A fire drill while camping near Aspen

After our week-long southern Colorado vacation, we took some time off from outdoor adventuring… but only five work days (ha!!) because we were coming to the start of leaf peeping season, and although the first weekend of September is usually too early to see the aspen leaves changing colors, we had to check out the scene, just in case! We had also volunteered to petsit our friend’s dog for the Labor Day weekend, but we weren’t going to let our pawrent life get in the way of our fun! Besides, what doggo wants to be stuck inside for the weekend anyway?!

We chose Aspen as as our destination for the weekend because what better place to scout for changing aspen threes than the town of Aspen! Hubby found a 4WD road up the ski run in Aspen that can be driven (or hiked) during the summer, so this little adventure was first up on our agenda for the weekend. I’m not going to lie, we felt pretty slick being able to drive up the steep switchbacks while everyone else paid for a gondola ride or hiked.

After reaching the top of the ski hill, we continued south on the top of the 4WD mountain pass in search of a campsite. The views at the top of the mountain pass were incredible, but it was ironic that our drive outside of Aspen could not have been more void of actual aspen trees! This was likely due to the high elevation and being above treeline where trees cannot survive as easily. We weren’t complaining though, because more important than the presence of aspen trees, our views were void of wildfire smoke! Somehow the skies had cleared up pretty well after dealing with some horrendous wildfire smoke during our southern Colorado trip the week before.

Driving up Richmond Hill (a 4WD drive road up the ski hill) outside Aspen, Colorado.
The views at the top of Richmond Hill Road outside Aspen were incredible, but it was ironic that there were actually no aspen trees to be found! This was likely because we were so high up in elevation and above “treeline” where trees cannot grow as well. Nonetheless, we enjoyed the fact that the views were void of the wildfire smoke that plagued most of our Colorado summer days in 2020.

We enjoyed the smoke-less, aspen-less mountain views and eventually found a serene spot overlooking a lake with no one else around, which allowed us to unleash our three happy hounds. They were thrilled to explore after the long, bumpy car ride and burn off some doggo calories!

Our view of the lake could not be beat, but we had to set up our campsite on one of the most slanted campsites we have ever staked a tent on. Hubby and I, along with our three dogs, slept the whole night in one big ole, literal doggie pile, since it was impossible not to slide down the slanted slope and onto one another. We would have loved to spend two nights at this beautiful spot, but the tent situation was just a tad bit ridiculous, so the next morning we moved on in search of new living quarters.

One of the advantages of our following day of exploring was that we actually came upon a small patch of aspens that was changing colors that we could swoon over.

The dogs outnumbered us by three to two on our camping trip outside Aspen. We thought we might have trouble keeping an eye on three hounds, two of which are old and partly deaf, and one that was not accustomed to the freedoms of camping in a forest, but all three of them behaved so well and didn’t wander far.
We found an incredible campsite near Taylor Peak outside Aspen that overlooked a serene lake. It is difficult to tell in this photo, but the one drawback of our campsite was how slanted the site was. We were rolling into each other all night long and slept in a literal doggie pile!
Three of the best furry camping companions we could ask for! They were so thrilled to explore off-leash after the long, bumpy car ride and did a great job not straying far.
Our campsite overlooked this lake in the trees down to the right.
Our only glimpse of changing colors was this small patch of aspens on the side of the 4WD road during our drive from our first campsite to our second campsite.

For our second day of camping, we ended up on another 4WD road south of Aspen called Montezuma Basin Road. This road dead-ends after about four and half miles and has trails that lead to two popular 14ers, Castle Peak and Conundrum Peak. We found ourselves nearly at the end of the road without finding any options for camping because most of the viable camping spots were frustratingly occupied by vehicles of hikers. This was so tragic because we passed some perfect camping spots at the start of the drive (before the road got much more hairy) with phenomenal views of waterfalls in the backdrop.

Fortunately, at almost the last viable spot for camping before the road turned into uncampable scree (a mountain slope covered in loose rock), we found a small open spot on a cliffside above a stream. If we squinted really hard, we could also see a spectacular waterfall cascading down the scree in the distance. We did a short hike up to this waterfall after setting up camp, but we certainly had no intentions of hiking up to the difficult 14ers nearby.

Our second campsite for the weekend was along this road in Montezuma Basin. Campsite is the orange tent hiding in the trees beyond the hairpin turn on the right.
If we walked out to the road beside our campsite, we had an awesome view of this waterfall in the distance cascading down the scree.
We took a short hike to the waterfall we could see in the distance. We had to carry the dachshunds over this scree in order to get to the waterfall. It was not a simply hike!

When I awoke on the third day of weekend camping trip, my oversensitive nose could smell smoke right away. The early morning sky was slightly more smoky than the previous two clear days, but I actually dismissed the smell and thought that it was just all in my head or possibly nearby campers breaking the camp fire ban.

It wasn’t long before hubby noticed the smell, too, and the sky was obviously smoky. In fact, the sky started to get so smoky that hubby and I actually began to silently panic about there being a wildfire nearby. This was a huge cause for concern because we were out of cell phone reception and couldn’t look up current wildfire alerts to see if we were in danger.

Furthermore, we were on a dead end road and if there was a wildfire on any of the section of road we had drove in on, we would be in big trouble trying to find a way out. On the other hand, we thought that surely a forest service ranger would have found a way to quickly drive in and alert campers and/or surely we would see helicopters circling the area.

Despite seeing neither a forest ranger or helicopter, we were still really concerned. Needless to say, we packed up camp as quickly as possible and hightailed it out of there (stopping for a few smoky pics though, of course).

Thankfully, there ended up being no wildfire nearby and we returned to the highway without incident. There were so many wildfires in Colorado, California, and Utah at the time that it was impossible to tell exactly which fire was responsible for the smoke we observed during this weekend. The smoke was was bad that it was present the entire drive back to Denver!

We were fortunate that we had only experienced a fire drill and not an actual fire. It certainly put things in perspective about how easily an irresponsible or unattended campfire in the woods could lead to a very bad situation for several people out in the wilderness, especially if it is late at night when campers are sleeping. We may never sleep soundly in the mountains and woods ever again!

When we awoke on the third day of our camping trip, we could smell smoke and the skies were just starting to get slightly smoky. We didn’t think much of it until half an hour later when the smoke was quickly getting thicker.
The wildfire smoke got so thick that we actually panicked that a wildfire might be nearby. This would be bad news because we were out of cell phone reception without any way of knowing if we were in danger and we were on a dead end forest service road with only one way out.
Wildfire smoke blanketing the sky on our drive out.
Wildfire smoke tints this gorgeous view of a waterfall cascading down a cliff in the distance. This view is from one of the campsites we could have had at the start of our drive in if the spot hadn’t been unnecessarily occupied by vehicles of day hikers. Tragic!

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