A few weeks ago I received my AAA throw-away magazine.  Before my toss to the recycle bin, I noticed a photo-article ‘Best Colorado Fall Hikes’.  Named best fall foliage hike in Colorado – Maroon Bells in Aspen.

(Side note – this issue also included an article on the annual buffalo roundup in Custer State Park, South Dakota.  September 2014 ‘bucket list’ destination – check, done 🙂 )

After grabbing a quick bite, my friend M & I hit the highway Friday night – plan: camping weekend in Aspen.  LOVE camping, LOVE everything outdoors – and LOVE the price (generally free).  Binge ate burritos & trail mix at my favourite station in Georgetown, then back on I-70…still 2 ½ hours of heavy driving ahead.

SNOW.

Highway closure.

30 minutes later – miles of stopped vehicles.

Plan B – pushed over into the right lane, exited Loveland Pass & car camped in a Ski School parking lot.  Yep, I’ve come a long way from my NYC life.  I now wear a beard, sleep in parking lots, eat convenience store burritos & morning flash bath in McDonald’s restrooms.  Life is looking UP, living B-I-G in Colorado 🙂

Woke at 3:30am, noticed no one on the highway above so started the trek to Aspen.  Heavy ice in Leadville – so traveled slow & steady behind city snowplows.  Last hurdle – Independence Pass (Colorado 82) to Aspen.

The Colorado Department of Transportation (CDOT) restricts the use of Highway 82 through the pass. Most significant is the winter closure. The road is typically closed after the first significant winter snowfall, or by November 7 at the latest. CDOT tries to reopen just before Memorial Day weekend in late May, the traditional beginning of summer in the United States, when enough of the accumulated snowpack has melted to make it possible to clear and repair the road.

Luckily the Pass was open.  Travelling back to I-70, west to Glenwood Springs & then south to Aspen would have added another 2 hours to our journey.  Sun rose at the top of the Pass – landscape frosted white, BEAUTIFUL.

Whole lotta travel – so was it worth it?  Oh yeah.  Colorado autumn paradise.

The Maroon Bells are considered to be the most photographed peaks in Colorado.  Yellow aspens, fresh snow in the mountains.  Everything that is Colorado, hues maize this day.  Translucent glowing from the inside out.  WOW!

Multiple photo opportunities slowed our hike start.  Good problem to have 🙂

Trekked 5 miles over snowy trails, through long stretches of native Aspens, enveloped in by 14er peaks.  Crossed raging streams fueled by the prior evening’s precipitation.  Top 10 Colorado day.

Warmed by high-altitude SUNSHINE, peeled layers as the day progressed.  Back-propped against a large rock for 20 minutes & caught zzz’s before the return hike to town.

Wait, wait – it gets better.

City of Aspen closes for 2 months – until the start of ski season.  AND as luck would have it, Saturday was the last open day for many shops & restaurants.  All food, 50% off.  New jacket, 80% off.  SCORE!

Camped at Difficult Campground.  Luckily, it was not difficult – but jeez, it was cold.

Spent the new morning at John Denver Sanctuary (after juice, oatmeal & another sink-bath at McD’s).

6:30 a.m. start — early morning chill, aspen yellows, remnants of Friday’s snow, native grasses, sunflowers.  Engraved stones adorned with lyrics from Denver’s iconic folk ballads.  Laugh if you will – HUGE fan of John Denver!

Wait, wait – it gets better.

Lance Armstrong runs by.  (Runs at a fast clip & super solid for a cyclist.)

 

New tradition – Aspen every autumn.  SPECTACULAR!

 

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