Colorado’s natural gems
( Due to a family emergency we’ve had a change of plans and I won’t be posting for a while. I’m heading for the Philippines and will meet up with Steve in Arizona when I return in a few weeks.)
Our next stop at Glenwood Springs was at a lower elevation – 5,746 ft. It gave us a different ambiance from our previous stop at 9,600 ft. Here, we were looking up instead of looking down, and we were surrounded by steeply contoured canyons on all sides.
Our home base at Glenwood Canyon Resort (Steve’s review here) was our jumping off point to visit two of Colorado’s natural gems – the iconic Maroon Bells and Hanging Lake, an amazing wonder of nature. We also took a challenging hike up a lesser-known path, the Jess Weaver Trail, aka the No Name Trail. This was definitely a “get your butt out of bed early” stop, due to the popularity of the attractions.
Jess Weaver Trail –
Our first hike on the Jess Weaver Trail was 6.3 moderately-difficult miles out and back, but we liked it so much that I ended up extending out to eight miles and Steve did nine. With an elevation gain of 1,600 ft. starting at 6,260 ft., it was surrounded by towering cliffs and meandered along No Name Creek beginning from the trailhead. The sounds of the gurgling and rushing water from the creek relaxed us during the long climb. We didn’t meet a single person on this trail until late in the return portion of our hike. Loved it!
Hanging Lake –
The next day we arrived at the trailhead just after 6am (a first for us). This destination is so popular that the lot often fills up by 9am, and it’s really too crowded to enjoy the hike by then. When we arrived at the lake there were already 5 people there, and when we began our decent after pictures it had increased to about 20. Steve counted over 100 people that he passed on the trail during his decent to the trailhead! The short 1.2 mile one-way trail features a serious elevation gain of 1,000 ft., so it got us huffing and puffing as we hustled up to the top. But the breathtaking sight of the clear lake soothed our lungs and relaxed us right away.
You may ask, “What is so special about this lake?” Well, Hanging Lake has all the qualities to make it a designated National Natural Landmark. It’s a rare example of a lake formed by travertine deposition, where the natural geologic and hydro-logic processes continue to operate as they have for thousands of years. It is perched on the edge of Glenwood Canyon cliffs and its clear turquoise travertine lake and the waterfalls that spill into it were the reward for our rigorous uphill climb. Steve said he was a bit underwhelmed after all the hype and thought the Havasu Falls in the Grand Canyon were more spectacular. But he agreed this display was definitely worth the hike!
The turquoise colors of the lake are produced by carbonate minerals that have dissolved in the water. Because of its fragility, hikers are asked to observe strict rules which include no dipping or touching of any body part into the water or waterfalls. We hoped the hordes of hikers we encountered that day paid attention to those rules.
After a few minutes of soaking in the pristine beauty we headed out, as we already heard other noisy hikers coming up the trail. But behind the lake we discovered Spouting Rock, appropriately named as water flows through a set of holes in the limestone cliffs of Dead Horse Canyon.
Maroon Bells –
Our last 5am awakening got us an early start for our visit to iconic Maroon Bells. It’s ten miles west of Aspen and about an hour of driving from Glenwood Springs. Because of its popularity, access to the scenic area between 8am to 5pm during the summer months is via shuttle only. Arriving before 8am allows one to drive up to the lake for $10, or for free if you whip out your Annual National Park Pass as we did for the umpteenth time this year.
The two giant snow-striped mountains, named South Maroon Peak and North Maroon Peak, tower over 14,000 ft. (14er’s), and are nestled in the Maroon Bells-Snowmass Wilderness. I learned they are the most photographed peaks in North America, and to catch their alpenglow is something special and worth being there before sunrise. Sure enough, several photographers were already staking claim to their perfect spots when we arrived.
As the first rays of sunlight started hitting the tops of the mountains, the cameras were clicking like hundreds of crickets. The peaks are touted as the most photographed, but I can guarantee my captures don’t do justice to the beauty here, especially with the fall colors all around! You’ve got to be standing here to appreciate it.
The steep majestic mountains are the result of more than 300 million years of geologic activity, including sedimentation, uplift and erosion by wind, water and ice. According to the U.S. Forest Service, the mountains received their distinctive maroon coloring from the weathering of hematite, an iron-bearing mineral. Maroon Lake occupies a basin that was sculpted by ice-age glaciers.
Located in the 2.3-million acre White River National Forest, the Maroon Bells tower over numerous hiking trails that offer unbeatable views of golden aspen trees. Due to the cold weather and incoming crowds we opted for a short scenic trail that weaved through the shimmering golden aspens around the lake. Here are a few of my captures of the colors, but again they don’t do justice to this amazing place!
Just being here was a delight for the eyes and the soul.
The Maroon Bells were truly magical, and the breathtaking beauty surrounding us made it well worth the early wakeup and drive through the town of Aspen, which we visited later in the day to get a feel for the cool resort town.
Capturing the Colorado gems may require a little sacrifice, but the reward at the end is pure bliss!