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Don’t quake, celebrate: Aspens are turning

Oregon is known as an evergreen state, but many other trees, including maples, oaks, poplars, and alders lend their beauty to the fall season. On this list of must-see fall trees is the quaking aspen.

These trees are much beloved for both their fall foliage — a brilliant gold or yellow — and for their greenish-white to cream-colored bark. It’s a beautiful contrast. You’ll find them in stands because aspens are clonal — that is, each tree shares identical gene markers with the original tree. This, says Southern Oregon University associate professor John Roden, leads some people to consider aspens “the single largest living organism.”

Its leaves are what make the quaking aspen a real standout among trees. Nearly circular, the leaves are green above and a pale silvery color below, 1 to 3 inches in diameter with small, rounded teeth. The foliage shakes in the slightest breeze and seems to shimmer in the wind.

That’s because the leaf stems, called petioles, are flat and are held at right angles to the leaf blade; the slightest breeze causes the leaves to move as if in a dance. There are many theories about this unique movement. Roden says the latest is that those aspen leaves that twirl under the sun will redistribute light to the others in the canopy.

Whatever the biological reasons, standing in an aspen grove in the fall under golden twirling leaves is an experience not to be missed.

In Southern Oregon, we’ve got a number of places to enjoy these beauties. Depending on elevation and climate, some of the aspen colors will peak earlier than others, but we’re in the midst of this seasonal exhibition.

If you’re looking close by, the best bet might be a stroll through Lithia Park. You can find the first aspen stand about a half mile from the start of the main path.

At Mount Ashland, you’ll find the highest aspen stand in Southern Oregon — between 6,500 feet and 7,000 feet on Forest Road 20. After you pass the ski area, pass through the green gate and you’ll see them a little farther ahead on your left. This first stand is interesting; you can see by the way the trees bend that they are under snow a major part of the year.

Kristi Mergenthaler of Southern Oregon Land Conservancy says aspens can be found around Howard Prairie, in the Colestin Valley, near the top of the Wagner Butte trail, and in the expanded Oregon Caves National Monument, near Bigelow Lake.

Francie Skinner of the Ashland Hiking Group says, “The best place I know to see the aspens is along Highway 140” in Klamath County. Rocky Point is a great viewing area for aspens, and it actually offers a two-fer — you can enjoy the trees and then check out the historic Harriman Lodge. Built in 1899 by railroad baron E.H. Harriman, it offers food and lodging. It might be a great day trip to see the aspens, eat at the lodge, and have a leisurely drive back (Harriman’s Restaurant and Bar is open every day except Monday).

Diamond Lake is also an excellent spot to view aspens, surrounding the lake like a ring of fire when their golden colors peak. This is a spot Roden recommends. Take a picnic and enjoy.

Jefferson Reeder is a freelance writer living in Medford. Reach him at jeffersonreeder@hotmail.com.

Photo by Jefferson Reeder Quaking aspens in Southern Oregon put on a fall color show, including these in Lithia Park in Ashland.