Monday, October 1, 2012

Leaf Fairies ... and ghosts of travelers past

Fall aspen, just west of Fish Lake, Utah.
It’s the time of year when our mountain landscapes quickly change.  The Leaf Fairies have arrived and are hard at work painting leaves.  The trees become very colorful but also very still, and there’s an ominous sense of something about to happen.  I love fall, it’s beautiful, but there is always this odd discomforting feeling ...

Botanists say that aspen produce yellow pigments throughout the growing season, but that they are masked by the green of chlorophyll.  When chlorophyll production ceases for the year, yellow pigments take over, and the aspen leaves glow in the sunshine.
Sunny aspen leaves against dark volcanic rocks, Pelican Canyon near Fish Lake.
Some aspen make red anthocyanin pigments in fall -- these are the trees with orange and red leaves.   There's some evidence that anthocyanin production is clone-specific -- only certain stands of aspen will turn orange and red.  But anthocyanin synthesis also depends on adequate production of sugars during summer months.  Apparently leaf color is both genetic and environmentally-dependent ... according to scientists anyway :)
At Navajo Lake east of Cedar City, Utah, there were many red and orange aspen ...
... glowing in the morning sun.
Many of the high plateaus of central Utah are capped with volcanic rocks -- including the areas around Fish and Navajo Lakes.  The colorful fall aspen contrast nicely with the dark volcanics -- nice job, Leaf Fairies!
Aspen trees get all the attention, but there's plenty of color happening at ground level too.
The Leaf Fairies are working on the meadow rue.
Oregon grape -- obviously into anthocyanins.
Thistle rosette.
Wild geranium.
Fallen leaves litter the ground.  Another season of leaves, flowers and exuberant life is about to end.
My dog and I weren't the only ones on the trails.  Given the time of year, I was not terribly surprised to meet up with spirits of travelers past.  They seemed to be in a hurry, perhaps they're worried about getting to Pueblo de los Los Angeles before the snows arrive.  We know winter's not far off!
Ghostly pack train passes through aspen on the Fish-Lake cutoff between Santa Fe and Los Angeles.
I was thrilled to meet up with apparitions, but Sparky -- ever the practical dog -- wasn't impressed.

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