Aspen’s aspens hit their peak |

Aspen’s aspens hit their peak

Janet Urquhart
The Aspen Times
Aspen, CO Colorado
Janet Urquhart/The Aspen TimesAutumn hit its prime off Express Creek Road, south of Aspen, last weekend. Blue skies should frame plenty of gold again this weekend.

ASPEN – Sunshine and blue skies dominate Aspen’s weather forecast starting today, promising ideal conditions for what may be the peak weekend for fall color in the surrounding mountains.

Not that last weekend wasn’t outstanding.

Despite off-and-on chilly rain on Wednesday and Thursday, the signature trees are still holding their leaves and turning from green to gold quickly. They’re right on schedule.

“I always say the third week of September into the fourth week of September is the peak,” said Stephen Ellsperman, the city of Aspen’s parks and open space director, and its former forester.

Ellsperman was betting last weekend was the peak for the scrub oak and service berry in the midvalley, where the hillsides are painted red, yellow and green, and that the coming weekend will bring the peak of the color in the upper valley, surrounding Aspen.

As a plus, Wednesday night’s cold temperatures left a dusting of snow on the high peaks – always a plus for photographing the fall foliage.

Last year’s colors were something of a bust, but this year many aspen stands appear to be showing off despite three different, natural-occurring fungi that hit the trees during the wet summer, according to Ellsperman.

The fungi can mean “green to brown to off” for aspen leaves, he said, and that’s what occurred last year in Aspen. Along with an ever-present fungus that thrived in last year’s wet spring, aphid damage and spider mites also conspired to take the pop out of the leaf peeping a year ago.

As of Thursday, though, Aspen Mountain was crowned in gold with a mix of green and gold on its lower slopes. The aspen groves on Smuggler and Red mountains, flanking town, were also in the midst of a color change and swatches of pure gold were visible to the east, toward Independence Pass.

The aspens in the saddle above Maroon Lake at the Maroon Bells were already solid gold last weekend, but other stands around the lake had yet to turn.

“I was up in Lenado. It was really going off,” Ellsperman reported.

As of Thursday, there were still plenty of aspens yet to turn in the lower Castle Creek Valley, south of Aspen. Higher up, the valley was awash in gold last weekend.

Aspen’s forecast calls for sunny skies and highs of 55 to 65 Friday and Saturday, with mostly clear skies and highs in the 60s on Sunday through Wednesday, according to the National Weather Service.

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