Aspen, Snowmass offer much more than skiing and snowboarding

The Maroon Bells are one of Colorado’s most photographed scenes.



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The Maroon Bells are one of Colorado’s most photographed scenes.

Think of Aspen and Snowmass Village, and you probably think about skiing and snowboarding or, in the summer, getaways into lush green mountains.

Thanks to a world-class fossil find last fall, however, people are thinking a little differently about the upper Roaring Fork Valley and about how they can join in the excitement of the discovery.

In mid-October, a construction worker unearthed bones from a Columbian mammoth during excavation to enlarge a reservoir. The discovery halted work on the reservoir as scientists rushed to the scene and oversaw the removal of numerous fossils including mammoths, mastodons, a giant ground sloth, an Ice Age bison and other animals. These specimens are providing clues to life in the area during the Ice Age tens of thousands of years ago.

The Denver Museum of Nature & Science resumes excavation work this spring. Meanwhile, Snowmass tourism officials have continued to promote the discovery and help respond to the huge amount of public interest.

Starting June 4, visitors to the Snowmass mall will find displays, a half-size wooden mammoth, videos and interactive programming about the find. If you want more, check out the Snowmass Ice Age Discovery Weekend set for June 25-26. Denver museum experts will speak, and there will be games, puzzles and crafts.

The fossil finds provide just one more reason for making it a point to visit the Aspen and Snowmass Village area in coming months. More and more people are discovering that, besides being world-class winter resorts, they’re cool places to get away from the worst of the heat in the summer.

Aspen sits at nearly 8,000 feet in elevation, with nearby mountains reaching 14,000 feet. Summer can arrive a bit late, but with its arrival, snow gives way to blooming wildflowers and the town’s namesake trees leaf out, offering shade to mountain bikers and hikers seeking the many trails available in the area.

Those looking to further escape the heat of summer can head up the Independence Pass segment of Colorado Highway 82 to where the Continental Divide tops out in a tundra landscape of more than 12,000 feet, offering alpine views.

Along the way you can find the Grottos area, where the Roaring Fork River winds and cascades among water-sculpted rocks.

Another way to head higher is via Aspen Mountain’s Silver Queen Gondola, which ferries passengers up more than 3,000 vertical feet to where they can enjoy mountaintop dining and activities for all ages.

At Snowmass Village, the Elk Camp Gondola and Elk Camp Lift allow visitors to enjoy on-mountain dining, hiking, mountain biking, disc golf, a children’s play area and more. Prices and more information can be found at http://www.aspensnowmass.com/summer%5Frec/.

In Aspen proper, shopping and dining opportunities with a wide range of price points abound. And it costs nothing to stroll the downtown pedestrian mall, people-watching or enjoying the sight of children and children-at-heart hopping across a street-level fountain as it sporadically sends up jets of spray.

It’s just one more way to cool your heels, post-Ice-Age, in the Aspen area this summer.

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SEE IT, DO IT

Where to hike: The opportunities are nearly endless around Aspen. A popular day hike is up to Cathedral Lake in Castle Creek Valley. A long but rewarding overnight backpack takes you to scenic Snowmass Lake, rimmed on one side with sheer cliffs below soaring Snowmass Mountain.

Don’t miss this: The twin peaks of Maroon Bells each top 14,000 feet in elevation, and with Maroon Lake in the foreground make for one of Colorado’s most photographed scenes.

Be aware that high visitation means driving up Maroon Bells Road is heavily restricted and most summer access is by bus or bike. For access information, visit http://www.fs.fed.us/r2/whiteriver/rangerdistricts/aspen_sopris.

Where to bike: Mountain bike routes abound around Aspen. Some of the more popular routes including the Hunter Creek/Hunter Valley Trail, the Sunnyside Trail and the Brush Creek/Government Trail connecting Aspen and Snowmass.

On pavement, cyclists can ride up to the ghost town of Ashcroft, or up the Maroon Bells Road, avoiding the fee charged to motorists.

For a Tour-de-France-caliber challenge, try the climb up Colorado Highway 82 to Independence Pass, which tops out at more than 12,000 feet.

Where to climb: A number of venerable Fourteeners in the Elk Range loom over the Aspen area and beckon to those with summit fever. Some of them, such as the Maroon Bells and Pyramid Peak, are infamous for their dangerous, loose rock, and climbers might consider playing it safe by hiring a local guide service.

Where to fish: For trout-fishing at its world-renowned best, don’t neglect a visit to the Fryingpan River, above Basalt on the way to Aspen.

It’s free: The Snowmass Free Thursday Night Concert Series offers big-name musicians in a fun outdoor mountain setting.

This year’s concerts run from June 30 through Aug. 18. The concert lineup will be posted at http://www.stayaspensnowmass.com/p-free-summer-concerts.php.

SEE IT, DO IT

Where to hike: The opportunities are nearly endless around Aspen. A popular day hike is up to Cathedral Lake in Castle Creek Valley. A long but rewarding overnight backpack takes you to scenic Snowmass Lake, rimmed on one side with sheer cliffs below soaring Snowmass Mountain.

Don’t miss this: The twin peaks of Maroon Bells each top 14,000 feet in elevation, and with Maroon Lake in the foreground make for one of Colorado’s most photographed scenes.

Be aware that high visitation means driving up Maroon Bells Road is heavily restricted and most summer access is by bus or bike. For access information, visit http://www.fs.fed.us/r2/whiteriver/rangerdistricts/aspen_sopris.

Where to bike: Mountain bike routes abound around Aspen. Some of the more popular routes including the Hunter Creek/Hunter Valley Trail, the Sunnyside Trail and the Brush Creek/Government Trail connecting Aspen and Snowmass.

On pavement, cyclists can ride up to the ghost town of Ashcroft, or up the Maroon Bells Road, avoiding the fee charged to motorists.

For a Tour-de-France-caliber challenge, try the climb up Colorado Highway 82 to Independence Pass, which tops out at more than 12,000 feet.

Where to climb: A number of venerable Fourteeners in the Elk Range loom over the Aspen area and beckon to those with summit fever. Some of them, such as the Maroon Bells and Pyramid Peak, are infamous for their dangerous, loose rock, and climbers might consider playing it safe by hiring a local guide service.

Other only slightly shorter peaks in the area make for worthy objectives, such as Cathedral Peak, a high Thirteener. In addition, rock climbers find good technical routes just off Highway 82 heading toward Independence Pass.

Where to fish: For trout-fishing at its world-renowned best, don’t neglect a visit to the Fryingpan River, above Basalt on the way to Aspen.

It’s free: The Snowmass Free Thursday Night Concert Series offers big-name musicians in a fun outdoor mountain setting.

This year’s concerts run from June 30 through Aug. 18. The concert lineup will be posted at http://www.stayaspensnowmass.com/p-free-summer-concerts.php.

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