Ever see a pine tree change colors in the fall? Sounds odd, yet one conifer found at high elevations in the Pacific Northwest, the alpine larch, turns that trick every autumn when its needles turn bright yellow before dropping to the ground.
As the New York Times noted in 2006, it's an annual eye-popper that send hikers like me dashing off to high-rise ridgelines despite shorter daylight hours and less stable weather patterns. Last week I made a 2-day sprint to one of the Northwest's finest larch showcases, the beautiful-in-any-season Enchantment Lakes basin near Leavenworth, Wash., roughly a 2-hour drive east of Seattle. I've included some pics of the terrific scenes on display in this post.
It was a visual treat, no question, and one that will probably linger here and other larch-dotted locales in Washington state for 1 to 2 more weeks. The experience reminded me of 2 other unexpectedly lovely encounters with fall colors I've enjoyed in years past:
• McKittrick Canyon Trail, Guadalupe Mountains National Park, Texas: More or less dominated by a Chihuahuan Desert ecosystem, McKittrick Canyon and its namesake trail is a place where natural worlds seemingly collide. With mostly arid terrain all around, a stream flows through the canyon that gives life to a ribbon of deciduous trees on its banks that, in late October through mid-November (usually), throws the switch on all kinds of autumn colors, all beautifully displayed in an unlikely setting.
• Fruit orchards in Capitol Reef National Park, Utah: In what appears to be austere, desert-like conditions for farming, early settlers in the late 1800s nevertheless planted numerous orchards -- not for fall colors, but for basic subsistence. Today, the color surge the trees create are just a bonus modern-day visitors get to enjoy. The orchards hold approximately 2,700 trees -- cherry, apricot, peach, pear, and apple, plus a few plum, mulberry, almond, and walnut trees. The park preserves the orchards as part of its Rural Historic Landscape program.
Where else in natural surroundings have you seen unusual displays of fall colors? Wherever you bump into them, they're always special to see.