Set for a fall: Aspen begin to show autumn gold, but predicting peak is a difficult business
Summer is going merrily along with pool parties and Popsicles, green grass and sweet sunglasses.
And then, suddenly, it takes a fall.
One gold aspen leaf leads to another and another until, finally, the cottonwoods catch on.
But in the midst of 90-degree days that seem to stretch into the month of forever, it’s hard to believe this supposed fall will ever come.
That is, unless you made it to the top of Grand Mesa or elsewhere around 10,000 feet over Labor Day weekend and found gold.
It shimmered above Island Lake not far from the Grand Mesa Visitor Center and teased from the Skyway overlook.
It’s difficult to recall if this gold is earlier than it was last year or if seeing changing aspen leaves at this point of September mean Color Sunday — it is the last Sunday of the month, Sept. 24, and often when the autumn colors are close to peak — on Grand Mesa will be spectacular or ho-hum.
“It’s really hard to predict,” said Anne Janik, public affairs staff officer with the Grand Mesa, Uncompahgre and Gunnison National Forest.
It all depends on a combination of evening temperatures, rain and wind as September progresses, Janik said.
As the days grow shorter, trees create a “corky layer called the abscission layer” that blocks green-providing chlorophyll from reaching the leaves, according to the article “Colorado Fall Colors, Why Does Color Intensity Vary from Year to Year?” at walkingmountains.org, the website for the Walking Mountains Science Center in Avon.
“If days are sunny and nights are cool (without frost), the fall colors are most intense,” the article says.
Too dry, too rainy, too abrupt of a temperature drop or too much wind and the fall show that has beautifully begun in the high country could become a drab affair.
Which means those seeking gold in Colorado’s mountains should keep one eye on the weather forecast and another eye on the hills.
The low temperatures in the central mountains have been in the upper 30s and 40s, said Chris Cuoco, meteorologist and forecaster for the National Weather Service in Grand Junction.
“That’s a little too warm for those leaves to change,” he said.
“Right now, we’re in a good bit of a warmer-than-normal period.”
As for precipitation on Grand Mesa, “it’s been two weeks easily” since there was a widespread “decent” rain, he said. “We don’t have anything on the horizon.”
So while the aspen are changing at the top of Grand Mesa, with sunny days and moderately low temperatures, the color may take its time progressing toward Powderhorn Mountain Resort and Cedaredge ... but that’s a significant maybe.
This is Colorful Colorado, after all.