On the two-and-a-half hour trip home from a book signing Denver's Tattered Cover LoDo Bookstore, my fifth signing for Colorado Scenic Byways: Taking the Other Road in the previous ten days, I was exhausted and eager to just get home--the sooner the better. But by the time we topped 10,000-foot elevation Kenosha Pass, the first of the three mountain passes we cross on our way home from Denver, I had relaxed. And I remembered something worth pausing for.
"Let's stop to see if the fringed gentians are still there," I said.
"Okay," said Richard.
I sat up straight as we sped down the pass into the wide expanse of South Park, a bowl-shaped basin surrounded by peaks, scanning the short-grass prairie intently. The low turf was turning straw-gold with autumn already, shot through with wide bands of sedges in bronze over copper wherever creeks cut through. But I was searching for another color, a shade of blue so deep it was almost purple, a hue so intense it is rare and not easily forgotten.
Past the tiny town of Jefferson, I spotted what I was looking for.
"There!" I pointed into the grassland east of the highway.
Richard braked and turned off on a gravel county road to park. I grabbed my camera as I got out of the car, shrugging into my pile vest as I dashed across the two-lane highway, scrambled down the steep road verge, and trotted through the rough grasses next to the three-strand barbed-wire fence.
When I drew about even with the patches of blue in the grassland, I looked for a gap under the bottom wire and tucked myself up small the way I've often watched pronghorn do and scooted under the fence.
I straightened up on the other side and picked my way over to the nearest clump of flowers. Then I squatted for a closer look. Each plant was no more than a foot tall, but bursting with blossoms shaped like narrow bottles, that is if a bottle could open into five silky and fringed petals, each the size of my thumbnail, at its neck.
What had me breathless though was their color, a shade so intense that it seemed to vibrate in the gray light misted with passing rain showers. Richard came up behind me and I leaned back against him, just breathing in the smell of the damp soil, the feel of rain hinting at snow, the grasses gone gold--and the miracle of these impossibly blue fringed gentians opening their blossoms just as all other life was shutting down in anticipation of another harsh high-country winter.
We stood there for a few minutes, and then turned and picked our way across the grassland, through the fence, and back up the road verge to the car. As we drove on home, the rare blue of those fringed gentians lingered in my mind's eye, reminding me of the blessings to be found when we take the time to stop along the way. Life really is about the journey, not just the destination!