The Art of Exploration · a diary of day trips, natural places, and miscellaneous adventures

A Change of Seasons

Published Wednesday, September 28th, 2016 in Colorado · « · »

I love something about every day I spend in the mountains, but the early days of autumn hold a special place in my heart. At this time of year, the scorching heat of summer begins its retreat. Midday temperatures grow more moderate while the temperatures of dawn and dusk become cool and refreshing. Hiking conditions reach their peak and I’m often able to squeeze in several long, late season treks before the snow comes.

As autumn sets in and the days shorten, there are fewer daylight hours during which to hike. But I don’t mind, because a later sunrise mean I’m more easily able to to reach the trailhead before dawn. And although the sun sets earlier, I’m happy to curtail my hike and find a cozy place to relax and eat dinner. Additionally, after a summer spent hiking crowded trails in searing heat, I now hike faster, higher, and in greater comfort. Consequently, I reserve my longest, most difficult hikes for the bright, clear days of autumn—and there are often many such days to choose from.

Autumn in Colorado
The autumn forest floor, dappled in aspen leaves.
Autumn in Colorado
A solitary aspen, still clinging to its leaves.

Perhaps best of all, autumn ushers in a wave of bright colors across the diverse montane habitats. The tundra transforms into in a beautiful patchwork of late season hues: gold, sienna, ochre, olive, umber. At lower elevations, mixed forests become dappled with delightful splashes of yellow, orange, and rust. The landscape glows, as deciduous trees surrender and turn coat for the new season.

According to the 2016 Fall Foliage Prediction Map, the colors in the central Rocky Mountains might peak this week. At this time each year, I make a point of getting out to take some photographs. And today, the forecast is perfect. I take the day off. Camera in hand, I make my way to the Glacier Gorge Trailhead. From there, I hike to The Loch, photographing the plentiful, vibrant colors along the way.

The Loch
The Loch

The mild weather eases me into a slow, pensive hiking pace. I compose my shots with care but I don’t get overly obsessed with photographic perfection. These days, I strive for less perfection and greater productivity, in hiking, writing, painting, and all my free-time endeavors. When the wind picks up, copper-colored leaves flutter around me and float to the ground. I’m relieved I didn’t delay my visit until the weekend. As the afternoon progress, the trees begin to look bare, colorless, winterized.

Back at home, I thumb through my images and am pleased. But I know I won’t have many more opportunities this autumn to photograph the changing colors. To cheer myself, I scour the web for future destinations, places new to me that offer different views of Colorado’s autumnal palette. I make a list of the places to go next year:

  • Peak to Peak Scenic Byway
  • West Elk Loop
  • Dallas Divide via Last Dollar Road
  • Castle Creek Road
  • Squaw Pass
  • Top of the Rockies Scenic and Historic Byway
  • Kenosha Pass
  • Poudre Canyon
The Loch
The Loch
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