Marble, Colorado , U.S.A.
I grew up sixty three miles from Aspen, Colorado. (Culturally it was a million miles.) Instead of the Beautiful People, it was the home of ranchers and miners, and the Harcourt family, part of the working poor.
New Castle was a little coal mining town whose claim to fame is the burning mountain that overshadows the town. Not a volcano but a long ridge of coal that has burned underground for over a hundred years. A horrific mine explosion set the underground veins on fire and the mountain still sends out puffs of smoke that one can see in the winter. Vegetation does not grow on the seam that marks the coal vein, nor does snow lie on it in winter. My home town on the muddy Colorado River many years ago.
Thirteen miles to the east is the beautiful community of Glenwood Springs, so named because of the mineral hot springs that bubble to the surface and lure tourists to bathe in the largest outdoor hot springs pool in the world. Yes, I still know the hype. But it is grand. And I worked there when I was a teenager, as did my brothers.
and a favorite of my childhood.Water cress! While others in my family would fish, I stretched out on the bank and would reach under the ice-cold rushing water and gather the delicious makings of my favorite salad. I’d come prepared with a mixture of olive oil and lemon and salt. Perfection.
Further to the west was Palisade, Colorado, home of the best peaches in the world.But I have gone too far west here, where I want to take you today lies east of New Castle. Past Glenwood Springs toward Aspen which is fifty miles into the mountains. First we follow the Roaring Fork River as it roars down from Mt. Sopris toward its conjunction with the Colorado.I remember my grandfather telling me to dip my hand in this river and drink. He then taught me something I believed then, but is really not true. “A river purifies itself each mile that it flows. If a cow or horse should step into it, one mile down stream the impurity is gone.” He believed it and maybe in a less industrialized time it was true.
Halfway to Aspen we turn at Carbondale and on to Redstone and its “castle”. Here’s a winter photo of this beautiful lodge built by the millionaire owner of coal mines at the turn of the twentieth century. Looking at it today, it is not as grand as it was in my younger years. California’s mansions have perhaps dulled my sense of awe.
The Crystal River. If it was music, this river would be a symphony.
It’s crystal-clear waters leap and gurgle over the stones as it plunges down the steep grade. Blocks of pure white marble lie on its banks where they have toppled from a narrow gauge railroad that has long since disappeared. In ten miles we are there.It has been fifty years since I last visited this place, and I am sure much has changed, but some things have to remain the same. So isolated, so magnificent, so high it hurts to breathe if you are not acclimated. My husband and I wanted to go the marble quarry behind the rope and sign that said CLOSED, ROAD WASHED-OUT. We watched as a jeep-load of people laid the rope on the ground and drove over it and up the narrow trail. My dad had a Renault that he claimed was as nimble as a mountain goat, so we commandeered it and followed the jeep’s lead. Higher and yet higher until we came to the wash-out. There were three jeeps parked there. The Renault joined them. We walked on hand-in-hand. Then it had to be single file. Then to my cowardly credit, it was sideways with eyes not looking down, but inching past with hands on the mountain side.
I turned my head as far as I could while hugging the mountainside when someone passed the word to us in a low voice “MOUNTAIN SHEEP”. My once-in-a-lifetime sighting.
Another quarter mile on the original road and we heard the rush of waterfall, and huge blocks of abandoned marble were everywhere. We, along with our fellow travelers, went to edge of the quarry and looked down. And down, and down.
We stood there in wonder that the miners had been able to get this beautiful marble out its mountain hiding place, down this mountain, and to places all over the world where it became statues, gravestones, the Lincoln Memorial, the Colorado state capitol building, the U.S. capitol building.
On the way back to the bottom of our climb we passed a little graveyard where the graves were all marked with rough marble stones, of course. At one time 700 miners had lived in this high mountain place, now fewer than 50. That cemetery told a story that was heart-breaking. Nearly all the graves were children. A tough place to survive.
That night as we slept under the stars I told myself that I would return and do this again. But I never did. The beauty of this place has never lost its luster in my memory.