John Denver wrote the lyrics, “Gee, it’s nice to be back home again!”
And while I returned late last week from seven nights in Glenwood Springs, Fort Collins and Boulder, the clean windows on my car presented a beautiful fall trip through the mountains, where my wife and I saw the aspens ranging from a bright golden yellow to the unchanged medium-level green.
We got off to an early start on Wednesday night and drove to Glenwood Springs to stay with friends for three nights.
On Thursday, the husband of my high school classmate drove Cris and I to Aspen for lunch. I was editor of the Aspen Today from 1972 to 1974 but hadn’t been back since. What a disappointment that was. It was almost like I had never been there before.
We drove around a bit with my mouth stuck open over all the change.
We did eat lunch at The Red Onion, where I had many a meal at the place founded by Warner Kuster in the 1950s. Kuster was one of the members of the Aspen-revitalizing 10th Mountain Division and one of the town founders in this modern-day ski world.
He was a great man, mostly jovial—though not always—and his no-nonsense German/Austrian background was not in doubt. The meal was as good as it always was.
After lunch I spoke with a woman in a wood booth at the main intersection in town and she told me what I had feared. That there were only three original buildings left in the downtown area: The Hotel Jerome, which is one of the top social night spots as it was back in the ‘70s; Independence Hall, where I lived for about six months—it had been a bordello, a boarding house and was, when I lived there, a fairly cheap, not very updated boarding house with a small kitchen for about 30 rooms; and The Swiss Chalet, also at this same intersection. It had been a sporting goods store and was now a real estate office.
After driving around other parts of Aspen, which is indeed a beautiful place, I was kind of glad to be leaving. When I lived there, it was a fact you couldn’t even find an in-town lot and small house for less than $1 million. The woman told me the average house and lot, which are often not very big, averaged roughly $5 million in town. Speaking of nice to be back home, Aspen wasn’t good to return to and I now know I don’t need to return again.
The highlight of the Aspen trip followed the Aspen lunch. We turned at Carbondale on our way back to Glenwood and decided that since it was Cris’ birthday we’d take her for a gorgeous side trip. We went way up the mountains to Redstone and then to Marble, including driving 12 miles up to the marble quarry.
First of all, Redstone is probably the most beautiful town I have ever visited. It is small, the town has united efforts to make certain every home is kept up and beautifully detailed—and it is unique and worth the trip.
We continued to drive through the high mountains to near timberline at 11,000 feet, and the closer we got to Marble, the more marble blocks were strewn along the road.
Marble—the town—is like a marble museum with hundreds of small and quite large sculptures in front yards, parking lots, driveways, and every other nook and cranny available.
We were not allowed into the mine but we did get up to the front gate of the quarry, which is once again in operation after quite a few years of being closed.
The aspen trees all along the way were bright gold, interspersed with the pine trees, and the only other obvious color in the forest was the red clusters of the sumac—which I understand are poisonous, so we left them alone.
On the way down from the mine quarry, we stopped and drove around Marble a bit. It didn’t take long to see the entire town, but we found at the main (only?) intersection in town a restaurant that had a 15-foot smoker part way into the intersection and bellowing some of the most incredible smoked meat smell.
It truly was one of the best barbecues I have ever tasted and we bought brisket, ribs and pulled pork, baked beans and cole slaw and took it back with us for an awesome dinner overlooking the canyon at the friend’s house in Glenwood.
On Saturday, we were lucky to go against the traffic as we drove to Fort Collins, where we stayed with my sister, who had just retired from being manager of a shoe store after several years.
To me, the Front Range offers only one thing I look forward to: food.
We did the Noodle Co., which offered curried shrimp and noodles, which is a major favorite; a Thai restaurant to die for, where I had eaten before, and a couple of other types of food that were a pleasant change from the limited Rio Blanco County fare. We were also able to fix foods at my sister’s house that you cannot buy in many places.
When I used to go to Fort Collins from Arizona, before I moved here, I always brought one can of 72 escargot (snails) and sis Sheila and I would enjoy them by the dozen. I would sautee them in butter, garlic and parsely (I even have the snail shells), a dozen each day for each of us, and we would feast outside on the patio with escargot, a little wine and some pieces of French bread dipped in the butter/garlic sauce. That was a heavenly repast.
Because I don’t have access here to escargot, I didn’t bring them with me, figuring I could certainly find them in Fort Collins, where I can find tongue, huge selections of world cheese, wines from around the world, clotted cream and vegetables and fruits you just can’t find in this state, including in Glenwood or Grand Junction.
I was wrong. We went to seven stores in Fort Collins, including Trader Joe’s, The International Market and Whole Foods as well as all of the grocery stores in Fort Collins (seven that I remember) and there was not a canned snail to be found. Disappointed again.
Then it was on to Boulder. Dinner at a different Thai restaurant there was wonderful, but again, we couldn’t find escargot at any of the stores we visited, including the Whole Foods, which was reportedly the the largest Whole Foods in Colorado, and I was told they hadn’t carried snails in 12 years.
The other food we were looking for was Cajun. We had two favorite restaurants in Las Vegas, which was 90 miles from us when we lived in Arizona, and both were places we could buy crawfish, very large shrimp and crab by the pound each. These restaurants offered three different levels of “heat” from seasoning and three different types of seasoning.
We had friends we would drive up to Vegas with once a month, and we would usually order a pound of crawfish and pound of shrimp each. Forget the superlatives to describe them; let it be said it was worth the 90 mile drive each way.
On Wednesday last week, we drove home. We didn’t run into much traffic because it was mid-week, but we didn’t mind the slow times because from the time we left Idaho Springs until we were well past Vail, the aspen trees were about 70 percent of the way toward their peak of color change.
I would bet, just from seeing what we saw two weeks ago up toward the Flat Tops, where the aspen change was just barely beginning, and what we saw last weekend on the way home, that the peak of color change in Northern Colorado could be this coming or the next weekend, depending on the altitude.
Last year was tremendous—probably the best color change I had seen in my life with the exception of one fall years ago spent in New England. But if the amount of precipitation is an indicator of improved color change, this year should be pretty good in the higher altitudes of Rio Blanco and the surrounding counties.
Gee, it really is good to be back home again—and we brought some of that Front Range food home with us as well.
Just a quick update here. Cris and I drove up County Road 8 on Saturday to see the conditions of the color change.
It was much different than we thought.
As we started up, there was almost no change.
After we got about 10 or 11 miles up the road, there was some color change, but the majority of aspens had not started or were just starting to change.
When we got about 25 miles up, about 7 miles past Lake Avery there was a mix. Some looked as if they hadn’t started to change at all; some looked to be early in the change; some looked as though they were at a drab peak because there just weren’t any bright golds except in some of the low brush next to the road; and there were huge stands of aspen that were bare.
We got as high as just past Deadhorse Creek, which is 40 miles up County Road 8, and while there were starting to be some bright yellows,we were kind of disappointed that the huge spans of gold so present last year weren’t there.
It was obvious that some non-aspen leafy trees were already dormant for the year, perhaps due to freeze that killed the leaves.
But while I in no way claim to be an expert on arborial matters, I would guess that this coming weekend may be the peak for the high country and in the next few weeks for the lower elevations.
There are still enough trees that haven’t started the change that there certainly is still potential for the beautiful fall folliage.
Oh! Those cardiac Broncos!
When I was growing up, the Broncos were known as a team that could always find a way to lose in the last few minutes.
Eventually, when Mr. Elway came around from Stanford, the Broncos became known as a team that could find a way to win in the last few minutes.
Then, it turned back to where the team could always find a way to falter.
Now, with Mr. Manning at the helm, it is once again in the pattern of finding a win in the last few minutes of a game.
But as long as I have known that the Broncos were my team, and that was when I attended the second home game ever of the Broncos at the old Bears Stadium in 1960, I remember them being unofficially called the Cardiac Broncos.
So while John Denver was right that “Gee, it’s good to be back home again,” the other adage also seems to hold true: “Some things never change.”
The Meeker Lions Club did a tremendous job of turning chaos into well-working order on Thursday as Colorado Grand came to town to bestow $15,500 in checks to local entities.
The courthouse lawn had a huge tent and tables and chairs all set up to feed the more-than-200 drivers, teams and passengers a good lunch along their tour.
Heavy rain forced a cancellation of plan and the organizing Lions had the Rio Blanco County Fairgrounds all ready for the drivers, who had to be diverted from downtown to the fairgrounds—and that was done successfully and with very few problems.
The large livestock barn was used as a garage, where about 90 percent of the vehicles could be parked, and the 4-H building was set up to handle more than 200 people for lunch.
(I must add here that several—not just five or 10—of the drivers were overheard stating that the lunch of the Indian frybread and all the fixing was the best meal they had along the entire route.)
But the mix of Meeker and Colorado Grand, which featured classic, vintage and upscale cars from decades past and mostly from Europe, is great for both groups. Meekerd will certainly gain from the positive actions of the Lions and the kind words of the drivers and their teams, and Colorado Grand gains from coming through Meeker, which has always gone out of its way to take good care of the group and make them feel at home.
This year it is the Meeker Lions Club that deserves the pat on the back and all the accolades possible because they turned what could have been a wet disaster into a great success.