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Eugene Weekly : Outdoors : 10.19.06

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Fall Color Picks

Lane County has its own glories, both east and west.


Lane County has a lot of trees — almost 150 billion board feet of timber to be precise. That's enough to build a three-bedroom home for everyone in Los Angeles.

Vine maple along South Winberry Creek

And don't think that idea hasn't occurred to certain people.

The emerald green of Lane County's forests comes from the pigment chlorophyll, which absorbs energy from sunlight and uses it to transform carbon dioxide and water into the complex sugar and starch compound commonly known as wood. The mild winters of western Oregon are ideal for softwood conifers like Douglas fir that can photosynthesize their food all year round.

In New England, frigid winters freeze delicate leaf tissue, so deciduous hardwoods have evolved to lose their leaves in the fall. When days grown short and temperatures begin to fall, chlorophyll in the leaves breaks down and the green color disappears, replaced by yellow tones already present in the outer surface of plant material. Leftover sugars trapped in the leaves after photosynthesis ceases form a reddish pigment on cold nights.

Western Oregon's warm winter temperatures favor evergreens, but there are still more than enough deciduous hardwoods in our neck of the woods to create spectacular fall displays of color. The two showiest tree species are vine and big leaf maple.

Vine maples are short trees that grow in gnarled thickets both in disturbed ground like avalanche chutes and roadsides and in the understory of older shaded forests. Vine maple that is directly exposed to the sun will turn a fiery red, while shaded specimens are a lemon yellow or lime green.

Big leaf maples grow in a wide range of temperature and moisture conditions but locally are most commonly observed on the banks of rivers and streams.

And yes, I can settle once and for all the question of which wood burns better in your stove. Well-dried big leaf maple generates 30 percent less heat when burned than Oregon white oak of equal volume. Maple generates more than twice as much heat as alder.

The peak of the Lane County fall color will run from about the middle of October to the middle of November, although there will be plenty of fall color in shady locations at higher elevations into December. Lots of warm sunny days and cool but not freezing nights — just like we've been having — make for the best fall color. Here are some places to go:

The Siuslaw River Road is a pleasant, one lane paved road that winds along the Siuslaw River east of Mapleton. There'll be lots of big leaf maple. To get there, drive Highway 126 west from Eugene for approximately 30 miles. Take a left at a sign for "Whittaker Creek Recreation Area." Salmon are spawning in Whittaker Creek through early December.

Probably the most spectacular fall color in Lane County is found among the vine maple growing in lava fields along old McKenzie Pass Highway (Hwy. 242). A good place to stop is the Proxy Falls trailhead. To get there, take Hwy. 126 east for approximately 46 miles. Approximately 2 miles past the McKenzie Ranger Station, take a right onto the old pass route. Wind uphill for about 9 miles to the well-signed Proxy Falls trailhead.

For both vine and big leafed maple, try a little known drive along the South Fork of Winberry Creek. To get there, take the Jasper-Lowell road towards Fall Creek Dam. At the base of the dam, turn south (right) onto Winberry Creek Road. Follow the Winberry Creek Road for approximately 17 miles and take a right onto Forest Service Road 1802-151 at the National Forest boundary.

Another great Forest Service drive is the Aufderheide loop along the North Fork of the Middle Fork Willamette River, which you can pick up by turning north from Highway 58 across from the Middle Fork Ranger Station.

Some great hikes for fall color include the Upper Trestle Creek Falls trail, Shale Ridge trail and Fall Creek trail. For more information about these and other hikes visit www.northforkphotos.com



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