October 10, 2002 11:00 pm
Foliage on the trail to Aneroid Lake in the Eagle Cap Wilderness presented a cornucopia of fall colors Monday.  (The Observer/Pierre LaBossire).
Foliage on the trail to Aneroid Lake in the Eagle Cap Wilderness presented a cornucopia of fall colors Monday. (The Observer/Pierre LaBossire).

By Alice Perry Linker

Observer Staff Writer

utumn's the time when Mother Nature changes her garments from green to gold, yellow, red and orange — and she does it in full view of everyone.

Before the larch trees turn bright yellow, the smaller shrubs — snowberry, huckleberry and wild rose — begin their change to the reds — from pink to flame orange.

People living in the Grande Ronde Valley and the foothills of the Blue Mountains don't have to travel far to experience the visual entertainment provided by Mother Nature in full autumn dress.

Even a drive along Interstate 84 is a feast for the eyes, but to get even closer to the colors, you can take several trips that can range from an hour to an afternoon — or longer — depending on your time and mood.

A drive up the Grande Ronde River beyond the Starkey Store yields a delight of colors and is an easy drive on a paved road. Taking the Spring Creek Road off I-84 will give a similar reward. There are places along the drive where you can stop and take pictures. On Spring Creek Road — the Forest Service's Road 51 — you can drive to Vey Meadows on pavement.

"This is the easiest drive for a passenger car," said Gayle Lee,

La Grande Ranger District spokeswoman.

If you want to take a picnic, you can stop to eat at Bird Track or Spool Cart campgrounds, and there are restrooms at both places.

The more adventurous can continue up Spring Creek Road until it intersects with the new McIntyre Road. A drive down McIntyre Road takes you to Highway 244. Those who want to drive that loop should drive an SUV and allow plenty of time for the trip along the gravel road that has some rough spots.

Another adventurous trip that is most comfortable in an SUV or four-wheel-drive pickup goes over Mount Harris on Forest Road 62 and comes out at Elgin. Along the way, you climb through a myriad of colors and can stop at a couple of overlooks to see the yellows and greens of the valley floor.

The Minam Overlook, the half-way spot on the Mount Harris drive, gives an especially brilliant and lush display of Mother Nature in her autumn glory.

"It's very lush, very beautiful," Lee said.

A trip past Catherine Creek State Park and up Forest Service Road 67 to Boulder Park gives the traveler views of bright-colored trees and a lot of wildlife.

Lee said she recommends a four-wheel-drive vehicle and urges drivers to keep headlights on during the drive because there are a few blind corners. Travelers are well rewarded for the drive difficulty. Boulder Park is a trailhead and has restrooms and places for picnicking. It is a Forest Service fee area, $5 for each vehicle.

An old landslide area, the park features a "great stream," Lee said.

The leaves are expected to be most colorful beginning about Oct. 15 or Oct. 20 and the show lasts only a few weeks.

By November, the colors are fading, and soon, the limbs will be bare.

The La Grande Ranger District is selling new district maps for $4.