We’re entrenched in the autumn season, and colorful fall foliage is on the minds of most landscape photographers. In most places, time still exists to get out there and make some memorable autumn images.
When one thinks of fall foliage a few places come immediately to mind, and for good reason. Places like the Great Smoky Mountains and the New England area are at the top of everyone’s list for deciduous trees that grow increasingly colorful each autumn until they shed their leaves as winter arrives.
Here in northern Arizona, the good folks at Backcountry Journeys look forward each year to the changing colors of the gorgeous Quaking Aspen, which inhabits huge chunks of real estate high up on the San Francisco Peaks, a stratovolcano just north of the city of Flagstaff.
The quaking aspen is a member of the willow family of trees and a relative of the cottonwood. Their thin bark turns a greenish chalky white color, beautifully smooth with multiple black bumpy patches that almost resemble black eyes. In summer they have green leaves, which each year turn yellow, gold, and even orange and red before dropping to the forest canopy.
You know these trees. Whether there are anywhere you live, or not, they are quite recognizable. And it is likely they live not far from you. In fact, the aspen tree is the most widespread tree in North America. They range from the Midwest, across Canada, north into Alaska and across the West. As a pioneering species, these trees are the first to grow back following forest fires as they prefer sunshine and open spaces.
A “stand,” or group of aspen trees, is actually a singular organism with the main life force underground in the extensive root system. In a single stand, each tree is a genetic replica of the other and is often referred to as ‘clones.” A particular aspen stand in southern Utah’s Fishlake National Forest is thought to be the heaviest organism on earth weighing in at an estimated 6,600 tons! It even has a name, ‘Pando.’
“And most everywhere upon the hillsides, I can watch the turning of the aspen from summer-meadow green to their palatial gold-dipped yellow-like a light dance, shimmering so lusciously in the sunlight it almost hurts my eyes…”
– Carew Papritz
Photographers, hikers, and lookie-loos alike travel each autumn to see the magnificent fall morph of the aspen. They make beautiful photographs and are simply a delight to just be amongst. If you’ve never walked amongst a tall, mature stand of aspen, do yourself a favor as soon as possible. And take your camera and tripod, you’ll want them!
It is not only their aesthetic beauty that makes these things so wonderful. There are few experiences like laying under a giant stand of aspen listening, perhaps with your eyes closed, to the wind rustling through the leaves. Their heart-shaped leaves, combined with flattened petioles (the stalk that joins a leaf to a stem), create a ‘quaking’ sound as they flutter with the breeze. It nearly sounds as if it were raining.
While yellow is the most typical fall color, native stands can exhibit some orange and even pockets of red. It’s vibrant in the landscape and makes for incredible classic autumn scenes wherever you might find them.
Kenton Krueger has spent the past several years guiding backpackers, hikers and photographers into the wild places of the American West such as Grand Canyon, Yellowstone, Yosemite, Glacier, Katmai, Zion and Bryce Canyon National Parks, as well as internationally in Costa Rica. In addition to backpacking and camping, his adventures include rock climbing, exploring the slot canyons of southern Utah, mountain biking, and bagging 14ers in Colorado’s San Juan Mountain Mountain Range. Kenton is a trail runner, former pilot, and has had several of his writings and photographs published in the Omaha World-Herald newspaper. Kenton looks forward to utilizing his years of guiding experience, combined with his passion and experience behind the lens to provide memorable and unforgettable experiences at the wild places we will visit together.