Autumn has arrived and what better way to spend the cool, crisp days of fall then to visit your favorite national forest or national grassland as the colors change?
Here are some of the more common deciduous trees that you might see (those that turn color and shed their leaves in the fall):
• Quaking aspen — These are usually found in clusters of yellow and gold at higher elevations and sometimes cover entire hillsides where disturbance such as forest fires have allowed them to grow in full sunshine.
Aspen grow in clones that reproduce by sprouting from their roots, making aspen groves one of nature’s largest living organisms. Different clones in aspen forest stands may have slightly different timing when their leaves change colors, and some clones turn different shades of yellow to orange. Please enjoy these beauties without being tempted to carve your initials into the soft white bark since such injuries can lead to diseases that shorten their life.
• Rocky Mountain maple – These can resemble a multi-stemmed shrub or a small tree and generally grow 5 or 6 feet tall. Look for these at low to mid-elevations in rocky areas, along stream banks, in canyons, or on moist slopes. Their leaves turn yellow and sometimes orange to bright red in the fall. Dry some of the brightly colored leaves between the pages of a book and you will be able to enjoy the colors of autumn well into the winter months.
• Cottonwood – We have two types in the Rocky Mountain Region, both live near rivers and lakes at different elevations.
The plains cottonwood with large wide leaves grows in the plains and foothills and narrow leafed cottonwoods grow in higher elevations. Look closely to spot animals or birds near the cottonwood trees since these are favorable habitat for wildlife! Their leaves generally turn bright yellow in the fall.
• Willow – These can resemble a small tree or shrub and generally grow in thickets along riverbanks and in moist areas. They are also a favorite for wildlife. The leaves turn yellow in the fall.
• Alpine tundra – The miniature plants that grow above tree line on the very fragile alpine tundra create a beautiful mosaic of oranges and reds in the fall. Look closely but be careful not to trample these little gems – some tundra plants take several hundred years to grow just a few inches.