Day 2 – Dillon to Aspen

So Sunday morning came with bang as my family and I feasted on a pancake breakfast and re-packed the car. No need to worry about lunch as we had sandwiches, apples and delicious Palisade peaches packed. By 9:30 a.m. we hit the road and began winding through Ten Mile Canyon on the way past Copper Mountain Resort. The Warrior Dash was going on and they had great weather for it with low 70s and scattered cloud. The Warrior Dash is a mud-crawling, fire-leaping, extremely crazy run where participants will conquer extreme obstacles on demanding and unique terrain, celebrating their feat with music, beer, warrior helmets and muddy shorts. Moving along I see the beauty of the Western side of Ten Mile Range and Turquoise Lake. The trees look like it used to with hardly any beetle-kill in sight. Maybe its the difference in heat, elevation, or weather but most likely is the diverse mixture of firs, spruces, and pines that staved off the beetle-kill. Juxtaposed to the natural beauty is Climax Mine, which features its own mountain, clear-cut and stripped away, as well as its own copper-colored lake. While the natural beauty of Fremont Pass is wonderful, the magnitude and appearance of Climax Mine is just as startling.

Mainstreet in Leadville, CO

Mainstreet in Leadville, CO

Arriving in Leadville we couldn’t miss the scenic buildings of the gold and silver eras; most notably, the Tabor Opera House and the original Saint Vincents Hospital. The Tabor Opera House is still in operation and marks the southern edge of Leadville’s mainstreet. The Saint Vincents Hospital building has been renovated and rejuvenated to become one of the best places for multifamily housing in Leadville. Featuring one of Colorado’s best mainstreets, truly blending the classic Wild West Mainstreet idea with the setting of a high country meadow. Truly Leadville feels like a cross between Georgetown and Breckenridge, but certainly smaller than both. But what Leadville lacks in size it certainly makes up for in spirit. While we drove through we could see the tail end of the Leadville 100 mile ultramarathon event. Spread across two days, this ultramarathon criss-crosses many of the hiking and running trails surrounding Leadville.

Independence Pass

Top of Independence Pass

Moving along, we begin our ascent up Independence Pass, a scenic route that crosses over the Sawatch Range and drops right into the back of Aspen. Highlights of the pass include the pristine Twin Lakes, quiet and glassy, which are ideal for high country fishing. Accompanying the Twin Lakes is the small community of Twin Lakes. The town serves almost as a base camp for RVs and road trip families preparing to ascend the pass. For any one who gets blindsided by erratic Colorado weather, the Twin Lakes Lodge is there to lend a hand. As we continue up its obvious to see many opportunities for hiking, fishing, mountain biking, or camping on and around the pass. Massive aspen groves line the road, making the drive gorgeous in Autumn, just don’t get snowed in. All along the miles of creeks and marshes below the pass create a bonanza of beaver dams and lodges. Eventually we hit true mountain and began our ascent across daring switchbacks and roads with no guard rails. We soon reached the top and got a gorgeous panoramic view of the Sawatch Range, with the temperature dropping to a balmy 63 degrees. Among the rugged peaks around Independence Pass, Colorado’s largest Fourteener Mt. Elbert, at 14,440 feet, looms in the background. At 12,095 feet, clearly the pass is above timberline and is littered with snow-fed ponds. A balmy 63 degrees at the top. What my parents, who had last driven this road in the early 1980’s, promised as the scariest stretch of road for our trip, was surprisingly mild. Over the years guard rails have been added on the way to Aspen, as well as better marked pavement. There still are some dodgy sections where the road switches from two lanes to one, but those are few and far between.

Aspen Mountain

Aspen Mountain from Downtown Aspen, truly "Ski-in & Ski-out"

Directly at the base of Independence Pass is the town of Aspen. It truly has a small town charm, despite featuring boutique shops and mountains of cars parked along the roads. interesting side note, the street design is a little frustrating as there are a multitude of people walking about, but every intersection is 2 way stops! This creates long backups on half the roads in and around “downtown” Aspen. All the same we finally navigated the car to a parking spot and walked into the town center. After looking around we ended up finding a quiet, secluded park complete with a pine cut picnic table. We took advantage of the park, located behind the City Hall, to enjoy our sandwiches and snacks for lunch.  After visiting for the first time it’s certainly easy to appreciate the town’s location, right at the base of Aspen Mountain Ski Resort. The skiing looks to be superb and now is a must do for my winter season. But in the summer, Aspen seems to be a great place to shop, if you’re making more than 6 figures, otherwise its a great place to walk around and enjoy their outdoor mall or admire the multitude of gorgeous homes on the town’s West End. Also, Aspen has done a great job of preserving its history. Between the refurbished and fully functional Wheeler Opera House or Hotel Jerome and the pavement markers showing what stores used to be in the late nineteenth century, its easy to see Aspen’s mining town roots.

Maroon Bells

Maroon Bells and Maroon Lake in the Afternoon Sun

A trip to Aspen would not be complete without a visit the Colorado’s famous Maroon Bells. Certainly the most photographed mountains in the state (probably in the country), the Maroon Bells are synonymous with Colorado’s Rocky Mountains. We began our tour if the peaks at the Aspen Highlands Village, where one can catch the shuttle bus up to the Maroon Bells Wilderness Area. Our driver did an excellent job of discussing the wildlife, terrain, avalanche chutes, and natural aspen flora. Once we arrived, we were awestruck by the natural beauty and symmetrical lines of the bells. Personally I was amazed by the beauty of the surrounding peaks. Seivers Mountain, a red wall to the northwest and Pyramid Peak to the southeast are just as grand and photogenic. Maroon Lake is alpine fed, leaving it clear and beautiful, perfect to see the reflection of these maroon giants. Beaver dams lodges dot the shoreline and wildflowers are in full bloom throughout the summer. Several trails are available for hiking, many under 3 miles roundtrip, one of which we did that lead to the waterfall that feeds into Maroon Lake. For more adventurous types there are several trails that connect Aspen to Crested Butte. Typically 12 to 20 miles from start to finish they certainly fill your day with breathtaking scenery, plentiful photo ops, and a great workout. After getting our fill of photos and Rocky Mountain scenery, we proceeded back down the mountain to Aspen for dinner.

Downtown Aspen

Downtown Aspen's Pedestrian Street

Walking around the West End of Aspen is a treat as it features original Victorian era housing, restored and refurbished to look as new as it did in the 1860s. Most of the homes feature wonderful wooden shingles, detailed trim and lattice works, wraparound decks, and tall wood window shutters. Mixed in with more modern bungalows and townhomes, these small one story wonders make the past come alive. Many historic parks, typically a block or 1/2 wide, litter the neighborhood. These green spaces, combined with the aged tree growth and canopy of the neighborhood create a great avenues to live and work in. We continued on to search for dinner, passing shops and storefronts that make Aspen Colorado’s mountain shopping headquarters. Despite having a strict grid layout, the town features many brick paved, pedestrian only walkways and urban parks, making it enjoyable to explore. For dinner we ate at Brunelleschi’s Pizza, no doubt named after the famous Italian architect.

Ajax Pizza and Stella Artois

Ajax Pizza and Stella Artois (or half of it anyway!)

Despite some poor service, (the waiter forgot our drink order) the restaurant was a good pick. The pizza is wood-fired cooked and served thin, many featuring classic Italian toppings. The restaurant is a bit loud, but only because the locals pack in, looking forward to fairly priced and authentic Italian fare. Personally I recommend the Ajax pizza and, if it’s a nice evening, request to eat outdoors as they have a lovely covered seating area away from the hustle and bustle of the kitchen. Also, if you’re looking for a drink before or after dinner, the Aspen Brewing Company is just across the street and features original brews like Independence Pass IPA and  Ajax Pilsner. Rounding out the evening we retired to our rental for the night, exhausted and thankful for an exquisite day in Colorado’s High Country.

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Posted on August 22, 2011, in Colorado Road Trip and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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