Leaf peepers will have to be patient in Aspen, elsewhere this fall
HOW TO VISIT THE MAROON BELLS
The shuttle from Aspen Highlands will run 7 a.m. to 5 p.m. on Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays through Oct. 6. The shuffle runs 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. on weekdays.
Parking is available at Aspen Highlands for $25. Tickets for the bus must be purchased for $8 for adults, $6 for those under 16 and over 65, and free for children 5 and younger. Tickets are sold at Four Mountain Sports at Aspen Highlands.
Overflow parking will be available at Buttermilk for $6 over the last two weekends in September to accommodate the anticipated increase in visitors. A free shuttle will run from Buttermilk to Highlands every 30 minutes from 7 a.m. to 5 p.m.
All bus service to the Maroon Bells Scenic Area will end after Oct. 6. Access for private vehicles is unrestricted on Maroon Creek Road after Oct. 6 until closure on Nov. 15, but parking is limited and fills early in the morning on many days.
Visitors should call the Maroon Bells Information Line at 970-945-3319 for information on traffic and parking.
The U.S. Forest Service is preparing for the annual invasion of the leaf peepers at the Maroon Bells, but anyone venturing into the high country around Aspen right now will just see lots of green.
While timing of fall colors always varies from year to year, nature seems stuck on summer in 2019.
“As of now, we’re just noticing a lot of green everywhere,” said Shelly Grail, recreation staff manager for the Aspen-Sopris Ranger District. She spends a lot of time in the field and has been in Maroon Creek Valley, the Crystal River Valley and Independence Pass within the past week.
“I imagine we’re at least a week behind and our peak would likely be more at the end of September and beginning of October instead of the middle of September,” Grail said Thursday.
Leaf peepers already have been checking out the Maroon Bells Scenic Area, one of the most popular destinations in Colorado for fall colors.
“What we heard from people last weekend (at Maroon Lake) was, ‘We’re here, it’s not yellow yet, we’ll be back,’” Grail said.
On paper it’s shaping up to be great for fall colors. The Colorado State Forest Service website says: “According to the United States National Arboretum, a wetter growing season followed by a dry, sunny autumn with cool but frost-free nights results in the brightest fall colors.”
The Aspen area checks off all those boxes. It had an abundant snowpack that lingered well into spring, delaying the greening up of vegetation. Wildflowers in the high country bloomed late and lasted into August. The fall has been extremely dry, with August recording its sixth-lowest amount of precipitation in 68 years.
Many local residents have observed that the scrub brush, oak, serviceberry and chokecherry are curing later than usual. There is just a hint of color on hillsides covered in brush.
Some observers also have noted that there are areas where aspen leaves are turning brown, dying and falling off the trees rather than transforming into a vibrant yellow or rust color. Various observers have noted similar conditions in Maroon Creek Valley, Fryingpan Valley, Kebler Pass near Crested Butte and Trapper’s Lake on the Flat Tops.
Grail said she has seen pockets of aspen trees in Maroon Creek Valley where the color of the leaves is a dull brown that is “more drab than vibrant.” The hope is the drabness won’t be widespread as fall progresses.
The state forest service website said the health of aspen stands is critical for the display of strong colors and retention of leaves in fall.
“Unhealthy aspen stands are less likely to have vibrant colors, and the more robust an aspen stand is, the more attractive the colors will be,” the site said.
Based on past timing of peak colors, the Forest Service and Roaring Fork Transportation Authority made plans to expand weekend service for the Maroon Bells shuttle starting this weekend.
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