High up in Colorado's San Juan Mountains
The photo to the right was taken on the floor of the Owens
Valley in California, at the base of the Sierra Nevada. The
Owens Valley consists of high desert like vegetation and
most people would never think of fall photo opportunities
there. I almost missed photographing the picture to
the right myself. After taking some photos at a local museum
I just happened to stumble on the scene to the right. I
simply got out of my vehicle and took what I thought
to be just a casual snapshot. Little did I know that it would
turn out to be my best photo of the day. The mighty fog laden
Sierra Nevada Mountains in the background along with the
multi-layering of fall colors in the foreground all came
together and created a wonderful photographic image. Desert type landscape in the Owens Valley near Bishop, California
Fall Colors timberlinetrails.net
The Season of Fall is hard to beat when is comes to color and exquisite natural beauty. My wife and I always try and
venture out to key locations throughout the United States so that we can enjoy this most special time of year. But what causes
this magnificent change of color during Autumn? Well, to answer this question, we have to get just a bit technical for a moment.
The green pigment in leaves is chlorophyll. Chlorophyll
absorbs red and blue light from the sunlight that falls on
leaves. Therefore, the light reflected by the leaves is
diminished in the reds and blues and appears green. The
molecules of chlorophyll are large and are not soluble in the
watery solution that fills plant cells. Instead, they are attached
to the membranes of the disc-like structures called chloroplasts
inside the cells. Chloroplasts are the site of photosynthesis.
Photosynthesis is the process in which light energy is
converted to chemical energy. Chloroplasts are like mini
factories inside the plant. Light is the power source for this
factory, and this energy is absorbed by chlorophyll which is
used by the plant to transform carbon dioxide and
water into oxygen and carbohydrates (sugars and starches).
This chemical energy drives the biochemical reactions that
cause plants to grow, flower, and produce seed.
In the above photo we see Chlorophyll in action during
the summer month of July in Southern California
Chlorophyll is not a very stable compound and bright sunlight will cause it to decompose. To maintain the amount of
chlorophyll in their leaves, plants continuously synthesize it. The synthesis of chlorophyll in plants requires sunlight and warm
temperatures. This is why during summer months, chlorophyll is continuously broken down and regenerated in the leaves of
plants and trees.
But as the days grow shorter and nights grow longer,
biochemical processes in the leaf begin to paint the landscape
with the beautiful colors of autumn. As mentioned above, the
amount of sunlight has a direct influence on what goes on
inside the plants mini factories. When the amount of sunlight
decreases (during the fall season) things begin to change not
only on the inside of the plant or tree, but also on the outside.
Therefore, what you see on the outside is really an inside job.
However, chlorophyll is not the only chemical substance at
work. We also have two other pigments that are subdued
during the other seasons that burst forth during autumn. We
have the carotenoids, which produce yellow, orange, and
brown colors in such things as corn, carrots, and daffodils, as
well as rutabagas, buttercups, and bananas. And we also have
the anthocyanins, which give color to such familiar things as
cranberries, red apples, concord grapes, blueberries, cherries,
In the above image you see the carotenoids and anthocyanins in action
with the beautiful leaf display of maple and aspen mixed together.
strawberries, and plums. They are water soluble and appear in the watery liquid of leaf cells. As night length increases in the
autumn, chlorophyll production slows down and then stops and eventually all the chlorophyll is destroyed. The carotenoids and
anthocyanins that are present in the leaf are then unmasked and show their colors.
Gorgeous yellows, greens, and reds come together to produce a photographers
dream come true in an aspen forest in the Colorado San Juan Mountains.
Early snowfall on October 2, 2005 shortened the fall color season in the Sierra
Nevada Mountains that year. But the white background sure provided for a
spectacular backdrop for the aspen trees to display their autumn beauty.
Temperature and Moisture
Diminishing sunlight is what triggers fall's display of
colors, but temperature and moisture have a profound
effect on the brilliance of these colors. A succession
of warm sunny days, and cool crisp (but not freezing)
nights, seem to bring about the most spectacular
displays. The anthocyanin's as mentioned above are
responsible for the brilliant reds, crimsons, and purples.
But it takes lots of sugars along with warm daytime
temperatures and cool nights to bring out the best of
these tints. The light during the day insures sugar
production, and the cool of the night causes the closing
down of the leaves veins. This process traps the sugars
in the leaf and produces the perfect conditions for the
anthocyanins to come into the forefront. This in turn
will produce the magnificent reds, crimsons and
purples that so many people love to view during the
Carotenoids are always present in leaves, therefore,
yellow and gold colors remain fairly constant from
year to year. Freezing conditions during autumn on the
other hand will cut the fall colors short. The photo
on the right displays an early snow fall in Bishop Creek
Canyon in the Sierra Nevada Mountains. Needless to
say, it was shortly afterward that the aspens dropped
their leaves. In the meantime, the snowy background
provided for excellent photo opportunities as the aspens
displayed their beautiful golden colors against this cold
white back drop.
But whether winter comes early or not, eventually the
broad leaved plants (and trees such as the aspen) will
drop their leaves as colder temperatures set in. This is
because the fluid in the above mentioned leaves consists
of a watery sap that freezes easily. The leaves must then
be shed in order to ensure the survival of the plant during
the coming winter months.
The amount of moisture in the soil also affects
autumn colors. Both soil moisture and weather
can vary greatly from year to year. The countless
combinations of these two highly variable factors
assure that no two autumns will be exactly alike.
A late spring, or a severe summer drought, can
delay the onset of fall color by a few weeks. A
warm period during fall will also lower the
vibrancy of autumn colors. A warm moist spring
along with favorable summer weather, and warm
sunny fall days with cool nights should produce the
most brilliant autumn colors. The cottonwood
trees shown to the left are very affected by
moisture. They grow 40 to 80 feet in height and
have a broad open crown of widely spreading
branches. Cottonwoods are widely grown for
timber production along wet river banks, where
their exceptional growth rate provides a large crop
of wood within just 10-30 years. The wood is
Cottonwood's display their magnificent colors near meandering
streams on a beautiful ranch near the Dallas Divide in Colorado.
coarse and of fairly low value, used for pallet boxes, shipping crates and similar, where a coarse but cheap and strong wood is
suitable. Cottonwoods are not limited to wet river banks, but also will grow where ever there are wet soil conditions. As seen in
the image above, cottonwoods can produce beautiful fall colors during season. But as mentioned above, soil moisture plays a
large role in the brilliancy of colors from year to year.
Contrasting scenes show how evergreens such as the pine trees in the above image to the left maintain their
green colors all year round, while the aspen grove to the right turns a golden yellow and then drops it's leaves.
The evergreens-pines (shown in the above photo to the left), spruces, cedars, firs, and so on-are able to survive winter
because they have needle-like or scale-like foliage that is covered with a heavy wax coating. This sticky substance can be
found all over in pine forests, and has been the culprit in attaching itself to my clothing on several backpacking outings. This
sticky fluid inside the evergreens cells contains a substances that resists freezing. The foliage of the evergreens can stand up to
all but the most severe of winters. But even the evergreen needles will eventually fall, because of the ravages of time. But the
needles and leaves that fall to the ground are not wasted. They decompose and replenish the soil with nutrients that make up
the spongy humus layer of the forest floor. This layer is very important, because it absorbs and holds rainfall which is
essential for life in the forest. Fallen leaves also become food for countless soil organisms that are vital to the forest ecosystem.
Creating lasting memories during the fall season is one
of the most satisfying pleasures for the outdoor
photographer. During peak autumn season, you will
see them lined up with their tripods clicking away in
hopes of capturing that award winning image. But no
matter if you are a professional photographer, a serious
amateur, or just out to have fun with your point and
shoot, fall colors have something to offer everyone.
Even though it is hard to miss getting a beautiful photo
during autumn, there are some things that you can do
to maximize your success rate. First of all, try and
get off the beaten path. The scene to the left is a little
roadway off the main highway that few people bother
with. Most photographers just whiz by this photo
opportunity. Little lanes such as this have a beauty all
their own, and project not only the beauty of the season, Cottonwoods lining a small roadway near Ouray, Colorado
but the peacefulness that goes with it.
Next, be sure to make good use of your telephoto lenses. They are
able to capture distant photos as seen to the left, and compress the
wonderful aspen forest against the majestic white snow capped
mountains in the background. Lighting and contrast is what
photography is all about, so getting up early to capture
the early morning light, or staying out later to capture the setting
sun will ensure that you get the most out of your equipment. So
make use of these magical hours of the day. Notice how the
aspens in the foreground have already lost their leaves. Autumn
colors go fast at high altitude so their is no time to loose if you
want to capture photos like this.
The photo to the left was taken at near
ground level with a wide angle lens.
The expanded view created a dramatic
perspective by showing the bulk of the
aspens white bark in contrast with the
beautiful canopy above. The sun being in
the near 12 O-Clock position was perfect
for this photo. Back lighting brings out the
brilliance of autumn colors and the
photographic results will dazzle your
viewers. I can tell you first hand that as
pretty as this picture may appear on the
Internet, it can't even compare to an
actual blow up on fine photographic
paper. So do not be afraid to try all sorts
of camera angles and positions. The
results will be well worth the effort.
June Lake Loop, Sierra Nevada Mountains
The next tip involves getting out of you vehicle and
taking a walk. In our sedentary society few people
ever take the time to go out an explore the great
outdoors. Because I have a long vehicle I most often
have to take the furthest parking space from my
destination. But I can't tell you how many times
after parking I have reached the store front and begun
to do my shopping while people continue to go around
and around in the parking area looking (or waiting) to
get a closer spot so they do not have to walk that few
extra steps. The beautiful golden aspen photo to the
right was acquired by getting out of the vehicle and
taking a walk. If I would have stood at my vehicle
and taken a photo from there, all you would see in
the image would be an empty beer can on the side of
the road along with a bit of dry brush. Almost
every photograph in this site was a result of putting in
some extra effort (sometimes a whole lot of it).
Aspen Grove Colorado Rockies
Also, try and visit places during the fall that you
would never suspect to provide color. In the summer,
the photo to the left would just be a dried out jumble
of brown looking weeds. But in autumn, the normally
dirty brown Golden Rod takes on a whole different
image. What normally would be something you
would never think of photographing may become a
beautiful scene during the autumn months.
Golden Rod's in the Owens Valley near Lone Pine, California
And Finally, there is that well worn path.
The familiar image to the right was taken
at the Dallas Divide in the Colorado
San Juan mountains. The buck and rail
fence in the foreground along with the
aspens in the middle ground, and the
mountains in the rear make for dramatic
layering. And don't forget, (as mentioned
above), that no two fall seasons are alike.
This makes it possible for you to get
that unique award winning image out
of that familiar landscape.
(On a side note, I always wondered why
ranchers went to all that trouble to build
buck and rail fences (as shown to the
right), until I discovered that they did
so, in order to avoid even more work by
having to dig post holes in the rock hard soil
of the San Juan's and Rocky Mountains.)
Colorado Ranch located at the Dallas Divide
Well, that's about it for Fall Colors at Timberline
Trails. We certainly enjoyed sharing with you
and hope that you have gained something from
your visit here.
God has created so much beauty here on earth
and we can learn so much from it for, "The
earth is the Lord's, and everything in it."
(1st Corinthians 10:26)
But during fall season, each leaf that falls to the
ground will not be in vain, because it will supply
essential nutrients for the life that will follow.
Jesus often used nature to explain heavenly
principles, and in the Gospel of John, Jesus
explains one of these important parables by using an example that is similar to the one we described above. It reads as
follows: Jesus replied, "The hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified. I tell you the truth, unless a kernel of
wheat falls to the ground and dies, it remains only a single seed. But if it dies, it produces many seeds. (John 12:23-24)
Jesus, of course, is talking about Himself here. He is anticipating His own sacrificial death on the cross where He will take
upon Himself the sins of the world. Jesus portrays Himself as the kernel of wheat in the above verse, and we are the many
seeds that follow. To find out more about the existence of God and His plan for you, please visit the following links: The
Ultimate Journey and/or Just Stop and Think
Thanks for your visit,
Bishop Creek California
Photo by: Arlene French
Lower valley During Autumn Season,