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Forest botanist shares favorite memories of a cool breeze, sights and smells of autumn from the Tetons

Rose Lehman
Caribou-Targhee National Forest, U.S. Forest Service

Visitors to the the North Fork Indian Creek, Palisades District can find Greene’s mountain ash (Sorbus scopulina) and thimbleberry (Rubus parviflorus) ablaze in the fall on the Caribou-Targhee National Forest as shown in this September 2005 image. (U.S. Forest Service) The Caribou-Targhee National Forest stretches the length of the eastern edge of Idaho and includes the western backbone of the Teton Range in Wyoming.

I suppose as a botanist my favorite time of year should be spring or summer when wildflowers are at their peak of flowering, but it is fall. A season that starts mid-August with the hint of reds and yellows highlighted in plants such as sticky geranium (Geranium viscosissimum), dogbane (Apocynum androsaemifolium) and the many different species of willows (Salix spp.).  

The season really gets its show on in late September when the bigtooth maple (Acer grandidentatum) turn brilliant orange-red from the rim of the Island Park Caldera on the Ashton/Island Park Ranger  District, south to the Palisades, Soda Springs, Westside and Montpelier Ranger Districts. The Maple Creek drainage on the Cub River is spectacular in the fall when the bigtooth maples have turned.  They named this drainage correctly.

I find myself lucky if I am at the right place mid-September to mid-October to see the bigtooth maple, trembling aspen (Populus tremuloides), redosier dogwood (Cornus sericea), Greene’s mountain ash (Sorbus scopulina), mallow ninebark (Physocarpus malvaceus) and cottonwoods (Populus spp.) (to name a few) at their notable best.

Fall colors are attractive and the reason for this blog, but it is the sound of the trembling leaves, the feel of the cool breeze and the smell of the season that make autumn special. Images of fall colors are grand, but to be there is divine.

Greene’s mountain ash (Sorbus scopulina) abound in the Island Park area on the Caribou-Targhee National Forest, as shown in this September 2010 photo. (U.S. Forest Service) Hunters in these mountains know the season well - not all go for the trophy antlers or the meat, some are there for the season hesitating to shoot when an opportunity comes that ends the hunt.  My Dad hunted and sometime I would go with him, for him and for me it was about being there with a reason to be silent in the moment of the season. The moment is there in the mountains quiet with the leaves changing to their reds, oranges and yellows of autumn.