Fall Color in the Southwest

Written by on October 9, 2016 in Southwest Legends - 1 Comment

When you visit the Southwest U.S., wherever there are mountains, so you will find Aspen gold (at least in the Fall). During the winter months, the bare Aspen trees with their white bark stand start against teh snowy mountainsides. During the summer months, the soft whisper of their shaking leaves falls gently on the ear, but the groves tend to disappear into all the other green of the pines and spruces, grasses and meadows. However, in the Fall the Aspens come into their own, and whole mountainsides burn with gold fire as the leaves change color in the dwindling light and warmth of autumn. If you are very lucky, you might even see them in a year when the leaves are not only gold, but even orange or flaming red.

An Aspen tree is the most widely distributed tree species in North America, ranging from Alaska to Newfoundland and down the Rocky Mountains to Mexico. Interestingly, Utah and Colorado are home to the largest portion of natural acreage of Aspen in the world.

A grove of Aspen is actually one entity, rather than separate trees. The tree spreads by means of root suckers; new stems in the colony may appear at up to 100 feet or more from the parent tree. Each individual tree can live for 40–150 years above ground, but the root system of the colony is long-lived. In some cases, this is for thousands of years, sending up new trunks as the older trunks die off above ground.

The Ute Indians tell a story about the Aspen trees. Long ago, the Utes lived in peace with all things. The Great Spirit came to visit them in the mountains. All the things of nature waited with great excitement and trembled with anticipation for the arrival of the Great Spirit. All except the Aspen, who stood still, like a young brave defying his father. The Great Spirit became angry and punished the Aspen. From that time on, Aspen trees will shake and trembled whenever an eye shall see them. To this day, their green leaves of Summer and their gold leaves of Fall still tremble and whisper whenever you are near, and their voices still whisper on the wind.

In scientific terms, this quivering, to which the tree owes its French name, is explained scientifically by the length of the slender leaf-stalk and its lateral compression. Which means that the broad and heavy leaf is easily acted on by the smallest atmospheric movement. The rustling noise, as of a babbling brook, is produced by the friction of the leaves on one another.

But then again, who is to say that the Great Spirit of the Utes didn’t fashion the tree that way on purpose so that it would tremble for all time as punishment for its lack of respect.

“A perfect calm; that not a breath
Is heard to quiver through the closing woods,
Or rustling turn the many-twinkling leaves
Of Aspen tall.”

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One Comment on "Fall Color in the Southwest"

  1. Char Proctor September 13, 2010 at 8:08 pm ·

    The aspens in southwestern Colorado are just beginning to show color. They are particularly beautiful in the San Juans–the most beautiful of all the Rocky Mountains.

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