Autumn In The High Country

I wrote these lines almost exactly three years ago following a backpacking trip, and I am publishing them now with slight modifications.

During a trip to the San Juan Mountains in September, my husband and I are reminded of the splendor of different regions of our state, and of the grandeur of Colorado’s high country. Perfect conditions prevail. Cool nights alternate with sunny, warm days. Unlike during the more temperamental summer season, we have little reason to fear violent afternoon storms.

Our three day backpacking trek takes us through different life zones, from the montane to the alpine. At the start of our journey, we are surrounded by our favorite trees, aspen, dressed in their autumn finest. Golden and orange leaves quiver in the occasional breeze and create an impressionistic painting, and a lovely symphony. Wide-open basins and tundra habitat greet us above timberline. At this time of year only a few lone blossoms remain of what a few months back must have been a sea of wildflowers, but the fall foliage with its muted hues of greens and reds holds its own appeal.

To enlarge a photo, click on it. To read its caption, hover the cursor over it.

Burbling sounds and still-luscious green ribbons in the otherwise withering meadow alert us to the presence of flowing creeks. We try in vain to determine their source, all of last winter’s snow having melted, and they seem to pour forth directly from the mountain. As we take a rest near one of the brooks, we are reminded that humans are not alone in relishing creature comforts. Yellow-bellied marmots, year-round denizens of these elevated regions, stretch across boulders, basking in the sun as we do. Soon they will retreat to their burrows for many months of hibernation. Picas, always on the move, scamper among the boulders. They alert their brethren of our presence with piercing calls while they watch us warily. I assure them that they have nothing to fear.

With increasing elevation we emerge from the cirques and our views expand. Row upon row of peaks appear, their façades a polychromic palette of grey, ocher, green, and red, extending from one mountain to the next, as though an artist has wielded her whimsical brush across the flanks of this rocky world. Along the horizons we marvel at the seeming de novo genesis of clouds. One moment the celestial sphere is entirely clear, the next a fluffy array of vapor appears, and soon the Columbine-colored skies are dotted with towering layers of condensation. The cloudscape inspires us to let our imagination run free, and to discern forever-changing shapes drifting above us.

The higher our steps take us, the smaller we feel, but also the more exalted. We are thankful to live in majestic Colorado, where we have access to incredible land- and mountainscapes that engage all our senses, and that make us feel particularly alive. The challenge lies in preserving and sustaining our sense of wonder and el(ev)ation once we return to our mundane routines.

Click here for the German version/bitte hier für die deutsche Version klicken:

39 thoughts on “Autumn In The High Country

  1. Wow, it’s absolutely beautiful out there, Tanja! I am so glad that autumn is here. You have some beautiful nature around you to enjoy all the beautiful autumn colors. The first photo is phenomenal and made my day considering how autumn is my favorite season 🙂

    Liked by 3 people

    • Thank you, Pooja. Your words make me happy. I like autumn, too, but because winter is a little hard on me, springs is my absolute favorite.
      I hope you are enjoying your fall in Poland.


  2. While my blog is growing cobwebs, yours is still brimming with the full spectrum of color and tantalizing verse. It feels like eons since March, and this week I am focused on planting gardens with 300 elementary school kids .. organized chaos. Autumn hasn’t yet arrived in full regalia, and it’s refreshing to see that—even though it may be years passed—it’s not oppressive everywhere.

    Love your pika. And MOOSE?? San Juan is a striking range!

    I do hope you are getting out and hiking and birding when you can. Do some for me while you’re at it, Tanja! Cheers. 😀

    Liked by 2 people

    • When it is the right time for you, you will get busy with a dust cloth, Shannon!
      This was one of our favorite backpacking trips, everything just came together. We were hoping to make it back there this summer, but alas, other things intervened. It should still be there next year, I hope!
      I admire your work, Shannon. You are saving this earth one school child at a time, while the politicians hem and haw and claim that climate change does not exist.
      Don’t forget to take care of yourself, and get out there with your binoculars from time to time! 🐦🔭
      Happy fall to all of you.

      Liked by 1 person

  3. What stunning scenery. Those mountains are amazing, despite the lack of tree cover.

    We only get that Fall (or Autumn as we call it) colour where European trees reign supreme in parks and gardens planted by early colonists OR imported tree species.

    Still, I can enjoy your Fall colour all the more for its contrast to our Australian bush and grey-green-blue Eucalypts in the mountains.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thank you, Vicki. The colors were truly amazing, both below and above treeline, as we climbed several 14,000 foot-high mountains.
      Europeans imported many trees into America as well, but aspen are native, and are beautiful, even if they are not as colorful as maples, which seem to be many people’s favorites.
      I hope you are enjoying your autumn.


  4. Das sieht so wunderschön aus liebe Tanja! Traumhafte Bilder! Ihr habt wirklich ein großes Glück, das ihr eine so vielfältige Natur vor der Haustür habt. Auch die Tiere sind wieder allerliebst 🙂 Ich finde die Elche immer soo sympathisch. Sie wirken so gemütlich, auch wenn ich nicht weiß, ob es sich so verhält 😉 Dir noch schöne Tage! LG, Almuth

    Liked by 1 person

    • Ja, liebe Almuth, wir sind wirklich dankbar, solche Ausflüge machen zu können.
      Um Elche sollte man einen weiten Bogen machen, denn besonders Mütter mit Jungen oder Männchen in der Brunft sind oft aggressiv. Diese Dame war allerdings sehr entspannt, aber wir haben trotzdem unseren Abstand gehalten.
      Als wir noch in Alaska lebten, hatten wir regelmäßig Elchbesuch im Garten, hier in Colorado sehen wir sie nicht sehr häufig, und deshalb ist ein Treffen immer erwähnenswert.

      Liked by 1 person

  5. Tanja, glad you shared this older piece! I love the cloud spoon and particularly, the moose. You’re so lucky! It’s been forever since I’ve seen one, and it was down on the creek behind the Fine Art Center. Not a single moose turned up for us even in Maine or Minnesota, and the latter is running out of them. I hope today finds you and Mike warm & well. We’re hunkering down for cold & enjoying a raucous Clark’s nutcracker on the suet. Fondly, Jan

    Sent from my iPhone


    Liked by 1 person

    • Thank you, Jan. The moose was definitely an unexpected treat. When we lived in Alaska, they used to come into our yard in the winter, but we don’t see them often in Colorado.
      We, too, are staying in and watching it snow. What a difference a day can make!


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