On the trail: New wonders, old favorites in Aspen
July 17, 2012
ASPEN – Sometimes it’s too easy to take the Roaring Fork Valley’s natural wonders for granted.
My daughter has a friend visiting from Arizona, so I was trying to think of something fun and not too arduous Saturday for lungs accustomed to lower elevations. First we took a short hike on the east side of Independence Pass that I’ve always wanted to check out. It’s short, so it’s not a destination unto itself.
An old mining road peels off Highway 82 and leads about three-quarters of a mile to a mine. The road remains in good shape, relatively speaking, after 120-odd years of no use. That suggests the mine was a decent producer back in the day. The remains of what seems like a pretty big building have tumbled into a creek. It’s difficult to access, and once I did, I found the ruins were picked over. No artifacts of interest were visible anymore.
A friend along for the hike noted that trees a couple of feet in diameter appeared to be quartered to produce the support beams for the building. Twisted rails and pipe were strewn about. I suspected more ruins might be above our site and climbed the short, steep ridge to get to a basin above. There was nothing man-made except a mine dump. The woods around were worthy of more careful exploration, but I didn’t have the time that day.
Parts of the old road are swamped with water where springs bubble out of the side of the mountain, so there was a decent display of wildflowers despite the drought. A plant with magenta flowers, which someone said was fireweed, was prolific. Other wildflowers were surviving, if stunted.
We headed down the pass to the Grottos, a favorite place that I hadn’t visited in years. Four of us picked our way down into the ice cave and were delighted to find a slick, frozen floor despite the long drought. We ambled over to the Cascade, where the Roaring Fork River has carved through the granite. The Roaring Fork was more the Purring Fork, but hanging on the banks was a soothing treat – one that should be taken advantage of more often than once every five years or so.