The Golden Gate Canyon State Park Visitor’s center parking lot overflowed with would be hikers coming to see the fall leaves before they’d all fallen, and the state park rangers complained over their radios about the crush of people parking where there was no parking and generally overwhelming accommodations at facilities and trailheads. A young boy bought fish food pellets from a vending machine in the hopes of luring fat trout out of hiding in the dark of reaches of a pond.
A short drive from the Visitor’s center, the Old Barn Knoll trailhead offered up a much coveted parking spot almost too easily, and I padded my way up Mule Deer trail which rose in a steady climb that gave me a view of Mountain Base Road and the valley below.
An hour’s hike to the top of a broad shoulder of Tremont Mountain was all I had time for. When I reached the false summit, I poked around for a few minutes in search of a quiet seat with a good view. The aspen grove I found was carpeted with golden leaves, which half the trees had shed completely while the other half held gold in their boughs. The coldest noontime breeze of the year promised that the remaining leaves would not hold on long.
I’d driven way longer than I’d planned to find a hiking spot so I’d been keeping an eye on the time as I hiked. Though I originally intended to be home in time for lunch, the sun was high in the sky as I sat on a rock and felt the seasons change, so I knew I couldn’t sit long.
The scene was both familiar and singular, the way the leaves decorated the trail, and the way the sun softened the chill in the air. The mass of people who crowded the parking lots in the park below were nowhere to be seen, save for a few hiking parties of two or three, and a pair of grey-haired mountain bikers who pedaled slowly through the forest while talking about a daughter away at school.
This is what they’d all driven into the Canyon for, I thought. This is what I waited in line and bought an $8 park pass for. The changing of the seasons, some reluctantly falling leaves and an enormous blue sky with just a few puffs of clouds promising to bring winter soon.