Autumn is my favorite time of year. As summer begins to loosen its grip, and daily winter’s grasp becomes increasingly fixed, the landscapes across the Northern Hemisphere undergo a magnificent transformation. For the majority of us, the terms autumn and fall conjure images of leaves changing color, however, the way we experience this season varies drastically based on location. In Wisconsin, a mixture of deciduous trees including maple, oak and aspen create a palette of yellow, orange, and red that line lakes and forests. At higher elevations in Washington, golden larches drape the mountainsides along with mountain ash and the low-lying, fiery huckleberry bushes.
This year I was fortunate to take my first trip to Colorado in autumn. I have never experienced scenery quite like this. Here beneath the 14,000-foot summit of Capitol Peak, aspens dominate the landscape. During the fleeting moments of the day, last light strikes Capitol Peak, and the golden aspens cast a warm glow throughout the valley.
Capitol Peak – White River National Forest, Colorado
Regular wildfires are a natural process and that can both be vital to the health of an ecosystem, as well as aid in the prevention of devastatingly large fires. Wildfire management policies have changed significantly over the course of the 20th century, moving from complete suppression of fires, to fuel reduction, with controlled burns.
In late September, smoke from burning wildfires fills the Teton Valley. An unique mixture of clouds and smoke blends to create the canvas for a fiery sunset over Grand Teton National Park.
Mt. Baker is an active stratovolcano located in the North Cascades and is the third highest peak in Washington. On clear days, Mt. Baker is visible from as far away as Tacoma, over 100 miles to the south. While the last large eruption took place over 6,000 years ago, this massive volcano continues to dominate the landscape of the North Cascades. Here, from San Juan Island, Mt. Baker's silhouette is a humbling reminder of the larger forces that have shaped and continue to shape our planet.
Mt. Baker at sunrise - San Juan Island, Washington
I have been digging through some old photos and came across another photograph from possibly the most dynamic sunrise I have experienced. I posted a panoramic from this same sunrise a while back (see below). This image was captured just minutes later. Prior to dawn, the cloud cover over Mt. Moran and the Northern Teton range was minimal, but continued to increase as light began to fill the scene. The sky progressively darkened as a storm developed over the range, eventually filling the region. At the same time, brilliant, unobstructed sunlight poured in, setting the foliage ablaze.
Later that day, the same storm that created these incredible conditions, stripped the majority of leaves from these aspens lining the bend.
It is difficult for me to imagine a more iconic Western scene than horses grazing beneath the Teton Range. Growing up in Wisconsin, the Rocky Mountains have always symbolized the West to me. Prior to leaving Seattle on my trip to Grand Teton NP, a coworker of mine asked where I was planing to go. I responded, "I'm going out West." He then reminded me that I live in Seattle and really could not get much further west than I already was. I laughed, recognizing he had a very good point. However, to me, the the Rockies will always epitomize the West.
Clouds from the first winter storm of the season begin to lift shortly after sunrise exposing the western side of the Sneffels Range, now freshly dressed in white from the passing storm. Warm sunlight pours through the clouds, setting the fall foliage ablaze. A reminder that for now it is still autumn, but winter's grasp has already begun to take hold.
The Snake River winds its way from from Western Wyoming through Idaho to its confluence with the Columbia River in Washington. In Grand Teton National Park, one of the river's crescent-shaped meanders forms a picturesque scene, reflecting Mt. Moran and the Northern end of the Teton range in its slow moving waters. Oxbow Bend is popular destination for visitors to the Tetons throughout the year, particularly in Fall when the Aspens along the river begin to turn their beautiful shades of color.
On this October morning, the Aspens along Oxbow Bend glow under the warm, early light with Mt. Moran and the Teton range looming in the stormy distance.
Swells crash in into the sandstone cliffs of Cape Kiwanda as the sun lingers low on the horizon. Shaped over time by the ocean's relentless pounding, this sandstone headland is a powerful reminder of the slow and steady process of erosion that continues to transform our landscape. The surf was not particularly large this afternoon, however the the wave action was still spectacular near low tide, with sets of waves that would explode along the sandstone cliffs.
Cape Kiwanda State Natural Area - Pacific City, Oregon
The Sneffels Range of the San Juan Mountains in Colorado is illuminated just after an early October sunrise. The passing of a significant snowstorm overnight leaves the fourteen thousand foot Mt. Sneffels and its neighboring peaks covered in snow. While the vibrant colors of autumn continue glow, winter has begun to arrive in the San Juans.