Okay, so there are more than 100 photos in this post so if you really want to see a photo, click on it. I'm not patient enough to scroll to every single photo and change its size.
Sammi, Nick, Evan, and I headed for the Maroon Bells Wilderness area Friday morning, after some help from Jason in packing our gypsy load on top of the vehicle and snapping our photo. We don't skimp on our sleep, which means gigantic sleeping bags and cots that fill up the back of my little CR-V and don't leave any room for the bags of clothes and boxes of kitchen and camping supplies. So on the top they go, wrapped in tarps, bungeed within an inch of their life, with duct tape for good measure. That package did not budge an inch on the journey.
I'd been nursing my sick and dying dog on 12/30/15 when something in me snapped and I made this camping reservation, not having any idea if we'd have a wet or a dry spring, whether the weather would possibly cooperate for the first weekend in June, but rolling the dice. I made it for the exact same spot, Silver Queen #3 that we had stayed at in 2012 when we were cut short by the negligence of our camping neighbors who couldn't be bothered to keep their dog on a lead, which knocked mom over on our second day, breaking her wrist, and we all hauled everything home racing to get back over the Pass before nightfall so she could get home for care (which ended up being a massive amount of surgery and therapy and bolts implanted in her wrist to recover.)
To say I needed this weekend to go off without a hitch would be an understatement.
The equipment not flying off my car on a two lane (sometimes narrowing to one) highway that has drops thousands of feet down, often without guardrails, was a good start.
We stopped at the halfway point in Leadville and grabbed Subway, then carried it another 20 minutes up to Twin Lakes to picnic. It was beautiful but windy.
By the time we hit the Continental Divide and the top of Independence Pass, our temp was in the upper 30°s.
We made it to the ranger station at 3:00 and, wouldn't you know, they didn't have my name on the spot! Strange, but it was already pinned there at the campsite, so the left hand doesn't know what the right is doing.
If you're staying in a campsite, the fee for your car is only $5 for the entire stay. If you want to visit the Bells on just a day trip, it's $10 each day. Not a bad deal. Plus, Silver Queen is less than 10 minutes from Maroon Lake, so it makes getting there for sunrise as painless as possible.
We tackled the tent first. Note to self: buy better tent stakes before you go again.
Also, separate the children to different tasks so only one of them helps you figure out how to get the tent up. Nick was barely speaking to us by the time it was done. It doesn't help that Sam and I are basically stereo: we have the same temperament, speech, and sarcasm. He was getting double teamed.
But the tent got up and we had a place to sleep.
On to the package:
Sam gamely climbed on the roof to undo our fantastic job and Nick's muscle put together the cots without needing any tools. We were in business.
Next job should have been simple. Walk 20 yards to the water spigot and fill our water jug. But, no. Turns out the water isn't working at Silver Queen. We will have to drive back down the road to the next campsite (Silver Bells) to have any water.
There also doesn't appear to be any camp manager at Queen to direct things, or, more importantly, to sell the firewood that the Colorado State camping site tells you to buy AT YOUR CAMPSITE. So, of course, with no room anyway, we didn't have any.
Sam and I hopped in the car to drive down to Silver Bell to get water and hopefully spot a camp manager there who would have firewood for sale. Nope. Nada. We got our water and came back to survey what to do. Since it was before 5 and we'd eaten lunch late, no one was particularly hungry yet and, we figured, we had the little Coleman propane camp burners to work with.
We left Nick to chill while Sam and Evan and I drove up to the lake to walk around and take photos and pee on things. I'll let you work out who was doing what.
After our hike we got back to camp to find the valley already getting dim.
And Nick in a bit better mood.
But then dinner happened. I'd brought the butane torch lighter and we, all three, could not get the propane burners to light. So now we had no firewood and no heat source at all. I was feeling sick. The kids drove into Aspen to get firewood. I sat down and puzzled out that for some unknown reason, I could light the burners with a match (but never the lighter). So while they were away, I started up both and tried to warm up our pre-made foil wrapped quesadillas.
Problem #2 (after the burner): they were too big to fit into my little cast iron skillet. I had to cut them into quarters and try to get them warm two pieces at a time.
Problem #3: The other burner, I'd set my cake pan I'd brought on top of it to get going, and it started to melt.
Brought out the only other thing I had to go on the burner, a small saucepan, and that seemed to work, although I don't think the copper bottom will ever be the same.
By the time the kids returned with firewood, we had a couple of warm quesadillas to eat, and shortly thereafter, a roaring fire to toast marshmallows and make s'mores. The 2012 trip was also notable in that a fire ban had taken effect exactly one day before our arrival and there were no campfires allowed.
So we're making progress.
We tried something different that really worked well. Instead of separate graham crackers and Hershey bars, which create a kind of impossible to eat monstrosity, we brought the Fudge Stripe cookies. Perfect!
We huddled up and used the tripod to get a group shot.
We were all in bed by 9, in the dark, listening to the road of the creek as our white noise.
I heard Sam, whose cold seemed to be getting worse, tossing and turning all night. Because I hadn't felt well I hadn't taken my usual Benedryl to sleep, so I was up and down too. We were both up at 5:15 and wandered up to start a fire and some coffee.
About 6:15 I took Evan with me up to the lake to get some sunrise shots. We timed it pretty well. Just before 6:30 and the sun was not quite to the far shoreline. There were only two other people at the lake.
there it is!
the long shadows of first light
When I got back to camp it was 7:15 and Sam had started warming up the breakfast burritoes I'd made. We sipped coffee and nibbled on breakfast until Nick finally emerged from the tent at 8:30.
Then Nick (and Evan) nibbled too. Sam got out her paints.
checking out our watering hole before the hike
At 10:00 we drove back up to the lake and tried to do the Maroon Creek trail
but didn't get very far before we realized it just wasn't warm enough yet. The spots on the trail were getting deeper and soggier with post holes everywhere.
So we opted to walk the lake again and this time get further up to the waterfalls.
We'd packed along a picnic lunch of fruit and cheese and crackers, but there wasn't any good place to eat, so we returned to camp and noshed. We then drove back into Aspen because after dinner and breakfast, I wasn't sure our two little propane tanks would last for two more meals, plus we needed more firewood and there still wasn't any for sale at camp. We made our supply run into what seems to be the only game in town, a tiny City Market with a tiny parking lot (everyone IN Aspen walks).
By the time we got back, it was blazing hot and we were ready to get our toes in the water. The best part of site #3 is the pretty much private pool behind our tent, set apart from the raging waters, pretty still, and very walkable. Not so much sit-able, as the water is VERY cool. Nick estimated it felt very close to his upper 40° ice baths he took while training.
We spent the heat of the afternoon sunning and cooling off in the water and then finding shade.
Evan's favorite shady spot
I pulled up a couple of really pretty jade green rocks to sun on the red rock and they dried out and turned gray.
the view from above
We used 100 SPF and still got red, but nothing too bad.
With our light lunch, we were all ravenous by 5:00 and Sam started the fire and dinner. Tonight was (vegetarian) chili cheese fries and Sam patiently did little batches of them and we put them in the slightly melted cake pan over the fire to keep warm.
After dinner, we played cards, Old Maid, Animal Rummy, Crazy Eights.
Then, S'Mores Round II
Nick's perfectly toasted marshmallow, never on fire, but totally tanned.
We decided to burn up the rest of the firewood, pack up everything, and just hit the road in the morning.
We were in the tent before dark this time. Sam and I in our twinsies Snoopy pants.
Sunday we managed to sleep in until 7:00!
Here's our car, all packed back up and ready to go at 8:30. Sam managed to get a bungee to the face in the process and now sports a bit of a Harry Potter scar mid-forehead, but we all survived the re-pack without killing one another.
A new addition to the campsites were the bear proof lockers for food. There are three in the campsite of 6, so two might have to share, but I only saw two use them the whole weekend.
From the same spot, turned 180°are the restrooms, so #3 is just prime realty. Reserve 6 months in advance people! Every evening there was a parade of people driving through hoping for a miracle. Each spot was posted with both the current reservation and the following. Not happening.
We took the road up to the lake one last time. There's a biker, probably on something like mile 30 with another 10 to go at 9 in the morning!
The "Marmot Crossing" sign from 2012 has been replaced with Moose, standing.
Time to hit the road.
Right before the Pass entrance is Difficult Campground. I would love to know the story behind the name.
Here's the bad boy that clears the path through the Pass every May so we can shave half an hour drive time off the route!
when the pass is open, Google will give you this result. When you try to check it the day before the Pass is open? It doesn't exist.
It takes you farther west to Glenwoods Springs before you can go south to Aspen.
So here's the photos from the Pass I didn't get in 2012 as we raced the sun:
the very top: on the right, behind the car, is the sign, still surrounded by feet of snow
And, for fun, I ran a search on mid September, because I kept seeing all these fantastic aspen stands that I want to see in gold.
Turns out there were two nights, mid-week, 20 - 22 that are now MINE.
Now to get the parents to go . . .
(I know you're reading this!!)