Discovering Fall Foliage in the Southwest

aspen leaf Okay folks, this is the first fall season we've spent away from the east coast...EVER. We grew up in Virginia, went to college in Rhode Island, and returned to Virginia for 6 years. So it's hard to suppress homesick feelings when friends and family back east post fall photos all over social media, bragging of their daily access to fiery displays of foliage. Colors abound in those parts for a few weeks around this time of year. Which is why a couple of weekends ago, Loren and I took to the road in search of fall. We found it less than an hour's drive away.

road to aspen vista

Aspen Vista

A spot almost all the way up the mountain to Santa Fe Ski Basin, Aspen Vista fully embodies its name, offering stunning views over thousands of aspen trees. Being a short 25-min drive from downtown Santa Fe makes this one of the most popular day hikes in the area. The out-and-back trail along the service road can amount to a 12-mile round trip, but you can turn around whenever you want. Just keep in mind that you're starting at 9,900 ft with a potential gain of 2,100 ft.

Aspen Vista

Our adventure began by taking full advantage of the warm, sunny afternoon, so we spread out our standard hiking fare at a picnic table: canned sardines mixed with avocado, with a side of pecans and pistachios.

Loren making lunch

Then, we walked into the golden forest, snapping photos and collecting leaves along the way.

golden yellow leaves

Aspen Rainbow

After about 30 minutes on the trail, we'd reached the edge of the colors. Our visit was probably about a week too late, as many of the trees past that point were already stripped of their leaves. The faded and fallen leaves littered the trail and forest floor, but the overall effect was not lost on us: the naked trunks were beautiful in their own right.

naked aspens

On the way back to the car, we took a detour and found ourselves among enormous teepees made of hundreds of fallen aspen trees and branches stacked upright. Very Andy Goldsworthy-esque.


Even though it wasn't quite the peak of the aspen foliage, we had a wonderful time just being outside and playing around.

playing with sticks

With our fall color cravings satisfied, we headed home just in time to catch another jaw-dropping sunset. New Mexico just might have us under its spell.

sunset from the highway