For weeks we had been searching our favorite spots for changing aspen but whole groves stayed stubbornly green. Then suddenly came the explosion of color, a stunning mosaic of gold, orange, red and emerald green aspen everywhere—Bear Lake, Alberta Falls, the Peak to Peak Highway, Endovalley. It was as if nature couldn’t hold back any longer.My wife Lori and I woke early Sunday morning and drove to Bear Lake through aspen groves in their full glory. We parked in the lot and walked around Bear Lake before hiking up a steep trail into a patch of orange aspen. I was content to hang out in the aspen, take a million pictures, and breathe in the clear, crisp air of fall as the leaves rustled like paper coins around me. But Lori was on the go, up the steep Flattop Trail before I could catch my breath.By name alone, one would expect the Flattop Trail to be flat. Nothing could be further from the truth. The trail climbs aggressively west, with the occasional vistas through the pines of Longs Peak in the distance. Below us groves of yellow aspen smudged the green-carpeted mountains. We could see tiny Alberta Falls, like a white fingernail clipping, in a distant valley.I’d long soaked through my shirt and stripped off my fleece as we climbed through a forest that had changed from the long-needled pines to spruce and fir trees. Young couples vaulted past us, intent on the summit. We slowed as our legs turned to jelly and we labored to breath. Good heavens, how much farther were we going?Lori stopped at the Dream Lake Overlook. Longs Peak dominated the skyline to the south and below we could hear people talking as they walked along Dream Lake. Hallett Peak towered above us.Yes, this was the perfect destination for a crystal-blue fall day.
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