Aspen’s best leaf-peeping year? Maybe, maybe not |

Aspen’s best leaf-peeping year? Maybe, maybe not

Fall colors cascade Snowmass Canyon on Friday.
Anna Stonehouse/The Aspen Times |

While many people in the Roaring Fork Valley are proclaiming this fall to be one of the best ever for leaf peeping, Jim Kravitz says to hold on just a minute.

Kravitz, director of naturalist programs at the Aspen Center for Environmental Studies, agreed that the fall colors are spectacular this year for vibrancy, but he also feels it’s within normal range of what fall is like in Aspen and the upper Roaring Fork Valley.

“It’s always awesome somewhere,” he said.

Kravitz said memories are short, and the ability to compare one year with others gets lost with time. Last year was kind of a dud for fall colors because of a blight that affected some cottonwood trees and aspens, so this year is definitely favorable.

He’s taking a more scientific approach to comparing environmental conditions, including fall colors. He’s photographing various landscapes in the Aspen area as many as 25 times per year. He’s been doing so since 2010, though he said his curating isn’t up to snuff.

(Fall colors aren’t the only factor he’s documenting. He’s been shooting pictures of Bell Mountain in the spring to compare timing of the snowmelt.)

One location he’s been regularly photographing is Early Gulch on Smuggler Mountain, back toward Hunter Creek Valley. A stand of aspens in the gulch turns yellow near the end of August, essentially a month ahead of other trees.

Aspen trees in the Aspen area typically hit their peak for color somewhere during the third and fourth weeks of September, Kravitz said. What’s different this year is Mother Nature’s color coordination.

“The timing of the aspen, oak and serviceberry is the same,” Kravitz said. Usually the brush turns color later in the fall.

While it might seem there are more orange and red leaves this year, Kravitz said the tint is genetic, so those colors of leaves appear on the same trees in the same locations from year to year. What changes is the vibrancy of the colors.

This year brought the right recipe for vibrant colors: A sunny summer; ample moisture late in the summer; an abrupt change to cold nighttime temperatures; and sunny, bluebird days in late summer and early fall. Colorado is famous for that type of weather pattern, Kravitz said, so that’s why the leaves are often spectacular.

Kravitz’s advice is to sit back and enjoy what Mother Nature delivers each year or, for those more interested in legitimate comparisons, pick an indicator location and take pictures of the same place each year on the same date and jot down some notes. That will take the guesswork out of it.

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