Less than ten miles from the watershed and at a spectacular 8,000 feet above sea level, my travel buddy Maureen and I drove north along the Roaring Fork River, stunned by the breathtaking scenery as we passed evergreen trails and spotted numerous snow-capped peaks. Enjoy some of the best Sawatch and Elk areas in the Rocky Mountains on this drive to Aspen, Colorado, a former silver mine camp and mountain town better known today as a ski resort. Its namesake comes from the distinctive, gold-leaved aspen trees that cover millions of acres at these altitudes.
Aspen’s posh, you-arrived-resort vibe is evident the moment you hit town. It’s no wonder the place attracts the well-heeled and often famous. This is clearly a city for all seasons, but not all paperback books. Downtown shops are lined with storefronts like Gucci, Prada, Dior, and Ralph Lauren, but also locally produced Western clothing for those who prefer high-quality cowboy boots and animal skins.
We had a full afternoon to see the sights of beautiful Aspen, though several more could easily be spent. It wasn’t quite ski season, so we made our way to the famous Maroon Bells mountain peaks, the most photographed in the country. Unfortunately, social distancing measures and mandatory pre-order tickets thwarted our efforts to have a look. Instead, we stopped to tour the John Denver Sanctuary, a sweet tribute to the Aspen born and beloved activist / pop singer who was killed in a plane crash over 20 years ago. The area features a large wildflower garden, wetlands, trails, streams, and rocks with classic John Denver lyrics. It’s a nice place for meditation.
We spent the rest of the afternoon strolling through the downtown shopping scene. These few blocks are accessible at the foot of the ski mountains. You can watch what’s going on on the hillside from any vantage point, and you can stop at countless outdoor restaurants, carefully heated with propane heat lamps.
The French alpine bistro looked particularly promising, with cozy lambskin covers on the outside chairs. We looked at the wine and beer menu, grabbed the $ 1,300 bottle of Cristal and settled on a local microbrewery. We shared the signature Umami Bistro Burger, which was topped with Alpine cheese and black truffle aioli, but looked a bit meager considering its $ 32 price tag.
Our digs for these few days were at The Limelight, a spacious and welcoming hotel within walking distance of the city center and close to the Aspen Art Museum. It’s pet-friendly, offers a range of activities and amenities, and the spacious lobby is great for social distancing. The sister property is in Ketchum, Idaho, but this place has a colorful history that began as a hangout for Wild West outlaws and ski fans when it was known as the Ski and Spur Bar. It was bought by folk singer Glenn Yarborough in 1950, and celebrity singers Judy Collins and The Smothers Brothers performed at their nightclub for the next dozen years. It was then sold to a family who lovingly grew and improved it over 50 years until it became part of a corporate family in the 21st century.
We sat on couches in front of a fireplace and ordered cocktails and superb truffle fries with a mysteriously addicting dipping sauce. When asked, “What’s in this magical elixir?” Our waiter provided the recipe: just garlic, chopped parsley, EVOO, salt and pepper.
Next, over a bottle of excellent Rhône wine, I immersed myself in The Limelight’s unique version of chicken piccata, with homemade ribbons of pasta tossed with bite-sized pieces of chicken and tenderly shredded ham leaves – all under an avalanche of parmesan. It was cold in the air, so a freshly baked biscuit served in a miniature cast iron pan seemed like an ideal dessert.
Cool winds during our last evening in Aspen brought us straight back to the Limelight Lounge, where we were drawn to its blazing outdoor fire pit. Aaah, much better. According to another local microbrewery – did you know that Colorado has 500 breweries, five of which are in Aspen? – We longed for some food, and the rosemary margarita pizza, fresh from the stone oven in the spotlight, hit the proverbial spot.
When we left the next morning, I regretted not having visited everything I had hoped for – especially the Maroon Bells. But I look forward to retracing this route through the magnificent Rocky Mountains another time.
Charlene Peters is a longtime travel writer who recently published her first travel story book, “Travel Makes Me Hungry”. Email to firstname.lastname@example.org.