hiking mondays: aspen

I was around 14 years old when I heard someone mention Aspen for the first time. Some of my high school classmates vacationed and skied there annually over winter break, so I pretty much lumped Aspen, Vail and Telluride together as ski-towns on the other side of the country (I know, what a typical east coaster). I was never really that into winter sports, but on the rare occasion that my parents did take us skiing we went to the Catskills and usually Hunter mountain- which, as it turns out, is also where my great-grandparents vacationed during the summer months. 

It wasn't until a few years ago that Aspen starting coming up in conversation...basically me telling my husband, "When we move to Colorado we should *totally* go to the Food & Wine classic in Aspen." He nodded in agreement and we both though it sounded like a good idea. But after we moved here and I started doing a bit of investigative work, I discovered that the tickets were about $1200 per person, not including hotel. So we decided to shelve that idea for the time being...

Then I saw photos of Maroon Bells, a spectacular glacial valley in Aspen that is flanked by two 14,000 foot peaks and known for its magnificent scenery and wildlife. I knew we had to go. And so we went...
On the way to the trailhead we saw a grouse and a few beavers.  We heard a rumor that there was a moose and her young calf eating somewhere along the river, but we didn't meet their acquaintance. We did, however, stumble upon a black bear who made my heart pound a bit faster as I prefer viewing wildlife from a (far) distance. There were beaver dams, aspen groves and wildflowers galore. The lake's colors shifted constantly but it was always pristine and clear. I really can not wait to go back in the fall...
We left Aspen and decided to travel back to Denver via the Independence Pass, which is opened seasonally for about 2-3 months out of the year. On the way up to the continental divide we passed a ghost town, a relic from the time when silver mining ruled the area.

Not everyone liked the whipping winds over the continental divide (look closely, you can also see where the tree line ends).

This and That
Getting there: I-70 through the canyons, then follow directions from Glenwood Springs.
Going back: Independence Pass. The drive is gorgeous but note that the road is only open a few months out of the year and will closed once the first snow arrives. You go high above the tree line (and some times the cloud line) as you pass over the continental divide. 
To Maroon Bells: We caught the Castle/Bells bus (free) at the depot on Durant Avenue. It goes to Aspen Highlands and from there you take a designated shuttle to  Maroon Bells ($6 adults, children free). You can't drive your car into Maroon Bells after 9 a.m. or before 5 p.m. due to conservation/environmental efforts. The shuttle includes a guided tour that is incredibly informative and covers the region's history, development and wildlife.
Difficulty: Easy around the lake. Would love to hike to Crater Lake, but that is further out...
Eats: We had brunch at Poppycocks Cafe. The macadamia pancakes were delicious. Other recommendations include the oatmeal pancake. 
Overnight Accommodations: We Pricelined a hotel in Snowmass and got a great deal for the Wildwood hotel. 
An Aspen Guide you might find helpful.