Friday, September 11, 2009

Ooooohhh, aaaahhhh...aspens

A neighbor just asked me about the best weekend this year for aspen viewing. To answer that question requires a deep knowledge of the science of trees and weather, as well as a talent for looking into the future. In other words, no one knows.
But being asked made me feel good. When I worked as an outdoor writer at a Colorado Springs newspaper, I would get dozens of calls each year with that very same question. “My relatives are coming from Texas/Kansas/anywhere where there aren’t aspens. What will the peak weekend be this year?”
At first, I tried to explain that it was complicated and impossible to predict with certainty. Colder nighttime temperatures, the chance of snow and rain, and wind all played roles in the aspens changing.
Some years, the leaves have stayed green until a wind storm or deep freeze takes them overnight. Other years, they slowly change from summer green to a limey shade, taking on a tinge of gold before erupting into golds, reds and yellows.
But people wanted answers. I eventually gave up, and using my powers of observation (and guessing) I would throw out some dates. I felt more helpful; they felt more hopeful. Everybody won. And sometimes, I was right.
That brings us to the aspen report for 2009. The leaves are turning at 8,500 feet right now. It’s a subtle change so far, with an occasional overachieving tree that just couldn’t wait for the others. But I’m shooting for Sept. 25 and 26 at optimal dates… unless, that is, we get rain or wind or really cold nights.
Best bet for the best long-view aspen photos? Highway 67 to Cripple Creek (that's where I took this aspen shot last year). For further trip planning and a closer look, I’m offering up a trio of favorite places to hike amongst the aspens.
- Buffalo Peaks Wilderness Area between Fairplay and Buena Vista. Take a part or all of the Rich Creek-Rough and Tumbling Creek loop trail. (
- Putney Gulch-Horsethief Falls section of the Ring the Peak Trail. (
- Three-Mile Creek Trail off Guanella Pass Road. (

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