Autumn is, without a moment’s hesitation, my favorite season. Since I was little, I was drawn to the change of color, the onset of contemplation at school, the softening of the sun’s hue, the crescendo of the harvest’s intensely flavored foods. In fall, the words of Emerson ring most true… the melodic hum of life resounds.
This weekend we sought to soak in the colors of the golden aspen leaves in the Colorado mountains. A forecast of rain only made the sunny weekend more cherished in the end. We took the old route 285 to Aspen on a warm afternoon. Always, I have wanted to write a short book about this fabled route. Until that day, I will feed you sips of its stories along the way. In the past, a classic stop to sink our teeth into has been the Coney Island hot dog stand in Bailey. This time, our focus was on Hog Heaven BBQ– a must do if you are self proclaimed pulled pork fans. They take their business seriously, as any pig roaster might. They also take the Bronco’s seriously as well, which is why any home game, they shut down and head to the stadium with their stand.
As we ventured on and hit Buena Vista, the kid had an ice cream at K’s while I strolled next door to Stedman’s old fashioned soda fountain. The smell of sugar was intoxicating when I stepped inside. Over 35 root beers alone were available. The owner, a cheerful woman, enticed me to consider some homemade fudge. Buckets of old fashioned candies and chocolates were available–some that I hadn’t seen since I was a tyke. Big League chewing gum and a Jelly Belly soda later, my sugar-infused kid was ready to press onward through the breathtaking edges of Twin Peaks up Independence Pass.
Our first evening found us at Ellina. The menu was simple but the execution flawless. We enjoyed a braised artichoke bruschetta with black truffles and poached egg to begin alongside a Chassagne Montrachet by the glass. Dinner saw a rabbit for my guy (I won’t cook it at home– I own one as a pet for God’s sake), and I had a ridiculously absurd plate of pepper fettuccine with egg and carbonara. We shared a 2002 Bitouzet Prieur Volnay Pitures 1er. I have had little opportunity to imbibe in this treasured vintage. This particular red was very enjoyable, however it lacked the poetry and tension I was seeking. It was very affordable and certainly glorious for the price (in Aspen no less), but it was shy. Perhaps the timing, weather or pairing of altitude with my nose made it so. It isn’t the first the high elevation has messed with my sense of smell. The sommelier, Jill, was absolutely stunning and impressively knowledgable. I was at instant ease and only too anxious to hear her thoughts on Bourbon and Tequila (a common love we had second only to wine).
Our first full day in Aspen, we hit up the rivers with some fly fishing rods. Our hunt for browns and rainbow trout was a little successful– lots of bites and a couple actual catches. Operator error was possibly the shortcoming. We went with Aspen Flyfishing in town, if you are looking for a solid, reputable outfitter.
That evening, we got our sushi fix at the famed Matsuhisa. Our family seriously begins talking about this venture weeks in advance, knowing that it is the best sushi we will have for months. The balance, texture and flavor this restaurant is able to deliver is so undeniably superior to me. Another Rosenthal Imports selection– 2009 Jean & Sebastien Dauvissat Chablis Montmains 1er— was a perfect choice to carry us through a delicate, yet determined dance of dinner.
The next day, we endeavored to hike the Maroon Bells. The quick realization that not only did we need to get there before 9a to avoid the bus but that, in fact, even this was way too late if we expected to park, took us to another local hike as an alternative: the American Lake Trailhead near Ashcroft. I am so grateful our misfortune in the morning led to this outcome. I had to idea what was in store. Without hyperbole (something that is hard for me to temper), I can say this was the best hike I have ever done in Colorado. It had everything this time of year: a bubbling brook, turning aspen trees, a thick evergreen forest, fallen trees, moss, a large array of birds (from gray jays to dark-eyed junkos), marmots young and old as well as the apex of the climb– a green crystal-like lake complete with a mountain backset and trout swimming happily along the bottom. A moderate climb 3 miles up makes this a perfect 3 hour hike altogether.
For lunch, we guiltlessly dug into some Mexican food at El Rincon, slurping down a few traditional margs. Afterward, some took a nap, while I fell into the wise hands of a masseuse. It was heaven after a long hike. A few hours into the evening, we took a recommendation and went to Steak House No. 316. It was actually better than anticipated. Lined with plush red velvet and trinkets from the turn of the century, this mining town themed restaurant not only looked good… the steaks really were unbelievable–the best all three of us have had in a very long time. Even for those who would rather not eat cow, there were dozens of other options that were just as tempting– classic seafood fare (oysters, lobster, crab, shrimp) but even a few vegetarian dishes made with local produce that really rivaled the page for enticing entrees. We hunkered down to a 2005 Marques de Murietta Castill Ygay Gran Reserva, as it seemed one of the few times when a healthy dose of oak could compliment the food.
We couldn’t help ourselves on the way home, taking the old 285 once more, grabbing a burger at K’s and some fudge at Stedman’s. Kenosha Pass reeled in hundreds of visitors, as locals and tourists alike both young and old gathered to see the once a year spectacle of leaves singing their resonating swan song. Autumn leaves represent so many contrasts… so many years and memories… so much life and death. This time of year can make one feel so young with nostalgic moments of fleeting deja vu. This season can also make one feel old, as almost instantly following these glimmers of youth is the recognition of passing time.
I recommend if you haven’t seen the show, you sneak up to the hills just one day this week. There is certain to be a few aspens ablaze for you to reflect upon…