Some years it’s easy to get great photographs of the changing colors of aspen leaves in northern Arizona. The weather is good, the timing is right, you’re in the perfect place. It all comes together.
That wasn’t this year.
We set out several times on the mountain bikes to see and enjoy the color. First we were too early; then we were too late. We were out of town on a long-planned trip and the peak color season occurred while we were gone. It happens.
Not that I’m complaining. I’ve been able to get good photographs many times in the past and there will be opportunities again in coming years.
So here is a collection of pre-season photos, post-season photos, and a few from several years ago comparing colors in the Inner Basin on similar dates but different years.
Based on previous years, I thought we might still find some great color in the Inner Basin this late in the season. We certainly did in 2014—but not 2017.
And here are a couple from 2015—another good year for aspen photography.
An early snowfall on the higher summits juxtaposed with the aspen almost at their peak made an interesting composition. Getting this view required more hiking and climbing that anticipated—but ultimately worth it.
It’s been a mild autumn so far with very few hard freezes. As a result, the fall color season continues even at the higher elevations. Last week we rode our mountain bikes on the Arizona Trail from FR418 south to Snowbowl Road. This is one of my favorite sections of the Arizona Trail because—among other reasons—it passes through several large stands of aspen trees.
Aspens typically grow in large clonal colonies derived from a single seedling. Thus, each stand or colony of aspen have a strong tendency for their leaves to change color at the same time, while a nearby stand may change either earlier or later.
Fall is arguably the best season in Flagstaff — although it is often too brief. Winds tend to be light, daytime temperatures are warm, it rarely rains or snows, and the sky is almost always a deep, rich blue. Add to that the changing colors of the leaves of the aspen trees and a mountain bike trip and it becomes a great day.
A few days ago, we biked our favorite section of the Arizona Trail between Forest Road 418 and Snowbowl Road. This is a gradual uphill climb between 8000 and 9000 feet and moves through ponderosa pine, aspen forests, and open meadows. There are even a few bristlecone pines to be found here. Many aspen leaves had already fallen leaving a carpet of color on the forest floor and the trail.
A week earlier we found ourselves biking the Inner Basin Trail that leads up from Lockett Meadows on the east side of the San Francisco Peaks. The aspen along the Waterline Road were already in full color at this elevation. This section of Waterline Road was spared in the Schultz Fire that burned much of the eastern slopes of the San Francisco Peaks in June 2010. Once in the Inner Basin, we stashed the bikes and hiked up the old roads through many aspen groves.
Rain has been plentiful across the higher elevations of northern Arizona during the month of July. In response, the forest is lush and green. This image was taken while mountain biking through a fern garden along the Arizona Trail north of Flagstaff. Simply amazing!