Day 6: The Maroon Bells
Wednesday, July 8th, 2009
Situated at an elevation of 10,152 feet (3094 m), Leadville is the highest incorporated city in the United States. The former silver mining town lies near the headwaters of the Arkansas River in the heart of the Rocky Mountains.
Because of the very high altitude, we had some difficulty breathing and sleeping that night. With just a couple of hours of sleep, we woke up a bit ahead of schedule, at 5AM, and in the freezing temperature of the early morning, we hopped in the car to cross the mountains, heading to Aspen, with the goal to reach the Maroon Bells before 9AM (because in the summer you can drive to the parking area with your own car only before 9AM or after 5PM).
The picture above was taken just outside of Leadville, around 6AM, while a faint fog was rising from the surface of the pond.
Although he never skied, my father loved mountains. Every time we could, we would visit the Alps, especially during the summer. When I was young, I spent many vacations with my parents either in Switzerland or in the Dolomites area, one of the most beautiful section of the Alps, located in the provinces of Bolzano and Trento. During these many trips his love for the mountains was passed onto me.
A couple of things I never liked about going to the Alps, though, were the fact that, wherever you go, you find yourself surrounded by a large number of tourists, and also the environmental impact that such tourism has had, especially in the Italian Alps, where you find these horrible high-rise apartment buildings right in the middle of what used to be picturesque alpine villages.
Our trip through the Rocky Mountains in Colorado, though, was a completely different experience. With the exception of Aspen, where we didn't really spend any time, we never found ourselves surrounded by many tourists. In fact, often times, we found ourselves completely alone enjoying some really breathtaking views. These pictures, for example, were taken at Independence Pass, a high mountain pass located on the Continental Divide, between Aspen and Leadville. It was a little before 8AM when we reached the pass driving along State Highway 82, and when we got there, we were completely alone, at 12,095 ft altitude (3686 m).
I have always loved trees with white bark. I used to have a birch tree in the tiny courtyard of my house in Italy, and I really liked the random geometries drawn by the thin dark lines and spots contrasting with the white bark and the green of the small delicate leaves.
While driving from the the Independence Pass, down to Aspen, CO, I discovered the amazing beauty of aspen trees. While they are probably more famous for the amazing color of their foliage in the fall, when they turn bright yellow, I really enjoyed the subtle tones of their green during the summer season.
The Maroon Bells consists of two peaks, about 12 miles southwest of Aspen. Both peaks are counted as fourteeners. Maroon Peak, at 14,156 feet, is the 27th highest peak in Colorado; North Maroon Peak, at 14,014 feet, is the 50th highest.
Although they are not the highest mountains of Colorado, the view of the Maroon Bells to the southwest from the Maroon Creek valley is certainly one of Colorado's premier scenic overlooks.
Starting from the parking lot, we walked along the path the leads towards the mountains, going around the lake. As usual, while I was spending most of my time admiring and photographing the landscape, Yasuko mounted the macro lens on her camera and shot a few pictures of the beautiful wild flowers that surrounded us in the meadow.