Enjoy fall colors while they last
As the temperature drops and kids return to school, it’s clear fall is coming.
That means scenic weekend drives and hikes, and a new pack of tourists.
But it’s impossible to tell when leaves will for sure “pop” into change, said Doug Leyva, a silviculturist with the White River National Forest. The typical timeline for colors changing is mid- to late September. But there are three key factors that determine how complete and brilliant the change will be: day length, evening temperatures and the wetness of the season.
As days grow shorter, trees start preparing for winter and slow down their food-making processes. As trees stop making chlorophyll, carotenoid and anthocyanin are left behind, turning leaves the familiar yellow, orange and red.
Evening temperatures have to be cold enough to trigger the chemical change, but not too cold to send the trees into winter survival mode prematurely. A good balance of rain is also needed. Leyva said given the recent monsoon season and not-too-cold evening temps, fall colors should come in without a problem.
Oak brush turns rust-colored in the fall and is often the first to change.
Aspen trees are the main highlight of local color watching. Their leaves turn a bright gold and, because of their flat petitole — which connects the leaf blade to the stem — they have a shimmery effect when the wind hits them. That movement earns the trees the nickname of “quakies.”
Aspens grow in stands, called clones, meaning all the trees in one stand are connected by their root system. All trees in a clone tend to grow to the same height and change colors at the same time — thus making different clones distinguishable as they change at their own pace.
Leyva said Colorado is a great place to take in fall colors given the grand vistas allowing visitors to see whole mountainsides in one view.
“You don’t get that vastness everywhere,” he said.
Maroon Bells is a popular spot, but Leyva and Kate Jerman, White River spokeswoman, said there are several local spots to check out. They recommend not going to the same places every year as views change year by year — even throughout the season. As tricky as it is to predict when the colors will change, it’s just as tricky to predict how long they’ll last. Something as simple as a windstorm could strip a place of its colorful leaves early in the season.
To see the leaves before they’re gone, Jerman offered the following driving routes:
• Drive along Crystal River Valley/Highway 133. A picnic beside the river at one of the pullouts is a great option, Jerman said.
• Buford New Castle Road and the Flat Tops Scenic Byway up to Trappers Lake. Jerman said this trip takes a little more time, but is well worth it. The area is also a popular camping spot.
• West Divide south of Silt has beautiful scrub oak trees, according to Jerman. Visitors can also stop at the Cayton Ranger Station to learn some history.
• Four Mile Road up to Thompson Divide and above Glenwood Springs is great for seeing leaves — and maybe even an elk or two.
For those wanting to see the colors even closer, the following are Jerman’s trail recommendations:
• Three Forks Trail up Rifle Creek
• East Elk Trail
• West Elk Road
• Grizzly Creek Trail
• Thomas Lakes
• Avalanche Creek Trail
• Perham Creek Trail