The Maroon Bells are considered to be the most photographed peaks in all of North America according to the US Forest Service website. Today we gave them a visit.
They are located just outside of Aspen which makes them very easy to get to for a lot of people.
To get there we had to drive north for a short while and then head west on the highway that climbs up 12,000 foot Independence Pass and then down into Aspen.
Because the area is so popular they only allow private cars to drive up to the trailhead from 7-9 am and 5-7 pm. The rest of the time you must take a bus from Aspen.
We really like to have the car with us and since the weather and sky have been much better in the morning we decided to try to get there before the 9 am deadline.
Unfortunately it is a 1 1/2 hour drive from the campground so to give us enough time to get ready and extra travel time we dragged ourselves out of bed at 6 am. I know this is normal for a lot of people but not us.
When we got up the sky was perfectly clear. We had been delaying this trip for just such a day.
As we headed north there were clouds on the horizon.
Darn or words to that effect.
But as we headed west we were soon back in the sun.
The highway to Aspen is all paved so it is an easy drive. It was amazingly empty at 6:45 am.
The climb up from the east was wide open with only a few switchbacks. I will include pictures from both the morning and afternoon trip depending on which are better.
We saw a mama deer and her two fawns cross the road well in front of us.
The highway goes down this valley and then returns climbing the hill ahead of us.
Then we go down another long valley with the pass ahead of us. It is that flat spot just above the highway.
Then you do a couple of long sweeping switchbacks to the top. These pictures are from going home.
Looking back down the valley.
We stopped at the lookout at the top of the pass on the way home. We didn’t want to waste any time in the morning.
The views were OK but we are getting spoiled.
Looking back down on the highway towards the east.
The western section of the highway was much more interesting. You start by going down a long slash cut into the side of a cliff. Again these are afternoon pictures because the light was better.
Looking down at where we are going or in the afternoon had been.
The rest of the way down was very twisty with speed limits in the 25-30 mph range.
There were even a few section where it was so narrow that there were no lane markings. It was barely two cars wide. If you met a truck you were required to back up to a wider spot to let it by. In the morning I didn’t meet anybody but it was much busier in the afternoon. One guy in a very large SUV felt he owned a bit too much of the road and it was close.
We didn’t stop in Aspen in either direction. We have been here skiing many years ago.
We made it to the park gate at around 8:30. Lots of time. The parking lot up at the trailhead didn’t look that busy yet either but there sure were a lot of people there.
This view of the Bells has a Lake Louise feel to us. Maroon Lake in the foreground with the Bells in the back. The lake was nice and calm so the reflection was not too bad.
I had read in another blog. “Unlike other mountains in the Rockies that are composed of granite and limestone, the Bells are composed of metamorphic sedimentary mudstone that has hardened into rock over millions of years. The mudstone is responsible for the Bells' distinctive maroon color.”
We started with the short path along the lake to the other end. The lake is very shallow and clear.
Some more maroon peaks were beside us.
At the other end of the lake there is a creek coming down from the mountains.
From here you can do a short hike to a small cascade up the creek or you can do a much longer hike to Crater Lake which is higher and closer to the Bells.
Off we go. Altogether the return trip from the car to where we turned around was an 8 km hike that gained about 1000 feet in elevation.
It was a steep and very rocky trail. Not just small rocks but big enough ones that if you made a misstep you could easily sprain and ankle.
It was also very crowded. Easily one of the busiest trails that we have been on. There were also people of all shapes, sizes and ages. Lots of families with young kids, even a baby just a few months old. Also a lot of elderly but very fit people.
We started out climbing through the aspens.
Looking back down to Maroon Lake.
The trails eventually levels out a little for the rest of the way to the lake.
I think this was a Pica staring at us.
Since you had to watch your feet so much because of the roughness, we had to remember to look up every once in a while.
Everyone stops at this first view of the lake.
Down to the lake.
We walked around the lake until another peak showed up around the corner.
And a long thin waterfall on the peak in front of us.
We stopped at the stream that fed the lake.
Up the creek valley we could barely see another waterfall.
A long zoom of what we could see.
There looked like there was a very primitive trail heading that way so I just had to see if I could reach it. The first part was easy.
Following the creek.
The last section involved a lot of scrambling up a 45 degree rock fall but I got there. It was just too dangerous to get closer.
We returned to the head of the lake. By now it was about 11:30 so we had lunch.
With a lot of other people.
And the baby.
Great view though.
We then headed back.
Back around Maroon Lake to the car.
We got back to the RV about 3 pm and, of course, had a nap.
And no rain!