Montana Fall Color Tours

Fall colors in the aspens against the background of a threatening sky, from September 2019. Two days after the photo was taken we had our first snowstorm.

It was mid-September when I started writing this column, and while we were having summer-like afternoon temperatures, the aspens on the mountainsides overlooking our city were turning to gold. A quick look around the neighborhood also showed, seemingly overnight, trees turning color.

Hopefully, this means we’ll have fall colors these next few weeks. Last year, we might recall, we had polar temperatures in the last week of September and early days of October. Our foliage froze on the trees and turned brown. While we had temporary returns to more seasonal weather, the trees hung onto those brown, shriveled leaves, many until this spring when new leaves finally pushed off those old leaves.

The autumnal phenomenon of leaves changing color is a function of fewer hours of daylight. Our deciduous trees have a basic pigment, but during the months of long hours of daylight, the process of photosynthesis keeps turning out green colors in the leaves. As days shorten, photosynthesis slows down and that base pigment shows through. 

The Autumnal Equinox happened yesterday morning at 7:31, MDT. The equinox marks when the sun is almost directly over the equator, and hours of night and day are approximately equal worldwide, though our days will continue to get shorter until we reach the winter solstice in December.

I love fall colors and I associate the colors with hunting, as well. In our area, quaking aspens in the mountain foothills in the area provide the bulk of our fall colors, and a sunny afternoon in the “cathedral of the aspens,” as I think of it, is reason enough to go hunting for ruffed grouse.

Here in Montana, we don’t have the variety of deciduous trees that brighten up the landscape in many eastern states, where “leaf peeping” is a big part of the tourist industry, especially in New England states. 

I grew up in southern Minnesota, which has a good variety of trees and vivid fall colors. We also lived several years on the Iowa side of the Quad Cities along the Mississippi River, and a drive along the river was an annual treat. I also remember an airline trip to Washington D.C., years ago, in the latter part of October. The aerial view of fall colors in the Appalachians was amazing.

In our corner of Montana, I like the drive over the Mill Creek highway between Anaconda and the Big Hole River for looking at local fall colors at their best. Going a little further, I think one of the prettiest autumn foliage places in Montana is the Marias and Teton river valleys near the confluence with the Missouri at Loma around the first week of October, especially when approaching from the north. A perfect place to take it all in is from the historical marker on the hillside north of Loma, where Captain Meriwether Lewis went to try to figure out which of the rivers was the true Missouri river.  

The prairies of eastern Montana have an amazing variety of brush and shrubberies that seemingly blaze in the autumn sunlight. The fall colors on the prairie were a real revelation when we lived in Miles City, especially after living in the Midwest all my previous years.

Of course, our views of the changing panorama of fall colors has been obscured by the long plume of smoke coming from the west coast wildfires. That plume of smoke has been tracked by satellite across the country, the Atlantic Ocean, and as far as western Russia in Eastern Europe. 

We’re just beginning to realize the cost of ignoring climate change.

One final note. This coming weekend will be a big weekend for licensed youth hunters, age 15 and under. The annual youth waterfowl and pheasant seasons will take place on Saturday and Sunday, the 26th and 27th of September. It’s a great opportunity for kids to learn to hunt ducks and pheasants. Check the FWP regulations for details. The regular waterfowl season opens October 3, and pheasant season on October 10.

Check out the fall colors and take a kid hunting.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.