Just up the road from Aspen is Snowmass. As in, quite literally we parked at the a ski area parking lot and road a paved trail for about 5 miles to start the off-road portion of the day's ride. It was another gorgeous morning in the high country as we meandered along meadows and horse ranches. The trail/bike path we started on paralleled the local airport. I bet there were 50 private jets parked there!
The start of the dirt portion took us behind private properties. The signage was super pro and we always knew where we were - the benefit of being in park boundaries. The trail went through thick aspen forests where we could look down on the local's back yards and dreamed how awesome would it be to have a place such as these.
We eventually made our way up to the slopes of Snowmass where workers were setting up for daytime summer guests and what looked like a stage for a July 4th event. Next to the stage was my dream bathroom in the outdoors - about 30 porta potties and a couple of sinks! I felt like a million bucks after that stop!
From there we climbed up up up a gravel service road to tree line. The sun was warm out in the open. The plan was to ride the Popular Government trail back to Aspen. We climbed quite a bit in the trees but the machine-built trails were perfectly groomed for such a thing and the switch backs were a breeze. Then the trail would level out a bit and we'd get to pump and flow and then scream across a ski run to the next set of trees and repeat.
There wasn't a huge top-out view but the trails were fun. They started to get a bit technical on the way down due to poor sight lines and narrow tracks. We popped out in a neighborhood and took paved roads back to Aspen to complete the 30-ish mile ride. There was a really cool ped bridge that went over a creek. Ryan hates heights to he opted to stay on terra ferma while I went exploring.
Finally back at the van, we pretty much repeated the same thing from the day before, making lunch on the spot. I was feeling a bit grimy from 3 days in the saddle with only wet-wipe showers or dips in streams so I looked up where to pay for a shower and we headed to the local rec center. As luck would have it, the guy working the desk recognized us as a couple of dirt baggers who may appreciate some local knowledge and gave us some beta on where to camp next. After a long, hot shower, I was ready for rest and relaxation. We took the guy's advice and drove a ways on the back-side of Aspen, through a long valley, past a ghost town, until the pavement ended. And then we saw a sign for Pearl Pass Rd, THE road where, according to mountain lore, mountain biking began. Pearl Pass is a famous route from Aspen to Crested Butte. Story goes that young men would drive their fancy vehicles from Aspen to pick up the ladies in CB. Well the dudes of CB weren't down with that, so in retaliation, they'd ride their "balloon bikes" from CB over to Aspen to pick up on the women there and thus the mountain bike was born. So to be camping on a road legendary to our sport was pretty damn awesome.
Now the guy said he used to take his parents car up this road we were about to go on so we didn't have any reason to doubt we'd have any trouble. But as we went along it got narrower and eventually more to the liking of a 4WD road. Though we were on flat ground the possibility of scraping the underside of our new van or the bike rack was the real fear. We got over the first rise in the road. Not gonna lie, I was holding my breath, listening for the sound of scraping. We continued on, maneuvering the minefield of rocks and ruts. We had one more rise to go over and Ryan captained the ship like a champ. The road then began to go up. We could see a few camp spots alongside of it that were empty. We kept going but then the road went from smooth gravel to high clearance only so we backed into one of the spots for the night. Luckily we had a flat area to park.
After getting settled, we took turns exploring the area. Our side of the road was at the base of some smaller mountains while on the other side was a rocky river bed making for a picturesque setting. Later that evening, we decided to go see what there was to see. And there was plenty! Knowing the Crested Butte was on the other side of the large mountains were were seeing, we think it was the backside of Star Pass. We walked up the road and came upon a mountain pond that was alive with fish and other critters. On our way back down the road, we noticed the leaves on the baby aspen trees had these interesting patterns on them. Turns out this pattern is called mining, done by a type of moth. These insects form and grow within the aspen leaves. They feed on the interior tissue of the leaves. It may not be a fatal disease, but the spots caused by the moths ruin the beauty of the leaves of this tree. It isn't lost on us that when we slow down and look around we come upon discoveries such as these. It adds to the travel experience we strive to have. We like going big, getting to the top of the mountain pass, seeing the glacial valley but at the same time we like zooming in and discovering the beauty that makes up the big picture.
The next morning we were up at dawn. 14r hikers were already heading up the road to see what they could see. It was a gorgeous Colorado morning. We made it back over the road bumps without issue and headed for another new destination: Glenwood Springs.