Late this afternoon, after I finished writing two grant applications and one report on a landscape restoration consult, I gave myself a time out–that is, time outdoors, not punishment. Red and I took a leaf-peeping drive to see the aspen on the Marshall Pass Road southwest of Salida.
Marshall Pass is the old railroad route over the Continental Divide; between 1879 and 1890 it was the only line between Denver and Salt Lake City, and thus the Pacific Coast. During that time before cars and highways, Salida was the center of rail travel in the Colorado mountains, and saw trains carrying U.S. Presidents (including Ulysses S. Grant and Theodore Roosevelt) and other famous folk.
The Marshall Pass line was narrow-gauge, with rails just three feet apart, which allowed for a tighter turning radius in the switchbacks climbing the over the high passes but meant smaller cars and smaller freight loads.
After the standard gauge line was built over Tennessee Pass above Leadville, the Marshall Pass line became a local route; the upper part of the grade was abandoned in the 1950s and became a scenic auto route. (I live along the lower part of former line where it cuts through the town of Salida; it is now a popular section of Salida’s 8.5-mile town trail system.)
The beginning of the grade is mellow, and then it begins to climb, and climb, and climb, winding its way toward Marshall Pass and the shoulder of Mt. Ouray.
At first the patches of aspen were small, and scattered. But so bright! As the road wound its way uphill the clumps of aspen took on different hues, including orange and scarlet.
I stopped to shoot photos and inhale the cool air whenever the sun came out from between afternoon rain-clouds, or the colors were especially lovely, or a cut in the old narrow gauge roadbed invited investigation, or whatever. [Warning: Possible aspen-color overdose ahead.]
Which explains why it took me almost two hours to drive the 36-mile round-trip between Salida and just below Marshall Pass.
I was feeling worn-down before I left. Now I’m not. After time out among the aspens and the peaks, my heart is full of wonder and my spirit is tap-dancing.
And I am grateful once again for the gift of life on this numinous blue planet.