I will overhaul this page in the near term. This page was put up at the time of the site launch (1/03) and I realize it is in desperate need of some work! I'm not sure why I still have it up in its current state. Click here for my landscapes in this region, which will be far more enjoyable.
This is my second favorite region in the state due to the beauty here. The Elk Mountains are home to three beautiful wilderness areas, the Maroon Bells-Snowmass, Raggeds and the West Elk. The two big resort towns are Aspen and Crested Butte. Home to the most famous mountains in the state, the Maroon Bells, which are just south of Aspen and are one of the most photographed in the country. They are truly beautiful, each topping out above 14,000'. A less fabled mountain, though rather massive in its own right, is Mount Sopris out of Carbondale. Though its twin summits only reach 12,952', it is the second tallest (as opposed to highest) in the state, behind Pikes Peak, with 6,450 feet of relief, all of which is covered in only 3.5 miles down to the Crystal River.
The drive south from Carbondale is a spur off of and part of the West Elk Loop Scenic Byway. This beautiful route parallels the magnificent Crystal River until the turnoff for Marble at the base of McClure Pass. The Crystal River has a certain aura about it that makes it just a little better than the rest. Whether it's from just having the name Crystal and the clear waters that its name suggests, the historic mill that it travels under, or the incredibly scenic mountains from which it flows, it is truly a beautiful and magnificent river.
McClure Pass area is a hot spot for
aspen viewing and this area until Paonia (when traveling south) has the
most reds you'll see in the the fall being that there is a high concentration
of scrub oak. Paonia State Park, at Paonia
Reservoir, is reached on the south end of McClure Pass to the south and
next to the turnoff for Kebler Pass. The Kebler Pass road, which is 30
miles in length and goes to Crested Butte, is a beautiful and quiet drive
with aspen lining both sides of the road much of the way. You can read
more about it in my fall color drive report.
Oddly enough, Marble is known for just that—marble! Some of the finest in the world, no less. It is marble from Marble that has been used in more than a few places in our nation's capital including the Lincoln Memorial and the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier, and many other buildings throughout the country.
The image above is of the block for the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier in transport on the The Crystal River & San Juan Railroad which was used to haul marble to Carbondale. This block for the tomb took over a year to complete at a cost of $48,000 and weighs 79 tons which is broken up into seven pieces. The finished piece was unveiled on 4/9/31.
marble wasn't a necessary resource for WWII, the mine had shut down in
1941, and by 1945, reportedly only one person was living there. It reopened
in September of 1991 and is still in operation today. The Yule Marble
Quarry is four miles south of town up the mountain and the remains of
the former world's largest finishing mill is located in town where a lot
of the stone is scattered about. However, if you want to bring back a
piece of Marble marble with you, you will need to pick up a piece in the
free handout box on the east side of
the Marble General Store along the
main street in town. This is a great little town that lies seven miles
east of Highway 133 from the base of McClure Pass, south of Redstone.
In fact, Marble is my favorite small town/village in the state. The surrounding
area is absolutely breathtaking as I've said, and I think the marble that
is brought out of here is just a real neat deal that adds a certain charm
and character to it all.
The Crystal Mill is one of the most photographed structures in the state. This Colorado icon, while referred to as the Crystal Mill, it was actually built to be a powerhouse to provide compressed air to power tools and machines in the area mines. The current from the Crystal River below turned water turbines to power the compressor. The structure was built in 1893 and has stood the test of time. No matter how cliche this building is, viewing any image of it is sure to bring a smile.
My first time visiting here was back in 1997 and was truly an awe-inspiring and jaw dropping experience. Just to visit places you've seen so many pictures of is surreal and holds fairy tale-like qualities. I highly recommend a visit here if you're planning to be in the area. It is reached via a high clearance (4WD not required) road six miles to the east out of Marble and has a couple of shelf road sections. If you are looking to photograph the mill, late afternoon is best since when viewing it from the road you are looking to the southeast. Or, if you go down to river level, you face east. Morning shots will not give you a pleasing exposure for the mill and the background. While you can take tours from Crystal River Jeep Tours, time at the mill is very limited, but if you have your own method of transportation, all the better.
Just behind the mill 30 yards or so, the Crystal River splits into the North Fork which flows from Lead King Basin to the north, and the South Fork which flows from Schofield Pass. And just a couple hundred yards up following the North Fork is the ghost town of Crystal which was founded in 1880. At that time, there were seven silver mines which meant this was a busy place in its heyday, to the tune of about 500 residents with two newspapers, two hotels, a post office, saloons, and the rest of the establishments you'd expect from a mining town in this era. After the silver crash of 1893, many left the area and by 1915 only eight people lived here. There probably aren't that much more that still reside there today which is inhabited in the summer months only.
If you want to drive past Crystal, get ready to
have some fun! A high clearance 4-wheel drive vehicle is required about
a mile out just before the turnoff to Lead King Basin or going straight
to Schofield Pass over the deadliest 4WD road in the state with 17 deaths
at last count. You can view my reports of these trails in my trails
Crested Butte is my second favorite town behind Telluride due to the sheer scenic beauty found here and the Victorian charm of the town itself. It is the wildflower capital of Colorado and I feel it should also known as the aspen capital of the world, as it is the gate to the largest aspen forests to be found anywhere on the planet. The quality and quantity of winter sports here goes without saying. It is just a peak performer in every season offering any outdoor activity you can think of.