Carnes: Monochrome, Technicolor memories of a first fall season in Vail (column) |

Carnes: Monochrome, Technicolor memories of a first fall season in Vail (column)

I’ll never forget the first Rocky Mountain fall color change I was lucky enough to witness.

It was the last week of September, and Ronald Reagan was just about to win his second term with a true landslide victory over Walter Mondale. Taking 525 out of 538 electoral votes, he also received almost 59 percent of the popular vote, and as opposed to the current occupant in the White House, chose not to brag about it or insult his opponent after winning. (I promise that’s the only reference this week, as even yours truly tires of writing about him.)

Flying up from Dallas on a whim, I stayed at the Sitzmark in Vail Village, where a wonderful man named Jerry made this naive city boy feel extremely comfortable. The very first afternoon, I was looking north across Gore Creek from my room on the fourth floor, in awe of the bright colors I had never seen live before, and it suddenly started to snow.

Yes, it was a quick little squall coming through, and the flakes were “tremendously big and tremendously wet,” (sorry, couldn’t help myself), and I remember just standing there, too excited to sit, wanting to soak in every mental memory in case it would be my only time to witness such a beautiful act of nature.

Such moments are foreign to those born and raised in Dallas.

Being 24 and not the most experienced self-packer, I soon discovered my black three-piece suit in the suitcase was almost complete, sans the required light-colored shirt, leaving me with only a heavily starched, black button-down.


At least I had remembered to pack the tie, but it, too, was black.

I sheepishly walked into The Westin (the original one, for a while called Cascade and now called Hotel Talisa) for my interview, looking like a skinny mobster-wannabe from New Jersey but sounding like a skinny Southerner with a distinct Texas twang.

Ignoring the thinly veiled insults and snickers from all three assistant managers (they couldn’t help themselves, and I couldn’t blame them), this time I stared south across the creek at the amazing kaleidoscope of colors. There was only one house visible south of the river at that time, and the view was out of this world to an urban-raised yuppie.

In spite of my poor choice of wardrobe and the Texas accent, they chose to hire me on the spot, and I walked out in shock — not at being hired, but at the sudden realization that I was about to make a major life choice, the kind that determines every little aspect from that point forward.

Every decision, every result, was going to be the polar opposite from the direction my life was “supposed to be” headed in at that young age. How could I give up such a promising career for such an irrational ski-bum lifestyle? What about my long-term future? What about my family?

Oh, wait, that’s not how I felt; it was paraphrasing a short rant my mom gave me a few days later. To say she was upset is like saying you-know-who puts his foot in his mouth every once in a while (dammit, sorry, again …).

But I stuck to my spontaneous plans and am this very week enjoying my 34th amazing array of autumnal bliss in Happy Valley. Though the bright colors may vary from year to year, I find myself always saying “this year” is the best I’ve ever seen.

And this year is no different.

Richard Carnes, of Avon, writes weekly. He can be reached at

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