Britta Gustafson: Flavors of Colorado and our bittersweet season

Fall’s first frosty kiss hints at the season’s eminent shifts

Britta Gustafson
Then Again

Just when the warm days feel endless, this spicy time of year arrives. We feel fall breeze in and smell its advance, sensual and emotional, like nutmeg and cinnamon, a tart and creamy turning point that fills the senses and evokes the emotion of beginnings and ends. Frostbitten mornings can turn to sun baked afternoons like warm apple pie with a dollop of cool whipped cream.

Fall’s first frosty kiss hints at the season’s eminent shifts. Yellows and oranges provoke a visual summer’s end; family dynamics and routines are in flux, and town begins the often daunting task of preparing for the workloads of winter. I’m tempted to greet fall with deep inhalation and the acceptance of something ending but also the welcoming vigor of a new beginning.

Provoked by a nomadic wanderlust, I followed a whim to leaf-peep and indulge in the flavors of fall this past weekend. And so we found ourselves off at the Mountain Harvest Festival in Paonia for a celebration of local food. The North Fork valley is an irresistible autumn destination offering myriad opportunities to taste the locally grown bounty.

On our exploratory drive over McClure Pass, photographers lined the curves of Highway 133 as the vibrant color palette begged us to try to capture the fleeting scenes. “Some things just don’t translate the same in photographs,” my daughter commented as the sun backlit the hills radiating with color.

With windows down and the weather perfect, we made our way into the valley with Mount Lamborn devouring the sun in the distance and the Gunnison River flowing alongside us.

Pulling into town at sunset we happened upon The Blended Table, a family-owned and -operated gem that loads their tacos and enchiladas with fresh local ingredients and fabulous sauces, a delicious way to start our journey.

The next morning at first light, I headed over to Mountain Oven Organic Bakery. With lines out the door, the smells of fresh baked croissants and pastries waft through an atmosphere of hard work and abundance while owners Chris and Dana greeted each patron with as much warmth as their fresh baked goodies.

By mid-morning, charming downtown Paonia began to fill with people basking in the autumn joy. Families out walking, children playing and people exploring the artisan booths at the Mountain Harvest Festival set an idyllic casual Colorado mood. After a few hours of roaming the parks and main streets, we discovered Root & Vine Market, a gourmet vend and cafe offering gorgeous local greens, homegrown meals and local Qutori wines in a scenic roadside vineyard setting.

That afternoon we made our way to Big B’s Delicious Orchards to indulge in ciders, some U-pick fun, live music and those unforgettable and thrilling tree swings as we settled in for some camping amid the revelers for a few nights under the stars. It felt like an extension of Snowmass Village as we met up with so many familiar faces at that rowdy but not-too-be-missed favorite fall destination.

On Saturday, we indulged in breathtaking views of the valley from atop a mesa while learning all about the challenges and dreams of Colorado winemaking at sommeliers Jayme Henderson and Steve Steese’s The Storm Cellar. The tasting was exceptional and their enthusiasm inspiring.

Back at Big B’s, as the sun set over the orchard, I found myself overwhelmed with the emotions that the arrival of fall can sometimes provoke. I was struck by the realization that yet another year is setting, and that life is in many ways as fleeting and ever-changing as the seasons.

Children grow up fast, and the years of life, like the fruiting trees and falling leaves, catch up with us quickly, often taking us by surprise. That can be a bittersweet sensation that is sometimes hard to swallow.

But on Sunday, the crisp sunrise reminded me that each new season has plenty to offer. We discovered the welcoming ambiance and homemade teas and cheeses from Sweetgrass Cafe, a homey, gambrel-roofed farmhouse that brought with it the familiar sensation of the warmth inside on a winter’s day. I welcome it on the horizon.

We wrapped up our local food stay-cation with a visit to The Station, a hub of Farm Runners, which offers a beautiful array of local produce and homegrown goods while radiating with the energy of a staff who find passion in celebrating local food. It was a full-flavored end to our edible-autumn adventure.

Let’s exchange a piece of my mind for a little peace of mind; after all, if we always agree what will we talk about? Britta Gustafson appreciates an open mind; share yours and email her at