It's mid-September, which means I'm thinking about the Rockies. It happens to me nearly every year. It's still on-and-off muggy here in New York City, and the trees upstate haven't yet burst like fireworks into bright reds, oranges and yellows, but out West, at elevation, fall is already paving the way for winter. And I wish I was there.
It is, in my opinion, the best time to visit the great parks of the Rockies—Glacier, Grand Teton, Yellowstone and Rocky Mountain. The swarming bugs and tourists of summer have cleared out, leaving huge swaths of backcountry for hikers to explore alone and unharassed, save for wildlife. Even as the park's human activity slows down, its animal activity speeds up, hurried by imminent snow. Rutting bull elk bugle in the evenings and, on rare occasions, spar for dominance out on the valley's golden grasslands. Moose, too, are mating. Grizzlies scour the lower flanks of the mountains for berries and Whitebark pine nuts, rushing to build up their pre-hibernation fat stores. The cottonwoods that line the Snake River turn colors and dried-out aspen leaves quake loudly in the wind, until they're finally pitched to the ground like golden coins.
This time-lapse film—put together by the Grand Teton Association and the Grand Teton National Park Foundation—offers a brief glimpse (from 2:20 on) of this magic time in the Tetons. The narration and the music are a bit slow, but the images themselves are stunning. You might not have time to pack in a backpacking or climbing trip this fall, but I'm pretty sure this will convince you to plan for it next year.