I love Autumn. To me, autumn is all about change — changing weather, changing colors. There’s a certain crispness to the air that invigorates me, fills me with energy. I love the sunny, bright, Indian summer days, and the cool, frosty nights. And more than anything I love the fall foliage, the changing colors, which in Colorado is all about the Aspens. There is a wonderful highway, the Peak to Peak highway, which I drive on to get to work each day. It takes about an hour, and I admit, some days, the long drive can get to me, even though I’m driving along the Indian Peaks Wilderness. But this time of year, I feel as if I am one of the luckiest people alive, because I get to witness the full beauty of the Aspens. There is one humongous grove just north of Nederland, that is so breathtaking at its peak, people literally stop their cars smack in the middle of the road.
While there are many places in the country that have great fall colors, Aspens are somewhat unique in that a huge grove of Aspens will reach peak color all at the same time. The reason for this is that Aspen actually grow new aspen by cloning. There is a parent tree among aspen groves, that sends out little sucker trees from its roots, but under ground they are all connected by one root system and one DNA. I used to think when I worked at Sequoia National Park, that I had seen the largest living thing, a Giant Sequoia tree called the General Sherman tree, that was 52,000 cubic feet of wood and 36 feet in diameter. But some scientists have argued that is in fact, an Aspen grove that is truly the world’s largest living thing because of their unique cloning ability. Because of their ability to sprout, Aspen are one of the first plants/trees to grow in an area that has been burned over by wildfire. They have also reaped the benefits of the most recent mountain pine beetle epidemic that has claimed so many lodgepole pines here in Colorado, but left new openings in the forest for the aspen to take over. And for people like me, who love the fall colors, this is all the better for a fantastic grand finale of color during the crisp days of Autumn….