John, Paul and Tom Shuff, photo courtesy of John Shuff.

When it comes to life, the critical thing is whether you take things for granted or take them with gratitude.”—G.K. Chesterton

The taxpayers of Utah take the management of their state for granted, complaining about its elected officials, its taxes and any number of shortcomings. In this way, they are no different than most Americans. But what they often don’t know is that Utah is rated one of the best-run states in the country. The Beehive State’s populace should be ecstatic they have not been encumbered with onerous debt resulting from the out of control, non-essential spending of their elected representatives. Look no further than the financial conditions that the residents of California and Illinois face and you’ll get the picture—fast.

Over the years, the superior quality of life in Utah has been matched only by its sheer beauty, a fact many people here may also take for granted. From Zion’s Park to Bear Lake, Utah has rugged mountains and a verdant wilderness, a diverse natural character that is unparalleled in America. But during the past 25 years, I’ve rarely heard any of my friends suggest where to experience the magnificence of fall in the Beehive State.

Oh, I didn’t always have this Nat Geo mindset; as a kid in Cincinnati, fall meant endless afternoons of raking leaves in the yard. When the piles were big enough, my brothers and I took flying leaps into them, buried under raspy layers of maple, oak and sycamore leaves. Sometimes Dad let us burn them later, and I still remember that smoky wood smell and how the chill in the air reddened our cheeks. Those were the times and the memories, then and now, of a season that will always remain with me.

These days, my leaf raking days are long gone, but I never get tired of fall right here, in the serenely beautiful Wasatch Mountains. Back East, the change in fall colors is the cornerstone of the October domestic travel industry; it makes headlines in the newspapers as the watchdogs of color-change eagerly track the first signs of vermillion and red and yellow in the lush Appalachian landscape.

Here, there’s not as much hoopla. But there it is, right on schedule, around mid-September, like a routine changing of the guard, as the mountains and valleys and riverside groves are transformed into brilliant contours of reds, oranges and yellows. This dramatic and short-lived metamorphosis signals the end of one season and the beginning of another, one of foreboding winter harshness.

In all our years in Utah, Margaret Mary and I have found the best way to experience fall is the drive from Park City to Midway on Highway 224. From about 9,000 feet you begin the descent down the steep, unpaved mountain road into valleys below that are blazing with color. This is one of those annual pilgrimages that remind us we live in a richly beautiful landscape, a place where nature complements a cultural and prudently managed state.

This fall, take your camera and capture the experience of fall permanently for pictures you will “oooh and ahhh” over for years. Finish this experience with lunch or an early dinner in Midway at Tarahumara for some terrific Northern Mexican food.

Back>>>Read other stories in our October 2013 issue.