Reacquainting Ourselves with Aspen

We recently had an opportunity to get back to Aspen, Colorado. After a quick walk through the town to reacquaint ourselves with the town and its many galleries, we stopped to see the wonderfully renovated Hotel Jerome  and the greatly expanded Aspen Art Museum. The renovation of the Jerome lived up to its billing and the museum is a lovely and functional structure, complete with rooftop cafe. The museum, however, is totally dependent on temporary exhibits and those that are currently on display were of mixed interest, at least to us. Most interesting was the display of temporary cardboard and paper structures that can be quickly and inexpensively transported to and erected in a disaster site.

IMG_5209Museum in Vail

Although sightseeing is fun, our primary interest was in taking advantage of the area’s natural beauty. We took a 4-mile walk through Aspen Meadows along the Meadows and Rio Grande Trails, and then a roughly 4 mile hike along the lower Hunter Creek Trail and a venture into the Maroon River wilderness and Maroon Bells State Park.

Aspen Area Trails

  • Hunter Creek Trail. Although the the trail along the creek connects to many other trails, we confined ourselves to the 1.5 mile (each way) trail, plus two extensions, the lovely Verena Mallory loop and the much steeper (less scenic) Hunter Creek Extension. The Creek Trail is beautiful, with multiple crossings of the pretty, rapidly flowing brook, waterfalls and, especially on Verena Mallory, views of the town and provocative hints of a few of the incredible Red Mountain Road mansions. Overall, a wonderful, short trail.

stream-gstream-g (2)IMG_5236

  • Maroon Bells Crater Lake Trail. After a half hour drive through the incredible, avalanche-scarred Maroon River wilderness, you reach Maroon Bells, one of the most awesome natural settings we have ever seen. Although we have hiked many of the trails though this park, including the long, difficult, but very rewarding 9.2-mile round trip (with a 3,000-foot elevation gain) hike up to Buckskin Pass, this trip left only a two hours for a short, gradual hike part way to Crater Lake. The majesty and beauty was all that we remembered and we even caught partial sightings of two moose.

Maroon River drive (2)IMG_5277Marron Bells and lakeMaroon Bells area

  • Glenwood Canyon and Hanging Lake Trail

Then on to a short, but somewhat more ambitious hike. After a roughly one hour drive to Glenwood Springs and the beautiful Glenwood Canyon, we stopped at Hanging Lakes State Park for a 1.2 mile, 1,000 foot elevation gain trail (plus  a roughly three-quarter mile paved walk to the trailhead) to the lake. Very steep, many steps and not many views along the way. But, when you get to the lake, which is perhaps two-thirds of the way up the cliff face, you are more than amply rewarded by views of the crystal clear lake and its dissolved carbonate shoreline. Even more impressive is the beautiful waterfall that feeds the lake. And don’t stop with the postcard view of the lake and falls from the wooden path. Be sure to take the short trail, which ends just behind the waterfall, and to glance up at the hanging moss gardens, from which the water is falling.

Glenwood Canyon (2)IMG_5300Hanging-Lake-waterfallHanging-gardens

 

Aspen Restaurants

Although it has been about three years since we last visited Aspen, the restaurant scene appears to have changed little. A walk through the city found most of the same restaurants as in our previous visits. Discussions with concierges found little change in the top restaurants in the city: Pinion, Matsuhisa, Pine Creek Cookhouse, Element 47 (which replaced Montagna at the Little Nell Hotel) and the Steak House. And one new addition, the casual Ajax Tavern (also at the Little Nell). We had chances to try three of these restaurants.

  • Pinion. After beginning with a nondescript appetizer of buffalo meatballs with prosciutto, Parmesan and romesco sauce, we proceeded to the main courses. Although the sesame crusted sea bass with bok choy, coconut rice and basil lemongrass sauce was nice, the standout was the incredibly tender and tasty espresso-seared buffalo tenderloin with Boursin potatoes and huckleberry sauce. We also enjoyed dessert–a mixed berry cobbler with vanilla ice cream. Expensive, but good.
  • Element 47. Although we only had lunch, we enjoyed both dishes. The crispy cod sandwich with slaw and old bay mayonnaise contained a large, juicy pice of fish. Even better was the chicken confit tagiliatelle with Fava beans, maitake mushrooms and pecorino.
  • Ajax Tavern. Another, less formal Little Nell restaurant, this one right at the base of a ski lift with view up Aspen Mountain. We had three starters which proved far more than the two of us could eat. The garlicly frog legs were herbed, very lightly fried, served with aioli, tender, delicate and delicious, the smoked,barbecued lamb ribs with jerk and ginger beer rub were also good, but certainly more assertive. Mac and cheese with bread crumbs was also good, and the serving was huge, overflowing the metal pan in which they were served. Again, another nice dish.

 

Aspen Hotel

We have often walked through Aspen Meadows and attended a few concerts at the Aspen Music Festival. We have, however, never stayed at the Aspen Meadows Resort at which the Music Festival and the Aspen Institute are located. Although we have not yet made it to an Aspen Institute event, we did finally get to stay in the Bauhaus-style resort. The buildings are architecturally interesting and the rooms, in accordance with Bauhaus principles, functional, unadorned and comfortable. Certainly not luxurious, but nice. Besides, resort guests are not expected to lounge in their rooms. They typically spend their time at concerts or lectures, in conversation spurred by the exchange of ideas at the Institute, or experiencing nature along the area’s many trails.

Aspen Meadows

Although our time in Aspen was short, what trip would be complete without a few minutes to admire a few of the homes in a town where the average home is worth more than $5 million. Some, such as in the city’s fashionable West End neighborhood, are nicely restored or rebuild Victorians. The larger, more adventurous buildings are typically in the surrounding mountains, such as along the ultra-ritzy Red Mountain Road.

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