(Please forgive the quality of the photos – they were taken while I was hanging out of a moving car.)
In this case, I’m not talking about element number 79 with an atomic weight of 196.97 which has driven so many men mad in the history of the world. No, I am talking about trees.
Sunday was the first official day of Autumn. I say official, because if you’ve read my earlier posts, you may know that we had our first freeze on the 10th of this month. I take back what I said then about the seasons; I was bitter after losing my pumpkins.
In truth, Fall is by far my favorite season. The days are still mostly nice, with plenty of sun occasionally interrupted by a storm or blustery wind. You need to start dressing in layers, but you can usually leave your winter coat at home. There is no better time for hiking or biking or taking a drive through Spearfish Canyon.
The colors are fantastic, especially on those few days when the leaves on trees have begun to turn and the flowers have not yet died off. Sometimes, the sky in the background is such a startling shade of cerulean, it could almost break your heart.
Especially beautiful is the contrast between our beloved ponderosa pines and the fiery aspen trees that are also abundant in the hills. The ponderosas, viewed from a distance, appear very dark, or even black – hence the name “Black Hills.” The aspens, on the other hand, practically glow in their fall attire, yellow more dazzling than the finest daffodil. The contrast between dark pines and bright aspens is truly magnificent.
I realize I’m using a lot of big words for “beautiful,” and at risk of minimizing their impact, I must insist that I am not using them lightly. If you’ve never seen the Black Hills in the Fall, you’re missing out.
Now I’m going to go a step farther than your average Fall nut. The trees and the sky – they are beautiful, yes, yes. But everyone knows that. What about the rocks?
(Since when are rocks a Fall spectacle? you ask. Let me tell you!)
The Black Hills are home to some really fascinating geology. They say our hills are not truly hills, but mountains which are so old, they’ve been weathered down to the gentle slopes you now see. The granite peaks, which formed the Needles and attracted the sculptors of Mount Rushmore and Crazy Horse, are surrounded by millions of years of sedimentary deposits. These can be seen, most famously, in the Badlands National Park. They can also be seen almost everywhere you look throughout the hills, to one extent or another.
Take, for example, my drive to work in the morning. We go through Boulder Canyon, which connects Sturgis and Spearfish. The canyon was carved out naturally by Boulder Creek, then given some further assistance by the folks who wanted to put a road through. Cliffs on one side of the road have been exposed so that their layers and swirls of color can be seen by all.
I’m a bit of a geology nut anyway, but I never get tired of looking at these rock faces as we drive by. Every Spring and Fall I watch for new landslides, wondering what interesting new things might be uncovered. Just this morning, we saw the workers out with their Bobcat, rounding up the fallen rocks and carting them away.
Spearfish Canyon is another place to see Black Hills colors – plant and mineral alike – at their finest.
Really, though, there isn’t anyplace around here where you’d miss out on the show. For all of the month of September, and also into October if we get lucky, the Black Hills are on display, the best Mother Nature has to offer.
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