You can get started at the state’s excellent web site, www.colorado.com , then zero in on the southwest region for Gunnison and Crested Butte, and check out Aspen on the site’s northwest section. Or just go directly to GunnisonCrestedButte.com and aspenchamber.org . Linking the communities is a memorable drive along the West Elk Loop. The 204-mile, two-lane journey provides a great sampling of the national wilderness areas, climbing steep mountain passes that follow the route of the old railway tracks and lit by miles of aspens at their golden best. You’ll want to stop at small towns tucked into the river valleys, like Marble, whose quarries produced stone for the Lincoln Memorial, and Redstone, a mining company town built in 1901 with taste and care that today is home to artists and craftspeople.
About a mile from Aspen, Ashcroft, now a ghost town, was set up along Castle Creek by silver prospectors, who, like their fellows, experienced boom and bust in the flicker of an eyelash. After silver’s decline some old-timers stayed on, and during a fascinating tour of some 20 structures including saloons, cabins, hotels, the old jail and post office (all but 3 of them original), one gets a sense of what drew them to live out their lives in this isolated but beautiful spot. In the summer months guides called “living ghosts” vividly summon up a sense of what it was like to inhabit the 1880s mining town once known as Aspen’s Evil Twin.