Just outside Aspen, Colorado, is a fantastic bit of hiking that’s also one of the most photographed places in Colorado.
We came to the Maroon Bells Snowmass-Wilderness on the recommendation of our tree house hosts. We probably would have ended up here anyway, since it’s so close to Aspen and Dumb and Dumber was one of the formative movies of my youth. If we didn’t visit the place where the beer flows like wine, and the women flock like the salmon of Capestrano, it probably would have been a wasted trip.
After a quick lunch that was promptly spilled all over our rental car by our daughter, we headed up to the park. Getting there is a little confusing, you actually have to buy shuttle tickets to access the wilderness between 8 a.m. and 5 p.m. It takes about a half hour to get up there, and busses stop promptly at 5 p.m. We arrived in the afternoon, so we were on a little bit of a schedule to make sure we didn’t get stranded.
Maroon Lake Scenic Trail
We opted for a short loop trail that was just enough to give us a taste and get us back in time for our bus. Even this little jaunt was phenomenal – the mountain lakes were teal and blue and every shade in between. The texture of the Apsen trees giving way to winter’s avalanches gave the mountainside a dimension I haven’t seen anywhere else.
The trail is easy and flat. It hugs a stream gurgling from the snowmelt on top of the mountain and was only two miles long. If you want to go longer, you can continue on to Crater Lake. For us, it was plenty of time to stop and enjoy a view or folly if we wanted to.
As we made our way back, we emerged from the woods into a small clearing and discovered we’d stumbled onto a pair of moose. Well, as much as you can stumble on an 800 pound animal. I’ve heard plenty of stories about their aggression, so we quickly moved past them.
Once it became clear they had zero interest in us, we paused on the edge of the clearing to watch them feed in tranquility. Several other people stopped with us to take in the incredible animals – I was just happy no one got charged or trampled.
We never planned on staying in Glenwood Springs for two weeks. We planned on spending a month in southwestern Utah exploring national parks.
But when my wife found a tree house just outside of town in Glenwood Springs, we knew we had to make it part of the plan.
We even changed when we were traveling and booked two solid weeks without knowing whether or not there was anything to do. You could argue that we planned our entire trip around this tree house.
So, of course, we went in with high expectations.
The Tree House Itself
From the outside, this place was just as good as the photos. The back of it is built into the mountain and the front supported by three trees. That meant we were able to enjoy a full kitchen and bathroom plus a view overlooking the property from a rustic porch.
It also meant when the wind picked up, the whole house creaked and swayed. The first time it happened, the kids kind of freaked out.
The space felt like a small cabin out in the woods. Plenty of knick knacks, a fireplace, and an upstairs filled with nooks to tuck yourself into and read a book. This would be an amazing place to hole up in the winter. Just get all cozy in front of a roaring fire and cut yourself off from the world.
As we read through the guest book, we found lots of people who had the same experience. One in particular stuck out. A young couple had visited the house over Christmas and gotten engaged during their stay. I’m assuming (from the handwriting) that the writer was female. You could almost feel the excitement and hope on what was probably one of the most memorable weekends of their lives.
As we flipped through the rest of the stories, we came the most recent entry. It was a friend of the engaged couple, who’d come here because of the special time her friends had shared. It must have been a bittersweet visit, because they wrote that the woman who’d gotten engaged had passed away between the two entries. It was one of those eerie moments that you can’t help but be touched by. To be getting a short glimpse into the unknowing words of someone who’s passed. Then imagining what it must have felt like to be her close friend. To come back to this place and read the words of someone you love who is gone. To wish that you could re-write the story, but at the same time be thankful that she experienced that amazing memory from the treehouse before she passed away.
Around the Tree House
The property the tree house sits on is probably its best feature. It’s built on a wooded lot and backed up against a mountain. A creek meanders through the middle of the tall grass. There’s a geodome house close by, but aside from that you feel as if you are truly on your own.
Our kids spent every moment they could outside climbing trees, playing pretend games with troops and soldiers and princesses and animals.
We found two cherry trees and an apple tree bearing fruit when we arrived in August. So when I had to head back down to St. George to pick up our car from the mechanic, my family made the most of being stranded. They made pies that we gave to the owners of the tree house and as gifts to our family and friends back home.
If our kids remember one thing from this summer vacation, I bet, and hope, it’s the hours they spent with nothing but the outdoors to entertain them.
Glenwood Springs, Colorado
Like I said before – we planned our stay here not knowing anything about what there was to do in town.
Luckily there was loads!
We went whitewater rafting down the Colorado River, which we loved so much we went back to do a second time. The Shoshone Rapids are perfect for young kids and families, especially around the time of year we went. The first twenty to thirty minutes are a blast – all the class III and II rapids are packed into the beginning. The rest of the trip is a leisurely float filled with so-bad-they’re-good guide jokes, interesting facts about Glenwood Canyon, and even stop to take a quick dip in the river.
Atop the canyon after a tram ride is Glenwood Caverns, an adventure park with cave tours, an award winning Alpine coaster that even I couldn’t get enough of and rides that sping or swing you out over the edge of a 1450 foot cliff.
With Aspen a short drive away, and Hanging Lake, Mt. Sopris, and Rocky Mountain National Park all short drives away, we found Glenwood Springs to be a relaxing, but fun two weeks that was completely different from all the driving and hiking we did in Utah.
While we stayed in Pine Valley, St. George was our connection to civilization. It’s big enough to have lots of restaurants, grocery stores, heck, even a Walmart. Anytime we needed anything (which was a often) we headed to St. George.
The city itself has a few highlights worth noting, and good options if you’re staying outside town like us, or looking for a “down” day.
St. George Dinosaur Discovery Site at Johnson Farm
Our kids are nuts for dinosaurs, so Johnson Farm was a must stop. Even without kids, if you have anything above a passing interest in paleontology, swing in. They have ultra-rare fossils. Stuff that doesn’t exist anywhere else, like dinosaur swim tracks.
Everything in this place was discovered on a farm when the owner was plowing up some sandstone, flipped it over, and found the tracks underneath. It harkens back to a time when St. George sat on the edge of a giant inland ocean and dinos roamed the shores.
There’s a separate room with more fossils, skulls, and coloring activities for kids, plus an outdoor fossil dig area. All in all, a great way to kill a couple hours.
Washington City Community Center
When it gets hot out (and it gets blistering), the Washington City Community Center is a phenomenal place to go cool down. The pool area is gi-normous with two of those aqua structures with the giant buckets on top and all those squirting hoses and guns.
Basically, heaven for kids.
There’s also a couple slides that actually fun to zip down. There’s zero lines since you’re at a community center, which is great. The entire place is open air too – one whole wall opens up and looks out over the rest of the town and the red rock desert.
Tuacahn Center for the Arts
We didn’t go here, but felt like it was worth mentioning because it looks freaking awesome. They put on broadway quality plays in an auditorium that backs up against Snow Canyon State Park, with its gorgeous red rock formations.
We’d definitely put Tuacahn in “must-see” territory, even though we didn’t plan far enough ahead to be able to snag tickets.
This issue marks the 5th year of Midwestern Gothic – it’s kind of unbelievable that we’re around 20 issues after Rob and I first announced a literary magazine focused on celebrating Midwestern writers.
When we started, we had little knowledge of what we were doing (what we did know had been gleaned from a failed comic book publishing company). We had no idea whether or not people would even like the concept of fiction and poetry inspired by the Midwest.
Luckily, we were wrong about the latter, and learned about the former. We started out with an issue every three months. Now we’ve published four books, with four more on the way. We’ve put out three themed issues, one on nostalgia, and two on non-fiction. We partnered with the Residential College at University of Michigan to put on a literary festival keynoted by writers of Stuart Dybek, Curtis Sittenfeld, and Ross Gay’s ilk. And the latest issue features the 2nd annual finalists of the the Lake Prize, a our own literary contest.
It’s absolutely crazy, when you list it out like that.
I couldn’t feel more grateful that I’ve got such an incredible partner in Robert James Russell to bring all these things to life with. And when I think of all the new friends I wouldn’t have met otherwise at readings, conferences, and digitally…I couldn’t be more thankful for all our contributors.
Thank you for allowing us to share your work with the world.