As the crispness of fall begins to settle in across the region, a portion of Central Utah is putting on a color show reminiscent of a salad bowl as quaking aspens surrounding Fish Lake transform.

Nearly an hour away from Richfield sits what is believed to be the world’s largest living organism, spanning a 106-acre site which was first identified by botanist Burton Barnes in the 1960s. The colony resides within the Fishlake National Forest and is estimated to be around 80,000 years old with a collective root system spanning both sides of State Rte. 25, allowing the colony to tip the scales at nearly 13 million pounds.

Paul Rogers, the director of the Western Aspen Alliance, said that after Barnes’ research, the University of Colorado confirmed the estimates in the ’90s and named the colony, Pando — Latin for “I spread.”

Rogers, who is also an adjunct associate professor at Utah State University, said there is something about the size and immensity of the forest making it a unique place for research and for those looking to view the fall colors.

“Being in there is sort of a mystical and spiritual experience,” Rogers said. “If you are alone or listening to the songs of the trees, it is pretty amazing to be in what, at this point, is the worlds largest living organism.”

For Rogers and other researchers, it is hard to remove themselves as scientists when visiting the “Trembling Giant,” but he still takes time to enjoy the color shifts and was recently at Fish Lake at the end of September.

For those seeking to capture the foliage, Rogers said there isn’t a magic date to schedule the four-and-half-hour trip from Cache Valley.

“The age-old questions that runs across tree species is the color change, and I don’t know why it triggers at different times. It is not something that is well resolved and it varies from clone to clone,” Rogers said.

The autumn show tends to fluctuate year-to-year, but typically occurs early in October or late in September. Rogers said it is a guessing game some years to pick the best viewing time.

The variations in Pando contrast with the surrounding aspen stands, causing ribbons of color to weave through the landscape giving the “salad bowl-like appearance,” Rogers said.

Within the 106-acre clone, researchers have fenced nearly half of Pando in an attempt to preserve its lineage and new growth from being eaten by mule deer and domestic cattle that free graze in the area, Rogers said.

“In the last few decades you have a whole society of trees that is made up of extreme senior citizens, and with domestic cattle and mule deer eating the new growth it has made an impact,” Rogers said.

The fencing has been a tremendous success, Rogers said, in recent years preservation work has allowed for the area to be doubled in size to save the clone and conduct research.

Despite fencing, visitors can still hike through the clone by passing through gates. Once inside, the clone offers a glimpse into the rustling of the golden tokens in the trees and “arborglyphs” — tree carvings — can be found throughout not only the clone, but surrounding area.

John Zsiray is a journalist at The Herald Journal. He can be reached at Twitter Ramblings: @zsiray


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