During my recent road trip, Aspen trees were a familiar sight at Glacier National Park, Mt Rainier National Park, Great Basin National Park, and on the side of Highway 145 from Montrose to Cortez, CO. It was impossible to miss them as whole swaths of yellow Aspens ran up almost to the top of some mountains.
These trees can grow at elevations ranging from 5,000 ft (1,524 m) to 12,000 ft (3,657 m). Their leaves are heart-shaped and attached to branches by long, slender stalks (petioles), which make the leaves flutter at the slightest breeze, hence their name: Quaking Aspen. That also makes photographing these trees difficult when it is windy, for then the quaking leaves become just blurry smudges on a photo.
The first Aspens I saw were at Glacier National Park in Montana, along the way to Two Medicine lake. It was early September and some trees were just beginning to turn yellow.
Aspens by the road leading to Two Medicine lake at Glacier National Park. Note the heart shape of the leaves.
Aspens by the road leading to Two Medicine lake in Glacier National Park.
Two weeks later, at Great Basin National Park in Nevada, Aspens were literally covering the mountain slopes along Wheeler Peak Drive.
Aspens covering mountainside as seen from Wheeler Peak Bristlecone Pine Grove, at about 10,000 ft (3,048 m).
Aspens were lining up both sides of the hiking trail leading to Wheeler Peak Bristlecone Pine Grove.
Stand of aspens by trail to Wheeler Peak Bristlecone Pine Grove.
While the above photo shows trees distinct from one another, all of them may actually be clones from one tree. Trees usually grow from seeds, but Aspens tend to reproduce from root sprouts. Because of that, Aspen groves are resilient and regrow quickly after a forest fire, though individual trunks normally only live about 150 years. However, the root system continues to be alive and new sprouts will eventually replace the dead trees.
In 1968 a clonal colony of 40,000 Aspens was discovered near Fish Lake in Utah and has been called Pando or The Trembling Giant. By 1992 researchers using DNA techniques declared the Pando clones to be all from one original tree, and the roots to be 80,000 years old. Some even claim that Pando is older, perhaps as much as 1 million years old. Pando covers 106 acres (43 hectares) and is said to weigh 13,000,000 pounds (6,000 tonnes). I did not drive by Fish Lake this time, but the following shots will give you an idea of what these Aspen clonal colonies look like.
Aspens along Highway 145 near Rico, CO.
Yellow Aspens on the slopes of Wilson Peak near Telluride, CO.