Fall Colors: Summit County, Colorado

Dear Readers, 

One of my favorite things about growing up in Colorado was driving up to the mountains in the fall to see the aspen trees, turned to gold.  

This luckily hasn't changed too much from season to season since then, as you'll see from the photo gallery below!  The aspens were on full display during our visit last week, much to my delight.  The photos from our hike up Ptarmigan Peak (which took about ten times as long as it should have, with me stopping every five feet to take yet another picture...just a ruse for catching my breath in the thin mountain air, really) are from beautiful Summit County, home to stands of golden aspen and some of the highest and most spectacular peaks in the Rocky Mountains.

Ute teepee, photo courtesy of the Library of Congress.

Ute teepee, photo courtesy of the Library of Congress.

The Ute People are the earliest known humans to have enjoyed these beautiful displays of fall color. Inhabiting the mountains and plains of Colorado and points west/southwest, the Ute generally lived the semi-nomadic lifestyle that many people think of today when they imagine traditional Native American tribes (unlike the Cherokee of the southeastern United States, who predominantly lived in villages).  The Ute lived in teepees and moved around in search of wild game and plants, working hard to prepare each year for unforgiving winters in the Rockies.  According to the Southern Ute Tribe,

Late in the fall, family units would begin to move out of the mountains into sheltered areas for the cold winter. Generally, the family units of a particular Ute band would live close together. The family units could acquire more fuel for heating and cooking. The increased family units would also allow for a better line of defense from enemy tribes seeking supplies for the harsh winter weather.
Aspen leaves on the trail, Fall 2017

Aspen leaves on the trail, Fall 2017

It's not hard to imagine bands of Ute camped among the aspen groves in the fall, possibly gathering the last of the summer's wild rose hips and juniper berries that flourish in the grasses beneath the trees' golden, cathedral-like canopy. Aspen trees have distinctive, teardrop-shaped leaves that flutter in even the slightest breeze, which is responsible for another of their names, "quaking aspen." The Ute People have a tale about why the aspen leaves quake, often seemingly on their own when the air is still:

According to Ute legend, the reason for this unique aspect of the aspen tree happened during a visit to Earth from the Great Spirit during a special full moon. All of nature anticipated the Spirit’s arrival and trembled to pay homage. All except the proud and beautiful aspen. The aspens stood still, refusing to pay proper respect. The Great Spirit was furious and decreed that, from that time on, the aspen leaves would tremble whenever anyone looked upon them.
— Ute Folklore

(Please click on any photo to enlarge and scroll through)

From the top:  first two rows are various shots of aspen stands along the Ptarmigan Peak (elevation 12,504') Trail, showing off their brilliant fall colors; two shots of aspen bark, scarred from elk and other forest animals rubbing their antlers on the trees; a view of the Dillon Reservoir and the gorgeous stands of aspen on the flanks of Ptarmigan Peak; weathered sign along the trail; and two shots from the lower summit of Ptarmigan Peak, looking across at "rivers" of golden aspen cascading down the slopes across the valley.  


Yours Truly,