Finding Fall Color in the Northwest Part One
This is a repost from last year. Since many of you are planning or already engaged with fall photography I wanted to make this post available once again. I’ll be leaving in a few days for the Canadian Rockies with locations featuring these amazing trees at the top of my list. Have fun out there!
Just about everybody knows that the best fall color can be found in New England, or for that matter just about anywhere east of the Mississippi. The Rockies have spectacular displays of aspens, and even the Southwest can put on a good show. But here in the Pacific Northwest most of the color is found on Big Leaf and Vine Maples, but usually not in dense eye-popping displays. The main deciduous tree in Western Washington is the Alder which puts on a depressingly grayish brown color in October. A good compliment to the incessant rain but not very photogenic. What many not familiar with the Northwest know about are the magical displays of yellows golds and orange put on by two kinds of trees and where to find them. I’m referring to the Lyall’s or Subalpine Larch and the Western Larch, two coniferous trees that turn golden and shed their needles every fall. Both are found in very specific areas and with the right lighting they can put just about any Vermont forest to shame. But you’ll have to do your homework and legwork to find the best displays.Subalpine or Lyall’s Larch (Larix lyallii) #50058
The Lyall’s Larch is only found in alpine areas, generally above 5500′, in a narrow band from the eastern slopes of the North Cascades to the Purcell and Selkirk Mountains of British Columbia. They can also be found in the Canadian Rockies with Lake Louise roughly being their northern limits. Generally, though not a rule, they’re found in greater numbers on northeastern slopes. Aside from a few spots in the Canadian Rockies you’ll have to do some hiking to get to them. Some of the best spots like the Enchantments in Washington State demand a strenuous multi-day trek gaining over 5000′ feet of elevation along the way.
Hiking and photographing during the peak larch season on a calm sunny day is an experience you won’t soon forget. The sky at this altitude can be an intense blue contrasting against the vibrant gold of the trees. Tolkien fans will easily associate this experience with Lord Of The Rings chapter on Lothlorien.
Aside from finding and hiking to the desired location you’ll have to keep a close eye on the timing and weather. The Lyall’s Larch generally start turning color in the last week of September. Peaking the first week of October and then gone by middle of the month. The peak of the season can last anywhere from two days to a week, depending on the weather. The needles of this tree are very soft and delicate. Once they start turning color they can easily fall off in a wind rain or snowstorm. The later of course being a common occurrence at that altitude.
The best photo opportunities for Lyall’s Larch are in groves scattered among rocky slopes and colorful alpine lakes. A good scenario would be to stay in a prime location for several days near some lakes. Clear sunny weather followed by cloudy weather and then a light dusting of snow is optimal. This happened to me last year when visiting the Purcell Mountains of B.C. After six days I came away with a wide variety of alpine landscape images. I was a bit nervous on the last day since it was snowing heavily. I wasn’t sure if my vehicle at the trailhead would be snowed in ! It turned out to be a close call, several more inches could have prevented my escape.To see more images of both species of larches click here to view images from my online archives.
Next installment, photographing the Western Larch.
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