Finishing Touches Applied To The Aspen Marble Detour

The Aspen Marble Detour Bus departs Avalanche Outfitters, Basalt, Colorado

Avalanche Outfitters to provide SENSATIONAL horse rides, and the McClure Pass Wagon Road Trail to serve up VAST panoramic mountain views

As the final finishing touches are made to the fledgling Aspen Marble Detour, or AMD as I have come to term it, setbacks and misunderstandings obviously will occur, even with the best of intention. Therefore perhaps not surprisingly, tweaks and fine tuning must necessarily take place well in advance of offering our unique touring service to the paying public. Everything must be in place and fully functioning. No time now for indecision. Should changes need to be made, then now is the logical time to set about them; which is entirely what Kris and I had on our mind as we set out to do just that – place one final tweak upon a tour that has now firmly cemented itself into place over the past weeks and months.

The Old Wagon Road Trail, Colorado

Street Sculpture, Carbondale, ColoradoAnd so, in regards to Aspen Marble Detour development, one major change to the tour route is that we no longer plan to visit Avalanche Ranch, due to their being so busy as to be unable to handle our little black bus. Rather, we now include a brief stop in the town of Carbondale, which as you will see toward the end of this post, is known locally, nationally and internationally as something of a Colorado Rocky Mountain Gem, with a slew of fine dining restaurants, galleries, public art installations, and an altogether cool vibe that will no doubt have you wanting to return one day. During our 20 or 30 minute, 4.30 PM, visit however Detourists should get a feel and a flair for the place, as there generally always seems to be something or another going on, somewhere abouts – it’s just that sort of place.

Astonishing views spread in all directions along the McClure Wagon Road, ColoradoIt was with these two objectives in mind then; a replacement for the ranch; and a user-friendly walk that would give the energetically inclined plenty of room to stretch their legs, and the less lively, or physically able, a gallery of views in return for a minimum in the way of, well, effort. It is not forced march after all, in any way.

The results of our quest comprise of a supremely organized company called Avalanche Outfitters (unrelated to Avalanche Ranch), located right behind the historic coke ovens in Redstone. Together with the old abandoned McClure Pass Trail, conveniently located pretty much right where we need it, in the great crook of the Crystal River Valley, with views sweeping off in all directions, I think we can safely say that we found just what we were looking for.

Once a target is set and a plan is laid out, it is a rare foray that does not bear fruit. And so it was the other day, Sunday July 14, that Kris and I set out to fit the two final jigsaw pieces into the great Aspen Marble Detour puzzle. What you do, and what you get up to on the day, is completely up to you. But even if you yourself don’t ride the horses, bikes, or paddle boards. Or if you chose not to do the fly fishing yourself; you will still enjoy the pleasure of watching others partake, taking in the fresh mountain air, and feasting your eyes upon such vast panoramic views that they are no doubt destined to form a brilliant patchwork of memories sure to linger in your mind for years to come.

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Hot it was as we set off on our quest, and I mean hot. Humid too, as the monumental cumulus nimbus clouds erupting over Mount Sopris amply testify.

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Our marvelous 2019 Ford Transit 350 XLT pretty much arrived so very perfectly suited to our needs that aside from removing two of the four rear seats in order to provide more luggage space, having the lettering installed upon the two sides and rear window was practically all that we were require to do in order to get her Detour ready. She even augments her smooth automatic gear box with a six speed manual shift, which provides perfect power and traction when maneuvering the Crystal River Valley’s signature twisty, steep, and winding mountainous roads. And so rest assured, as we climb McClure pass later in the Detour, you will be in safe hands with me, for years a professional chauffeur and tour guide, at the wheel of this wonderfully engineered and equipped beauty.

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quick selfie

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I mean, look at that vehicle. Just the perfect size for what amounts to the perfect group for such a grand and unspoiled valley as the Crystal River: as size very much matters when it comes to tour buses! But with a wheelbase, square footage, and emission near that of a single private car, I am able to swiftly and comfortably transport 10 people / 12 if two of them are children.  In other words, it is not difficult to imagine the procession of vehicles, all in a line, bumper-to-bumper, front and rear of the Aspen Marble Detour Bus, superimposed upon the above picture; reducing a beautiful grassy verge into a solid row of cars.

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And just look this for a slice of the Old Wild West? You will not get more “Colorado Rocky Mountain” than this.

As yet I have to meet anyone actively involved in the running any of the businesses scattered along the Aspen Marble Detour who wasn’t born in the area, moved here many many moons ago, or decided to invest their lives and livelihoods in the purchase, or start up, of a business of some sort – for there are many varied excellent entrepreneurs plying their trade all along the Crystal River Valley, as you will discover the deeper you dig into the Detour. As far as examples go, you need look no further than Avalanche Outfitters. Believe me – this is the real thing, the real McCoy, the wild, wild west at its very, very best. Not only that; these are local people who absolutely know for sure just what they are doing and what they are about. Read what they have to say about themselves in the brief extract taken from their informative brochure below:

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“Avalanche Outfitters at Redstone Stables. Custom and Private Horseback Riding. RANCH RIDES: take a step back in time and have a western experience you will never forget. This is not your typical ride around a ranch, this ride may only be an hour but the experience is well worth it. Great for young kids, beginner riders or anyone who just wants a quick ride. BACKCOUNTRY RIDES: Want an experience that will leave you in awe? Our backcountry rides are just what you are looking for. With over 14 different trail options we assure you we can find a trail to match your group. Our trails can be simple for beginners and kids to build confidence but want more than 1 hour to more technical trails. The views and scenery will leave you in awe”. Taken from the  A.O. brochure. “Custom overnight pack trips, Custom day or overnight fishing trips, carriage and wagon rides down Redstone Boulevard and to Redstone Castle. Contact us today to book your Western Experience of a Lifetime. 970-963-1144. AvalancheOutfitters@gmail.com. RedstoneStables.com. 17843 Hwy 133, Redstone, CO 81623.

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First things first, and in the spirit of full disclosure, it must be known that I know nothing about horses, although I have always loved watching them, and like to get close to such magnificent beasts at every opportunity. Clever eyes, intelligence, speed, elegance and power – these superb animals would seem to have it all. And as I gingerly approached the corral I soon felt the steady aim of many pairs of eyes bearing down upon me and monitoring my every move.

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Again, just to be clear, I am far from an expert on horses – beyond a lifelong fascination for them. But from what I do know of them, which has mainly been garnered from Kris and her youthful experiences riding, and most importantly stabling them – these look to be some very lucky animals indeed. No poop and therefore no flies, for the place was pretty much spotless, with none of that sweet-sticky horsey-hay smell that usually permeates the air around so many horses.

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They were watching me alright, with an intent stare that never left my mind, for each time I stole a glance back, there they were; gazing, pleading I imagine; “pick me, please pick me, pick me. Me!” Because believe it or not I used the same tactic many times during my hitch hiking years. But one instance that springs to mind was when I stared down the tobacco farmer who paid me to pick his leaf up in London, Ontario, but I digress. Clearly many of these intelligent looking horses had had enough of the corral, and wanted off, and away, with me on their back.

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Well, some did and some didn’t. One or two appeared content to take a timely afternoon snooze (it was bloody hot), while others continued their long patient stare.

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If any further evidence was required that this outfit is geared for success, one need look no further than this well organized, clean and efficient tool shop. Everything in its place – and a place for everything.

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See what I mean about that stare? I will one day ride this horse, I know it.

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However, given my utter lack of saddle-back knowledge, I imagine that I will first be fitted with, dare I say it, a sleepy head? Perhaps I am wrong, and these two fine looking animals come out of the blocks like thunderbolts, we’ll see. But when the time comes I will simply leave such matters to the experts – for experts here they are. No one runs an outfit as sharp as this without knowing a great deal about the business they are in, and I look forward to bringing them many a happy customer before the summer and autumn seasons are through.

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Upon taking our leave from Avalanche Outfitter’s wild west corral, our second task of the day was to nail down, once-and-for-all, which of the many, many trails crisscrossing the Crystal River Valley would serve as the timely mid afternoon walk, stroll or mini hike. Quite definitely not a a forced march, but a chance for Detourists to stretch their legs and experience verdant Rocky Mountain scenery, with lots of magnificent panoramic mountain views along the way. Not too steep, with a good reliable footfall, and with a nice easy, consistent gradient. Now, just where would such a place exist?

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Well, as it happens, right here! As you can see the AMD Bus is safely parked, away from the road, and under the shade of a small grove of cottonwoods so as to keep the vehicle cool as we amble along the flattish trail leading down to the right hand corner of the picture. What you are actually looking at is the old turn-off for the grueling climb up McClure Pass. At one time Highway 133, as we know it now, would have veered at this turn, and zig-zagged its way up the old dirt wagon road.

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Yes, believe it or not, this was once what Highway 133 is now. It wasn’t too long ago when huge sweating horses, mules and oxen heaved their way up and down this now verdant strip of vegetation. Loaded with people, cargo and animals, there was little or no stopping once this epic climb/descent was embarked upon. And although it may at first glance, from a pedestrian stand point, look quite impassable, I can assure you that, for we unburdened humans, it constitutes a very easy and navigable path, comprising a consistent 8 degree slope, as it winds its way deftly through the meadow grass and wildflowers. It is almost as though it had been plotted, placed and maintained by a slew of imaginative and attentive groundskeepers; with plenty of shady spots in which to rest, and convenient rounded and flat topped rocks upon which to perch.

And as we walk, view-after-view of pure natural scenic grandeur open up in two great galleries, first on our left, then right, as we round the first hair-pin bend, and make our way to the second, from where we are able to look straight down upon the bus from a lofty perch several hundred feet above. I will accompany the nifty and energetic to this point, because to reach the second bend definitely is something of a hike. But everyone will decide for themselves just when they have had enough of the climb, and will chose the point of their return accordingly. Either way, we will all meet up at the bus, as there are no paths leading off the old road. And so right on cue we will be on our way, most likely to Redstone, but perhaps to the viewpoint atop of McClure pass. It all depends on how that day is going – weather etc., and what the group preference that day prefers.

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Kris liked the path right away, and so did I. It sort of reminded us of many old abandoned railway tracks that we have enjoyed walking in various parts of the world – particularly our beloved Devon and Cornwall back in Old England. Yes, it really is that green and verdant. Never in our 16 years in the Roaring Fork Valley in fact have we ever seen it quite as translucently green as this: fantastic foliage, phenomenal and profuse wildflowers: scenes and photographs that are not likely to be repeated any time soon; for this year has proved something of an exception, and exceptionally beautiful the countryside is this year.

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Below reveals the view as we set out and along the old wagon trail. Spectacular as it may be, once we begin to saunter up the hill things soon change, and quite dramatically, as the valley opens up, and the views stretch out for miles in all directions, just as far as the eye can see. For this is where the valley turns what amounts to be a 90 degree bend, adding a spectacular twist to already quite stupendous views.

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Such is the gentle, even, and foot-sure nature of the trail, and so wide is the old wagon road bed, that walking, talking and taking in the view is a cinch. Maybe not all at the same time necessarily, but vast panoramic views pop out from behind every tree and bush, with spectacular panoramic vistas presenting themselves at every opening. And even though the gradient remains gentle and consistent at 8 degrees, within a very few moments we find ourselves lifted way up and off the valley floor, and into an alpine scene of magnificent and majestic proportions. For if there are better pristine Rocky Mountain views to be had in all of Colorado, so easily and relatively effortlessly attained as this, then I have yet to see them.

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But the real clincher for me is the ‘all abilities’ aspect of the McClure Pass Wagon Road walk. For if walking is not your thing, or you are unable or do not wish to exert such effort, and wish to simply rest and admire the views and the wildflowers, then that is exactly what you can do, for they are literally everywhere, almost right at the head of the trail. At least they were this one lovely July Sunday afternoon. But as the wildflower season around these parts does not usually begin until August, I am guessing that the trail will harbor wildflowers of some sort throughout the rest of summer and autumn season.

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You see, that’s the beauty of the Aspen Marble Detour, what you do, what you partake in, how you spend your time is entirely up to you. The afternoon walk for instance will take 30 minutes or so out of a 9 hour day, and during that half-an-hour or so you can rest, use a bit of zest, careen up the zigzags with me, or amble along at your own pace; the choice is entirely yours.

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Kris for instance, at this point along the way, saw no need to keep barreling on, as is my usual fashion, and chose instead to drink-in the view at her leisurely-leisure.

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Well, you can see why.

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As I mentioned earlier, the placement of the walk could not be more dramatic, for the old wagon road extends from the point marked McClure Pass Viewpoint on the map below – a strategic lookout to which we will ascend in the bus at some point during the day – to an intersection whereby a straight line upwards would meet Highway 133: that is our wagon road trail. Quite the best seat in the house when it comes to panoramic views I would say.

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Finally, in order to replace the genuinely interesting and authentic retail experience as offered by Avalanche Ranch, I have decided to add the energetic Colorado Mountain Town of Carbondale to the Aspen Marble Detour as a way of capping the day with one last splash of, well, whatever it is that Carbondale offers; for there is a lot, as you are to discover.

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In actual fact, Carbondale as an entity is somewhat difficult to describe. For just as it has been named ‘Best Place To Live’ in ‘Colorado’, ‘America’, and perhaps even ‘the world’ (who knows?): for a place so universally known, and of a size to cash-in on a huge scale, the town appears to have better things to do than pander to the legions of summer tourists drawn to far busier places further up the road. No, a distinct air of enjoyment pervades the air in Carbondale, and it is not coming from mass tourism, I can assure you that. Absolutely, tourists are welcome. Very welcome in fact – as I have always enjoyed the place myself, and felt well received as well, come to think of it. It’s just that the place has not thrown itself upon the alter of tourism. Rather, Carbondale folk enjoy their town, their way of life, partake deeply within it, and invite any and all to come and join in, as you will experience yourself late in the Aspen Marble Detour Day.

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Strange Imports for instance; I have been through those doors quite a few times and have always found their display to be interesting and intriguing. You never really know just what you are going to encounter, but compared to most things you see elsewhere, they really are quite strange indeed. Excellent quality too I might add. And very much worth five or ten minutes of anyone’s time, in my opinion. Another worthwhile visit is Kahak Fine Arts & School for its vivid, graphic, colorful canvases. Other attractions include the Marble Distillery, for its boutique shot bar, the Clay Center, for excellent local ceramics, a brew pub, several galleries, a pizzeria, coffee shop, burger bar, and so on and on. This little place would seem to have everything, including a vital and strong sense of community.

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Sundays are still Sundays in Carbondale, Colorado

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Of course, one crucial aspect of Carbondale’s persona is its affinity to, and support for, the arts. A stroll down Carbondale Main Street is akin to an art walk promenade. And for that reason no two visits to the place ever seem quite the same, as the artwork moves through a quite swift rotation. Plus, I have no doubt that much of it sells, for as you can see the bar is set refreshingly high.

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What I also find refreshing about Carbondale is that culture and counter culture would appear to get along – quite nicely in fact.

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Yep, all-in-all, and although I arrived at the decision in such a roundabout fashion, after Sunday’s revisit I am now rather happy at the revision, and delighted to bring the Aspen Marble Detour to such a delightful Rocky Mountain Town as Carbondale, Colorado. Just as I am thrilled to add a half-hour stroll along the old McClure Pass Wagon Road to the afternoon proceedings.

Mission accomplished then. Now all that is left to do is get the Aspen Marble Detour on the road, up and running, and giving people their one very memorable day, indeed.

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Finishing Touches Applied To The Aspen Marble Detour

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thanks for visiting martincooney.com

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