Aspen Princess: The Princess and the Pug go camping |

Aspen Princess: The Princess and the Pug go camping

Ali Margo
Aspen Princess

The hills really are alive.

I don’t know if it’s just me, but this has got to be the most spectacular summer I can remember in a long time. I’m sure it’s frustrating for you hard-core cyclists and enduro-freaks who want to be able to work out all the livelong day without getting rained on. But I am dancing around a fire in circles with feathers and flowers and beads, chanting to the gods and thanking them for this verdant, beautiful season.

So last weekend, Ryan and I did our first family camping trip, which I prefaced in last week’s column by admitting that camping is not my favorite thing in the whole world. At the root of that is (there’s really no other way to say this) pooping in the woods.

Let’s just say that was the only part of the trip that didn’t assuage my discomfort with forgoing modern plumbing. Everything else went swimmingly well.

Of course I realize you can go to campsites that are equipped with facilities, and Ryan suggested that option in his “baby steps” approach to getting me to like camping more.

“I don’t want to be around people,” I told him.

His huge eyes widened, and I thought he might levitate with joy. He liked where this was going.

The cool thing about the Fryingpan is that there is endless wilderness in every direction, which means nothing but undeveloped land until you get to the next town, miles and miles away, like an arrow pointing to God. To the north is Eagle; to the east, Leadville; to the south, Independence Pass; and to the west, Basalt. There’s something very comforting about this vast haven of untouched land when you see the constant landscape-transforming development going on in downtown Aspen. It’s like perfect, virgin skin as opposed to someone whose body is covered in tattoos. (Oh, relax. I have nothing against tattoos. My husband has tattoos that are so ugly and gnarly that they’re actually kind of cool in a rough-and-tumble kind of way, like the hard-worn pipes of an ex-con or a rock star.)

Ever since we moved up here, Ryan has been fascinated with exploring the upper Fryingpan area. Every time he would suggest an “adventure,” I knew it would mean at least an hour of getting bounced around in the passenger seat of the Jeep when I would have been just as happy hiking or biking in a place I knew and loved — but that all changed last weekend.

It’s kind of like when it takes awhile to get to know someone really special. There’s something deeper about that slow bond than there is with a fast friend, like an acquired taste that stays with you. You think back to when you first met and laugh about how wrong your first impression was.

It’s not like I don’t get how beautiful the Fryingpan is. She just felt a little too remote for me, a little too hard to access. She took awhile to get to know. I also had to let go of the hold Aspen has on me, which is kind of like getting over that guy who was so totally out of your league in the first place.

So last weekend, I decided I wanted to camp in an area we’d driven through on one of Ryan’s off-road missions a few years ago. We’d come upon a huge mountain basin filled with alpine meadows strewn with wildflowers and expansive views. It was an area I’d seen before, the road that takes you to the Harry Gates Hut, which I’d visited previously, in both the winter and the summer.

We headed up that way and turned toward Burnt Mountain, where we found several amazing campsites. Ryan went to great lengths to make sure I had the perfect experience. It was just short of setting up a candlelit dinner with a linen tablecloth and a live violinist. He made everything wonderful, but then again, he has a knack for that. As we settled into our tent with the queen-size air mattress, the double sleeping bag and our most-amazing-ever little pug cuddled up and making cute little snorting noises between us, I felt like the luckiest girl in the world. How did I end up with such a cute and loving little family?

The next morning, we enjoyed a leisurely breakfast as we relaxed and read with no real agenda or rush to go anywhere. We pulled out the map to look at the area and decided to go check out Woods Lake and maybe take a walk. We ended up doing a 5-mile hike to Eagle Lake through dense forests and alpine meadows exploding with wildflowers (this has to be a banner year) and past gushing waterfalls to an alpine lake surrounded by sawtooth peaks.

It was almost enough to make me forget the little incident at camp that morning, when Ryan caught my perfect little princess pug eating my poop. That was before she tried to lick the bacon grease from the dirt where it had splattered out of the pan. Her face was covered with mud, and she stank like, well, you can only imagine.

We must have gone through an entire packet of handy wipes, practically shoving them down her throat.

“How will I ever un-see this?” Ryan asked, more than a little horrified.

I guess in the end, even little Gertie needed to get back to nature, to being the animal she truly is (just in case we were under the impression and/or delusion she is actually a baby with fur). And after a weekend away from the TV set and cellphone reception and a wireless connection, I can totally relate — though we still had to wash her mouth out with soap. That pug really needs to learn her manners.

The Aspen Princess is getting back to her roots as a mountain girl. Email your love to