“Best of all he loved the fall, the leaves yellow on the cottonwoods, leaves floating on the trout streams and above the hills the high windless blue skies. Now he will be a part of them forever.”
Ernest Hemingway’s exquisitely constructed imagery evoking nature’s autumnal signs, written as a friend’s eulogy, repeated on Hemingway’s own Ketchum Idaho memorial, came to mind on a 36 hour visit to favorite Colorado haunts we hadn’t seen in a few years.
A bargain $137 round trip airfare and opportunity to experience a Hemmingway-esque autumn lured us to the Denver-Aspen axis. We drove U.S. 70 West to funky Glenwood Springs at the confluence of the Colorado and Roaring Fork rivers, population 9,614. Just east of town, Hanging Lake was closing for the season. We laughed remembering clawing in the 5,763 foot altitude, one mile almost totally vertical trail to the lake — about 16 years ago. We literally pulled our full body weight up, grabbing roots and attempting footing on rock outcroppings for about four grueling hours round trip. We gasped out a turning back option many times. But we kept telling ourselves “it can’t be much farther.”
Only our ascents around Machu Picchu, Peru were a comparable challenge.
A few years ago, the park service cut stairs into the rocks and installed railings. But even with that change from when we climbed, multiple blogs describe the current trail as “extremely tough” and “the hardest thing I have ever done.” Wimps! we muttered smugly.
We wandered 1893 Hotel Colorado which hosted flamboyant President Teddy Roosevelt. “You have to have a certain mind set to enjoy this hotel,” wrote one reviewer. The shadowy Victorian ambience bespeaks a past era, which we find charming. Buses for white water rafting leave from the hotel which is also across the street from the natural hot mineral springs which have soothed achy bodies since the Ute tribe of Native Americans enjoyed its 100 degree waters.
After lunch we headed east toward Aspen to catch an hourly bus tour of the Maroon Bells. In many summer and winter visits to Aspen, I had never seen these famous hiking mountains and meadows.
It was there that the Hemingway quotes intruded. The Aspen tree leaves are turning vivid yellow, and in the quiet of the forest, their brittle dying leaves make a distinctive rattling sound. The fall skies, as Hemingway wrote, are glorious, vivid blue.
Several shopping streets are closed to vehicular traffic. Although Aspen’s notoriously high prices for everything remain, the downtown area seems slightly shabby. Snow is just days away, and summer streets will soon be packed with skiers discussing their Black Diamond runs.