| AspenTimes.com

Five drives for finding fall colors around Aspen

1. Ask anyone in the know about where to go for fall colors in the Aspen area and the first thing you're mostly likely to hear is: "Check out the Castle Creek Valley." And this is good for everyone because Castle Creek, located just outside town on the west side of Aspen Mountain, is good for walking, hiking, biking and riding in the car.

To get there, follow Highway 82 west out of town until you hit the roundabout, then follow the signs. Note that you'll pass the entrance to the Maroon Creek Valley on your way. We'll come back to the treasures contained therein.

The Castle Creek Valley's winding, two-lane blacktop ensures your driver won't log much gawking time, but passengers will reap the benefits of the approximately 12 miles to the ghost town of Ashcroft. As the road climbs deeper into the hills, every turn yields new and changing views of hillsides painted yellow and orange.

The ghost town of Ashcroft is a good place to stop and stretch your legs while on your leaf-peeping excursion.

2. The Maroon Creek Valley — home to the famous Maroon Bells, reportedly the most photographed place in all of Colorado — is next door to the Castle Creek Valley and well worth braving the crowds to visit. There's never a bad time to look at the Bells, though fall may be the best.

The road to the Bells is equally as ridable as Castle Creek, but not as drivable. The Bells' popularity means you must park at Aspen Highlands and take a shuttle, though you can drive up early in the morning or after the last shuttle in the evening.

3. For another beautiful fall drive or ride, head up Highway 82 toward Independence Pass. If the dramatic twisting, two-lane road doesn't make you gasp, the colors that line the highway and the sweeping few of the Rocky Mountain landscape from the top will definitely do the trick. As you head up the Pass, keep an eye to the right just before the narrow turns for one of the area's most explosive stands of Aspen trees.

4. Closer to town, a drive up Red Mountain is a good colors bet for soaking in the blanket of color on the valley floor. (You can also hike Sunnyside Trail or Smugger and trek through Hunter Creek Valley for a different vantage point).

5. And don't forget Snowmass Village. Just winding your way up Owl Creek Road and on to the top of the Villlage offers views of Snowmass ski area and the surrounding hills — all of which are spectacular in fall. The town also offers many hiking and mountain biking trails that put you underneath the glittering trees.

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Mother’s Day: One Family’s Story

I am a mother, and I can honestly say there is no greater joy in life than seeing my children smile — you know, that smile that's so real it shows in their eyes and brings out their dimples. Conversely, there is no greater challenge in life than seeing my children cry — whether it's because they are hurt, sick, sad or just downright exhausted. But I know, deep in my heart, that sometimes those tears are what ultimately lead to the smiles. My job is to raise my children to be kind and compassionate human beings; young adults who are ready to face the world that lies before them. I pray I am doing it right.

I am also a daughter, and my mom taught me every one of the things I wrote to be true — and so much more. There are no words to describe my love for my mother, so I will not even try. Rather, I will hug my mom tightly when I see her on Mother's Day and I will endeavor to embrace all the moments with my own children until I see her again. Every minute counts, when it comes to those you love the most.

So in thinking about how to honor moms everywhere in this edition of the Aspen Times Weekly, we wanted to introduce you to Jennifer Dolecki-Smith. Her story is about being a mom, but there's more to her life than meets the eye.

As we learned, Dolecki-Smith's 8-year-old son has a rare, life-threatening disease. Grady lives with chronic granulomatous disease (CGD), one of the 350-plus types of primary immunodeficiencies that cause the immune system to not work as it should — only some 20 kids are born with this disease each year in the United States.

As a result, Grady is at risk for serious infections; in order to keep him healthy, Dolecki-Smith (and the entire family) has to ensure that Grady maintains a strict treatment regimen and avoids risky environments for bacteria and fungi.

The fact that extra care and consideration are needed for Grady — who attends Aspen Elementary School — can be stressful. Equally stressful, says Dolecki-Smith, is ensuring that her 9-year-old daughter receives equal attention. Add that to the fact Dolecki-Smith is a genetic carrier for Grady's condition — which she learned upon his diagnosis at 8 months old — and her role as a mom and caregiver can feel super complicated.

But Dolecki-Smith has found that the struggles and experiences she and Grady have shared have made them closer — they have an incredibly special relationship and bond. And she wants other mothers who may be in similar situations to know that they aren't alone, and for all mothers to know that what they do each and every day matters in their children's lives.

Here are a few of her thoughts:

JM: What does it mean to you to be a mom?

JDS: It's everything rolled into one. It is exciting and rewarding to see every phase of your child's life. It's dynamic, and you say every stage is the best stage, and then you hit a new phase that is equally as exciting. For me, there is a lot of time and energy dedicated to being a mom, but I can't imagine it being any other way.

JM: What is different in your role as a mom when it comes to Grady?

JDS: All along we've tried to keep Grady's life as usual and consistent as possible with kids his own age, but with that also comes daily medications, shots three times a week to boost his immune system and so on. I guess I would describe this as some hard love; it's been a roller coaster making sure he gets what he needs but that he also feels loved.

JM: How does this affect your daughter, Nayanna?

JDS: Grady gets tons and tons of attention, so I have to be on the ball to be sure my daughter is getting the attention she needs and deserves. I find that when we get out of whack, we just have to straighten it out. I think the most difficult part of this juggling act — which is similar to any mom with several children — is balancing things, making sure everyone feels happy and loved. Our family just has an extra layer in this regard.

JM: How was the Aspen community supported your unique family situation?

JDS: The community has been just wonderful and supportive — especially the schools. Everyone takes into account what has to be done, and follows through. Aspen is a great community.

JM: What advice would you give to moms who are faced with a challenge — whether it be chronic such as Grady's, or just the day-to-day struggles all families come across?

JDS: Look at your own situation and do not compare yourselves to others. Everybody is different and we need to recognize and respect that. And take it one day at a time. If you look too far ahead, everything seems bigger than it is.

One day at a time …

JM: And, last, what does your mom mean to you?

JDS: My mom is one of the most giving people that I know; she is always putting other people first. She just embodies everything about generosity. That's the way I want to be, but also not lose myself in it.