Today we were moving over to Aspen and I got to drive over two big mountain passes, Monarch and Independence. I'd drive over Monarch Pass in 2013 and Independence Pass was new to me.
Monarch Pass is on US50 which I always find fun because US50 runs right through DC and goes past my school. Monarch Pass also has a gondola on top that you can ride up and get the view from the very top of the mountain! I didn't go up three years ago because I missed the turn and there were storms in the area. So, today I got the chance to go up! As far as "roadside attractions/tourist traps" go this was a good one! Lots of great views and you could walk around as much as you'd like before heading down. It was crazy windy up there, but not as windy as Pike's Peak
After I came down from Monarch Pass I drove on to Buena Vista and got fuel, then it was on to Colorado 82 which would take me over Independence Pass. Vehicles over 35 feet are prohibited because of the tight turns so it was more of a scenic drive than many of the other passes. It was also a lot more dramatic! The mountains were huge and the views were spectacular! There were several 10 mph hairpin turns, which is why large vehicles aren't allowed. And they are serious about that rule - there's $1500 fine, in addition to whatever it costs to get the large vehicle out of wherever it gets stuck.
At the pass there was a large parking area and a paved path to walk out to a view. It was crazy windy there too! The pass is above treeline so it was all open with views in all directions! I walked out the paved path to the viewpoint and discovered a trail that went out further. I walked out maybe a mile to a little saddle in the mountains - the trail continued higher, but I hadn't brought anything with me so decided to turn around. It was a very easy trail to walk and the views were awesome. On the way back I saw a snow patch that I hadn't seen on the way up. My snowshoes were back in the van and it was too far to walk back and get them! And the snow patch wasn't very big. I walked through it a bit, but I was wearing sandals so it was really cold!
Once back at the van I got a snack and enjoyed the view! I was parked next to a small pond and I considered going for a swim, but it was too cold, even with the sun shining! I'd spent about an hour at the summit before heading down!
The downhill side was just as dramatic but there weren't any crazy hairpin turns! In a few places though the road got really narrow, hardly any space to pass, with big rocks on the sides! For the most part though I was able to coast down in 1st and 2nd gear and just enjoy the view!
Our campground for the next 5 days, Difficult (that's the name, just Difficult! LOL!) was right on the road almost to Aspen. I turned in and found my site and since Mom and Dad weren't here yet I explored the campground a bit and hiked a little ways up the trail.
We went into Aspen for dinner and I'm not a huge fan of the town. I didn't really like Colorado Springs at first either and after I was there awhile I liked it more so maybe the same will be true here. The town just seems very elegant and hoity toity. We had dinner at the Pyramid Bistro which is a health food resteraunt that has a lot of vegetarian dishes and it's on the top floor of a cute independent bookstore. The food was terrific, but the atmosphere was so elegant and that made me not enjoy it as much. The whole town seems that way, it wants to be fun, but it's too busy being elegant.