Aspen leaves showing autumnal colors on the North Rim of the Grand Canyon, Arizona

If my air conditioning bill is any indication, it’s been a really long and hot summer here in Phoenix, Arizona, so we’re anxiously awaiting the arrival of fall!  Weather forecasts indicate stormy days are ahead for the Grand Canyon State, as a cold front is expected to move through the area tomorrow.  Perhaps this is the change in season we’ve been waiting for?  Please?  Pretty please?!  With a cherry on top?!!

One of the first places in Arizona to see fall colors is the North Rim of the Grand Canyon.  Situated at over 8,000 feet elevation, the Kaibab Plateau is home to a multitude of color-changing trees, primarily quaking aspen, Gambel oak, and Arizona walnut.  With the combination of warm days and cool nights, this area’s display of color typically peaks around the last week of September.

Not this year!

A visit to this area last week showed the development of color – on the whole – moving a little more slowly and appearing more spotty than normal.   As you drive in along Highway 67, you’ll notice a checkerboard of vibrant patches of yellow and orange aspens intermixed with completely unchanged green-leafed aspens among ponderosa pines.  Spots near the Warm Fire burn area and around DeMotte Park offer the best color en route to the national park right now.

It’s about the same story inside the park.  The burn areas are showing off palettes of yellow, orange, and even red-colored aspen leaves, and are likely at peak as we speak.  On the other hand, quick hikes along the Transept and Widforss trails revealed a lot of green.  Rangers suggested the cliffs along the Transept Trail covered in oak will likely start their peak show the second week of October (almost two weeks late!).  Check out either of these easy paths towards sunset with a wide-angle lens in hand to get one of the best views of autumn arriving to the Grand Canyon.

In search of autumnal signs, we also traveled along a number of our favorite dirt roads – namely Forest Roads 611 and 219 near the East Rim of the canyon – where some stands of aspens exhibited brilliant color, while others appeared comfortably dressed in their summer greens.  These spots offered seemingly endless close-up photography opportunities of multicolored leaves with a macro lens.

Some aspen stands are nearing peak color along Forest Road 219 en route to Marble Point, Kaibab Plateau, Arizona

Though the arrival of fall is late at the North Rim this year, there are plenty of photographic opportunities on the Kaibab Plateau and the Grand Canyon National Park worth the 7-hour drive from Phoenix.  Scenes of Wotan’s Throne from Cape Royal and Mount Hayden from Point Imperial at sunrise and sunset would not disappoint any landscape/nature photographer!

But when things aren’t going the way you planned, sometimes you have to push a little harder and change your perspective.  Though I expected to come home with memory cards full of lively trees in their peak fall colors, I instead came home with a handful of scouting shots related to autumn (as Galen Rowell once suggested, “If it looks good, shoot it.  If it looks better, shoot it again.”) and a memory card full of pictures showing a lone pinyon pine tree beneath the spectacularly clear Milky Way from Marble Point (at the end of Forest Road 219) during a moonless night.

Indeed, it is a photograph of a lively tree!  Just not one that turns color…

The Milky Way shines brightly above a lone pinyon pine tree at Marble Point along the East Rim of the Grand Canyon.

Happy fall and shooting to you all,

– Colleen

2 Responses to “Fall Color Scouting Report: North Rim of the Grand Canyon”

  1. 10/5/2011 Great information and so well written, looks like peak is just starting. Excellent milky way image.

  2. [...] Wow, what a difference a year makes! Some of you might recall last year’s report from the North Rim of the Grand Canyon:  patchy and late. (See original blog post:  wildinarizona.com/wordpress/?p=110.) [...]

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