Que Sera, Sera

September 08, 2022  •  Leave a Comment

Leaves of GoldLeaves of GoldGrand Teton National Park, Wyoming A late-season heat wave has been baking Eastern Idaho for the past few weeks: much of the Snake River Plain has seen high temperatures hovering around the century mark. Even the two national parks have been unusually hot. With humidity in the 7-8% range currently there's obviously no precipitation in the forecast. It's too dry to rain.

Some relief is on the way, though, as a cold front is poised to move into the area. ("Cold" is relative. It'll be 88 today - but they're talking mid-70s for tomorrow which sounds divine if it really happens.)

Along with all the heat the air quality has been poor: probably the worst it's been all summer. The thick haze is coming primarily from the Moose Fire in Idaho's Central Mountains near Salmon, burning since mid-July. At more than 107,000 acres it's the largest fire in the United States; containment remains unchanged at 44%. They'd originally projected full containment by the end of September but at this point it seems like the chances of that happening are fading.

I mention the sweltering temperatures and all the muck in the air because foliage season is fast approaching - which, for many nature photographers, is the high point of the year.

Uh oh. 

Will the colors be late? Will they be muted? Will the display be truncated? What if the leaves are so stressed they just turn brown and drop? What if the dense haze persists?

Photographically speaking, this could be a challenging autumn in Grand Teton National Park - but it is what it is.   

Que sera, sera. 

There are so many variables that factor into the timing and intensity of the "show" you begin to realize it's Radiant Red White Mountains New HampshireRadiant RedVibrant autumn foliage can nearly always be found in this spot at Bear Notch. The season this image was made, however, the crimson leaves outdid themselves. Mount Washington, often cloud covered, is visible in the distance - entirely in the clear.

White Mountains, New Hampshire
anybody's guess how things are going to turn out. 

Interested in knowing what determines how much of an extravaganza you're going to get? Here's the Readers' Digest version:

It's a combination of moisture and temperature that affects the display - and this "recipe" is created over many months (going all the way back to late winter). How long the snowpack lasted, whether spring was cold and late or warm and reasonably rainy, if the summer was dry and hot or very wet...all of those things impact the timing, intensity and duration of the color.

Weather conditions as the leaves begin producing less chlorophyll also influence vibrance and even which colors you'll see. Sunny days followed by chilly nights encourage trees to produce more sugars which are trapped in the leaves. Those sugars create brighter color - and more reds.

If you end up with a Goldilocks scenario and everything is "just right" the foliage display will knock your socks off.

That said, you might find stunning conditions even though the prognosticators projected a lackluster result. One of the best autumns I have ever experienced in terms of vibrant color in New Hampshire followed a summer during which it hardly rained. Everyone thought it was going to be an off-year (me included) so it was a nice surprise. 

You never know for sure what's going to happen - and it doesn't have to be a "bumper crop" for the display to be beautiful. I have never been underwhelmed by foliage season in the White Mountains, even when the colors weren't as vibrant as usual. 

Contrary to what Goldilocks thought the porridge can still taste pretty great even if it's a little too hot or too cold.

You know you're going to be out there shooting the foliage regardless of the color forecast, so stop worrying and concentrate on making the best of whatever conditions Mother Nature provides! There is always something to photograph. 

Odds and Ends

Is the 2022 leaf peeping forecast keeping you in suspense? I have a few locations on my radar so can share what I know about them. My number one favorite place to view the show - New Hampshire - is expecting an "average" season. The same is true of Grand Teton National Park. Utah's colors, on the other hand, aren't shaping up so well since the entire state has been exceptionally dry for quite some time. Zion, the Wasatch, the red maples near Moab - all are normally quite pretty but we'll see what happens. 

If you're planning a trip to the Tetons to photograph the show, my guess is the color will be on the late side because of this recent heat wave and since spring was cold and late. Since I've lived here peak color has come as early as September 15th-16th but that seems to have been an outlier. Lately it has been closer to the last week of the month.

Eastern Idaho and Western Wyoming remain under a red flag warning through tonight. As of Tuesday the fire danger in Grand Teton National Park, Bridger-Teton National Forest, and the National Elk Refuge was increased to "high." Yellowstone is now "very high." Campfires are still allowed but please be cautious. So far this year there have been 99 abandoned campfires in the Teton Interagency Fire area. Inexcusable. 

The average gas price in both Teton County, Wyoming and Teton County, Idaho is around $4.70. It's less expensive in West Yellowstone ($4.30). You'll pay more in the parks.


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