too easy to crumble out from underfoot and send one sailing off to an unpleasant end. Soooooo, after giving the matter some deep thought and consideration . . . for about 2 seconds, LOL, we decided to forego this for the Crater Lake hike!! It was a wonderful hike and, though the trail had lots of R & R--rocks and roots--and it was reasonably steep in places, we got up to the lake and it was beautiful! We enjoyed a lovely lunch by the edge of the lake, sitting on an old log, soaking up the warm sun--just idyllic!
We came back down to Maroon Lake and decided, rather than immediately getting on the bus for the trip back down to where our car was parked, we'd take the Maroon Creek Trail to the point where it comes out on the road and you could flag down a bus. We asked a volunteer ranger about the trail and she asked, which way do you want to go, the 1 mile hike to the road or the 3 mile. We wanted the 3 mile so she showed us the trail and said that when the trail deadened into a T intersection, we should be sure to turn left, otherwise we'd end up in Crested Butte! So off we went on a glorious hike down this trail, alongside the rushing waters of Maroon Creek, through aspen groves, through fields of wildflowers, including some intricate tiny flowers sprouting among mosses and rocks. We came to a T, turned left like she said, but we felt like it was way too soon for the 3 mile route. Turned out we were right--we ended up on the road shortly after we took the left hand turn. As it was getting on into the afternoon, however, we decided to just flag down a bus rather than trying to go back and find the right trail. Since Shelley and Ken were treating us to a performance of the Aspen/Santa Fe Ballet that evening as the other part of their Christmas gift to us, it was the better decision, rather than putting ourselves into a rush situation.
So we got back down in time to shower, relax and clean up before dinner. Shelley and Ken were entertaining some lawyer folks for dinner downtown, so Trisha and I went to a lovely little hole-in-the-wall Vietnamese restaurant, the Bamboo Bear, for a wonderful vegan dinner before the ballet. The Aspen/Santa Fe Ballet is celebrating it's 20th anniversary this year and it is a cooperative effort between the two cities, realizing that it would be a huge challenge for each city to support its own ballet. So they now split their season of performances between the two places--a very interesting solution to the situation. The program was divided into three sections, all contemporary, but very, very good. One of the sections was a little harder to follow than the others, but the other two were just dynamite. And of course, it's always fun to go to a ballet with Shelley, with all those years of ballet performances she has under her belt, to get a more informed critical evaluation. What a wonderful gift they gave us, and a delightful way to top off another stupendous day!!
A view of the Maroon Bells as we rode up on the bus