26 September 2016

Maroon Bells

One of the most photographed places in Colorado apparently is Maroon Bells. It's near Aspen and as we had some time we did a bit of a detour down to it. There are no campgrounds in Aspen, but I found one National Forest campground called Difficult to the south of Aspen that would fit our 35' trailer. Under the "know before you go" section they said that vehicles over 35' are prohibited from going over Independence Pass and as we are about 52' when hooked up, that meant us. When I looked at the pass on the map I could understand why as it has a series of nasty switchbacks. The road is understandably closed in winter.

Independence Pass CO

All the mapping software takes you this way as it's the shortest route, so we had to force our GPS by giving it other towns to go through. This meant we had to drive the long way around and approach Aspen from the north, going through places like Vail. The colours going down the I-70 were spectacular. Roadworks at one of the tunnels added another hour to our trip as we were at a standstill for a while and just as we got to the tunnel they were packing up!

We hadn't decided when we would leave the Rocky Mountains so I didn't want to book a campsite. There seemed to be many sites available that would accommodated us, but four days out we were unable to see or book anything so we just had to keep our fingers crossed. Going around the first loop there was nothing but small sites. I was in trouble. I walked the next loop and found only one that was promising. It was a pull through but Lindsay couldn't get the trailer in as it was just too tight. He was however able to back in - just, and it was a tight fit. This is the first National Forest campground we have been to and it will probably be our last. They just aren't made for 5th Wheels.

This is probably how they got their name, in the morning glow they are sort of maroon

Maroon Bells is best photographed in the morning but we went up the night before just to have a look. The road to the Bells is closed between 8am and 5pm to reduce the traffic. To see it during the day you need to take a special tour bus. Useless for us as we wanted to be there at 5am. Outside these hours you need a permit aka an entrance fee - they actually open at 7am, but I guess the people who come in beforehand get in free. Our annual National Parks pass covered us, so we were in there legally. At our campsite, there is zero reception for CDMA or digital so it was lucky that I did some research while we were in Estes.

Just passed the ghost town of Ashcroft
Maroon Bells is about half an hour from the campground and there were a long queue of cars in front of us when we arrived. After we got through the entrance, parks staff were guiding people into parking places. It was madness, there were cars everywhere and they must go through this mayhem every night. I wouldn't say there were hundreds of people at the lake, but there were a lot.

When the sun broke it kissed the top of the bells, but that is about as far down as it came

It was like Colorado was embracing Australia's olympic colours

The next morning at 5:30am, there were no queues, but the carpark was already half full. You needed a torch to see where you were going and there were quite a number of photographers already there. I wasn't totally happy with my pictures so we went again the next morning but half an hour earlier as we had heard that there would be two photographic workshops there.

Yes, the stars were still out when we arrived both times

Difficult Campground (National Forest)

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