Welcome to our On the Road series with Bajada Bill and Cactus Kate. We’ve seen plenty of bajadas—skirts of debris below desert mesas—and very few cactus during our second week on the road, which took us from near Park City UT, to where I’m now sitting in the turquoise couch booth at the Pitkin Co. Library in Aspen. Photos by Kate Poss, unless otherwise noted.
Here’s a peek at our life on the road since Friday, Sept. 22:
Green River UT
We drove east on Hwy 70 and stopped in the city of Green River UT. Its claim to fame is uranium mining and a former anti-ballistic missile launch site from Green River to White Sands NM during the 1960s. An Air Force missile mounted in the city park features a plaque with this info. We loved our food truck fare from La Pasadita—which received the 2022 designation of top food truck of the year in Green River. We loved the soul of the place, after the sterile beauty in Park City UT. Bill and I each enjoyed tacos on homemade corn tortillas with pork.
Marion’s door latch had stopped working again and flapped open when parked across from Tacos La Pasadita. We duct taped the door shut and drove, worrying again, east to Fruita CO. Googling brought us to Centennial RV in Grand Junction CO. Kevin the service manager said his shop did not have the parts for repairing a 1979 Canadian-made Trillium. He recommended we call Lawrence Lucerno, a mobile RV specialist.
Meeting Lawrence in the parking lot of Fruita’s Ace Hardware, Lawrence removed the door latch mechanism. He used a special grinding tool to shave off 1/8 of an inch of the interior parts to increase the length of the latch, whose material is flaking away. It resembles flaking lead on a poor quality pencil.
Bill watched while Lawrence worked. “Holy moly, man, keep a steady hand,” Bill said. “It’s like watching your child being circumcised.”
We could’ve been charged a whole lot of money for a brand new part, along with the labor. Lawrence charged us $100 and we gave him a $100 bill, which he stuffed in his pocket. But we got just what we wanted—a creative, innovative person who used his imagination to fix the problem, and, fingers crossed, it will last. Well, it didn’t. The door flapped open a few days later. We bought clear duct tape at a Walmart and will tape the door closed when we take to the highway for the remainder of the trip.
We walked into the wildly popular, Wild Tomato Pizza in Fruita, just before the crowds arrived. Their pizza is A+ and we ordered one with a GF cauliflower crust, Italian sausage, mushrooms, and bell pepper, along with a fresh salad. Oh man, so delicious!
We walked around the Fruita Fall Festival, and I bought a pair of silver earrings from a Hawaiian man, whose Hawaii-based father makes the jewelry. Proceeds from the sale go to support the Lahaina folks who lost their homes and family members in last August’s fire.
Arriving at our campsite right around dusk, we found it was a handicapped site. The campground host assured us it was OK, and if someone did arrive, we could move. However, he said he’s seen only two disabled campers in the past two years. Campsite 5 at Saddlehorn Campground in the Colorado National Monument is next to the bathroom with a terrific view of the Book Cliffs range across the Colorado River valley, and high above the outdoorsy city of Fruita. The flush toilet bathrooms are kept impeccably clean, though with its open door, scores of moths fly in and meet their maker each night.
Wanting to swim and shower, we drove to the nearby Highline Lake State Park, turning on 11 8/10 road—many of the street names have fractions—stopping at the Graham River Farm to pick up local produce—delicious tomatoes—one of which we enjoyed Sept. 27 in Aspen.
The lake was cool to swim in and is popular with paddle boarders. Unfortunately the lake stole my swim fin, which sunk to the bottom. With the lake’s milky clarity, I could not tell how deep bottom was. I tried diving down to feel for the fin, but could not sink deep enough to find it.
The next day we bought local produce, including Palisade peaches at Skip’s Farm to Market on Aspen Street in Fruita. We did a couple of loads of laundry, returning to the Colorado State Monument in the afternoon. After entering the park, we were greeted by a herd of Bighorn Sheep crossing the road. A handsome ram and his lady studied us through our car window as we looked at them. A great exchange of eye contact. It was late afternoon and we decided to drive the entire 19-mile Rimrock Drive, which exits in Grand Junction.
Spectacular canyon colors—red, pink, purple, orange, tan, bronze, cream—like they are in Abiquiu NM— and we took some great photos. One of the memorable moments is when we met a French couple who took a photo of us, and then we saw a powered-hang glider flying overhead. The French gentleman stood on an outcrop out over the canyon, waving at the overhead flyer. The man’s perch out over a deep canyon gave Bill the willies. Heights without rails give him vertigo. We then drove down into Grand Junction to enjoy chili cheeseburgers at Sonic Drive-In.
The following morning we drove through red rock mesa country to the city of Palisade, famous for its peaches. We arrived in time to catch the farmer’s market, where I ordered delicious chicken verde tacos from a local food truck. We stopped to eat in the shade while watching a local woman sing popular tunes. A couple of peach farmers, Ron and Susan Lasley, joined us. We learned of their travels, of their life growing peaches, of Susan’s life back in St. Louis Missouri, where she once lived, but after falling in love with the Rocky Mountains, moved out West. We really enjoyed their company.
Arriving in Aspen Sunday, Sept. 24, our campground is only 10 minutes’ drive from town. Difficult Campground, is part of the White River National Forest Unit, where we pay only $16 a night with our federal senior pass. We are camped at 8,170 feet. Our amenities are a pristine pit toilet and water spigot nearby our campsite. We hear the Roaring Fork river. A set of mountains surround us, rising 1,000 and more feet. Covered in spruce, fir, pine, oak, maple, and aspen, which is just beginning to show its fall colors, in four days’ time the mountainsides will resemble a Bob Ross painting or the paint-by-number kits we enjoyed as kids. In Colorado’s mountain shadows, we are bathed in vibrant yellow, oranges, purples and bronze.
Monday morning, Sept. 25, the sun rose above the mountains about 8:30, starting with sun at the top of the peaks, and the shadows sliding away. The reverse happens in the evening as sunset is about 7 PM.
I sat in my camp chair, looking out at the aspen leaves flittering in the slight breeze. There was a smell of smoke in the air and we learned it was from a controlled burn. The dancing aspen leaves formed moving shadows on Marion, our Trillium home on wheels, and the whole scene was framed by the steep mountains all around us. An orange and brown butterfly landed at my feet. I was reading the Tibetan Book of Living and Dying, by Sogyal Rinpoche, and it gave me great peace of mind. Adventurer Doug Wertz took this book on his year-long sail circumnavigating the globe. After interviewing him and writing a story, I was inspired to buy the book for our excursion.
With a Rocky Mountain natural high we drove into Aspen for bakery and ice cream at Paradise Bakery— “Aspen’s only fresh baked all day long and made from scratch muffins and cookies.” From there, I walked across the street to the Ralph Lauren store and bought a pair of socks, the only affordable items in the store, where a woman’s sweater was selling for $280. The young employees draped around the interior looked like models in their perfection and poses. I do like Lauren’s clothes—I have a couple pairs of pants and a skirt, all bought at thrift stores that are durable and fit well.
I walked several blocks to Explore Booksellers, a jewel of a bookstore in a rambling Victorian home. I met Susan, a second generation Aspen woman, looking smart in her fedora. She’s a wonderful person to talk with and showed us photos of the early days when her parents skied the local slopes. Bill joined us after his ramblings about town. Susan advised us to visit the Herbert Bayer exhibit at the Resnick Center at the Aspen Institute the following day for a tour.
That evening, the temperatures dropped to 39°, and I stood outside in my down vest brushing my teeth. I looked up to the northern sky, admiring the ‘W’ of the constellation Cassiopeia as it rose above the mountain. A two-thirds moon provided enough light to walk to the restroom, even casting my shadow along the road. It is magical here in Aspen, as it is in the book Sister Noon by Karen Joy Fowler, a book I picked up from the Friends of the Aspen Library books for sale for $1.
Tuesday, Sept. 26, we enjoyed a breakfast of purple yam tofu, eggs, and kale. We listened to the meditative music of Krishna Das on Bill’s iPhone. Looking out the window, we watched the sun shrinking shadows on the mountain, while yellow aspen leaves trembled in the slight breeze nearby. Looking out our side window we saw a tiny chipmunk harvesting purple berries—are they huckleberries?— leaping like an athlete among the branches. They also strip fir cones in seconds, leaving the cone debris beneath their favorite harvesting perches. The birds and critters are busy caching their winter supplies. Our campground closes Oct. 1. Snow arrives typically in October.
We left camp and drove to Aspen, where we shopped at Aspen Thrift Shop—where I scored a cool Colorado-themed bike shirt. The shop donates $35,000 a month to worthy causes. It is our kind of place to shop affordably in Aspen.
Later, we parked at the Resnick Center for Herbert Bayer Studies, located on the Aspen Meadows Campus. Herbert Bayer, was the Austrian-born visionary artist/architect/graphic artist who designed the Aspen Meadow campus, re-imagined Aspen as a world class destination ski town in the 1950s, and a valued partner with Walter Paepcke, former president of the Container Corporation of America, a major benefactor of jumpstarting Aspen from a forgotten silver mining town to the stratospheric real estate town it is today, The average home now sells for $3.2 million, and rent for a one bedroom apartment averages $7,000 a month. We are lucky, paying $16 a night at Difficult Campground! Median hotel rates exceed $500 a night.
The Resnick Center, which opened in 2022, was built with a generous donation of $10 million by the Resnick family. We were introduced to Herbert Bayer’s art, which was featured in a 1953 book, World Geo-Graphic Atlas, a promotional publication Walter Paepcke gave to his clients.
Sarah Shaw, communications manager, at the Resnick Center for Herbert Bayer Studies, greeted us, and several planners from nearby Pitkin County offices.
“I have a big interest in how this campus was laid out,” Sarah said.” “The Boettcher Building, adjacent to the Bayer Center, with its concrete masonry unit (CMU) blocks and materials, cost $10 a square foot to construct (in 1973). Bayer was the first ‘earth artist.’ He imagined a cultural utopia, and served on Aspen’s planning commission. This came after a 50 year downturn following the silver boom. Men like Walter Paepcke bought up the land for the back taxes. Bayer’s idea was embrace the future. The aspen leaf logo was his idea. He developed Aspen’s ski area.”
While we toured the exhibit, we learned that one of Bayer’s early advertising campaigns with the Container Corporation was conservation. For instance, he created an idea for recycling newspaper—“News that is never read. Newspapers to cardboard.”
Original renditions in Bayer’s World Geo-Graphic Atlas were displayed at the exhibition and feature Bayer’s interest in geography, meteorology, and the earth’s features. It is a worthwhile visit to learn of one of Aspen’s early founders.
That evening, our new neighbors across from us in an Airstream fired up their Honda generator. Bill walked over and asked that they relocate it on the other side of their Range Rover, so that it didn’t blast noise our way. The gent did move the generator, telling Bill the and his wife needed the power to stream HBO.
That night we slept badly—I dreamed of a tsunami rising through Malibu canyon, where we used to live. In the same dream, Petra, the wizard woman who pushes the right technology buttons so that this blog can run, needed rescuing, with me giving her a shirt to cover her toplessness. Then Petra and I trudged through snow with an abandoned black and white kitten to an empty car that our veterinarian Dr. Bishop was visiting with another cat. Very odd! Meanwhile, Bill woke up feeling nauseous in the night.
We had a reservation for the über popular Maroon Bells nearby and were supposed to arrive at 8 AM. I confessed to Bill that I had a sense the night before that we shouldn’t go there, but didn’t wish to spoil his enthusiasm. We agreed to cancel the visit and enjoyed the morning at the trailer instead, strollng down a nearby path, enjoying the heart shaped aspen grove turning orange and yellow up on nearby Smuggler Mountain.
While walking through the golden-hued landscape, we talked with a couple of handsome hunters, with perfect teeth and impeccable camo clothes after a night spent in the wilderness near Kevin Costner’s estate, searching in vain for the bugling king elk, who asserted his dominance among the other males. They carried bows with many arrows attached.
We drove up to an elevation of 10,440 toward Independence Pass, which rose behind our campsite. Independence Pass, at 12,095 feet high, is the summit of the Top of the Rockies National Scenic & Byway. We stopped at Lost Man trail to goggle at the yellow and orange aspens lining the mountain ridges. At another pullout, we admired the graffiti trees, aspens which bore the mark of visitors’ etchings.
At The Grottos, I was grateful to the National Forest Service folk who drove daily up the mountain to clean and stock the vault toilets. I thought, why do folks complain? There is much to be grateful for. Like stream side picnic tables, the spruce and fir scented air. The wizard hat spruce pointing up through the yellow zigzag line of aspens on the mountain side. The sound of the wind and river.
After our intoxicating visiting to the Top of the Rockies, we descended into Aspen, which rests at 7,108 feet in elevation. Wanting to visit the Aspen Art Museum’s Rooftop Cafe, we first met a couple of women on the stairs leading to the top. They were Heiki, the owner/designer of Evoke Women, custom handbags Heike sells at the weekly farmers market and online. Marisa, a ski instructor, posed wearing the attractive bags, some embedded with gemstones. We enjoyed a visit, and Marisa took our photo on the stairs. What a fun encounter!
Leaving the crush of shoppers and diners behind, we drove to the Aspen Meadow Institute, where we shopped at the Herbert Bayer gift shop, visited once again with Sarah Shaw, and toured the Aspen Meadow campus, enjoying Bayer’s earthwork designs, along with a geodesic dome by Buckminster Fuller and a 2006 gift by the Zwan family of Andy Goldsworthy’s sculpture of red stone, “Stone River.”
Returning to camp that evening, we were stopped near the entrance by a moose mama and her baby, who wished to nurse. We crept slowly around them, hugging the opposite side of the road. Later Bill saw perhaps the same couple in a neighboring campsite. He said the mama head-butted the calf when it tried to nurse, looks like it’s time to be weaned for the big youngster with the hunched shoulders. The moose strip young aspen trees of their leaves.
Time to swim again at nearby Snowmass Village Recreation Center. We swam there for $15 each, and showered two days ago. I tell you, swimming at 7,880 feet altitude is a workout! Another place to shower is at welcoming St. Moritz Lodge in Aspen. While the front desk says there is no charge, it is good juju to leave a donation.
Tomorrow we drive to Ridgeway CO, where I hopefully will complete this story. Adios from Cactus Kate.