We decided to see the fall colors in the Rockies. I cannot walk and am in a manual chair. The chair folds and it weighs about 190 pounds with me in it. The plan was to fly to Denver, rent a car, and drive to the mountains. A car with hand controls can be rented at most US airports (the same is true for Canada and Australia). Check with the major car rental companies for the best price. When we arrived Budget did not have the hand controls available that we had reserved, so they arranged for a car with hand controls from Hertz.
The fall colors became vivid as we drove into the mountains. Our first stop was Aspen. We exited I-70 at Cooper Mountain on route 91 to route 300 through Leadville and west on 82 over independence Pass. This pass often closes early in the year, so check ahead if you intend to go that way. Aspen is also reached all year via Glenwood Springs.
Our reason for choosing Aspen was the Hotel Jerome. It is a beautiful
first class hotel that has special rates in the fall. We found that the
hotel lived up to its advanced billing and the service is impeccable. In
the height of ski season rates are over $600 per night, but in the fall
they have some rooms available for $95. The hotel was remodeled in 1985,
and they spared no
effort or expense to do it right. The room was spacious and the bathroom was very accessible with a roll in shower with a built in shower bench.
Aspen is a relatively flat town for being in the mountains. Wheeling around on my own was fairly easy. A gondola that operates on weekends in the fall goes to the top of the mountain. It is not accessible per US guidelines, but the people who work there will do all they can to help those with mobility problems get on. They have a sliding board and with a little help I was able to slide on and off. The ride up and view from the top was great. There is a restaurant on top and there is plenty of room to enjoy the view.
In Aspen there is a paved walkway along the Roaring Fork River. It can be accessed by the parking lot of the art museum. It is a pleasant walk (and/or wheel) listening to the sounds of the river.
Colors in the afternoon are very vivid from Snowmass Village or the road to Ashcroft. Both are a short drive from Aspen. The Maroon Bells Park is in a mountain valley with a lake and maroon colored peaks in the background. There is a paved walk of about 100 feet from the parking lot to a viewing area. We took a picnic lunch and had a nice afternoon. On the weekend access is allowed by bus only. They do have a bus with a lift, but it might be helpful to check ahead.
There are many shops and restaurants in Aspen (in my humble opinion - most of them overpriced). I am sure there are good places to eat but we didn't do so well in that department. Many restaurants are either up or down a flight of steps. I had soup in 5 places. One at the hotel I would rate a "B", two others I would give a "C-", and two were inedible. Meals at the hotel were a little pricey - a peanut butter sandwich to take out for lunch is $16.
About a one hour drive is the village of Readstone and another 10 miles is Marble. The ride was nice and both places are interesting. If you go to Marble be sure to take the drive up to the quarry - about 3 miles long. It is a one-lane road so be careful -watch for trucks, but the view is worth it. One note of caution, if it looks like rain get back to Marble as the quarry road is good when dry but very slippery when wet. To get to the quarry road, turn right at the fire station, and over the bridge.
We left Aspen and spent 2 days on the road. We drove the back way to Crested Butte. It is a gravel road but a good one all the way. The road is marked. It goes east from route 133 about 10 miles north of Somerset. We then went through Gunnison and spent the night in Salina.
The next stop was the Royal Gorge. We took the train ride - again not accessible by definition, but with a sliding board I could get on and off. There are many things to see and do there, although at times I thought "this place is a tribute as to how to take a beautiful place and make a tacky tourist attraction."
From Royal Gorge we headed for Cripple Creek. We took the Phantom Canyon Road. It is a good road but very narrow, 1 lane in most places, and windy. If that worries you, there are several other ways get to Cripple Creek on paved roads.
Unlike Aspen Cripple Creek is not level. I could get from one side of town to the other because it is down hill. I could never get back without help. The area around is very pretty in the fall and we had fun at the casinos. There are about a dozen small "store front" casinos. We didn't loose the farm, but the ranch has a few less acres.
There is a train ride around the area that is quite a hoot. The "engineer" gives a running commentary on the history of the area that I found very interesting. Many millions in gold was taken out of the mines in the area. The train is a working model steam driven train that huffs and puffs and belches smoke. Again it is not accessible but they will carry a wheelchair on if possible.
Fall in the Rockies is great. A car is easy to rent with hand controls. It is also easy to find accessible accommodations almost anywhere.
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