Something funny happens to me this time of year. I get giddy, like a chubby kid with a sweet tooth in a candy store. The affliction strikes the moment I see the season’s first yellow aspen leaf and continues until the last cottonwood tree is bare, its leaves a mosaic on the desert floor. The combination of blue sky, red rock and canary leaves is simply too much for any mortal photographer to ignore.
I drive by the mouth of Courthouse Wash every day – often several times. It is one of my favorite hikes in the fall, not only for the riot of color found within the canyon but for the solitude. During tourist season it is a popular destination for folks looking to escape the heat of day. A perennial stream flows between the towering sandstone walls, gathering in deep pools that invite overheated hikers to dip a toe in the cool, muddy water. By the time evening temperatures drop into the 30’s the tourists are mostly gone and the canyon sees more deer, rabbits and birds than people.
On my birthday last week I photographed sunrise at Dead Horse Point State Park. Conditions looked ripe for an epic sunrise. I envisioned cotton candy clouds filling the sky above the iconic bend in the Colorado River. The sunrise was good, but far from epic. No matter, as I’ll take a sunrise that wasn’t over a day in the office any time. I returned to town and had a delicious breakfast with my wife at the best cafe in town – The Love Muffin. The day was already good and it would only get better.
High, thin clouds diffused the sunlight just enough to prevent harsh shadows from falling across the landscape. After breakfast I headed north to spend a few lazy hours strolling up Courthouse Wash. I could no longer resist the brilliant cottonwoods calling to me every time I pass them on Highway 191.
It took all of five minutes before the camera was out of the pack and in my hands, the shutter button getting a good workout. As I walked I was confronted by one lovely scene after another. In less than a mile I discovered a sandstone peak reflecting in a long, shallow pool with autumn cottonwood trees dotting the landscape. Later on I stumbled onto a lone yellow leaf floating in a beaver pond amongst a mottled reflection of blue sky, dark branches and the colorful leaves of a wise old tree. Walking on, I came across a complicated scene of several cottonwood trees, their leaves more orange than yellow.
Looking at my watch I realized three hours had passed and I’d only made it one and a half miles. I was out of time and couldn’t go any farther. Begrudgingly, I turned around and began the trek back to my truck. There were several images on my memory card that required immediate attention but I had Dad duty, and attending to a three year old while processing images is an impossibility. The images would have to wait because Legos, Hot Wheels and Lincoln Logs most certainly would not.