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Spending a crisp morning on a Great Salt Lake duck marsh.

Wandering through the booths at the Utah State Fair.

Crunching autumn leaves while on a Mill Creek Canyon stroll.

Listening to the distinctive sounds of a high school football game on a Friday night.

These are the rituals of late summer and early autumn, perhaps my favorite time of year in Utah.

Winter's cold blasts will be with us soon enough. Summer's scorching heat and spring's unpredictable weather slowly fade into the past. What remains is autumn, when the temperature seems perfect, the fish bite a little quicker and aspens, oaks and maples change colors, turning the mountains into an artist's palette.

Some rituals change with the years.

Homes, businesses and pavement have replaced the open fields in the Salt Lake Valley, where I once watched my late father prepare our pointers for the November pheasant season. Walking those fields as the sun set and seeing the dog go on point and then feeling a rush as a colorful ringneck exploded in front of us provided wonderful autumn memories. Alas, public pheasant hunting has largely become extinct in Utah and the family ritual all but forgotten.

The deer hunt is going the same way. Where my family once used the general season opener as an excuse to camp, fish and hunt, we've grown older and our children displayed little interest in keeping the ritual alive. With more complicated regulations and an increasingly difficult application process coupled with decreases in permits, the traditional Utah family deer hunt seems like an endangered species.

In our family, golf has replaced hunting and, in the fall, we try to play a mountain course such as Wasatch Mountain State Park, Mountain Dell or Hobble Creek, where the mild weather and changing colors make even a bad day on the links delightful.

College football is a big part of fall as well. Whether a fan wears Ute red, Cougar or Aggie blue or Weber State purple, game day or night often is an all-day affair, what with pre- and post-game tailgating, the pageantry of the day itself and the beauty of some of the nation's prettiest stadiums situated near the base of mountain ranges.

What could be better than popping the top off the Jeep and heading up a Wasatch Front canyon to see the changing leaves and perhaps enjoy the view from a restaurant's patio? Or packing a picnic and sitting under the falling leaves.

Fishing always seemed better in the fall. Perhaps it was because a cold night or two cut down on the number of insects or maybe colder water temperatures stirred trout out of their summer lethargy. But the angling always seemed better in late September or early October than it did in the hot, dog days of summer.

This is the time of year when you don't have to drive far to enjoy an outdoor experience. Take a stroll up City Creek Canyon. Ride your bike along the Jordan River Parkway. Take a drive to Snowbird on a Saturday or Sunday to enjoy Oktoberfest. Book a room at one of Park City's fancy hotels and, for a night, see how the rich folks live. Or walk the boardwalk trails at Farmington Bay or the Great Salt Lake Shorelands Preserve, listening and watching as thousands of birds prepare to migrate south in one of nature's greatest shows.

Fall is about rituals. As the weather cools and the leaves begin to change, I look forward to participating in more than a few of my favorites between now and when the first snow dusts the mountains.

Tom Wharton is an outdoors and travel columnist. Reach him at or 801-257-8909.