Saturday, October 8, 2016

CO & UT - Day Two - Twin Lakes & Interlaken & Independence Pass

Twin Lakes - a beautiful part of Colorado, and our first taste of the clear air, blue skies and spectacular scenery that the State would have to offer.  The Twin Lakes were originally formed by a receding glacier, and the water in the lakes now is snow-melt, making it extremely cold, even in high summer; both lakes can freeze solid in the winter months making it a popular place for kite skiing and ice fishing. The Lakes originally came to be a playground for the rich and famous in the 1870s, when early tourists were keen to enjoy the air, water and scenery of Colorado's mountains.  The first man-made dam was built in the 1900s, and then replaced in the 1970s, part of a hydro-electric scheme and system to provide water supplies to the more arid eastern side of the Continental Divide.  

We stayed at the Twin Lakes Inn - a lovely old coaching inn built in 1879, situated at the base of Mount Elbert and right in the heart of the small Twin Lakes village.  

Next door to the hotel was the General Store and Post Office, and just opposite was the Red Rooster Visitor Centre (previously a tavern, general stores, hotel and brothel), just two of a number of surviving pre-1900 buildings.  We'd stopped at the visitor centre briefly on our arrival, to get a few pointers on the area and to plan our first day of walking, prior to a very satisfying dinner in the Hotel that night. 

We decided to a walk to Hotel Interlaken, a steady trek around part of the Big Lake, and our first expedition at 10,000 feet altitudes.  

Relatively early the following morning, a short drive back down the road and onto a dirt trail (passing a few remote tents and RVs) bought us to the trail head at the edge of the lakes.  

We were told to be prepared for a "mountain hike", and to take plenty of water to help counteract the effects of the altitude.  The scenery was beautiful, the weather warm, and actually the trail was relatively flat, circling the edge of the largest lake.  Not for the first time were we reminded of Switzerland by the scenery and colours.

We walked around the edge of the lake, along a well-beaten trail edged with pine and aspen trees.  The aspen leaves were just beginning to turn, creating small pockets of fiery red and golden yellow in the tree canopy.

Hotel Interlaken was built in 1879 as tourist lodgings for visitors to the area, which was starting to grow in popularity as one of the most attractive resorts in Colorado (visitors would get there via train and stage coach in the late 19th century).  It is thought to have been named after a town in Switzerland, meaning "land between the lakes".  The hotel was bought by James Dexter, and grew further in popularity, so much so that he built additional outbuildings (stables, a unique six-sided privy with separate doors, an ice house etc), and even a separate cabin for himself and his family.  When he died in 1899, the hotel started a slow decline, and eventually closed, although Dexter's cabin continued to be used until the US Forestry Service acquired it in the 1970s.  When the new dam for the lakes was built, the hotel, cabin and several surrounding buildings were moved to higher round and restored to preserve their history.

Dexter's family cabin was the first structure we reached, a short walk from the water's edge with scenic views across the Lakes to the mountains.  The cabin itself, although now unfurnished, is open for viewing, and was beautifully finished with polished wood panelling, parquet floors and intricately decorated brass-work - even on the door hinges!

After exploring the house, a little further walking brought us to the Hotel Interlaken resort itself, now boarded up to protect it from local wildlife (this is bear country, after all...).  The site is only accessible by walking trails or boats and remains largely undisturbed.  It's easy to imagine it as an idyllic holiday destination of the past.  We stopped to eat lunch overlooking the Lake, watching the chipmunks scurrying about their business across the scrub and undergrowth. 

But eventually it was time to move on, and we headed back along the trail (now getting busier with other walkers and cyclists), back to the car and ready to start out for our next road-trip destination - Aspen - via the infamous Independence Pass. 

Independence Pass is a high mountain roadway in the Rockies, midway between Twin Lakes and Aspen, and on Hubby's "Must Do" list (although I think he may have questioned that decision half way up...)

It reaches an elevation of 12,000 feet, and because of heavy snowfall at its peak, it gets closed over the winter months.  We'd actually been surprised to hear hotel staff at Twin Lakes discussing the end of their season in a week or so when the Pass would be closed and so would the hotel (fortuitously we'd timed our trip well!).

Driving the Pass was a little challenging, with unbarriered drop-offs, steep rises, and hairpin bends, as well as parked cars and slow-moving RVs to contend with, and the odd boulder on the edge of the road as a reminder of rockfall hazards.  We felt sorry for some of the cyclists who'd obviously felt they were up for the challenge when they set off up the Pass that morning, but now may also have regretted their decision...

It was a little cool and windy at the top, but still bright and clear for magnificent views of the mountains, and one of the hair pin bends we'd just navigated.

And then it was time to head down the other side (just as challenging), and on to our next port of call - Aspen.