Aspen is a top notch winter resort town. But like most mountain resort towns, it now has year round activities such as biking, hiking, horseback riding, family activities and many special festivals.As it turned out, in addition to being an amazing resort destination, the town of Aspen has an interesting history. It was founded by miners in 1879 and originally named Ute City, after the Ute Indians who inhabited the area. It was re-named to Aspen in 1880.Aspen boomed during the period of silver mining. But when silver was demonetized in 1893, the population crashed from a high of 15,000 to 700 in 1930. It was not until after the Second World War that ski enthusiasts were able to gain the momentum to evolve it into a ski resort town.Aspen today is a seasonal home and playground for the rich and famous. It has some of the most expensive real estate in the United States.We toured around the main streets of Aspen. In spite of its reputation of being a resort for the rich, it did not seem outlandishly so on the surface. We enjoyed the little Victorian styled homes on the main streets, the quaint shops and churches.
Then it was off to tackle the famous hike in the Maroon Valley to see the famous Maroon Bells, a 14,000 foot peak.We drove our car to Aspen Highlands, 5 km from Aspen downtown. Ten dollar parking fee is required to park within the Aspen Highland parkade. Then we boarded the shuttle bus that took us up to the Maroon Bells recreation area. The shuttle bus ride cost $8 per person. The ride was 25 minutes. During the ride, the driver provided interesting history and information on the area. Free wifi was also available on the shuttle bus.After we disembarked from the shuttle bus at the visitor’s center, we followed the sign for the short and easy Maroon Lake Trail. We followed this trail until it turned into the Crater Lake trail at the Deadly Bells Kiosk. This trail is a steeper and rocky trail into the wilderness, climbing on an ancient rockslide that holds Crater Lake (10,076 ft). Total distance to Crater Lake was about 5.6 kilometers round trip. Our hike was 2.5 hours round trip including 20 minutes at Crater Lake admiring the Maroon Bells peaks, the north peak at 14,014 feet and the south peak at 14,156 feet. We also passed through a large avalanche area knocking out large number of aspen trees.The Maroon Bells epitomizes what the Rocky Mountains are all about. They are like massive sentinels over the valley. The mountain’s red color and distinctive bell shape led earlier explorers to give the Maroon Bells their name.
Although both Aspen and Vail are only a short distance away from each other and both being famous mountain resorts in Colorado, they are in fact quite different.Vail was also a base for gold and silver mining during the 1870’s but the town did not prosper and developed from silver mining to the same extent compared to Aspen.From the small Vail History Museum next to the visitor center, we discovered during the World War II, the US Army’s Tenth Mountain Division used the Vail area for backcountry survival training. After the war, these men came back to these mountain valleys and started the vision towards a mountain ski community.There is no admission required for the history museum. It was super informative and the display on the evolution of ski equipment and fashion was most fascinating.Vail today is one of North America’s biggest and most popular ski resort.We spent some time walking around the pedestrian village area. Many of the building were in German-Alpine style. There were many high end shops offering everything from high end fashion, outdoor equipment, cosmetic, exclusive wine and spirits, and even botox treatments. And of course, craft beer pubs and restaurants lined the streets.We had time to take a short drive from Aspen to the Independence Pass, just 30 minutes east of Aspen. It was another high elevation narrow two lane high country windy drive to 12,095 ft, like many we have already experienced in Colorado. This particular pass is a popular landmark since it passes the Continental Divide. We had some doubt about being able to drive there due to the unusually cold weather this season. But fortunately, the road was dry and clear all the way to the summit.We intentionally avoided an overnight at either Aspen or Vail due to the high cost of accommodations at these resorts. In addition, by staying overnight at Glenwood Springs, a pretty town just 35 minutes from Aspen, we were able to check out the world’s largest hot spring pool.
The town Glenwood Springs is famous for having numerous hot spring pools. We decided on the original Glenwood Hot Spring Pool, still the world’s largest with 1,078,000 gallons of water. The Ute Indians called it Yampah, meaning “big medicine”. The large pool is kept at a comfortable 90°- 93° F and the smaller therapy pool averages about 104° F. There is lodging, spa, athletic club, grill and shopping at the resort.The hot spring pools, with the Rocky Mountains as backdrops, was a wonderful way to soothe our tired hiking muscles.