Aspen is a unique city of about 7,000. I am always reluctant to write about it because so few people seem interested. Aspen has the reputation for glitzy wealth that is growing despite social setbacks. This is tying some residents in knots because they need guests and workers. These resident are forever trying to make this a community for everybody and not getting too far. Exclusivity will impact Aspen’s future negatively. As restaurants and accommodations become less affordable, more people like us will stay away from a town that needs people like us. How, for example, can a music festival survive without middle class support that can fill a vast tent and other venues? How can an average family visit a place where the average meal in a restaurant costs a small fortune? Some in Aspen are sincerely trying to work on its image and attract a broader range of visitors, but this is becoming less possible each year.
This reputation for exclusivity is recent in time and space. When Ruth and I started to include Aspen in our travel plans it was still affordable. I had a cousin named Bonnie who lived in Aspen for many years before moving on. I have unfortunately lost touch with her. In our lifetimes, Aspen has gone from a one-time mining town of merchants and mining types to its now high-minded reputation for attracting only those with pots of money. This town is trying to stay in touch with its roots with 4 attractions: a museum, a mining site, and 2 ghost towns. Over time I have become familiar with all four.
Today I will focus on Aspen’s mining past. Before COVID, I walked to the Holden/Marolt Mining and Ranching Museum and liked it. I focused on the mining aspects of this community to the neglect of the ranching the first time so wanted to return. When we were able to return together after a long absence, I took Ruth there and was surprised that she really liked it. We also visited the Wheeler/Stallard Museum in town to learn about Aspen’s distant past and sample the new Music to Go, and we stopped at the ghost town of Independence on our way out of town.
The mining museum was a rich learning experience for both of us. I revisited lots of left mining equipment while Ruth toured what I had already seen, and then I focused on Aspen’s ranching past before joining her. I looked at ore samples and learned that the world’s largest and most productive silver mine once spread under this mountain mining town. Unmined silver nuggets are fairly rare but not in Aspen. In 1893 an 1,800 pound nugget was found here. The mine eventually closed because of a global collapse of the silver price not because of a lack of found silver here. I studied the lives of miners who worked by candlelight until carbide lamps were invented. Mining silver was dangerous work, and I learned about drills, sledges, period clothes, ancient washing machines, and ice farming.
The ranching part of this museum was small, but I enjoyed historical photos of the Marolts, a couple who started a ranch, grew winter wheat, and made millions by buying land cheaply and then selling it for high prices. I was very fascinated by photos of sheep in Aspen’s streets from the 1930s into the 1960s when this town began to change and grow wealthy.
We had seen the ghost town of Ashcroft during early visits, but now we became more familiar with the ghost town of Independence. If we are fortunate to return, I would like to take a tour of a vivid place 16 miles east of Aspen near Independence Pass that was once a prosperous mining town called many names but over time became commonly known as Independence. Tours are given daily between 10 am and 6 pm in the summer. The town was finally abandoned when late and frequent winter storms caused the few remaining miners to dismantle their homes, make 75 pairs of skis, and head for Aspen.