Maroon Bells, Colorado

Photo: N. Preseault
Photo: N. Preseault

It’s finally Memorial Day! Hopefully you’re enjoying your long weekend. You could attend a parade, BBQ outside, or watch fireworks light up the sky. Or you could go visit one of the places that makes this country so beautifuland so worth protecting.

The Rocky Mountains are breathtaking. But there’s one spot in Colorado that might be the most beautifuland the most photographedin the entire range. It’s the Maroon Bells in the Elk Mountains. The two peaks, Maroon Peak and North Maroon Peak, are both considered fourteeners, at 14,156 feet and 14,014 feet, respectively. Add glacial-sculpted lakes, forests of aspen trees, and peaceful hiking trails, and it’s no wonder so many people want to visit White River National Forest.

Though stunning, the Maroon Bells can also be deadly. Unlike many nearby mountains, which are made of limestone or granite, these are made of mudstone. The maroon-colored clay and mud may have hardened into rock, but it’s still loose and unstable. The high altitude is also a factor as you plan your hikes.

Photo: N. Preseault
Photo: N. Preseault

To begin hiking, drive to Aspen Highlandsthe bare ski slopes are in front of youand board a shuttle that will take you the rest of the way up Maroon Creek Road. You pass a horse ranch and intense cyclists on the steep drive up to the visitors center. Your ears pop multiple times. But finally, you begin to see the high peaks through the clearing.

You deboard and follow the path toward the mountains. Suddenly, you stop. In front of you are not only the two peaks, but also Maroon Lake. The glacial basin was formed after rock debris damned the Maroon Creek. Beavers are busy building a den. A fly fisherman is casting. And you can see the reflection of the Maroon Bells in the calm water.

After taking what must be hundreds of pictures, it’s time to pick your trail. Follow the Maroon Lake Scenic Trail pass wildflowers along the side of the water. Take the Maroon Creek Trail into the aspen forest around columbine flowers and rock fields. Or hike the Crater Lake Trail away from the crowds to see a second beautiful lake. Take your time. Drink lots of water. Snap way too many photographs. And be thankful.

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