Monday, November 21, 2016

CO & UT - Day Four - Into Utah

All too soon we were headed to our second State - into Utah, a drive of about 230 miles, or three and a half hours.  

We gradually left behind the rich, lush greenery and deep blue skies of Colorado...

...all epitomised in the - er - "descriptive" State border sign...

... and soon we were headed into Utah.

The further we drove, the difference in the landscapes between the two states became more obvious.  Somehow the sky became a paler shade of blue, and the scenery came with much more muted colours.  The mountains were less of the rich red colours we'd seen in Colorado, and more a drab sandy-beige, with grey-green shale heaps that looked like concrete.


We stopped briefly at Harley Dome Rest Area, a scenic viewpoint on I-70 near Thompson, to stretch our legs and take some photos.

Gradually, the skies got darker and more brooding, but luckily we managed to skirt the edge of a rain storm, taking in the dramatic scenery that the weather provided on the horizon.  


And eventually our destination was in sight - Green River in Utah - this would be our base for the next 6 nights of our trip.

Sunday, November 20, 2016

CO & UT - Day Three - Aspen & the Maroon Bells

We stayed at the Mountain Chalet Aspen hotel - a lovely place, built to look like a mountain chalet, unsurprisingly!  It had been recommended by a good friend who'd also road-tripped out this way (thanks, Phil!), and was situated centrally in Aspen town, only a few minutes walk from the town centre.  Aspen itself was very chi-chi, filled with boutique shops, cafes and restaurants - easy to imagine it snow-covered and filled with fairy lights and ski boots in a month or so's time!  The ski lift also wasn't far from the hotel, with the slopes towering just behind us.  

For our first day in Aspen, we decided to head to the Maroon Bells - allegedly one of the most photographed peaks in North America, and certainly one of the prettiest that we saw.  So, after a lovely, carb-laden breakfast at the hotel, we eventually sussed out where to buy a bus ticket to take us to Aspen Highlands village, and then caught a free shuttle bus (complete with amusing tour guide driver) to the base of the Bells in White River National Forest.  Road traffic has been heavily restricted in the area since the 1970s because of the detrimental environmental impact caused by thousands of cars crawling around it and parking largely where they chose, often in the wildflower meadows...

On our way, the guide explained a little about hour-glass avalanche chutes as we drove past a few examples, the local flora and fauna (aspen trees, moose, bear, marmots), and the different trail options.  We decided to take the trail to Crater Lake, a "moderate difficulty" loop of about 4 miles, up and down again.  It was a lovely day - bright and sunny, if a little cool, but great for hiking, and we soon warmed up after a few minutes on the rocky path up the mountain!

The trail started in Maroon Valley, where millions of years of geologic and glacial activity helped to form the reflective lake and twin mountaintops (Maroon Peak and North Maroon Peak - both 14,000 feet).  The mountains and surrounding hills are actually a dusky red colour - taking their colour from weathered haematite.

We skirted the edge of the picturesque lake, where the aspen leaves were just starting to show their autumn colours, with vivid patches of yellow visible in the tree tops.  In the summertime, the area is filled with a riot of colourful wild flowers, adding to the Swiss mountains feel.  The Bells were very visible in the distance, with their distinct muted red colouring and some determined patches of snow remaining in the shadows.

But before long, we'd hit the treeline and started the long, rocky climb uphill, stopping every so often to take in the views (and to remember how to breathe at high altitudes).  The going was tricky at times, but we kept a pretty good pace, even with regular stops!

About two-thirds of the way up we spotted our first, and sadly only, wildlife - a marmot!  We'd heard them whistling to each other across the boulder fields, and finally spotted this little fellow before he shot off across the rocks.

Spot the marmot?
See him now?

After about 90 minutes walking, we reached Crater Lake - actually a pretty uninspiring destination once we got there, although it looked a little more scenic when the sun came out again.

After a restorative sit on a tree trunk for vittles (and oxygen), we headed back down the mountainside again, where the going was much quicker (only about 40 minutes to get down!).  I tried to take pictures of some of the different colours and striations in the rock fall and underfoot - all pale blues, greens and pinks.  

Once on the shuttle bus, we headed back to Aspen Highlands Village for some well-earned late lunch, and a quick wander round to look at the ski slopes and to buy an obligatory fridge magnet for our growing collection, before we caught the bus back to Aspen.  A little tired, but pleased to have added another peak to our travels!

On our second day in Aspen, we took it a little easier and had a relatively lazy day - exploring the boutique-y (ie expensive) shops, finding a supermarket to stock up on essential road-trip supplies for the big drive ahead, and then treating ourselves to a lovely meal at The Wild Fig - just managing to bag a seat inside at the bar before the heavens opened.  My mussels and fries never tasted so good! Tomorrow we would say goodbye to Colorado (temporarily) and set off for the next leg of our trip, into Utah.