Aspen Pioneer of the West

Feb 8, 2018  By Albert Knapp MD & Ruth Oratz MD
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Hunter Creek Trail, Aspen, Colorado. Leica S (Typ 007) & Vario-Elmar-S 30-90mm f/5.6 ASPH at f/9.5, 1/60 sec, ISO 800

Traveling West in search of fortune, gold and silver, American pioneers settled all along the Rocky Mountains, where geologic uplift laid bare access to deposits of valuable minerals and ores. The craggy beauty of this rugged terrain also created a rich environment for other pioneers, the somewhat fragile yet eminently resilient aspen. Aspen trees are called “quaking” or “trembling”, not because they live in fear, but rather because they rise from the ashes, like the phoenix, the first to repopulate forests that have been ravaged by fire or avalanche, natural or human disasters. Aspen trees dot the edges of conifer forests from Alaska to New Mexico. They are indeed the most widespread trees in North America. The quaking or trembling relates to the delicate rustling of the aspen leaves as they shake and quiver in the sunshine, responding to even the softest whisper of a breeze. This rapid fluttering exposes both sides of the aspens’ leaves to the sun’s glowing rays, allowing for more efficient photosynthesis, generating the energy that allows aspens to grow rapidly and as pioneers to re-establish the woodland. Aspens grow as a colony. One tree is in fact part of a large single organism, joined by a common and extensive root system reaching sometimes to beyond 100 meters from the parent. Above ground aspens live from 50-150 years, below ground much longer. Some stands of aspen have survived for tens of thousands of years.

Hunter Creek Trail, Aspen, Colorado.
Leica Q (Typ 116) Simmilux 28mm f/1.7 ASPH
at f/5.6, 1/250 sec, ISO 400

“A S P E N T R E E S A R E
CA L L E D “ Q U A K I N G ”
O R “ T R E M B L I N G ”, N OT
BECAU S E T H E Y L I V E I N
F E A R , B U T R AT H E R
BECAU S E T H E Y R I S E
F R O M T H E A S H E S”

We visited the beautiful town of Aspen, Colorado at summer’s end. Nestled beneath the majestic Ajax Mountain, the Elk Mountains rising to the East, Roaring Fork and Hunter’s Creek plunging alongside and the magnificent Maroon Bells nearby, romantic scenery makes Aspen not just a resort town for fine dining and shopping, but a destination for all who appreciate the splendor of these peaks and gulches, the deep silence of the woods and the glorious views beyond the valley.

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