You have to move fast when the leaves turn.
Once groundwater and light dissipate, the leaves on trees shut down for the season. Autumn is fascinating in our mountains as each tree species has its own qualities as far as color and timing.
The first leaves to turn are generally the maples. Big tooth maples (Acer grandidentatum) are sugar maples and they produce bright reds, oranges and yellows. Their relatives, the box elders (Acer negundo), change about the same time and add to the color.
About a week later, the aspens start to turn. The quaking leaves of aspen in full yellow give ample incentive to go high and get into cool, shady groves, for the leaves also provide a striking yellow carpet.
Other senses than sight can be used to enjoy autumn.
The sounds of aspen leaves quaking in the wind, leaves falling and shifting about, the sounds of chickadees chirping their little “chicka-dee-dee-dee” call are all things to listen for while trudging up and down the trail.
One thing I love is the feel of autumn.
The sun, though warm, is coming in at an angle and the differences between a sunny slope and a shady gully are striking. Even on a warm autumn day, a cool breeze can hit you unexpectedly, and depending on your level of exertion, can be most welcome.
The latest trees to turn colors are the oaks (Quercus gambellii). The foothills turn golden about the same time our peaks turn white.
An autumn snowstorm will bring down scores of aspen leaves and the remaining maples. The early snows will rapidly melt on sun-exposed south and western slopes, but many northern slopes will be snow-covered until next summer.
One thing that is interesting here in Tooele County is the diversity of our mountains and how that diversity affects the autumns.
The oaks provide some color late into the fall in the Oquirrh Mountains that is absent from the Stansbury range. It is most fascinating that oaks, which flourish in the Oquirrhs, are absent from the mountain range to the west. Aspen and box elder predominate in the Stansburys and create a striking, but different character in the fall.
I find it easy to become melancholy as I see a growing season end.
The flourish of color is brief and fleeting. I try to console myself with the thought that each tree, having pulled nutrients and minerals from deep in the ground, deposit them in their leaves. Those leaves are the Miracle Gro of nature, becoming the humus that feeds next year’s plant-life.
The vivid colors of autumn are followed by months of whites, grays, and browns. I would love to tell you that the beauty of the stark, dreary, late fall and winter months are equally beautiful and scenic to the colors we’ve had in wildflowers, green grasses and vivid autumn colors. But for me, the stark cold months provide the canvas upon which colors from the rest of the year stand out.
Just as the technicolor of the land of Oz seems much brighter because Kansas was in black and white, the colors of spring through autumn shine because of the contrast with the period that approaches us now.
The pictures I’ve stored on my iPhone10 will have to suffice for the next few months.
Life will return to the hills I love, and when it does, I hope to have the capability to get in the thick of it. But in the meantime, I’ll battle up the south facing slopes and look for some interesting contrasts in the stark colors of November through March.
My camo shorts will be retired for the season and layers will be called upon to protect this old man of the mountain from the elements.
From a young age David Swan’s natural curiosity led him to explore and study the outdoor wonders of the place where he was born and raised. He currently lives on the southeast side of Tooele City with a view of the Oquirrh Mountains from his backyard.