Nature, Landscape, and Night Sky Photography by Zach Schierl

Posts tagged “aspens

Fall Color in Southern Utah

Colorful aspens in lava flow, Markagunt Plateau, UT
Ridge of golden aspens near Brian Head, UT

A ridge coated in aspens near Brian Head, UT begins to turn color in the early fall. The view from the Markagunt Plateau is truly expansive; in the background are ranges and valleys in the Great Basin of western Utah, and on a clear day one can clearly see Wheeler Peak in eastern Nevada

Another autumn is upon us, and once again we find ourselves becoming familiar with the surroundings of a new home, this time in Southern Utah. Why this neck of the woods, with its famous expanses of colorful slickrock, isn’t more well known for fall color, I do not understand. Near Fish Lake is the largest single aspen colony in the world, which also happens to be the worlds heaviest known organism period.

A bit closer to home for us is the Markagunt Plateau, which reaches elevations of over 11,000 feet and contains expansive reaches of aspen that rival, and to be honest probably beat, any we experienced in Colorado. The weather has been fairly mild for the last month or so, with few storms and little wind, allowing the leaves to put on an extended show:

Colorful aspens in lava flow, Markagunt Plateau, UT

One of the unique features of the Markagunt Plateau are a number of expansive and recent (<10,000 years) lava flows that coat much of the landscape above 9000 feet. The stark lava flows provide a stunning backdrop for the brilliant fall colors that occupy pockets of soil within their midst.

Colorful aspens dot lava flows on the Markagunt Plateau, UT

Aspens and lava flows, Markagunt Plateau, UT

Golden aspens on the Rattlesnake Creek Trail, Utah

A beautiful grove of aspens on the Rattlesnake Creek Trail near Brian Head, UT. This trail has clearly been a popular route for quite some time; we found inscriptions on some of these aspens dating back to 1903! (Along with many more recent ones sadly…)

Red aspen leaves near Duck Creek, Utah

This pocket of trees near the Duck Creek Campground possessed the most vividly red leaves I’ve ever seen on aspen trees.

Golden aspens on the Markagunt Plateay

Golden aspens coat the flanks of Hancock Peak, a small cinder cone on the Markagunt Plateau. This view was obtained from the summit of Brian Head Peak, 11, 312 feet above sea level. In the distance is the western escarpment of the Paunsaugunt Plateau, home to Bryce Canyon National Park.

Aspens in fog, Markaguny Plateau, Utah

I pass this grove of aspens several times per week on my way to work. I had been keeping an eye on this particular tree for weeks, and on this foggy day I finally pulled the car over to snap a photo.

Colorful Aspens in the Fog, Markagunt Plateau, UT

More aspens in the fog, Markagunt Plateau, Utah


The grand old Rocky Mountains!

Fall color along Bear Lake Road
Peaks and Clouds from Bierstadt Lake

Clouds linger over the Continental Divide as seen from Bierstadt Lake

The grand old Rocky Mountains!

Their bold and massive forms,

Like Pyramids of age,

Defy the sweeping storms!

-Enos A. Mills, 1887

A hectic few months has kept me away from the website recently but fortunately not from my camera. My recent move to Fort Collins, CO means that my new backyard playground is Rocky Mountain National Park, only an hour from my doorstep and home to some truly spectacular scenery, especially in the fall when the aspens and willows turn golden and storms begin to dust the high alpine tundra with snow.

Fall color along Bear Lake Road

Fall colors along Bear Lake Road

My arrival in Fort Collins happened to coincide with the annual fall elk rut, in which bull elk gather large groups of females (called harems) together to mate. The many large grassy parks in RMNP are a popular gathering place for the elk and hundreds of people can be found lining the roads and trails skirting the meadows each evening to observe them in action. Even though I used to regularly see elk in our backyard growing up, this was a new experience for me.  After an evening of watching and photographing the bull elk mate, lock antlers with other males, and toss back their heads to bugle, I can now confidently check “witness an elk rut” off my non-existent bucket list. I would share some of my photos of this unique spectacle, but in order to keep this website rated PG-13, I had better pass…

Elk cow and calf

An elk cow shares a tender moment with her calf.

While snow starts to fall in the high Rockies in late September or early October, the weather usually remains pleasant well into October or even November. We’ve had a few storms the past few weeks that have dropped some not insignificant amounts of snow in the high country so every hike I’ve taken so far has been an exercise in scouting trails less likely to be covered in snow and ice.

Loch Vale in Rocky Mtn NP

The Loch Vale in Rocky Mountain National Park

Earlier this week I decided to hike to the base of the east face of Longs Peak and Chasm Lake. I was unsure if I would actually be able to make it to the lake given its 11,700 foot elevation but I had picked Chasm Lake because I had noticed that the last (and highest) mile of trail hugged a south facing slope. A south facing slope equals more direct sun and theoretically less snow. My scouting paid off; the trail was nearly snow free save for some hard packed, but easily traverse-able snow just above tree line and the final 200 yards to the lake. The final 200 yards presented a bit of a challenge: a 30 degree slope guarding the lake that was basically one gigantic ice rink. I wasn’t going to be getting up the main trail without crampons but thankfully, a series of rock ledges alongside the trail were solid and dry, providing an alternative route up the final 200 vertical feet to the lake with only a little Class 3 scrambling required. Upon finally reaching the lake, I was met by a wonderful late autumn scene and quite happy to have avoided the the colossal disappointment of hiking 4+ miles only to get turned around with only a few hundred yards to go.

Chasm Lake and Longs Peak

The Ships Prow (left) and Longs Peak (14,259′, right) tower above Chasm Lake

The snow and ice had the added benefit of deterring the crowds that seem to linger in the park well into the fall. The previous week I had hiked to Loch Vale in a busier section of the park and just getting to the trailhead had involved being stuffed like sardines in a park shuttle bus. Chasm Lake though I had all to myself for over an hour, save for a pair of climbers descending from Longs Peak, the highest summit in the park. The east face of Longs Peak is an imposing sight, “abrupt and precipitous for three thousand feet” according to Enos A. Mills, an early resident of the area and the driving force behind the creation of Rocky Mountain National Park in 1915. The silence was stunning, save for the occasional high-pitched “eeeeeeeee” of a pika, the intermittent roar of the wind whipping up loose snow, and the din of fallen icicles and chunks of glacial ice crashing their way to the base of the cliffs.

At eve and morning lighted

With liquid gold all around,

Thy crests and hills and valleys

Gleam bright with glory crowned.

—Enos A. Mills, 1887

Rocky Mountain Aspen and grass

Aspen and grass waving in the wind in Horseshoe Park

Sunset and Moon from Moraine Park

Sunset and gibbous moon from Moraine Park