Quickly, within weeks, we will again be in that time when the deciduous leaves of our area will be either dull, dead or gone. There are, however, still strips of autumnal leaf pageantry available for those who’d like to gawk one more time at the bold yellow/gold transition of the Great Basin.
Granted, there just isn’t that much in the way of large, ooh-ahhing, eyeball-mangling grandeur that takes place in this part of the world. Yes, the aspen groves of Highway 395, in that high, majestically scenic zone between Bridgeport and Bishop, put on a dependable and noteworthy annual show, and by now, most fall foliage enthusiasts in the Reno-Tahoe-Carson zombiplex are hip to the excellent quakie scene found every September and October in Hope Valley off Highway 88. But those are pretty much kaput for this year; “past peak” as it says on all the Internet foliage maps.
That means it’s time for leaf-peepers to bring it down below 5,000 feet. And there’s one royal display awaiting you on Alternate 95, about 10 miles south of Silver Springs on the way to Yerington. That’s where you’ll drive directly into the Great Cottonwood Forest of the Carson River, a thick stand of grand old trees currently doing their best to make the cover of somebody’s Sunday travel supplement.
When it comes to turning yellow, yellow orange, and that ultra-intense Cheeto-dust orange, the quaking aspen is one of the undisputed autumnal kings of North American trees. When it comes to firin’ up pure yellow, though, the stately Fremont Cottonwood doesn’t back off one eentsy teentsy angstrom to the snooty little quakie.
Which means that out there in those miles of river and trees that are protected as part of Fort Churchill State Park, there’s a serpentine helix of new bright yellow and still bright green proceeding ostentatiously along the Carson’s course towards Lake Lahontan. It’s very simply a quality display of fall leavery, and it’s an utterly Great Basin piece of work. No way does this scene get confused with Michigan, Tennessee or Vermont. It’s not a widely celebrated fall display, which is understandable, considering the quality of the competition in places such as those just mentioned. But that doesn’t mean Queen Basinita doesn’t have the occasional deluxe splash of color to offer those who are willing to hit the road and take a look.
What makes these regal riparian acres even more attractive is that the southern bank of the Carson is state land, meaning your land. So it’s a terrific place, if the weather maintains its superb October groove, to spend an afternoon if you’re inclined toward picnicking, reading or just lying on a blanket daydreaming on the sandy banks of the barely flowing river. I was out there last week, on Oct. 20, and there was still enough green on a lot of cottonwoods to ensure there will be a lot of big yellow out there this weekend.