The month of October may be Wyoming’s best (other than July, August and December). Its appeal is partly in its unsung quality – people don’t go around saying they can’t wait for October the way they anticipate daffodil time, July 4 or ski season. It’s the underdog month of the year. But because the expectations are low key or almost nonexistent, October keeps surprising us.
Of course, one surprise is the first time you have to scrape snow from your car windshield. Somehow over the summer while complaining about heat, smoky air, sunburn and mosquitoes, we forget that the landscape will inevitably turn white and the feet cold before we’ve quite given up on wearing sandals. While there is certain to be frost on the pumpkin before Halloween, I still feel a mild outrage on that morning when the flowers on the porch have suddenly given up the ghost, turning brown and limp in their sad baskets.
But after the first dose of cold, Wyoming is blessed with the Indian summer of warm days, cool nights, yellow aspen trees snaking up the mountain and scattered vivid red trees against the blue sky.
People are out on the streets: Little kids weighed down with new backpacks wait for school buses, homeowners rake piles of dead leaves and high school cross-country teams dash through town. Casper gets picturesque for autumn; people start draping scary fake Spanish moss and cobwebs in the trees, gearing up for the ultimate October day of Halloween, when downtown Casper becomes as crowded with costumed with trick-or-treaters as it was during the epic eclipse time.
I love it all, especially the irresistible pull of hiking paths on the cool, sunny days. Rotary Park paths to Garden Creek Falls and the new, improved and well-marked Bridle Trail look like calendar covers. Red and yellow bushes drape over the creek and its rocky pools, standing out against the deep green pines. Crowds are smaller; cameras are everywhere.
The Platte River Parkway is at its best, especially on the hill that overlooks the city of Casper laid out below streaked with colorful cottonwoods along the river and smattering of autumn leaves throughout the town. The Harvest Moonrise at the west end of the mountain is enormous and a new smell of wood smoke drifts through the air in the evening.
On Casper Mountain, some patches of aspens are so thick that the streams running through them go through alleys of gold. On the North Platte River, fishermen laze along in boats beside the colorful riverside brush dangling in the water.
It’s not only the color and bracing temperatures that make the October days shine; it’s the realization that each one might be the last perfect blend of warm day and cool night for many months. Time to plant bulbs, rake leaves and chill before the real chill arrives.