Every leaf speaks bliss to me, fluttering from the autumn tree (Emily Bronte, British author, 1818-1848)
Among all the signs of autumn in Colorado, the golden shimmer of quaking aspen trees tops the list for many residents and visitors.
Despite living here for 35+ years, we have only rarely experienced the magic of golden aspen displays. During our working years, we could only get out of town on weekends, but usually didn’t, especially in the fall, because roads and hiking trails were clogged with leaf-peepers.
Being stuck at home this year due to the pandemic provided a golden opportunity (no pun intended) for weekday aspen viewing, and I have a few photos to share from three nearby hiking spots – Hermit Park Open Space, Caribou Ranch Open Space, and Rocky Mountain National Park. We were lucky to hit peak color during our visit to Caribou Ranch on Sep 30th.
But first, a late summer visit to Colorado Chautauqua in Boulder – no golden aspens here, but lovely nonetheless.
The Chautauqua movement began in New York in 1874. Focused on bringing education, culture and entertainment to rural America, Chautauqua assemblies spread throughout the country until the mid-1920s. Several hundred Chautauqua communities existed at the height of the movement, but only about 18 are still operational.
Colorado Chautauqua in Boulder opened its doors in 1898 with the sole purpose of providing a summer session of classes and lectures for Texas school teachers in a desirable (and cooler) location. Today, with the original structures intact, it’s the only remaining Chautauqua west of the Mississippi River that has been in continuous operation.
The property contains miles of hiking trails, and we just scratched the surface on the hazy and smoky day of our visit. You can see just a hint of fall color in the grasses.
This was our first, but probably not last, visit to Colorado Chautauqua. Because the park is popular with locals, you need to be prepared for scarce parking spaces and crowded trails. Nonetheless, it’s a beautiful spot and well worth the effort. Be sure to check out the dining hall for lunch.
Hermit Park Open Space
Hermit Park sits just a couple of miles outside of Estes Park. The 1,362-acre parcel of ranch land was purchased by Hewlett Packard in 1967 as a corporate retreat site. Forty years later, it was purchased by Larimer County and other partners (public and private) and preserved as public open space for hiking, mountain biking, horseback riding and camping.
We learned about Hermit Park from our friends Leslie and Bob, who sang the praises of the Krueger Rock Trail when we got together to celebrate Leslie’s birthday in September. So a few days later, off we went in search of blue skies, fresh air (with no smoke from nearby wildfires), and maybe even a few golden aspens.
We weren’t disappointed in the least – Krueger Rock is a beautiful hike, and we found a few colorful aspen trees straightaway.
Here are a few additional photos from the hike to Krueger Rock. The expansive mountain and valley views visible along much of the trail were an unexpected treat.
We’ll be adding Hermit Park to our list of places to visit on a regular basis – a hidden gem just an hour from home.
Caribou Ranch Open Space
At Caribou Ranch, we found gold, silver AND platinum, as in golden aspens, an old silver mine and platinum records.
In 1971, music producer James William Guercio purchased 4,000 acres of mountain property near the small, quirky town of Nederland and converted an old barn into Caribou Ranch Recording Studio. Over the next 14 years, Caribou Ranch hosted a ‘who’s who’ of leading rock & roll artists, including Chicago, Elton John, John Lennon, Billy Joel, Tom Petty, Rod Stewart, U2, Michael Jackson, Earth Wind & Fire and many more. Click here for a complete listing of musicians who recorded at Caribou Ranch as well as additional historical tidbits. Here is a photo (not mine) of the recording studio.
It’s been estimated that writing and recording activities at Caribou Ranch resulted in sales of over 100 million albums, some of which went platinum, which means more than a million copies were sold for an album or two million for a single. There were 45 top ten albums, 18 Grammy award-winning recordings, and 20 number-one Billboard hits recorded at Caribou Ranch.
The studio closed in 1985 after a fire on the property damaged the control room. In the 1990s, Guercio sold 2,180 acres of his property to the city and county of Boulder to be preserved as open space, which is where we hiked. The remaining 1,400 acres containing the old recording studio and other structures were purchased in the mid-2010s and remain under private ownership.
Other than the smoky haze that has permeated our area for what seems like an eternity, we had a picture perfect day for hiking. This was the view from the entrance to Caribou Ranch Open Space.
We saw plenty of golden aspens on the trail and in the distance.
A short spur off the main trail leads to the Blue Bird Mine site, from which silver ore was extracted between the 1870s and the 1960s.
The path to the mine follows the route of the long defunct narrow gauge rail line known as the Switzerland Trail. Around the turn of the 20th century, tourists were enticed to hop aboard with claims that “one need not go to Switzerland, to Italy or to Spain for sublime mountain scenery.” Indeed.
The DeLonde homestead shown in the photos below was the site of the first Arabian horse ranch in Colorado in the 1930s. Later in the 1960s, it was used in the filming of Stagecoach, starring Bing Crosby and Stefanie Powers.
Today, Boulder County sponsors an Artist-in-Residence program during the summer months, whereby artists can apply to work on their projects while staying at the little red barn shown in the photo gallery below.
These final few photos were taken on the drive home along the section of the Peak-to-Peak Highway that runs between Nederland and Estes Park. We enjoyed our scenic leaf-peeping day!
Four Lakes in Rocky Mountain National Park
Even though we live only an hour from Rocky Mountain National Park, we stopped visiting years ago. Too many people and not enough parking at trailheads and other places of interest on the weekends, which was the only time we could visit while still working.
This past summer we had plenty of time, but with COVID-19 restrictions, we still couldn’t visit. The park instituted a timed reservation system for the summer months to limit the number of visitors, which we supported, but it was nearly impossible to snag a ticket. Demand eased after Labor Day, however, so we got in during the first week of October.
The Emerald Lake hike starts at the Bear Lake parking area, which you can only access via shuttle bus during the busy summer months.
It wasn’t readily apparent there were fewer visitors than usual, since we met hundreds of other hikers on the trail. About half were wearing masks. But even with the crowds, we had a superb hike, passing two lakes – Nymph and Dream – before reaching Emerald Lake.
Emerald Lake was tough to photograph – the pesky sun was in the exact wrong spot while we were there. This was the best I could manage – a partial view.
A few additional photos along the trail:
Back at the trailhead, we took a quick spin around Bear Lake.
We were delighted to find lingering color on a few aspen trees.
So glad we reacquainted ourselves with the beauty of Rocky Mountain National Park. It was a truly delightful day!