The Roaring Fork Valley, by anyone’s estimation, is a scenic wonder, with towering peaks, verdant forests and bucolic meadows. But as anyone who has ever visited the Maroon Bells can tell you, the side valleys in this area can be even more spectacular. From the sandstone cliffs of the Frying Pan Valley to the rugged mountains of the Castle Creek Valley, a short jaunt of off Highway 82 can lead you to vistas and settings that will stick in your memory forever.
One of the most beautiful excursions to be found just off the highway is a trip up the valley of the Crystal River, which terminates in Carbondale and is home to the wonderful little villages of Redstone and Marble. The drive will take you less than an hour from Aspen and includes dining, shopping, sensational views, and even a little bit of history.
The best time to make the trip is on Sunday mornings in the summer, when the Redstone Inn offers up its sumptuous brunch buffet. Starting in Aspen, follow Highway 82 west to Carbondale and make a left on Highway 133. Take 133 through Carbondale and go roughly 16 miles to Redstone, which will be across the river on your left. Take the south entrance into Redstone and park at the readily apparent Redstone Inn, which will be the first building you encounter in town.
Head into the inn for brunch, and when you’re done, take a few minutes to wander down Redstone Boulevard and check out the eclectic assortment of shops, cafes, churches and parks. Though it was started as a company town for the coal mines across the highway, Redstone has evolved into a thriving arts community with its own unique style.
When you’ve had your fill of Redstone, hop back in the car and continue down Highway 133 another five miles to County Road 3. Take a left here and travel roughly 6 miles to reach downtown Marble, if a town this small can be said to have a downtown. You’ll know you’re there when you reach a stop sign outside of the Marble General Store. Take a right here and go one block to the parking area for Marble Town Park.
As its name implies, Marble is home to one of the world’s most productive marble quarries and supplied the stone for such well known monuments as the Lincoln Memorial and the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier in Washington, D.C. You should be able to see evidence of the quarry as you enter the town park; the area immediately adjacent to the parking lot is usually filled with giant blocks of marble awaiting transport.
The main draw of the park, however, is the incredible ruins of what was once the finishing mill, a massive building where the stone was cut and loaded onto trains to be shipped out. All that remains now are a number of pillars, floors and free-standing walls, all of them constructed of pure marble and lurking like ghosts amongst the trees. A short, self-guided walk will take you to the major points of interest and give you a brief description of the role each played in getting the stone ready for shipping.