On the trail: Up Red Rim Road | AspenTimes.com

On the trail: Up Red Rim Road

Janet Urquhart
The Aspen Times
Aspen, CO, Colorado

Janet Urquhart/The Aspen TimesA red butte that can be seen from Highway 82 in Snowmass Canyon looms large once it comes into view on Red Rim Road.

ASPEN – On the rare occasion I fly in and out of Aspen, I’m always scanning the terrain below in fascination. I see roads climbing ridges and traversing the gently rolling landscape of mountaintops, taunting me with the promise of wonderful hikes if I could just figure out how to get there.

I think I stood on one of those spots Sunday. I watched a commercial jet soar low overhead, dropping toward a runway I could see clearly in the distance and with which I was perfectly aligned.

A friend and I hiked up Red Rim Road, which climbs steeply up the northeast side of the valley, on the upvalley end of Snowmass Canyon. Look for the start of the road on Lower River Road, between mile markers 4 and 4.5.

It wasn’t the outing we’d planned, but we spontaneously aborted one idea for a hike we’d never done before as we made our way toward Aspen.

An hour into it, I was wondering why this four-wheel route wasn’t called Hot Dusty Steep Road, since we hadn’t seen anything approaching a red rim. We trudged upward through juniper and sage, and then scrub oak stripped of its foliage while we took in the views of various parts of the valley below. Imposing Williams Hill (that mountain that rises straight up behind the Snowmass Conoco) looked even more so from our vantage point.

It took 90 minutes to reach a fork in the road. To the left, the road dipped down into a drainage and then appeared to climb back upward toward a red cliff band (the rim, I gather) and a prominent red butte that I’ve gazed upward at plenty of times from a bus window on Highway 82. I’ve always wondered if there was a way up to it; apparently, there is.

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We took the gentle road to the right, though, and were immediately dwarfed by an open, windswept mountaintop where a stiff breeze rattled the dry grass and stands of ancient, gnarled aspens poked skyward. Some of the trees were dead; many weren’t, but they all had the twisted appearance of life in a harsh environment. The landscape did not remind me of any place I’d been before, much to my delight.

The road came to a dead end overlooking the upper valley, with Woody Creek, the airport and Aspen beyond spread out before us.

The next time I see that high knoll from an airplane window, I’ll know what I’m looking at.

janet@aspentimes.com