by Marilyn Noble
September is my favorite month in Colorado. The days are balmy and warm, the mornings crisp and cool, and the sky is a glorious deep shade of blue. And then there are the trees. A quick drive through the foothills west of Denver shows the aspens just beginning to shimmer gold, but up in the high country, the display is reaching its peak.
Flying over the state from Denver a few days ago, I could see spots of brilliant yellow and gold on almost all the mountains, from the Sawatch Range and Sangre de Cristos to the San Juans. Before I left, I spent a weekend on Colorado’s Western Slope and drove through a good part of the state. It was especially beautiful in the Crystal River Valley around Redstone and Marble and along Independence Pass between Aspen and Leadville.
If you want to see the splendor that’s autumn in Colorado, make an easy day trip from Denver by traveling I-70 west to Georgetown and heading over Guanella Pass, which is mostly dirt for about 20 miles until it connects to Highway 285 to bring you back to Denver. You could also continue up I-70 past Georgetown to Lake Dillon and Frisco and then drive over Hoosier Pass through the Mosquito Range. If you make that choice, be sure to stop for lunch at the Tiki Bar in the Dillon Marina. You can enjoy your burger and beer sitting under a tent on the lake, watching the clouds wander over the mountains and the wind surfers out on the lake. Just don’t forget the sunscreen.
If you have more time, head west to Carbondale and drive up the Crystal River to Marble, where they’re still pulling crystalline white Yule marble from the quarry that gave us the marble for the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier in Washington. Stop and visit the historic Redstone Inn, built by John Cleveland Osgood as a dormitory for the unmarried coal miners who settled there to work at the end of the 19th century. It makes a good place to spend the night – Redstone is a small village filled with art galleries and shops and it’s off the well-traveled path that most Colorado tourists explore. To return, drive through Aspen and over Independence Pass, then along the Arkansas River headwaters to Buena Vista at the foot of the Collegiate Peaks. From there it’s an easy drive east on 285 through South Park, over Kenosha Pass (more color), and into Denver.
One note – I-70 through Glenwood Springs is currently under construction and is limited to a single lane in both directions. Expect slow, heavy traffic and delays. And one more thing – EVERYONE in Colorado likes to get out on the weekends to hike, bike, and see the colors, so traffic back into town on Sundays backs up on both I-70 and Highway 285. If you have a choice, go during the week when the trip is considerably easier.
If you want to get the best pictures of your leaf-peeping adventure, check out these tips from the Denver Post.
Marilyn Noble is Rio Nuevo’s cookbook and blog editor, and has written four cookbooks including Southwest Comfort Food and The Essential Southwest Cookbook. She is also the co-chair of the Southwest/Mountain Ark of Taste committee and the Colorado governor for Slow Food USA. She splits her time between Colorado and Arizona.