ASPN November 2014 : Page 147

g etaways noRth FoRk valley take a tasting trip through this fertile region that is leading the way for western color ado’s locavore movement. By laurel miller The Roaring Fork Valley has boundless charms, but there are more low-key pleasures to be found in its lesser-known sibling, the North Fork Valley. Located off of Highway 133, on the far side of magnificent McClure Pass, the West Elk Loop Scenic Byway is an ideal way to explore Colorado’s Western Slope. It’s a deeply historical region rooted (pun intended) in agriculture. From wineries and distilleries to goat dairies, agritourism opportunities abound. Pause along the way to do a bit of antiquing, hiking, biking or picnicking. Hit up one of the many fruit stands or handful of destination restaurants for a rustic, locally sourced meal. Pop into the thriving ranching community of Carbondale (now a statewide food destination of its own) to fuel up for the 62-mile drive to Paonia on Highway 133. Town (348 Main St., 970.963.6328) has the best baked goods around, as well as locally roasted coffee. Do yourself a favor and order a chewy, double-thick English muffin slathered with butter and housemade jam ($2.50). En route, take in the views: There’s the churning whitewater of the Farm FresH many orchards aptly named Crystal River (hop into it at offer diy apple picking. the unmarked, all-natural Penny Hot Springs at mile marker 55), photo ops at Hays Creek Falls just outside the funky hamlet of Redstone and high alpine meadows. Just before you hit Paonia, pull into Delicious Orchards (39126 Highway 133, 970.527.1110) for a free sweet or hard cider tasting, and to procure picnic fixings from local farms and ranches (alternatively, there’s a little cafe inside, featuring delicious, simple, seasonal fare). Mix up the tasting with a visit to Revolution Brewing (325 Grand Ave., 970.260.4869) downtown. Then drive to nearby Black Bridge Winery (15836 Black Bridge Road, 970.527.6838), or prearrange a tour at The Living Farm ($10, 120 Grand Ave., 970.527.3779)—they also have a tiny cafe and inn—or Avalanche Cheese Co. ’s goat dairy (11510 Crawford Road, 970.527.4313), located in the shadow of Lamborn Mesa, where there’s also a seriously cool cabin available peak season mount lamborn, at for overnight rental ($200). Work up an appetite on center, rises more than 5,500 vertical feet above the fields of the Mount Lamborn trail. Depending upon the season, the north Fork Valley. you’ll also find U-pick orchards and grassroots music, 147 wine and food festivals. Continue on Highway 133 to Hotchkiss, the heart of the North Fork. This farming town has a concentration of winemakers. Drop by LeRoux Creek Vineyards (12388 3100 Road, 970.872.4746), which is also a bed and breakfast (from $185), and Mesa Winds Farm and Winery (31262 L Road, 970.250.4788). Don’t miss the tasting room at Peak Spirits (26567 N Road, 970.361.4249), located on Jack Rabbit Hill Farm. Their fruit, as well as that of nearby farms, finds its way into goodness like brandy and grappa; they also make the dynamite CapRock gin. From Hotchkiss, head southeast on Highway 92 to Crawford. Known as the heart of Colorado’s cattle country, as well as the gateway to the Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park and West Elk Wilderness area, this town is legit Old West. Browse antique shops; catch an early summer or fall cattle drive headed down Main Street (Highway 92); or take advantage of the region’s dramatic hiking and climbing. Stop for dinner at Paonia’s homey Flying Fork Cafe & Bakery (101 Third St., 970.527.3203). Chef/owner Kelly Steinmetz has made a name for himself for his use of local ingredients in simple Mediterranean fare. Your drive back to Aspen, as you wend up and over McClure Pass, will be one of happy satiation. eden Found nature takes over among the abundant orchards and fields of paonia. ”Hit up one of the many fruit stands or handful of destination restaurants for a rustic, locally sourced meal.” photos by jim brett aspen insider’s guide 2014 -15

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