All the colors of Colorado
Post Independent Staff
Glenwood Springs, CO Colorado
GLENWOOD SPRINGS, Colorado ” Right now, I’m eating up the crisp breeze. I’m reveling in the increased vitality in the air and waiting for the comforting change of the leaves. Autumn is coming, and it’s by far my favorite time year.
This being my first fall around these parts,though, that’s about all I have to say on the subject. From what I’ve heard, whether you’re just hanging around Glenwood’s Roaring Fork River or trekking up Independence Pass, the colors are beautiful here. Depending on the elevation and temperature, the shift starts anywhere from mid- to late September and lasts only a short while. Apparently, this is something folks come from all over Colorado to see.
But don’t take my word for it. This is what some local autumn experts had to say on the matter.
Some people might wonder if watching an endless sea of aspens “turn” might get tedious. But not Martha Moran. After she moved to the valley about 25-30 falls ago, her mother came out to visit from the East Coast. As Moran drove her through the area’s most beautiful spots, her mom was wowed.
“You know, everybody talks about the fall colors in New England,” she said. “But this is just spectacular.”
From the sound of it, the response is pretty typical.
As the Recreation Manager for the United States Department of Agriculture Forest Service’s Sopris and Aspen districts, Moran sees a yearly spike at the area’s most colorful places this time of year. In fact, at the Maroon Bells, an average fall day is usually about three times busier than a summer one. Thanks to the advent of digital photography, she watches an unending stream of photo-lovers, snapping up pictures like mad men.
In Moran’s words, it’s just a “fabulous place.”
“As you observe it, you get to see it as a living organism and move and change over time,” she explained.
While the colors on the East Coast might be brighter, more expressive, here the trees’ hues are paired with jaw-dropping scenery. That’s what Moran loves about it. She recommends hiking the Government Trail between the Snowmass and Buttermilk ski areas and trekking back to Crater Lake. But her absolute favorite has got to be the Bells. Hey, they’re not the most photographed spot in Colorado for nothing.
“What makes it makes it remarkable here, is if it snows on the Bells and then you get those fall colors, it’s just something to behold,” she said.
For beauty a little closer to home, Dave Reed, the development/communications director of Carbondale’s Wilderness Workshop, knows that even the hills around Glenwood will become a rusty red (and there are tons of local hiking trails to boot). But for those wanting to really get out into nature, he recommended the hike up to Thomas Lakes, on the way to Mount Sopris. He explained that there are a lot of factors that go into when and how the leaves change ” from elevation (it goes from the top down) to temperature and such. But there’s one important thing to keep in mind.
“Pretty much anywhere you go hiking, when you get up into Aspens, it’s going to be beautiful,” he said.
How to get there
Independence Pass ” Get to Aspen on Highway 82 and just keep going up. While the scenery is intoxicating, trying to soak it in while driving is not recommended.
The Maroon Bells ” Regardless of how you feel about public transportation, you’ll have to take a bus from Aspen Highlands.
Thomas Lakes ” Take highway 133 a few miles past Carbondale. Take a left on Prince Creek Road, which will lead you to the trail-head.
When Craig Silberman drives home to his place past Redstone, he sees the same thing every fall.
“Every 50 feet, there’s some guy parked on the corner and taking pictures of leaves,” he said.
But he’s certainly not making fun of that.
A professional photographer himself, Silberman has been shooting the Crystal River Valley for years now. He always travels with a camera. During the other seasons, he’s making mental notes as he hikes and remembering what just might stand out beautifully when the leaves start to change. He recommends going over to Kebbler Pass (the dirt, yet two-wheel friendly road that connects Paonia to Crested Butte) as well as driving up McClure Pass. No matter where you go, his mantra for finding good autumn pics is the same: Get high.
In the elevation sense, of course.
“You want to find aspens, and you want to find a way to get above them,” he said. “So you’re looking down on a huge, sweeping expanse of them.”
Personally, he likes the beginning of the season, when there’s still green trees mixed in with the other, more fiery colors. The festive scenery salad is filled with tension, he thinks, as it’s leading up to several months of beautiful ” but utterly white ” snow-covered scenes.
“But before it gets here, it’s the lull before the storm,” he explained.
Might as well enjoy it.
How to get there
McClure Pass ” Take highway 133 to Redstone and just keep going. If you don’t stop, you’ll end up in Paonia, which isn’t such a bum deal anyway.
Kebbler Pass ” Take that 133 route over McClure, then left at the seasonal Crested Butte turnoff after the Paonia Reservoir. Watch for the loose cows.
Forest Service visitor information officer Barb Suits gets a front row seat to the season each year. Her office at the forest service building in Rifle looks out into Mamm Peak, and the mixture of greens and yellows and reds always stun her.
“We have such a variety of scenery,” she said, “right in our backyard.”
In terms of concrete recommendations, she likes to send people to the Clinetop Mesa and Flat Tops. Accessible from Rifle and New Castle, the peaks provide a place for people to drive and hike, to get out and become lost in the fall colors. Suits, who came out of retirement to work at the Forest Service, makes sure to do that very thing every year. For her, the blend of aspens and mesas, blue skies and lingering greenery never gets old.
“You can’t tell me that’s not gorgeous,” she asserted.
Jim Steinberg, a professional photographer from Steamboat, wouldn’t disagree. For the last several years, he’s made his living traveling through Colorado’s most lovely locales and capturing his journey in two photography books, “Colorado Less Traveled, Journeys off the Beaten Path” and “Colorado Scenic Byways: Taking the Other Road.”
Needless to say, his fall recommendations were fairly ambitious.
One of his “easy three-day day loops” actually encompasses a large swath of Colorado. He’d travel from Rifle, up Highway 13 to Meeker, through the Flat Tops to Yampa on Highway 131 and back to Wolcott. Before that, however, ideally, he would have seen both McClure and Kebbler passes, Crested Butte and Land’s End, too.
Other states might have more variations in trees or may have autumns that last longer, but he knows it’s only his home state that has acres of untouched Aspen stands ” set against such dramatic mountain backdrops.
“It’s hard to beat Colorado color, in a sense,” he said, proudly.
Not that anyone around here would refute that.
How to get there
The Flat Tops and Clinetop Mesa ” Follow Seventh Street in New Castle up to the Buford Road/Forest Road 245. From there, you can reach hiking and jeep trails and elevations of up to 11,00 feet.
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