Colors heightened by late rain | AspenTimes.com

Colors heightened by late rain

With the colors of fall at the peak, the first rays of the rising sun bathe the Maroon Bells in warmth marking the beginning of a new day Thursday September 25, 2003. A lensman's favorite target, the Maroon Bells attract hundreds of photographers at the chance to capture ther serenity and beauty. Paul Conrad photo.

The late-summer rains might have washed out a few outdoor camping plans, but they’re responsible for creating nature’s awesome color display.

Many people have noted that the fall colors this year are some of the best in a long, long time. That’s because the right factors combined at the right times, according to Bill Dillon, manager of Eagle Crest nursery in El Jebel.

The recipe for the best colors combines moisture in late summer and early fall with sunny days and cool nights.

“The moisture is probably the biggest factor,” he said. It helps trees keep their leaves longer and creates brighter colors for a longer duration.

“The cool nights trigger the leaves to dump their chlorophyll,” Dillon said. As the trees prepare for winter, they pull back what they need to survive later in the season. That leads to a change in the pigmentation of the leaves. The lack of chlorophyll results in the orange, red and yellow leaves that are so outstanding this fall.

Roaring Fork Valley residents can look out their windows to see the daily progress. But for the bigger picture of leaf-peeping quality in the region, they can log onto the U.S. Forest Service’s Web site for fall colors. The address is http://www.fs.fed.us/r2/colors/. The report is updated each Friday.

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Last week, the site noted that the Aspen area was changing by the day and providing some of the best peeping in the state. It recommended trips up Independence Pass, Castle Creek Road and Maroon Creek Road.

A trip up Maroon Creek Road on Monday verified the brilliance. A 500-mile trip through central and south-central Colorado last weekend also led to these first-hand observations, as of Sept. 21: The Twin Lakes area was changing fast but was still far from peaking. Colors in the San Luis Valley were outstanding. Kebler Pass still had a lot of green.

Conditions can change drastically in just one week.

Dillon said “peak” is a difficult condition to predict, but he said the most vibrant colors in the Roaring Fork Valley are still probably one week away. Much of the new growth on cottonwood trees is still green, he noted.

[Scott Condon’s e-mail address is scondon@aspentimes]

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