Outside Scoop: Peeping the first of autumn colors | VailDaily.com

Outside Scoop: Peeping the first of autumn colors

Season of leef-peeping is right around the corner

Julie Bielenberg
Outside Scoop
Golden aspen leaves accentuate the large burst of autumn colors in our valley.
Sean Naylor/Vail Daily

If you look to the horizon at the higher elevations, you will notice the aspen are beginning their annual color shift. Their quaking leaves change from striking, bright green to a range of colors, the most typical a golden yellow — but aspens can also turn everything in between, such as orange and red.

The aspen is the largest living organism in the world when measured by mass. Some colonies of aspens can grow up to five miles long, like the largest one currently recorded in Fishlake National Forest, Utah. It is claimed this aspen grove might be close to 80,000 years old. That’s because aspen colonies can survive forest fires. The roots of aspens are below the ground, escaping the heat of the fire scorching the earth. And, you will notice aspens are one of the first new sprouts after a wildfire.

Aspens like to grow in colder regions at elevations of 5,000 to 11,500 feet where summers are not too hot. You will also notice that aspen groves are also in the same region as coniferous trees — trees that have needles — instead of leaves. That is what makes the changing of the aspen’s leaves pop in fall against the deep blue sky and evergreen trees.

Many factors go into the color of aspen leaves. One year, a tree can turn a brilliant orange; another year, it might be a muted mustard. The color change is dependent on environmental factors such as moisture and temperature. As we know, elevation and latitude are key ingredients for color change, because the leaves at higher elevations turn colors earlier than those in town. To throw one more factor into the equation, each year, because of environmental factors, the leaves will change at different times. While it’s generally predictable, an incredible wet monsoon or drought summer will tamper with the leaves.

What are the best conditions for the most stunning autumn aspen colors?

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According to the United States National Arboretum, a wet growing season followed by a dry, sunny autumn with cool, frost-free nights results in the brightest fall colors.



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