The search for fall color

Saturday, Oct. 4, 2014

Early this morning, at 5 o’clock, I woke up. I got up and went to the window so I could see the sight that I always long to see: Alpine in the pre-dawn glow of light at the horizon. It was so calming and pleasing to me that I stood there looking for a while until I got too cold. Then I went back to the warm bed where I had made myself a cocoon. I was sleeping in tights, a hoodie, and my brother-in-law’s old socks, things I’d taken with me in case I got cold. I think I would have been cold if I hadn’t worn all of it!

Later, Hal and I walked to breakfast, the sun was already up and beaming down strongly by then. We had breakfast at Alpine Grill (awesome bacon), and then we trudged up the hill for our pilgrimage to the thrift store. Not much this time for me, but Hal got a nice sport coat to wear to work. It cost $1.

We finally got on the bikes, and then rode FR403 onto the mountain south of Alpine. We wanted to see at what stage the aspens were. Were they gold yet? Were they past it? Were they still green? The answer was “all of the above.” The ones at the highest elevation were already almost bare, the leaves hanging on them had that freeze-burned look, but there were few leaves left. A little lower in elevation, the trees were golden, and very beautiful. Occasionally, there were a few trees with the red leaves at the very top. We stopped several times to photograph them. At the lower elevations, the aspens were still green and thriving, although I saw a few of their leaves tipped with gold, a promise of amazing, shining beauty to come. It is too bad our “break” at work comes a week earlier than it used to, and now I miss a lot of the fall color, at least in the White Mountains.

As I rode on 403, I noticed that the logging operations had moved farther west on the road, but the machinery was still there. I imagine they work until the snow flies. I also saw water running on the road as it made its way down the slope. I thought of all the rain and storms that had rumbled through between July and the end of September. When we were last there, in July, the summer thunderstorms had just begun; we had even been caught out in a crashing lightning storm and had to shelter at a forest service bathroom building. I kind of miss the drama every day of the thunderstorms building, but I had my whole day in which to ride and enjoy.

When we got to the 276, we turned left so we could go down to the Black River, another extraordinarily beautiful place. We followed the narrow road as it curved steeply down the grade, and we were soon meandering alongside the river as it bubbled happily along. At this time of year, it is a dark turquoise color, and when it reaches rocky areas, it leaps happily in a white arch over the stones. I looked around me. Here I was, fall color all around me, paralleling the beautiful Black River. I thought, this is it for me, this is all I want. This is the place for me. I was in the moment, and drinking in the richness of being here in this lovely place. I was very content as I rode along looking at the amazing beauty. I wish I could be here forever.

Once of the things I noticed again on this trip is how dark the forest gets in the fall. The light from the sun is starting to be very slanted, so it makes the trees cast long shadows. There were many areas that I really had to pay attention to where I was putting the bike because I couldn’t see what was there, if there were rocks, or a big hole, for example. I hit a big hole in one of the shadows once that I hit too fast because I didn’t see it in time.

After a few miles, we reached the FR24-25 split, and we decided to take FR25. However, after a couple of miles, I passed 25J, and remembered what a great road that was. We turned around, and took 25J. It goes past a place called Brentwood. At Brentwood, where last summer it was a small city of trailers and RVs, it was now deserted. I only glimpsed it as we flew by on the road, and I knew the road got rougher from this point north. It wasn’t too much rougher, though, only a few places with small rocks. Soon we rejoined 24, which we had crossed earlier, and took it to 249E to by-pass Big Lake recreation area.

About a mile up the road, we saw to our dismay that it was true that 249 would be paved. Half of the road was already done, which meant the whole thing was probably done the closer it got to Alpine. I looked at the half-paved road. Half-paved, or half dirt? I mused. I was on the dirt half, and both literally and figuratively I was looking at it as “half dirt.” It was depressing to know it would all be paved very soon.

We made a left turn onto FR285, which I knew would take us north to 88. We flew along on these good, familiar roads, and enjoyed every moment. I was looking at everything, and I wanted to find a place where the section of red dirt could be in the same photograph as an aspen with red leaves at the top, but I was not so lucky. As I said, the leaves are only just beginning to turn, and in the area of 88, few were beginning to show signs of fall. However, as I passed the reservoir, I glanced down the steep slope that is its edge and saw that the surface of the water on the south end was covered in almost fluorescent green and yellow algae. There were a few golden trees there, and the combination looked intriguing. We turned around so I could stop and get a few photographs.

The sky was clear autumn blue, and the sun was so golden. Dust particles hung in the air. It felt like time hung there, too, waiting, the season slowly changing. I gingerly stepped down the steep slope to get closer to the water so I could shoot. I was lost in the moment and the beauty, everything else ceased to exist. Finally, after about 30 minutes, Hal and I got back on our bikes and continued toward Hwy. 191. We rounded the curve where last time we’d been here we’d seen a huge thunderstorm barreling down on the neighborhood below us. Today, it was sunny and bright, and we enjoyed the calm descent.

We took Hwy. 191 back to the lodge where we are staying, and sat for a couple of hours on the porch, drinking coffee and replaying the riding day. In the evening, we walked to dinner as the night closed down around us and the stars came out. It was a peaceful, contented feeling, a perfect ending to a perfect day.


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