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Wildflowers and waterfalls

Collin Szewczyk/cszewczyk@postindependent.com
Collin Szewczyk Post Independent |

A common criticism of modern life is that we have too many choices. From television channels and flash in the pan clothing lines to fast-food restaurants and cell phone apps (but not providers), Americans are flooded with a multitude of consumer choices.

And while most of these options either lead us toward owning more garbage or living a more sedentary life, those of us lucky enough to live in the Roaring Fork Valley face the enviable problem of having too many hiking trails to choose from.

Whether you’re looking to summit a peak or access a remote fishing lake, there is a hiking adventure for all tastes.



One popular, yet remote, option is the Geneva Lake Trail in Lead King Basin near Marble.

To get there from Carbondale, follow Highway 133 for 22 miles and turn off toward Marble. Drive the main road through town and up past Beaver Lake. Another mile or so later the road splits, with the path to the right going to Crystal City and the one to the left taking you into Lead King Basin. Follow the left road for about 8 miles to find a “parking lot” near the trailhead.



Though it is a loop, the road to the right is extremely rugged past Crystal City, and can only be done by an experienced driver with a high-clearance vehicle.

The Lead King Loop is not for the faint of heart. Steep, narrow shelf roads, large obstacles and water crossings are the norm on the way into this majestic basin.

Once inside, the tension from the drive in melts away as you find yourself surrounded by towering peaks and lush plant life. The trail crosses a landscape covered by a rainbow of wildflowers. Various columbines, red fairy trumpets, paintbrush, yarrow, blue flax, penstemon, larkspur, aspen sunflowers and sneezeweed add color to the hike. Tall waterfalls cascade from above, drowning out the aggravations of daily life so many worlds away.

The three-mile ascent to the lake is gradual at first, and then begins to steepen as you hike rocky switchbacks, gaining just over 1,200 feet along the way.

About two-thirds of the way up the Maroon Bells appear off to your right making for a perfect photo opportunity. The last quarter-mile flattens out and takes you along a shiny, golden stream that flows from the lake. The stream is teeming with brook trout, but the fish are very skittish. It’s best to pursue these fish near dusk when there are fewer shadows, as even a gently placed fly made them scatter.

A short climb later and you’re at the lake’s edge. The natural colors are truly amazing — a sapphire jewel surrounded by a sea of emerald. The lake, which sits at 10,936 feet, on this day was smooth as glass, reflecting a perfect mirror image of Hagerman (13,841 ft.) and Snowmass (13,619 ft.) peaks in the distance.

At the lake’s edge, king’s crown sprout up from the ground adding a brush stroke of red to the Renoir-esque landscape.

There are seven campsites at Geneva Lake, and no campfires are allowed. And while it is very buggy this time of year, the inhabitants were the most polite mosquitoes around — I wasn’t bitten even once.

The hike and surrounding splendor are wonderful examples of nature’s artwork. A perfection millions of years in the making and only a few hours from home.

What a reward for such a short travel time. Amazing waterfalls, beautiful wildflowers, a glowing trout stream, picturesque Geneva Lake and the feeling like you’re a million miles away from the everyday.

Oftentimes proximity can be a crutch, making us revisit the same familiar places over and over again, keeping us from reaching out to that truly magical destination. But then again, sometimes that breathtaking spot is closer than you think, it just takes a little effort.

cszewczyk@postindependent.com


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