Love the One You're With

September 21, 2023  •  Leave a Comment

That's me on a beautiful early October day at the Saco River in the White Mountains.

Unfortunately, I won't be in New Hampshire this autumn for the Greatest Show on Earth. To say I'm disappointed about that is an understatement. There's nowhere I'd rather be for foliage season. No place is as beautiful. Home, sweet home.

What to do about this predicament? Stephen Stills once offered some advice:

If you can't be with the one you love, honey
Love the one you're with...

(Don't recognize the lyrics? Released in late-1970, it was Stills' most popular solo single. Great song!)

Fortunately, I live next door to a pretty spectacular national park that gets into the spirit of foliage season quite enthusiastically. I'm also within reasonable driving range of some other very nice autumnal scenery, so it's not like there's nothing to photograph as the leaves are changing. 

While I can't be in New England, it won't be asking too much for me to love the one I'm with - the Tetons - just a little bit more.

I've already begun, having spent some time working in the park earlier this week. That was mostly for scouting purposes, to see how far along things are. (There's color but it's still a bit early, especially up at Oxbow Bend where the aspens are mostly green.)

I'll be heading back shortly for the main attraction. 

Is it a New England autumn? No, of course not. This is the Rockies! But the beauty of the season can be defined and depicted in a variety of ways and the Tetons are no slouch in that department. I've been shooting the changing leaves in the park every year since I moved here; the display is quite beautiful.

Besides, there are some areas in Eastern Idaho/Western Wyoming/Northern Utah where I can find snippets of the types of color that remind me of the Northeast. 

This time of year I often access GTNP via Idaho's Palisades, entering Wyoming through the Snake River Canyon and coming into the valley from the south. This route adds some mileage to the trip but it's worth it because that's where I can find Rocky Mountain maples. Like some of their cousins back east, they turn bright orange and red. 

CASCADING CRIMSONCASCADING CRIMSONMountain maples clinging to the steep hillside are ablaze with peak autumn color.

Palisades, Idaho
More shrub than tree, mountain maples are resilient and determined plants; they cling to canyon walls, mountainsides and ridgetops. Not very noticeable the rest of the year, you can't miss them when the fiery display gets underway. 

Once inside the park, I'm drawn to the foliage in the north end where the aspens go a little bit wild. You'll find many trees with the more common yellow leaves, to be sure, but there's a lot of nonconformity in the neighborhood: quite a bit of bold orange. Even some borderline reds.

This phenomenon isn't an outlier; the same trees perform similarly year after year. Apparently it's a genetic trait, kind of like red hair.  

Maverick aspens: making exhibitionism respectable.

CENTER OF ATTENTIONCENTER OF ATTENTIONWith rain on the way, sunlight breaks through building overcast to accent a strip of the fiery color marching up the hillside.

Grand Teton National Park, Wyoming

In the PinkPARALLEL THOUGHTSThe Teton Range behind, a line of aspens in front: nature's symmetry. Mount Moran, with a dusting of late September snow, awaits the rising sun.

Grand Teton National Park, Wyoming
In a perfect world, my autumn would be like a multi-course fine dining experience with the Tetons as the hors d’oeuvre and appetizer, northern New England as the main course, the Blue Ridge mountains as dessert, and perhaps Zion National Park as the mignardise. I'm not a big eater, though, so I've been just fine with the appetizer and main course the past few years. This time it'll be a still lighter meal - but I'm toying with that mignardise to cap off the 2023 display. Stay tuned.

While I'm going to miss being in New Hampshire this October, the Tetons aren't exactly a cheap consolation prize. A day spent in Grand Teton National Park is always a good one.

If we had our druthers, every autumn we'd photograph the big show in our favorite haunts. It doesn't always work out. Maybe, like me, you won't be "leaf peeping" in a cherished location this time around.

I'll bet you can find something interesting to shoot wherever you do happen to be, though.

Love the one you're with.

Odds and Ends

In Grand Teton National Park, bear activity has increased along Moose-Wilson Road, which is typical this time of year since there are abundant chokecherry and hawthorn shrubs in the area. Bears are entering hyperphagia - increasing feeding in preparation for hibernation. They need their space. When using the road, follow park staff instructions, remain in your vehicle, and respect temporary closures.

In Yellowstone, the high season is quickly winding down. Many of the lodges will close on October 1st. Madison is the only campground still open; it closes for the season on October 15th. The last day to take a regular passenger vehicle into the park - weather permitting - will be October 31st. As always, the Gardiner entrance is the one exception. That road remains open throughout the winter. 

The next few weeks will be pleasant in YNP. Far fewer people.


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