This part of the world couldn’t be more different to New York! The people are chatty and friendly, joshing one another and new arrivals equally. It all started with the train ride from the plane to luggage collection…yes, this airport is so huge you have to take a bus to get to luggage collection, and then, if you are hiring a car you get another bus that takes you put to the car hire section. In terms of size it’s the largest in the States 33,531 acres to be exact. It also has some cool conspiracy theories attached to it https://www.buzzfeed.com/rickysans/the-mysterious-conspiracy-theories-surrounding-the-denver-ai?utm_term=.bc0KA1pRw#.ahzZal2Bq but sadly I didn’t get to see any of the creepy murals.
Anyhow, on boarding the train to get to the luggage it plays the coolest tune and has the smoothest voice issuing instructions. Kept wishing Patsy was there to hear it so I hunted down the soundbite here http://www.cpr.org/news/story/love-dia-make-your-phone-sound-like-the-terminal-train. It had me smiling like a loon every time the door opened and closed.
Driving from Denver to Aspen took around 4 or so hours with stops for scenic pics and a bite at Pizza Hut in Leadville, an old mining town. Breathing in the icy air my lungs definitely registered the higher altitude. We drove on the mountains slowly rose up around us as we drove over Independence Pass. Soon we could see snow scattered peaks and Dot did a little dance of joy when she got to touch real snow on the side of the road!
But even this increasingly tree lined journey did nothing to prepare me for the absolute beauty that awaited us at Aspen! My gosh, no wonder this village is the place the very rich choose to come and holiday. Charming, quaint, beautiful, breathtaking…all overused adjectives that don’t come close to describing the real wonder of this town surrounded by sloping mountains topped with snow. It brought to mind Salzburg in terms of its absolute perfection as though someone had seen a postcard of an Alpine village and then carefully recreated it. There’s no litter, not so much as a sweet wrapper.
The hotel is beautiful and again that welcoming, efficient but simultaneously laid back attitude. In fact folk here appear so chilled I suspect many of them have been partaking long before marijuana became legal here. And I am immediately won over when I see upon check in that our hotel is pet friendly. Right across the road is a beautiful park, the grass neatly clipped of course, where people walk and play with their dogs. There are also rugby posts on this field and I hear there’s another rugby field somewhere…who’d have thought, rugby in Aspen!
That night I relish in the luxury of….silence. No sirens, no cars hooting..just silence. But having said that, Aspen most decidedly lacks diversity. I cannot help but notice that it’s predominantly white even when one includes the service staff. And, no beggars, as though in this town people can pretend there is no such thing as poverty. This is definitely the playground of the rich, so rich there is very little ostentatious flash. If you are looking to live here you need to realise properties only start at the $2 million mark! And there are many that hit 10 million. Don’t hate the rich though…while burning up carbon flying in on their private jet, they also put a lot of money towards maintaining the natural beauty and eco-consciousness of the area.
Day one saw us take a couple of buses up to Maroon Bells. The busses in town appear to be free and we only had to pay for the last ride up to the Bells. I have to admire how well this area of great natural beauty has been protected. The Maroon Valley and White River National Park is a glacial valley surrounded by 14 000 foot peaks two of them, the Maroon Bells, so named for their color and shape stand like sentinels over the valley.
The wildlife and fauna are diverse; bear, elks, mountain sheep, deer, snakes (none are poisonous) and the occasional Black bear. I read one of the notice boards which advised me that in the case of being charged by a moose I should run…got to say that would a been my first instinct anyhow. At its highest points the climate makes tree survival impossible-a short growing season, cold temperatures and harsh drying winds mean only small, specialised tundra plants survive.
Lower down are the Aspen groves for which the area gets its name. A fascinating fact about Aspens I didn’t know was that they grow as clones, many trees, all genetically identical and linked together through a common root system! They have a short lifespan of an average of about 100 years and are gradually replaced by spruce and firs.
It certainly can’t be an easy or cheap business being a custodian of this natural resource while encouraging responsible tourism and balancing the needs of the local residents (who, let’s face it, being largely uber wealthy are probably quite demanding). They have no electricity or sewer system within the park, it’s all natural power and generators, very civilised long drops (looks like a normal loo) which they use to enrich the topsoil. Oh, and just to up the challenge they get an average of 10 avalanches a year! The power of these avalanches evident in some of the rocks and bits of tree strewn across paths….I hope never to experience one first hand!
We did an easy hike around to Crater lake, not too strenuous though the views and beauty of the sun breaking through amber, golden and copper leaves did take my breath away. The Aspen leaves rustling in the breeze as though they were applauding the ever changing show that Mother Nature put on. We enjoyed some time alongside the lake watching the other folk and critters enjoying the warm autumn morning. The weather can change quickly and as we made our way back to the parking area it began to drizzle, then rain.
Perfect I thought. A sunny though brisk morning to enjoy the outdoors and now the rain encouraging us to find somewhere cosy for lunch which we did at the Red Onion, the oldest saloon bar in Aspen established in 1892 and while it’s been expanded the original saloon and beautiful wooden bar remain. I seldom relish pub food but ended up having a delicious Black bean Burger with a side of crunchy broccoli.
The happy hour at Limelight hotel where we were staying is very popular and we joined the cheerful hubbub that evening. Chatting to a chap who while from Chicago spends a great deal of time in Aspen led us onto Jimmy’s tavern and also to the decision to hire some bikes the following morning. This is a very bike friendly town and perfect for someone like myself, better even than Amsterdam because there is so little traffic. Post our margarita cocktails Pierre and I wandered through the village checking out the restaurants, sport clothing stores and oops we stumbled upon an art gallery that was open…where we promptly were seduced by the brilliant colours and vibrancy of Isabella Dupuys’ paintings. Originally from Provence France, now living in Texas she has managed to combine the natural beauty of the South of France together with the magical Fall shades of Colorado. The gallery owner was only half way through his sales pitch when we interrupted-“we’ll take it!” He was keen to crack open the champagne but by then I had had more than enough margaritas so we declined and left him to wrap our new love up for travelling. I was also pleased to introduce him to two of my favorite artists, Mario Jung and the incredible home grown talent of Jono Dry.
The next morning was perfect for a bike ride along the Rio Grand Trail to Woody Creek tavern. The trail is well marked with scenic views that often lured us off the trail to take photos or simply sit alongside the Roaring Fork river mesmerised by its gurgling, the autumn sun warming our backs. There is lots of wildlife and birds and it’s an easy flat or downwards ride even for a learner cyclist like myself. The views of the valley below are stunning and after about 12 /13 km you will find Woody Creek with the eclectic Woody Creek Tavern, once a favorite hangout for Hunter S. Thompson. We rewarded ourselves with a delicious lunch of nachos and burritos! Thus sated we decided against the option of leaving the bikes there and catching a taxi back…no we would ride back. Well what goes down must go up and the return ride took a little more effort leaving us panting at points. I felt a lot more confident on my bike by the time we got back to Aspen. That evening we had yet another delicious meal this time at Justice Snows tucked beneath the Wheeler Opera House (1889) where they not only create delicious dishes but also serve up some imaginative cocktails!
Friday we bid charming Aspen farewell and made the long drive back to Denver. Dropping off the hire car we hopped on a bus, the driver chatting away giving us tips on Denver and back at the airport found the A train to Union Station. Then followed the shortest commute I have ever had from transport to hotel since we booked in at The Crawford a hotel in the station itself. Very funky. While the Colorado friendliness is still very much evident, this is definitely not Aspen. Gone are the “uniform” of stylish, upmarket outdoor gear and the diversity so lacking in Aspen is overflowing here – every size, shape, colour and creed wander down the roads and beggars plead for small change next to buskers….most busking with more enthusiasm than talent. We grabbed a bite and a drink at one of the restaurants within Union Station, but sitting on the outside section so we could watch all the people (and dogs) coming and going on the Wynkoop Plaza. Travellers with their suitcases, teenagers laughing together and parents watching their children run and laugh under the fountain.
Again free buses! So Pierre and I grab one going down the central street, and then get off to wander around. The Mall Strip reminds me a little of the Gaslamp area in San Diego littered with pubs and restaurants. I couldn’t resist (well I tried. Briefly) going into the Tattered Cover book store before we head back to the hotel to chill a bit before re-emerging later that evening. Day two we hired a couple of bikes and followed one of the bike trails across the bridge and around the back of the city, a very cool way to see it, passing a fairground that appears to be entirely made up of Rollercoaster, hobo’s snoozing in the autumn sun, a memorial park for victims of HIV and their care takers and finally onto the pretty paths and green lawns of the park. Although it was a very flat ride it certainly got Dots heart rate up as we approached the more populated parts where I was certain I was going to ride into some pensioner…pshew.
A stroll through Larimer Square charms me with its distinctive canopy of lights strung above it. Its the oldest block in Denver and gets its name from General Larimer, who built Denver first home with doors made from coffin. It’s history beautifully preserved it is now home to a variety of designer and funky shops chef-driven restaurants and lively bars & clubs and it’s lovely to stroll through.
I never would have pegged Denver as a foodie place but I have revised my thinking after this visit. Pierre and I had some truly excellent meals here at prices that would be a bargain even back home…never mind NY! Denver is super laid back and friendly. Whether or not that has anything to do with all the marijuana dispensaries dotted across the city I cannot say! Whether that is the same reason I get asked for ID when I ask for a beer I also don’t know…but its flattering lol. As the evening draws in I note that no one hassles the hobo’s as they make themselves comfortable on the benches and there is a sense of tolerance here.
Heading back to our hotel in Union Station we are surprised at the hub bub we walk into. Obviously as a train station it’s very centrally located but I have never been to a station like this. A renovated 1914 Beaux-Arts train station it’s been beautifully restored and in addition to the 112 room Crawford hotel where we are staying it also houses 10 chef-owned restaurants, bars and boutiques excluding the cocktail bar attached to the Crawford. On the weekend there’s a fresh food market held just outside. In fact travel seems to be just a very small part of what happens at Union Station. Its very popular and I muse, watching an Amish family waiting in the arrival hall sitting alongside a posh looking lady and her poodle, a couple of Goth youngsters nearby, that if you sat here you could possibly see most of the world pass through. Yet everyone is respectful and accommodating. While the city may be small, and lack the sheer plethora of tourist to do’s that NY or Vegas offers I can see the appeal of Denver with its chilled vibe. Just two nights though and then we’re off to Utah.