Vibrant fall colors decorate Grand County’s high country
September 18, 2014
Autumn has firmly fallen on Grand County.
The sun shines a little less each and every day, and throughout the region aspen tree leaves are turning from vibrant green to golden yellow, rust red and sunset orange.
This weekend take the opportunity to view these amazing displays. Information provided by the U.S. Forest Services indicates between 10 percent and 40 percent of the fall foliage had turned by Thursday, depending upon elevation, with more changing every moment.
This weekend is also expected to mark the beginning of the best week, the fourth week in September, for viewing the fall colors.
aspen viewing best bets
In the Sulphur Ranger District folks can get amazing views of the changing aspens traveling most highways in Grand County, including highways 40, 34 and 125. Other viewing areas are a little farther from the beaten track.
County Road 55: This dirt road over Cottonwood Pass, between Highway 40 a few miles south of Granby and Hot Suplphur Springs, provides spectacular aspen views and vistas looking back toward the Continental Divide.
County Road 6/National Forest Service Road 125: This paved-then-gravel road, which winds along the south shore of Lake Granby between Highway 34 and Monarch Lake, provides great color-changing scenes as well as an inviting perspective overlooking the full lake.
County Road 3: A partially paved route, which runs from Parshall to the top of Ute Pass, this road, which can be traveled as a loop via Highway 9 back through Kremmling, often provides outstanding aspen viewing and a spectacular overview of the Gore Range to the west. And don't miss the spectacle of the Colorado River framed in brilliant gold from looking west from the top of the hill near Parshall.
For those more inclined to hit the trail: The hike to the Second Creek toward the top of Berthoud Pass has great fall color viewing opportunities, as do the lower portions of most trails emanating from the Kawuneeche Valley in Rocky Mountain National Park.
How the colors change
The color change in aspen leaves is the result of chemical and seasonal processes. Aspen leaves contain chlorophyll, carotene and anthocyanins, creating colors of green, yellow and red, respectively. All three of these chemicals are present in aspen leaves throughout the summer, though the production of anthocyanins can be significantly enhanced by certain weather conditions.
The chlorophyll in the leaves produces the color green. Both sunlight and warm temperatures are needed for the aspens to synthesize chlorophyll and maintain the green color. As the days grow shorter and colder the chlorophyll breaks down and dissipates, leaving behind the carotene and anthocyanins.
Carotene produces the yellow colors during fall while anthocyanins produce the reds. According to information on a Forest Service website, the weather impacts the range and intensity of autumn colors.
"A succession of warm, sunny days and cool, crisp but not freezing nights seems to bring about the most spectacular color displays," according to an article at http://www.na.fs.fed.us/fhp/pubs/leaves/leaves.shtm. "During these days, lots of sugars are produced in the leaf but the cool nights and the gradual closing of veins going into the leaf prevent these sugars from moving out. These conditions — lots of sugar and lots of light — spur production of the brilliant anthocyanin pigments …"
Many longtime observers have remarked on the abundance of red and dark orange leaves in Grand County this year, augmenting the perennial golden splendor that characterizes the Colorado high country autumn.
The Forest Service operates a Fall Foliage Hotline where visitors can get details on peak viewing locations and times. The hotline number is 800-354-4595. You can also find detailed reports at the web site http://www.fs.fed.us/news/fallcolors/.