South Through Snowmass Canyon on the Rio Grande Nordic Trail

Through Snowmass Canyon

on the

Rio Grande Nordic Trail

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Mt Sopris, CO

Mt. Sopris

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As I write these words New England is by all accounts being pummeled by a foot or two of snow. We, on the other hand here in the Roaring Fork Valley can only look on with envy as The Great Drought of ’15 shows no sign of ending any time soon.

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Rio Grande Railbed Trail, Snowmass Canyon, CO

Snowmass Bridge

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And so it was with some trepidation that I headed to ‘Old Snowmass’ in order to ski up valley through the Canyon. At 6,840 feet the small parking lot, accessed by taking the road behind the black on yellow arrow in the picture above, represents the lowest elevation within the entire upper valley Nordic trail system. Just what conditions would be like after the recent prolonged drought/heat wave, well, as I pulled up that little road I was inclined to think that my starting point had proved a tad optimistic.Snow was largely conspicuous by its absence.

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Rio Grande Railbed Trail, Snowmass Canyon, CO

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To be honest, the first few hundred feet did not incite much optimism that the trail would even prove passable.

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CIMG5620

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Rio Grande Railbed Trail, Snowmass Canyon, CO

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The rock strewn track-bed provided an interesting slew of miscellaneous brick-a-brack, including this piece of jagged rusty water flume. One glance upwards told the story.

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Rio Grande Railbed Trail, Snowmass Canyon, CO

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Rio Grande Railbed Trail, Snowmass Canyon, CO

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Believe it or not, this little pristine looking canyon actually serves in wintertime as the only practical means for the outside world to reach Aspen. Every day thousands of motorists whiz up and down the freeway-like I-82 located on the former Midland Railroad track-bed hidden among the trees on the right hand side of the valley as we view it in the above picture. And while we  may not actually see much of the raceway of a road itself on our lovely little tour we do hear its din I’m afraid – so this might just be one of those epic Nordic trails benefiting from the musical accompaniment provided by a pair of earphones.

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Rio Grande Railbed Trail, Snowmass Canyon, CO

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Rio Grande Railbed Trail, Snowmass Canyon, CO

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Rio Grande Railbed Trail, Snowmass Canyon, CO

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While all very enjoyable, by no means however could the skiing be viewed as anything other than utilitarian.

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Rio Grande Railbed Trail, Snowmass Canyon, CO

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In fact, conditions were by far the most threadbare I have yet encountered in my attempt to cover each of the 150 kilometers of Nordic Trail in and around the Aspen area over the coming months.

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Rio Grande Railbed Trail, Snowmass Canyon, CO

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Nevertheless, the beauty of the place kept my interest piqued by all manner of things. This lichen for instance. I had just crouched down to take this picture when I heard a rumbling noise from back along the track that I had just covered…

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Rio Grande Railbed Trail, Snowmass Canyon, CO

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Well, well, well. My Lucky Day !

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Rio Grande Railbed Trail, Snowmass Canyon, CO

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How about this for service ?

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Rio Grande Railbed Trail, Snowmass Canyon, CO

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ONE MEAN MACHINE

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Rio Grande Railbed Trail, Snowmass Canyon, CO

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And just like that – it was gone. Leaving behind, well…. hmmmn, lovely fresh new tracks.

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Rio Grande Railbed Trail, Snowmass Canyon, CO

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Rio Grande Railbed Trail, Snowmass Canyon, CO

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Off I went, on my own velvet smooth, private highway. At this point, and throughout the tour I was to have the trail entirely to myself.

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Rio Grande Railbed Trail, Snowmass Canyon, CO

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Unlike other sections of the Rio Grande Trail practically the entire length of today’s sections seems to do its level best to avoid trespassing upon the rail-bed itself. At one time it was thought that a light rail system might someday occupy the corridor but that seems increasingly unlikely as the years roll by. It does make for a lovely and surprisingly twisty turny immensely gratifyingly undulating course.

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Rio Grande Railbed Trail, Snowmass Canyon, CO

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Rio Grande Railbed Trail, Snowmass Canyon, CO

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A world transformed. Thank you mister trail groomer. Great, great job.

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Rio Grande Railbed Trail, Snowmass Canyon, CO

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Remember, we’re headed up hill at the moment. In a little while we’ll turn around and glide all the way back down.

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Now known as “Upper” and “Lower River Road” the sleepy two-lane highway we are about to cut across was once the main artery up and down the valley. Traffic these days is so rare as to be practically none existent. That 29 by the way indicates the distance the trail has covered since leaving Glenwood Springs at the confluence of the Roaring Fork and Colorado Rivers.

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Rio Grande Railbed Trail, Snowmass Canyon, CO

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A hundred yards or so past the crossing I suddenly ran out of sunlight. Time to turn around.

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Rio Grande Railbed Trail, Snowmass Canyon, CO

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Now for the fun part !

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Rio Grande Railbed Trail, Snowmass Canyon, CO

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Imagine gliding along, with your feet together, giving a gentle little push with your poles every now and again… and gliding on and on, with no more effort than it would take to ride a shopping cart.

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With my feet locked into such formidably fresh cut rail my eyes were free to watch the world as it gently slid by.

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Rio Grande Railbed Trail, Snowmass Canyon, CO

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Rio Grande Railbed Trail, Snowmass Canyon, CO

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Rio Grande Railbed Trail, Snowmass Canyon, CO

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Rio Grande Railbed Trail, Snowmass Canyon, CO

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All too soon I found myself back where I began. Although just barely passable at the moment I fear that unless we get some snow from somewhere very soon it’ll be a case of lugging the skis over this particular section, perhaps as soon as a day or two.

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Rio Grande Railbed Trail, Snowmass Canyon, CO

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All-in-all though I have to say that I am very impressed by not only the whole Nordic experience, but the truly stellar Rio Grande Trail. I just have one final leg to complete and I will have skied the entire thing, from downtown Aspen, to the Snowmass bridge pictured above. And if the superb weather holds that’s just where I’ll be tomorrow when I intend to begin by the old railway cars and connect with today’s turn around point.

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Rio Grande Rail-Bed Trail, Nordic, Woody Creek CO by MARTIN COONEY

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Hope you enjoyed the tour. Please join me next time.

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Now, here’s the slideshow:

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Aspen Art Museum 24-Hour Grand Opening, 6:00 am Sunday August 10, 2014

Martin

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