Grandpa Points: Colorado Leaf-Peeping, There’s Gold on Those Hills

Oct 12, 2018

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The mid-to-late 1800s saw the hills and mountains of Colorado awash with thousands and thousands of prospectors drawn to the area because of the natural colors found there. Gold, silver and copper were the primary colors of the Colorado Territory and the deposits actually played a huge role in the granting of statehood in 1876.

Many cities that dot the Centennial State today are a direct result of the influx of color-seeking visitors 150 years ago. Those that came then were physically hunting for ore and the riches that accompanied significant claims and discoveries. Gold and silver and copper, those were the treasures at the end of the rainbow, in the depths of a mine or in the bed of a snow-fed mountain stream. The rush for these minerals has long since become a part of the lore, legend and history of the state and the footprints of that activity remain as a visual link to that transcendent era.

Colorado Leaf-Peeping

Today, the people still come, and they are still attracted by the colors. Only now, it is the deep rich blue of the sky, the alpine white of the winter snows, the verdant greens of the mountain valleys, the earthly hues of the rocky slopes and the explosive autumnal array of gold, red, yellow and orange.

Those top of the spectrum colors led us to our recent visit to the aptly named, Colorful Colorado.

The hows and the wherefores of this trip will be pursued in a later story, but the whats and the whys are simple and straightforward. It started with a middle of the night ride to the Houston airport that had us in the TSA security line before the agents started their day. We arrived in Denver before the sun climbed over the Kansas border.

Nearly 40 hours later, we were back on a plane awaiting takeoff to return home. In between, we were color-chasing-leaf-peeping-fall-loving-sons-of-a-gun.

Visiting Carbondale, Marble, Aspen and Kebler Pass

We followed I-70 to Glenwood Springs and then turned our direction and attention to the slice of pie-shaped paradise of an area between Carbondale, Marble and Aspen. We did extend our mission to include Kebler Pass, home to some of the most extensive aspen groves in the state. However, rain and cloud cover literally dampened the viewing there and we cut our losses and decided to save that adventure for another year.

Kebler Pass through the clouds and rain

The aspen trees garner most of the fame for their flaming gold color, but the cottonwoods, maples, elders, scrub oaks and willows all play roles in Colorado’s fall colorization.

At times, the aspens look as though they are spilling down the slope or hillside as they are most frequently seen in thick and dense quantities.

An FYI for you, entire aspen groves can be clones of each other as they share one underground root system. Each tree is merely a sprout off the same root structure and share an identical genetic makeup. This helps explain why large sections of trees look and act so similarly. Additionally, the aspens are the largest-growing organism on the planet when measured by mass. A single colony can grow up to 5 miles in length.

The aspens usually peak between mid-September and early-October. This year, the trees turned a little early due to the drought conditions throughout the state, but we found plenty of color to satisfy our palate’s pallet. If you are really lucky, you might catch a year when an early snowfall decorates the mountain color like frosting on a cake.

Stopping at the Iconic Maroon Bells

One of the iconic aspen-viewing locales is Maroon Bells outside of the city of Aspen. It is quite popular and heavily visited. Unless you are on the dawn or dusk patrol, you will need to ride a shuttle bus in and out of the site during peak seasons. The cost averages at about $7 per visitor.

Everywhere you look, a blanket of color seems to present itself. Sometimes it seems almost monochromatic and other times it is like a patchwork quilt with the color of jelly beans.

Aspens thrive at mid-range elevation and need moderate amounts of moisture for optimum growth and viability. Water is important to the trees and the trees seem to say thank-you by beautifully bordering a flowing stream or framing a blue mountain lake.

Traversing Independence Pass

On our return trip to Denver, we went up and over Independence Pass. The Aspen side of the pass was wearing a beautiful fall cloak that kept us pulling off the road time after time to get a better view and absorb the scenery even more profoundly.

Independence Pass is a classic mountain experience. It is inspiring and beautiful. It is challenging but not hold-your-breath intense. Everyone we met at the summit was in great spirits. The top of the pass is way above the tree line and presents itself as a living definition of the word tundra, a treeless mountain tract.

Grandma Points and her youngest daughter

Our little overnight 2,000-mile trip proved to be so worth it. We pushed hard, maximized our time and opportunity and saw a photo album full of awesome delights. We lost a little sleep, but gained some more great memories. This is not our first time chasing fall foliage, and fingers crossed, it won’t be our last.

Safe travels to all!

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