Welcome to week ten of our ‘On the Road’ series. In Aspen CO as of Sunday, June 5. Aspen welcomed us as if we always belonged there. Yes, it has its Beverly Hills section of town and yet it fits. The genuine friendliness we found from the many people we met here, along with camping among aspen, listening to the music of the Wild Fork River, walking in mountains that captured our spirit, and the progressive bend of the city of 7,000 people, will remain always with us. In fact, we’re thinking of returning when the aspens are in their fall glory this September.
Drinking strong black coffees Monday morning May 6, we listened to John Coltrane blowing smooth sax on KDNK community radio. We were camped among aspen in site #21 at Difficult Campground. Nothing difficult about the place, just about five miles outside of Aspen. We had a clean pit toilet and a water spigot two sites away, we could swim and shower at the nearby Snowmass Village Parks, Recreation and Trails Center, and meet the heart of Aspen.
“I don’t know what I’m thinking, but I’m feeling a lot,” said Bill that morning, feeling blissed. We each felt a great sense of joy after the best night’s sleep in a long while. Perhaps it is the confluence of rivers White and Roaring Fork that account for our bonhomie. Perhaps the high elevation at 8,180 feet. Perhaps the good mountain vibes in the air.
The KDNK radio host must have heard us: “Aspen is a good place to live if you like live music,” he said, after announcing he was hosting the ‘Gospel of Music’ show. I tell you, we were true believers in his brand of religion. The host continued curating a set of tunes that spoke to our deepest fiber: Willie Nelson, Ride Me Back Home; Old Crow Medicine Show channeling their most excellent Dylan impression with their rendition of Visions of Johanna; followed by Dylan himself singing Lily, Rosemary and the Jack of Hearts, just the right kind of tune for this rugged country.
Outside it was snowing drifts of aspen cotton, seeds with cotton fluff that clung to the soles of our shoes, in our hair, on our clothes, in our box of solar lanterns, in our suitcases and in our car. I’m finding the fluff in my purse, at this moment in the 99° temperatures in Grand Junction, CO, where I am typing this story at Colorado Legacy Fine Coffee. Bill’s uvula is still red and inflamed. He’s at the Urgent Care Center across the street, while I sit in the sauna-like shade outside the coffee shop, depending on its Wifi to connect me with the greater world. But I digress…
On our first morning in Aspen, I stopped at Aspen Country: A Food and Beverage Company, on Hudson Street. It is housed in a small wood-sided rectangle, like a tiny house. I ordered a GF egg and sausage sandwich, from Jeff, the chef inside. Heaven! Another Jeff and his wife Ashley are the owners of the eatery, the rainbow bulb-strung lights above the open air lounge next door, and Harper & Hudson Apparel and Accessories. Harper and Hudson are their kiddos. I asked Jeff, the owner, where the heart of Aspen was and he said, “It’s here.” Surely he’s right. Because my breakfast sandwich was made with heart. It was hearty fare that kept me fueled for several hours.
Our friends Gordy Blair and Kateri Alexander, who have never met, each recommended we visit the John Denver Sanctuary, located across from Aspen City Hall. We’ve long loved John Denver’s music. Back in the 70’s, when we found out about his love of the outdoors, and his positive outlook on life, we were kindly teased for being ‘nature people,’ and fans of his music. It’s true. We get high on nature and good music.
John Denver’s Sanctuary is serene, landscaped with flowers, ponds, waterfalls and engraved boulders with John Denver’s words to his popular songs, and other quotes by people important to John. One quote that resonated was by Jacques Cousteau. John Denver was friends with Captain Cousteau, sailed on Calypso, a research vessel, and wrote a song with the ship’s title. Engraved on a granite boulder are Cousteau’s words: “If we were logical, the future would be bleak indeed. But we are more than logical. We are human beings and we have faith, and we have hope, and we can work.”
Stopping in at the Aspen post office to mail a couple of Telluride T-shirts to our son Raymo and his partner Gino, I met an extraordinary woman working there. Asking the origin of her accent, she told me she ‘escaped’ from Russia. The woman had the patience of a saint as she dealt with all manner of customers waiting in a long line. She arrived in America 15 years ago and was able to bring her family here 10 years ago. She said she couldn’t go back, because she would be arrested. She posts opinions on social media and has 15,000 followers. Our exchange was of the heart kind I so value.
We booked swimming lanes at Snowmass Village Recreation for $15 each. A front desk woman, smart and direct, changed our reservation to an earlier time. We felt the elevation of 8,200 feet while swimming through the refreshing outdoor salt water. Afternoon rain sent us to the hot tub where we met Hill, a veteran ski instructor of 40 years. He recommended good places to eat in Snowmass, where he lives. He added that the secret time to visit is in September and October, when the aspen-covered mountains turn all shades of red to gold. Hill has a deep and resonant voice, which I could hear through the vents in the women’s locker room following our hot tub chat.
Tuesday morning we rose at 5:45 am, ate cereal, drank coffee, and drove to Maroon Bells Scenic Area, a premier visitors’ site outside Aspen. A popular destination, it requires reservations. We made ours in April, requiring arrival at the park before 8 am. Reservations are also required for the round trip shuttle from Aspen.
The Maroon Bells are a pair of 14,000+ high peaks. Composed of Maroon Formation, mudstone, they are reflected in the emerald lakes at their base.
We walked the lower lake loop trail and had enough energy to attempt the 3.8 mile Crater Lake Trail. About halfway up the steep trail, Rita from Woodinville arrived from uphill. “It is totally worth it,” she told us encouragingly. So up we went. There is about a mile of steep uphill trail through rocks. We were grateful for the walking sticks our friend Fred Bixby had carved for us that got us there and back again..
Returning from our five-hour hike to the lower lakes and the point above Crater Lake, took every bit of concentration.
Glad to be on flat ground at last, our reward on this Tuesday afternoon was a lady couple who were soon to be wed.
Hungry we ordered brisket from Aspen Hickory House. It has won the designation for best ribs in Colorado. We had heard showers were available at Saint Moritz, considered Aspen’s most affordable hotel. Inquiring at the front desk, we were told showering was free! Lovely they were. We’re thinking of staying at the St. Moritz when returning to see Aspen’s autumn color.
Consulting a business guide we found at the front desk, we located Meridian Jewelers. The owners were friendly and replaced the battery in Bill’s watch for $20. We later enjoyed our bbq dinner at the entrance to John Denver’s Sanctuary, sitting at cafe tables owned by the adjacent Theatre Aspen. Its Acting General Manager Michael Rader kindly informed us they would be hosting an event in half an hour. We assured him we would be finished by then. I slipped some of the delicious brisket to his sweet lady dog. As we were leaving, I thanked Michael and confessed to feeding his dog. He said she no doubt appreciated the treat. On the way back to camp, we passed by Poss Architecture and Planning on Main Street. We decided to stop by the next day to find out if this Poss was related to Bill’s family.
Wednesday morning after first breakfast, we walked a trail following the Roaring Fork River. Walking over stepping stones and onto the old bridge that covered the big river we were awed by the power of the water roaring out of the mountains.
We visited the town of Basalt, a nearby town where the median house price is $1.4 million. I wrote a story about Whidbey’s Handmaids movement while sitting before a two story window overlooking a creek at the Basalt Regional Library, one of the best designed libraries I’ve ever seen. Glass and wood and views and good design went into making this library extraordinary. Noteworthy is the human nest woven of eucalyptus branches above a woven branch base. It was built by the creative talent of Santa Cruz artist. Brian Capobianchi.
We stopped in at Architect Poss’s office on Main Street in Aspen after visiting Basalt. He is Bill Poss, has lived in Aspen since the (affordable) 1970s, and has designed some important custom homes and hotels. Meanwhile, we learned that the pair of Bills are not related; my Bill Poss’s people never changed their name. Bill Poss the architect’s family, meanwhile, emigrated pre-WWII from Germany and shortened their name to Poss when arriving in the U.S.
Looking for dinner, we again visited the ‘heart of Aspen’ at Aspen Country. Jeff, the chef there, remembered us from two days before. He told us he has lived all over the world and landed in Aspen a year ago. He aspires to be Aspen’s mayor. Meanwhile, Jeff, the owner, sped away on his moped to pick up some excellent GF bread for my BLT. That is dedication! While waiting for the return of my bread, we chatted with locals who brought their friendly dogs by. Nate and Mae were an interesting pair of man and dog. Later, Jeff the chef told us of a Ute legend. If we collect some dirt, we will be forever bound to the land. The following night we did pick up some red dirt along Castle Creek.
Thursday, June 9, was our last day in Aspen. We drove to the library for a wifi checkin. On the way out, I met a lovely woman, Marie Kelly. She told me she went through a tough time and started making white paper angels. She has made thousands now and her life has since improved. She recently shipped them to Uvalde TX, in the wake of the tragic school shooting. It was a gift meeting her.
After a swim and shower at Snowmass Village pool, Bill and I drove up a steep incline to Snowmass Village, where we ate al fresco at Big Hoss Grill. I enjoyed my pulled pork tacos and sitting up on the ski center’s second story. With the company of a nearby aspen, I felt we were in a tree house. Wondering how the 40,000+ skiers commute on the steep road in winter here, we asked our server and she told us the roads are heated.
Toodling up nearby Castle Creek Road we admired the tasteful estates and mountain views. Somehow the landscape spoke to us on such a deep level that we felt forever married to it. We will return.
On the return through Aspen, Bill suggested we stop in for gelato at Paradise Bakery and Cafe on Galena Street. It is a popular place with tasty goodies. The square outside is an excellent place to sit on a bench and people watch. Bill and I noticed the ladies in their designer clothes and jewelry wanting to be noticed. We admired the local families. A woman and her young son came up and started chatting. She is Izzi. He is Axel, a ‘divine reward and gift from the gods. Our miracle baby,” Izzi told us, being that she had Axel later in life. Axel is 5 or 6, a graduate of kindergarten that very day. Axel asked us to guess how many teeth were missing. I said 8, Bill said 9. Axel told us proudly 10 teeth had fallen out. We enjoyed their company and said we would hope to visit in the autumn. Izzi said she would never leave in the autumn, due to the dazzling aspen color, unless there was a death in the family. She offered for us to stay at their place and care for their lizard when they go out of town. Maybe we will.
Driving back that evening, full of Aspen’s good juju, our final gift for the day was seeing a gray fox walking along the entrance to camp
A half moon shone on the aspen bark, lighting it silver. Aspen leaves created moon shadows on our driveway. Ah…..
I am sitting at the Park City UT Library writing this up and hoping to have the whole shebang published in half an hour. Adios from Cactus Kate and Bajada Bill.