Aspen’s gold rush is on |

Aspen’s gold rush is on

Janet Urquhart
The Aspen Times
Aspen, CO, Colorado
Janet Urquhart The Aspen Times

ASPEN – Aspen is basking in autumn splendor and the promise of a second weekend of prime leaf peeping.

By most accounts, the showy fall foliage was a bit late in coming this year, but worth the wait. At present, the aspens on Aspen Mountain are close to hitting their peak, and Smuggler Mountain bordering town is a breathtaking mix of green and golden aspens mixed with the russet and orange of the oak brush dotting the hillsides. Red Mountain, on the town’s north side, is crowned in gold, but with plenty of still-green trees spilling down its sides. Buttermilk is close to peaking now, but West Buttermilk was lagging behind on Monday.

Many trees, still green last week, seemed to turn gold almost overnight.

“On Thursday, it wasn’t really started and on Sunday, it was full on,” said Stephen Ellsperman, Aspen’s parks and open space director.

The peak weekend for fall colors may prove to be last weekend – and the coming one, as well.

“That’s always the million-dollar question – when it’s going to peak,” Ellsperman said. “I think we’re running late this year.”

It’s usually a big wind and snow or rain that spells an early end to the display, but last week was one of bluebird days and this week is shaping up that way, too. Clear weather is predicted through Thursday, with only a slight chance of showers and thunderstorms on Friday and into the weekend, according to the National Weather Service.

The summit of Independence Pass was packed on Saturday afternoon, according to one observer, and the drive back to Aspen was stunning. At Maroon Lake, all of the upper parking lots were jammed by 8:30 a.m. Sunday (the road closed to vehicles at 9 a.m.), and the lakeshore was packed with photographers jostling for the perfect spot from which to capture the perfect moment as the shadows receded from the scene. Some pockets of aspens at the Maroon Bells had hit their zenith, while others were holding onto their green – and the promise of an extended fall show.

Weekend buses to Maroon Lake will continue, Friday through Sunday, through Oct. 2. The road is open to vehicles throughout the day on Monday through Thursday.

On Sunday, the East Maroon Valley appeared to be peaking on its east side, but boasted a combination of green and gold groves on its western flanks.

The Castle Creek Valley south of town was gorgeous Sunday, as well, reported Juliet Wilcox, co-owner of the valley’s Pine Creek Cookhouse. She predicted more to come, given the number of trees that had yet to turn color.

“I just feel like there’s another good weekend,” she said.

Other spectacular spots that have yet to hit their peak, according to Ellsperman, include Lenado and Red Table Mountain. Marble, high in the Crystal River Valley, appears to have peaked, he said, but nearby McClure Pass is “going off,” he said.

“It’s just a kaleidoscope of color right now. I’m just loving it,” Ellsperman said.

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