Day 3 – Aspen to Palisade

Maroon Bells at Sunrise

Maroon Bells at Sunrise

The early bird gets the worm, or at least that’s the theory behind waking up at sunrise for some one of a kind photos of the Maroon Bells. Since our rental unit is only 30 minutes or so away from the Maroon Bells Wildernest Recereation Area. Driving up through a quiet downtown Aspen and scenic Aspen Highlands, I arrive at the bells with the sun lighting them up full force. The tourist crowds aren’t there, only a handful of other photographers and day hikers. Maroon Lake is deathly still, allowing for beautiful photos highlighting the natural beauty of both the water and the mountains. After shooting to my heart’s content I hustled back down to meet my family for a fulfilling breakfast feast at the Hickery House. Boasting the best value breakfast featuring massive portions. My advice, eggs over easy with ham, they smoke most of their own meats and have a great contract with their meat supplier in Denver. You won’t go away hungry with the mega portions here!

Hanging Lake and Waterfalls

Hanging Lake and Waterfalls

After leaving Aspen we headed to the Hanging Lake hiking trail and waterfalls. Located just east of Glenwood Springs, this leg of our roadtrip was certainly my sister’s favorite. She took charge and lead the way as our tour guide, which only made sense as she was the only one who had hiked this trail before. I wish she would have warned us though! Despite being just over 2 miles round trip, the trail has an outrageous vertical rise, essentially climbing up the canyon walls. Despite the 90 degree heat and the never ending stone steps, the hike is well worth the trek. Once you reach the top of the mountain we were met by a cool breeze and the picturesque sight of twin waterfalls of spring fed water. The lake is a beautiful shade of blue hues, but clear enough to vividly see the bottom. The waterfalls trickle down more than 30 feet, creating a wave of cool air that is well earned. Just a little further above Hanging Lake, named as it suspends between a series of waterfalls that follows the trail down, is the source of the water: Sprouting Rock.

Sprouting Rock from the Side

Sprouting Rock from the Side

These twin waterfalls seemingly shoot right out of the rock face and begin the cascade down to Hanging Lake. These falls, equally refreshing, deliver their water from a height nearly double of the falls below. All the while the trail offers gorgeous views of Glenwood Canyon, showcasing the unique rock formations that the Colorado River uncovered over the years. So overall, I would warn folks that this hike isn’t for the faint of heart, very vertical and the ground is filled with loose rock and big steps. That being said the pay off on the top is well worth it and so long as you pace yourself, this hike can be tackled by any climber.

Once we made it down the mountain and rehydrated, we were off to Colorado’s wine and peach country of Palisade! After a quick nap during the hour and half drive, we were settled into a hotel in the middle of one of the Rocky Mountain’s best vineyards. The Wine Country Inn is the perfect locale for any wine tasting weekend warrior. Located in the heart of grape fields and nearby several wineries, this is the perfect base camp for exploring Palisade and Grand Junction wine country. Which brings us to our whirlwind wine tasting tour. As the wineries closed at 5 p.m. and we arrived in town close to 3, we only had an hour and half of time to devot to tasting as much wine as possible before we set out to Telluride tomorrow.

Elderberry Wine

Beginning the Talon Winery and St. Kathryn Cellars Winery share a tasting space and offer a multitude of wines. Talon, known for their robust red wines certainly lived up to their reputation as we tried 3 different red wines. The first is Red Rock, an earthy blend with a surprising hint of mango that packs a punch but finishes smooth and smoky. Next up is their classic Merlot, which I found to be a bit dry and rough on the pallate. Finally, we sampled their Wingspan Red, a blend of wines that seems to appeal to all. Mostly a merlot, it carried the robust flavor of the classic Merlot, but certainly less dry. With respect to St. Kathryn Cellars Winery, their expertise lies in their fruit based dinner and dessert wines. Everything from apples to pears to peaches and more are featured in their wines. We sampled their Elderberry dessert wine, which is an ideal pair with dark chocolate for after dinner. The rich, but sweet flavor is impactful but not forceful on the tongue and should definetly be served cold. On the whole I would reccomend the Red Rock wine as it is so unique and tasteful.

Plum Creek WinesNext up is the Plum Creek Winery, whose wines are more well known across Colorado and is available in Denver. While there we sampled several wines, but only one of them being white. Their chardonney is a simple wine, light on the oak and not buttery enough to really coat the roof of your mouth. As the Western Slope isn’t well known for it’s white wine this one lives up to that title, being a fairly light drink that would go well with any meal pairing. Moving on to reds we tried their house Merlot, which I found bitter and abrupt, but then settles into a smooth finish. Moving down the line was the Red Blend which, like Talon’s, was simple, smooth, and had a clean and refeshing feel for a red wine. A hint sweeter compared to the Merlot it was certainly more up my alley. On the other spectrum of reds is the Cabernet Souvigon which was dryer, but with a subtle finish that surprised me. It truly had a unique aftertaste that lingered only as long as it should have and became my favorite from Plum Creek. As a special treat we tried a Reserve blend from 2008, which was certainly entertaining to drink. Dry but sweet, smoky but smooth, it seemed like it could use a few more months in the barrel before reaching us. Finally, what tasting would be complete without finishing with a semi-sweet Riesling. It lived up to its title being sweet, but not overpowering. It certainly would be a fitting end to a light fish or pasta dinner.

Grande River VineyardThe last vineyard we toured was the Grande River Winery. By far the most diverse and plentiful selection for tasting, but only give out 3 free tastings. So to make them count I tried three wines that caught my attention. Begining with their chardonney was certainly better than Plum Creek’s as it was buttery but not quite as oaky. Still smooth and light it matched the motiff of whites on the Western Slope. The next up was a real treat. Their Syrah is certainly fruit forward with a bit of a kick. However it settles quickly and cleanses the palate acting as a great light, yet impactful red. Finally, I sampled their Cabernet Franc which was relatively bitter from the onset, building on the spice from the Syrah. It takes a little longer to settle, leaving a lingering aftertaste which would compliment rich meals featuring dark meats.

The Palisade Brewery's Front Door

The Palisade Brewery's Front Door

Well, now that we sampled some of the area’s finest wine it was time to relax by the hotel pool with…a nice glass of wine! Right at 5 p.m. our hotel offers a free glass of an area wine to patrons. I enjoyed a nice blended red while comparing notes on the wineries we just passed through, a seemingly correct fit to an afternoon in Colorado wine county. A little later on my sister and I took a quick dip in the pool to relax and cool down before heading to an unforgetable dinner at the Palisades Brewery. Now I know what you’r thinking, “Why would you go to a Brewery in the heart of Wine Country?”, and the answer is simple: they have the best food (and beer) in Palisade! From the outset it certainly looks the part of a brewery, being in a warehouse. But it truly is the belle of the ball for Palisade as dozens of vehicles littered their parking lot. We walk in to find a warm and welcoming atmosphere, country music on the radio and locals sharing the experiences of their day, truly a snapshot of life in Palisade. The decor isn’t Aspen and the furnishings aren’t Vail, but this place has character. After ordering our food and picking out three of their unique brews, we were seated by a local patron who rounded us up some tables to sit indoors. There was no space as Monday is the town’s Poker Night, bringing in the whales and sharks from blocks around. Throughout the evening we tried four different beers, each of varying levels of color and hoppiness.

Brewery's Bar and Beer List

Brewery's Bar and Beer List

Starting off light is their Laid Back Blonde, a smooth and simple wheat beer that that is just light enough to be enjoyed all summer long. Next up was the Mindless Chatter Hefe, a delicous beer that blends the smooth and refreshing taste of the blond with a little bit of a hop kick before its smooth finish, my clear favorite and reccomendation if you’re ever passing through. Moving along we arrive at Our Bitter Lust Pilsner, a surprisingly hoppy pilsner but still crisp enough to be enjoyed with dinner. Finally, we reach the hoppiest beer of the night: Off Belay IPA. This doubled hopped brew truly lives up to it’s name being a light but dangerously hoppy beer. But what really shone through was their house smoked meats! I must say that their chicken wings are the best I’ve had in years and the pulled pork with grilled onions is truly unique, with fresh seasonings and a spicy kick I can’t do it justice here, you’ll just have to try it. So, the next time someone asks if you want to join them in Palisade to try some of Colorado’s finest wine you say “Yes, but can we stop for a beer too? ;)”

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Posted on August 23, 2011, in Colorado Road Trip and tagged , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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