On the Trail: Picture perfect | AspenTimes.com

On the Trail: Picture perfect

Janet Urquhart
Aspen, CO Colorado
Our group heads up the East Maroon Valley on horseback Sunday. Snowy Pyramid Peak towers to the right. (C. Klob photo)

ASPEN ” Sometimes, timing is everything.

Such was the case Sunday. For one, friends and I had booked horseback rides in advance for the weekend, settling on Sunday instead of what turned out to be a dismal, rainy Saturday. Rain turned to snow in the high country Saturday night, but Sunday dawned crisp and clear. Picture perfect.

Sunday, as it turned out, was also the final day of operations for the season for Maroon Bells Outfitters, which runs horseback trips out of T-Lazy 7 Ranch in the Maroon Creek Valley outside Aspen. Armed with two-for-one coupons from The Aspen Times, the four of us scored half-price, half-day rides up East Maroon Trail. Again, our timing was perfect. Parts of the valley were ablaze in gold, green and shades of orange, and, aside from a handful of hikers on our return trip, we encountered no one.

Our wrangler, Sam, his guest and the four of us set off up the shady trail over the crunch of light snow and heavy frost coating the fallen leaves and grass. Conifers held the frosting of the first snow of the season to reach the valley floor, until the sun finally bathed the trail in warmth and steamed the vegetation. The fresh dusting of snow gleamed in the sun off the high peaks, set, like the leaves, against the blue sky with impossible clarity.

Anyone with a camera, including our wrangler, snapped photos with the kind of impunity afforded by the digital age. We photographed each other, pointed cameras overhead to snap images of the leaves as we rode beneath them, aimed the lenses toward the aspen-covered hillsides or to the rear, or over our horses’ bobbing heads, clicking away. The young woman in front of me held her camera at arm’s length for a multitude of self-portrait attempts, while the smitten wrangler snapped shots of her.

Our oblivious mounts ambled on with the confidence of horses that have ridden the trail again and again. Mine could have found the designated lunch spot along East Maroon Creek with a corpse at the reins.

Gray jays joined us for lunch, swooping in to pluck bits of bread from our hands. There were more pictures. Group shots. Photos of the horses, photos of the jays, photos of us nonriders awkwardly saddling up. Fortunately, there were no snapshots of me staggering like a saddle-sore drunk when I dismounted for lunch after two hours of riding.

And it’s a miracle there aren’t, given the 200-plus photos the group must have taken collectively, at least half of which are out of focus thanks to the jolting ride in the saddle. There were echoes of “Let’s do it again next year” by the time we were back at the trailhead. I’ll be up for it. By then, I’ll have forgotten all about the way my butt felt by the end of the ride.