Fall colors - Mt. Charleston, Las Vegas, NV - October 2010

I was visiting family and friends in Las Vegas and the last time I was there we'd tried to go to Mt. Charleston but were unsuccessful because of fog (read about it here). This time we had better luck although there had been thunderstorms the day before and we weren't sure until we got there that we'd be able to see anything. Our main goal was just to see some fall color! You never realize how much you miss the changing leaves until you don't get to see it anymore.

Mt. Charleston is what the locals call an area officially known as the Spring Mountains National Recreation Area. It's part of the Humboldt-Toiyabe National Forest which happens to be the largest forest in the lower 48 states stretching across Nevada and into California (covering 6.3 million acres!!).

We were in search of fall color and we sure found it! I had no idea the aspen would be changing color and that the chaparral would be so colorful as well. Here are a few shots as we drove in:

After stopping at the visitor's center for a map we headed up to Cathedral Rock Trail which is pretty short (but steep). There's a free parking lot at the trailhead and steps that lead up to the trail. I thought the trail was pretty well marked.

We couldn't get over the beauty of the aspen trees and how strange it was to be standing in a forest while looking back towards Vegas at the desert! Here are some more shots.

feathery mountain mohogany

We decided to take our time instead of rushing up so we only got about three-quarters of the way to the end of the trail, but it started to drizzle a bit so we headed back. We'd heard that the upper part of the trail was pretty steep anyway and we weren't really up for it. Once we got to the fork in the trail that led to the Cathedral Rock campground we took that just to get a change in scenery and we ran into this cute little chipmunk (Palmer's chipmunk I think - Tamias palmeri).

it's at the exact center (click on the photo to get a closer look)

A note about the trees in the Mt. Charleston area: I am no tree expert, but I know for sure that there are trembling aspen here (Populus tremuloides) as well as ponderosa pine (these are huge!), mountain mohogany and white fir. The Mt. Charleston wilderness also contains 18,000 acres of bristlecone pine (Pinus longaeva). This type of tree is one of the oldest living (non-clonal) organisms on the earth. An individual tree can live to be up to 5,000 years old! Even after they die, their hard wood can stay standing for another 2,000 years or so!

As we drove back into the desert the sky was just as beautiful as when we arrived but so different. Again, there was the feeling that we were descending out of the clouds into the desert below.

A really great day. Hopefully my family who live there will come out and explore more since it's such a short drive from their home and a much needed escape from the city.

Click here for more photos from this location.