September 29 - October 1
Logan and I have gone down to Aspen each year since we moved to Colorado (2015 and 2016). I don't know what exactly prompted that first trip (but I do have a vague memory of seeing someone post a picture on facebook and saying to myself, "I have to see that in person"), but we loved it so much we knew we had to do it again. Our second trip was totally different than the first - more yellow still on the trees, less carsickness and vomiting, and hiking in the first real snow of the season. This year, the mountains had been getting regular snow for about a week and a half before our trip, so we had no idea what we would be in for.
We did decide to skip the camping part this year. From almost freezing from lack of preparedness our first year, to bailing the second because it wouldn't stop snowing and temps already in the 20s before bedtime, we knew our best bet would just be to stay in a hotel both nights. Plus that gave us a good excuse to get into the town of Aspen and explore there a little more, too.
We drove down after work on Friday night and ended up going through a little snow squall on Independence Pass. I didn't cry like I did last year, but ONLY because I had already shed my "first snow of the season" tears a few weeks prior. We stayed in Basalt this year because it was a lot cheaper and because we couldn't find a hotel for two nights in Aspen/Snowmass. This added about 30 minutes onto our drive, but when we woke up the next morning we realized it was TOTALLY worth it.
The drive from Basalt to Aspen is absolutely stunning. The mountains come right to the road and were the most gorgeous set of colors (I took all the pictures of them on my film camera, so it'll be a bit before I see the results!). That drive was one of the highlights of the trip, and there's a better-than-good chance we'll be staying in Basalt next year, too.
We got up and ate a meager hotel breakfast and got on our way. We knew we weren't in a major rush because we wouldn't have to leave to get to a campsite, but we also knew it was almost peak colors and that the Bells would be crazy. We got to the shuttle parking lot at about 8:30 and it was almost full. We also had $10 cash for parking and the attendant did a happy dance because she didn't have to give us change or run a card. I also got some stickers from a park ranger because I had my money ready to go!
We bought our tickets and were able to immediately get on a bus - usually we have to wait for a few loads, but we got lucky today. Our bus driver was FANTASTIC, too, and had the best jokes. I have grown to love these bus rides, and was especially stoked when I learned something new this year!
If you look at my posts from the previous two years, you'll see that every time we go the Bells look different (and that my photography skills have gotten noticeably better...). It's always a treat to get off the bus and go around the bend because even though we know what the Bells look like, we never know what we're going to be greeted with.
This year we were a few days ahead of the peak colors, but there was more snow on the mountains than I was expecting! We had perfect weather - it was chilly enough that I didn't feel like dying on our hike, but warm enough that I didn't need my hat and jacket until we got to the top.
We wandered around Maroon Lake for a little, and then decided to head up to Crater Lake. We were originally planning on doing two hikes this day, but extenuating circumstances limited us to just one. It was still gorgeous, though, and the colors were some of the best I have ever seen.
Since we couldn't do our second hike, we headed into town to pick up some lunch and then went back to the hotel. We spent some time reading and relaxing before we went back out. We grabbed dinner at Meat & Cheese - it was AMAZING. First of all, the atmosphere is great. They have a little shop inside so you can take home your favorite cheeses and meats and sauces and it's so intimate and close. We started off with beer & cocktails. I had a grapefruit juice and gin and it was delicious - the waitress said they fresh squeeze their grapefruits every morning! We got a bread platter that came with brown sugar butter and it just got us so excited for our main course - the rotisserie chicken platter. We got a half chicken to share for the two of us, and it came with a salad and potatoes. It was some of the best chicken I've had, easily. And the best part? Dessert. We got a cookie platter that came with lemon-honey milk and three of the biggest cookies ever. The girl at the table next to us was so amazed (and so was I). Definitely worth a stop in if you're ever in Aspen, it was such a good meal.
Sunday morning we woke up and went to brunch - also delicious, but we were eager to get on the road.
We knew Aspen had been getting fresh snow almost every night, but we didn't really think about what that meant. Turns out, it meant we would be driving through snow and playing in a few inches of it on Independence Pass. We transitioned into the snowfall right as my brother was sending us pictures of him laying by the pool in Alabama. I think I prefer playing in the snow...
When we reached the top of Independence Pass we got out to run around. Snow makes me so giddy and I was so excited! It was about 30° at the top, so we were incredibly thankful that we thought to bring hats and gloves and winter coats. The ground was slippery, though, and we didn't think to change out of our travel shoes and into our boots, so we slipped and slided and held each others hands as we walked.
We made our way down the mountain and transitioned from winter back into fall. We had stopped at an aspen grove last year, and I was determined to find it again this year. After letting a few cars pass us so we could drive slower, we found it! We got out and explored again, loving that this year, we had it all to ourselves. I was also amazed that the colors here, near Twin Lakes, were much more orange than at the Maroon Bells. Aspens amaze me, did you know they can be cut down or burned down or generally destroyed, but as long as their root systems stay relatively unharmed, they'll come back?? Aspens are typically one of the first trees to sprout after forest fires, making them represent the beginning stages of a forest's lifecycle. SO COOL, RIGHT?!
We got back on the road, anxious to see our kitty cat back at home. Coming through the town of Twin Lakes is my favorite, something about the way the mountains come right to the edge of the water is so incredible, and this day it reminded me so much of Alaska. I'm really excited to get to spend more time in this area next summer!