We went looking for aspens. Fall color a la Colorado. Leaves the color of butter and marigolds, as intense a yellow as Julianne Moore’s gown at the Emmy’s.
Leaves that flutter like butterfly wings, against a sudden morning chill. Leaves that twirl in the searing afternoon sun. Make you think about getting out the down jackets, making soup, gathering people home. The spell of the western aspens take no back seat to those red leaves on the east coast.
We came up with a road trip from California to Colorado, to meet with friends who live in Kansas. It was a rare man-plan vacation, concocted by my husband and his motorcycle buddy who on a trip last fall had been so struck by the blazing Rockies that they decided we should rendezvous there this year.
We packed our pickup with New Yorkers and books, coffee makings, peanut butter and crackers, stuffed pillows into our tender lumbar regions, and got out of California and into Nevada and Utah and Colorado. Using real maps, the fold up paper kind you get from the AAA that let you follow how far you’ve gone and must still go.
As conflicted as this country is, as much as we yell at each other, we still come together in our mutual adoration and pride in the physical beauty of the place. Eventually you end up at a lone gas station eating ice cream bars and talking about the last amazing stretch of nowhere. And nobody is really paying attention to the other’s bumper sticker or gun rack because we’re all just really wanting to ogle the pretty leaves and some big piles of rocks. All looking for a view of America.
I’m kind of chicken when it comes to the desert. It’s so exposed and raw. And it has snakes. A rest stop in the desert consists of two toilets and no trees. There’s no cell service, hardly any radio. The sign says, next services, 68 miles. You are on your own, bud.
But it’s an adventure. I put down my Alan Furst novel set in Paris and looked up at dark, cracked, ominous mountains that look like Afghanistan. I took control of the CD player, popped out my husband’s endless and forever Goldberg variations in favor of an old Bob Seger CD and wailed, “We were young and strong and we were running against the wind.”
Then came the giant red rocks, the enormous spires you get in Utah, that look like a stone cityscape, a walled fortress or some government buildings in Moscow. You must stop and pay respect. You have to get out of your car and place your tiny little human self next to those ancient domes and canyons.
Then you get to sweep down into the dusty town of Green River and escape from the highway food and gas marts to a side street oasis called Desert Flavors, painted purple and serving true creamy gelato and coffee drinks.
Oh, yes, the promised aspens. The Rockies delivered their fall color. Spilling down mountain crevices, bunched beside rivers, dressing up the plainest Jane town, the aspens appeared in glimmering jeweled clusters. But we saw no big super shows. We were a bit late in the season explained Constance who runs a roadhouse in Twin Lakes, Colorado which provides claw-foot bath tubs and a front porch where you can hear night sounds from wild things in the mountains.
We met up with our friends in Salida, Colorado, an arty town with good chefs, youthful energy, a river walk and whimsically painted old houses. The trees were perfectly yellow. The weather was perfectly fall. And the funny thing was, it was almost perfectly the same when we came home. Returning through Yosemite, we were greeted by our own, perhaps less famous, aspens and back to the golden fuzzy hills and russet vineyards of a California fall.