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Avalanche Trail; A Trail Finder; Ferns? Aspens; Heavy Loads; Heart Gifts in Aspen; Mushroom Rock

While in Carbondale, we went on a hike recommended by a helpful US Forest Service ranger. Avalanche Creek is a moderate hike uphill through pines and aspens in the Maroon Bells – Snowmass Wilderness area of White River National Forest. Suzanne noted that it was only “moderate” at the front end… the trail steepened rapidly after a mile or so.

The first hiker we met was Preston, who moved from Houston for Colorado’s outdoor adventure opportunities. He is a web designer, and built a helpful site,, for those looking for trails in the area. It was his first time on this trail as well, and he commented that we had chosen well.

Having lived near the Olympic National Park’s rain forest in the Pacific Northwest, we were used to lots of ferns in the woods. We hadn’t expected to find so many here in the Colorado Rockies.

But our favorite tree here is the quaking aspen (Populu tremuloides), which grows in clonal colonies derived from a single seedling. Roots spread the population, and some colonies are thousands of years old. One Utah colony, nicknamed “Pando”, is estimated to be 80,000 years old. Aspen wood has lower flammability than most other woods, so it is often used to make matches and paper. It is also used in animal bedding because it lacks phenols which may irritate some animals’ respiratory systems. It also regenerates quickly after forest fires, and does not require planting seedlings as pines do. (Again, you should thank your friendly loggers and foresters…)

Elk hunting season was just getting started, and we ran into fully loaded hunters packing into the back country. Bill Mullens and Kent Austin, from near Clarksburg, West Virginia, were carrying huge loads, 75 and 85 lbs., and had actually built their own black powder rifles for the hunt. No fancy high tech military weapons here, but rifles not much different from those used by frontiersmen 200 years ago. My Lovely Bride is showing off her heavy 12 lb. pack as a comparison.

While not exceptionally rugged, this part of the hike was impressive enough, and is typical of north central Colorado. We didn’t see elk and bear, but we saw hoof prints of big elk, and metal bear boxes for food storage were provided at every campsite.In fact, the local paper in Carbondale had more bear-related incidents than any other category. (By the way, the most serious incident on the weekly crime report was appalling… someone had actually let their dog bark excessively!)

 On the forest service road to and from the trailhead, we had to ford a small stream. I was a bit apprehensive, but another USFS ranger assured us that our front wheel drive CR-V would make it. Glad he didn’t ask why were were driving when we had two kayaks strapped to the roof!

After our hike, we had dinner and then headed for Aspen for Suzanne’s next event, a Heart Gifts presentation. Catherine Anne Provine, Executive Director of the Aspen Chapel, hosted us there, and because of some unusual technical problems, Suzanne got to use her “Isn’t that interesting” phrase. Here Catherine Anne on the right, My Lovely Bride, and Rita Marsh (on the left) from Carbondale’s DaviNikent Center are all smiles at the end of the evening. We loved our stay in Carbondale/Aspen, and are looking forward to returning soon.

My last “event” before we left town was to go climb a rock… in this case, Mushroom Rock in the Red Hill area of Carbondale. The young lady doing pushups on Mushroom Rock is not MLB… I think she has stopped posing on rock cliffs after our experience in Moab, Utah last year.

The twisted pines atop this peak were dramatic. There were thousands like this one, and they kept getting more dramatic as I hiked for three hours. Once off the main trail, I saw only one other hiker. I enjoyed myself immensely, and the trailhead was only a five minute hike from our campground.

Our campground is about 1,200 feet in the valley below. This is a telephoto shot taken from a ridge about 800 feet above our coach -it’s in the middle of the picture, with our car and kayaks on the roof just to the right of the central tree. Suzanne was giving an in-person reading that morning, so I was off on my own.

Finally, this is the really cool shot of Mushroom Rock. I thought about climbing down to the big rectangular rock below and to the right of the two guys sitting there, but fortunately I had forgotten to take my “Stupid Pill” that morning…

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