From Black Canyon’s hot and dry climate, we were quickly back in the land of mountains and cool winds as we drove north and camped for a night at Twin Lakes. It was Friday and the lakes were packed with campers, but we lucked into a space just up from the water in a cluster of trees next to some welcoming neighbors with sweet dogs and an even more sweet campfire they invited us to share. We made some pasta and had some drinks with the neighbors for an across the fire socially distanced evening. It was fun swapping stories since of the two couples in their group one dude was from northern VA and the other couple had done the van travel thing for a while, too. The funniest part was how young they were (25) and at one point we discovered that one of their dads was at the same concert as Kevin many years ago and they’re about the same age. Ha. Another time I found myself saying stuff like “oh yeah, when I was your age 10 years ago I did the vegan thing too for a while until I got re-addicted to cheese.” Good times.

The next day we explored a little around the lakes then took off over Independence Pass towards Aspen. It was a beautiful drive though the weather was getting more ominous as we approached the height of the pass. We stopped off for some photos just as it started snowing/graupeling/hailing or whatever it really was. The wardrobe combos of our warm weather gear and sandlas from the morning with the coats and hats thrown on in the car are pretty stylish. We cut the photos and playing in the snow short when it started thundering because the very best place to be in a lightning storm is the top of a mountain. Obviously. On the way down the other side we passed a cool ghost town but just made note to come back one day since there was still lightning not far off.

In Aspen we spent a sunny afternoon at the John Denver Sanctuary looking at the engraved quotes on stones, sitting by the streams and flowers, and watching some baby ducklings. It being a Saturday in Aspen, everywhere nearby to camp was full so we did a hotel night with some good Thai food and a nice shower in Basalt before heading back into town first thing Sunday morning to grab a first-come campsite reservation by the Maroon Bells.

The Maroon Bells are some of the most photographed mountains in the nation, and I see why. I added to that total alone by hundreds! We hiked up to Crater Lake, which is not far but over a bunch of rocks uphill so I was grumpy trying to keep up, and as usual the grumpiness was forgotten once we hit the more level home stretch and entered the clearing where the beautiful lake views emerged. We sat, read, ate lunch, and someone napped by the lake for a few hours in the combination of cold wind and hot sun which led to me putting a layer on and off more times than I care to recount. On the way back to the parking lot we took the nature trail around Maroon Lake and were treated to more spectacular views of the mountains, small waterfalls, streams, and aspens. The water was so clear and turquoise, I could barly believe it. Had we experienced a moment without wind the reflections would have blown my mind and added another hundred photos, but it was not to be. Can you spot which of these pics captured Kevin and me trying to push one another off the log? Luckily we both failed.

On our way to the campsite, not one but two amazing things occurred that I’d been begging the universe to provide: 1) we found a Hawaii license plate to finally end the license plate game I’d been playing since January, and 2) we saw my first ever moose drinking from a stream below the road! What a day! Plus we had a fantastic campsite close to the stream hidden amongst the aspens and pines, and lucked into having more fun neighbors who donated extra camp wood for our fire and joined us for a while. I think it helped that I had seltzer and cups to go with the mother’s (of the mom and daughter duo neighbors) tequila and limes.

In the morning we got up on the early side to go back to see the Bells in the nice morning light, and it was wonderful but rather chilly. After soaking in some last Maroon Bells beauty, we headed down into Aspen for some delicious pastries and coffee before hitting the road again. This stop will be hard to top!

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