October 25, 2001 11:00 pm
FALL COLORS: The Elkhorn Loop Drive takes travelers through forests shared by evergreen, tamarack and broadleaf trees. (Baker City Herald/S. JOHN COLLINS).
FALL COLORS: The Elkhorn Loop Drive takes travelers through forests shared by evergreen, tamarack and broadleaf trees. (Baker City Herald/S. JOHN COLLINS).

By Mark Furman

For The Observer

BAKER CITY No, the forests arent dying.

Neither are they rooting for the University of Oregon.

Still, the brilliant greens and golds invite concern from visitors to the Sumpter Valley. Marlene Bork tells them not to worry.

People who dont know are quite amazed theres a tree that looks like an evergreen that loses its needles, said the ranger assistant at the Sumpter Valley Dredge Heritage Park and owner of a local RV park.

The fall foliage makes photography inviting, and multiple vantages of the tamarack-rich hillsides and restored dredge are possible thanks to the parks system of trails, Bork said. The heritage park closes at the end of the month.

But in the 16 years since Bork opened the Gold Rush RV Park in Sumpter, the fall color has been a frequent question for her patrons.

People come in and want to know why theres so many dead trees out there, she said, laughing. I just tell them the tamarack trees are deciduous they lose their needles in the fall.

Falls colors

This annual rite of autumn isnt one to be missed.

Anyplace you go in this area is just gorgeous, just absolutely breathtaking, sometimes, Bork said. Theres lots of yellows, some red, oranges its just a beautiful time of year.

But if you dont act soon, the show might be over.

Tamarack (Larix occidentalis), also known locally as Western larch, is a rather unique conifer. Its deciduous. That means the show of yellow can be brilliant, but short-lived.

Amy Barnes, office manager at Anthony Lakes Mountain Resort, drives past tamarack-rich mountainsides on her way to work at the mountain every fall.

She says time is running out for the tamaracks brilliant yellow display.

They kind of turn this lime green color in August, she said, chronicling the slow shift to gold.

Right now, theyre really dropping their needles. When you drive up here, the road is really covered with needles.

So throw a wool blanket in the trunk and fill a Thermos with hot cocoa.

Its fall in the Elkhorn Range.

Tour the mountains

Your best access to the mountains for fall color is the Elkhorn Scenic Byway.

The well-signed, 106-mile paved route loop begins and ends in Baker City; you can head south first to Sumpter, or north to the Anthony Lakes Recreation Area.

Thats Rob Gumps druthers.

Your most enjoyable drive would be heading up towards Anthony to definitely take in some of the larch thats turning, said Gump, a resource assistant at the U.S. Forest Service Baker Ranger District.

You might get a little bit of snow flavor as youre driving over the pass there to the ski area.

A taste of winter driving just might be in store as you approach Anthony Lakes, Barnes said.

We just have a couple of inches, she said Wednesday, but its cold enough that it is sticking around.

The roads, at least in the mornings, have been ice- and snow-covered pretty low on the mountain.

You kind of want to be prepared for that.