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Beat the autumn blues with some fall colors

A hillside near Sunlight Mountain Ski Resort is painted yellow as the leaves begin to change.
Chelsea Self / Post Independent
5 spots to catch the colors Marion Gulch to Babbish Gulch (John Stroud, PI Senior Reporter/Managing Editor)     Four Mile Park (Chelsea Self, PI visual journalist)     Roan Plateau (Peter Baumann, PI editor)     Buford-New Castle Road (Steve Anthony, Garfield County weed manager)     Vasten Trail (Charlie Wertheim, PI reporter)
Leaves transition from green to yellow as fall begins in the Roaring Fork Valley.
Chelsea Self / Post Independent

If it’s September, it must be fall color season.

Serviceberry shrubs are already putting on a show at lower elevations, with yellow, peach and pink leaves giving the plants an almost Easter look along the Glassier Trail near El Jebel.

Garfield County vegetation manager Steve Anthony said he saw a bit of color on Tennessee Pass over Labor Day weekend, which he thought was a little early.  

“Seems like it’s been a little bit later in the last few years,” he said.

Lisa Langer, director of tourism promotion for Visit Glenwood Springs, said a tree in her yard that is usually the last to turn is already showing colors. Even the drive up to Sunlight Ski Resort shows Gambel oak already transitioning.

But it’s still a ways off from peak golden hues in the Rockies.

“I’d say another week or two we’ll probably be at peak at the higher elevations,” Colorado State University Extension horticulturist Susan Carter said.

What determines a good color year

Precipitation and its timing has the biggest impact on fall colors.

“I wouldn’t expect [the colors] with the drought to be as good as some past years just because a lot of [the aspens] might be a little scorched already,” Carter said. “The drought was rough on them.”

But making up for a dry summer with a wet September will make the colors less vibrant.

“If you have more rain during the fall you’re not going to have as much color,” Anthony said.

Tuesday’s frigid weather could have an effect as well.

With the cold snap, “There’s potential [the leaves] could just turn brown,” Carter said.

Wouldn’t that fit right in with 2020?

Worse than one freeze is several.

“Warm sunny days in fall seem to favor the colors changing, but not necessarily freezing. If you get too many frosts the leaves will just drop off,” Anthony said.

It’s even possible the fires could affect the show, and not just by burning up plants.

“With all the smoke [the colors] might even be a little [earlier] because there’s been less light. Light and temperature are two of those factors that determine [colors],” Carter said.

Where to go

While McClure Pass is the local go-to spot to see fall colors with vast swaths of aspens trees, there are plenty of good options closer to home (see info box).

“Sunlight [Mountain] Resort is a great place to view fall colors,” Langer said.

Those who want to check it out before they go (or peep from their living room) can view a webcam on the Visit Glenwood Springs site. The camera looks west from the Brettelberg condos toward the aspen-covered slopes leading down to Ute.

Anthony favors a spot closer to New Castle.

“I always like the Buford New Castle Road. That whole area is great,” he said.

Another spot Anthony mentioned a bit to the east is the Clinetops Road. In Rifle he recommends the Triangle Park area.

It isn’t just aspen

While people generally think of the yellow (and sometimes peach and red) of aspen trees, the shrubs locally can be just as spectacular.

While serviceberry tends to turn yellow early and drop their leaves quickly from more isolated bushes, entire hillsides of oaks can present a painter’s pallette of color.

“With oak you get more variability in the color,” Anthony said.

The mid-Roaring Fork Valley near El Jebel is a good place to see oaks from the car or while out on trails.

“The oak in South Canyon is pretty cool,” Anthony said, and is becoming a fall destination ride with the bike trails there.

Your best bet is to spend lots of time outdoors visiting a variety of locations.

cwertheim@postindependent.com


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