Outside with Charlie: Changing colors

By From page A8 | October 02, 2013


Autumn blew into town on wings of wind, rain and snow last month. Now it’s time to take advantage of this wonderful time of year.

One of the big questions is about the aspens in the high country. Eagerly anticipated is the hope for annual show of reds, golds, yellows and browns in the aspen groves. The redstick dogwoods, cottonwoods, willows and birches all contribute to the palette of colors that will draw us up into Hope Valley, the Crystal Basin and Lake Tahoe.

It hasn’t really started yet. The place that lights off first in Hope Valley is Sorensen’s Resort. It’s a magical spot that seems to jump-start the entire show. While there are some colorful leaves beginning to show, it’s just the beginning.

The stretch of Highway 88 from Sorensen’s to the Iron Mountain turn-off is still green. The green isn’t the deep green of spring and summer. It’s the gray-green that signals the colors are on the way.

The entire process is partly a result of warm days and colder nights. The biggest key in this action is the steadily longer nights of autumn, which along with the shorter days, trigger the trees to start getting ready for winter.

The autumn colors are not guaranteed. There are some years when a trip through Hope Valley simply brings with it the sentiment that last year was better. The same holds true in the Tahoe Basin and up in the Crystal Basin. There is no way to predict the whole thing.

There are some indications along Forestdale Creek, at the base of Carson Pass, that a few of the aspen groves will go from gray-green to brown.

Most of Hope Valley looks really good. The same can be said of Tahoe. Within the next two weeks there should be a pretty good idea of what’s going to happen.

The best way to find the best colors is pack your lunch, fill up your thermos and gas tank and start wandering. Keep in mind that it may take more than one trip to catch the colors. Take your camera, too.

When the aspens are in full burst, taking a short hike through a brilliantly adorned grove is fantastic.

The smell of autumn is intense inside a thicket of aspens. Take your time. Look at the trunks. If you are in the right place, you’ll find markings from long ago.

You find these places by wandering aimlessly, exploring those little roads, and touring through the mountains. At the top of Luther Pass on Highway 89 just before you drop down toward Hope Valley is a pull-out on the Hope Valley side of the road. It goes all the way down into Hope Valley and ends at Picketts Junction, where Highways 89 and 88 meet. You have to walk it. Cars haven’t been allowed here for a long time.

Gear up, start wandering and get outside.

Charlie Ferris

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