The Crestone Eagle, September 2006:

Fall colors are coming; get out and enjoy the show!
by Thomas Cleary

The aspen, cottonwood trees and a variety of undergrowth are about to do their color thing again. It is time to get out and explore the sights, smells and sounds of the season.

As I mentioned in my article about aspen last year, I grew up in Vermont: I still remember the wet musty smell of fall leaves, the swishing sound they made nearly knee deep on the trails, and the monstrous piles we had to rake; followed by jumping in, getting buried, tunneling through etc.

These days I watch for the signs of change, and when the trees are ripe, I grab the kids then head to the trailhead for a hike. There are the yellows of the grasses, the red of the rose hips, the blues of juniper berries, the greens of the conifers, the gold of the aspen and the cottonwood as the centerpiece; often a whole rainbow of colors will form in the undergrowth below the shimmering aspens.

It looks like it could be a good year for aspens. It takes the right balance of water, temperature, and, with a little luck, the absence of winds and storms as the colors approach. I have seen whole mountains of aspen have their leaves blown off by wind, or pounded off by rain and snow, just as the colors develop. Cross your fingers that the wonderfully wet weather we’ve had will cooperate.

Colorado’s annual fall colors usually happen around the middle of September through the first week of October. Although, there are already some early signs of change and it may come earlier this year. Go to www.parks.state.co.us and click on the ‘search’ link in the left hand column and then the ‘conditions’ link. This gives the latest ‘fall colors’ conditions and the forecasts for regions and state parks across the state.

You can view the aspen just about anywhere in Colorado between 7,000-10,000 feet above sea level. Local hikes include the lower reaches of South Crestone Creek; the Willow Lake Trail above Willow Park; up San Isabelle Creek accessed from Road T; and Burnt Gulch, directly above town between North and South Crestone Creek, which has a very large and colorful grove on its south flank.

Go to http://9news.com/weather/facts/aspens.htm for a listing of incredible auto routes. A few they missed are Kebler Pass (west of Crested Butte towards Paonia), and our neighboring small town of Bonanza (west of Villa Grove). The 9 News site has other interesting info on aspens as well. Likewise, About.com also has great articles on aspen at http://forestry.about.com/od/fallcolor/.

One website mentions a train ride on the Leadville, Colorado and Southern Railroad (www.leadville-train.com). Other train rides include the Durango/Silverton Narrow Gauge Railroad (www.durangotrain.com); and don’t forget the Cumbres and Toltec narrow-gauge railroad right here in the south part of the Valley (cumbrestoltec.com).

While you are out on one of these adventures collect some samples of colors, shapes, sizes, textures, etc. A great skill for young children is sorting and grouping. Have them make piles of like colors or shapes. Challenge them to sort textures with their eyes closed or to make ‘opposite pairs’ of something dark and light, jagged and smooth curved, rough and silky, etc. Elementary aged kids love to place leaves under paper and do rubbings with a crayon to create their own nature based artwork. Older kids and adults will enjoy making framed leaf art by placing collections of leaves in a glass frame for a great Colorado gift. The leaves can be placed individually or in bunches, with a background or without, pressed in a big book ahead of time or left with au natural texture. The options are endless. Another version of this is to place pressed leaves between two pieces of wax paper, followed by the application gentle heat and pressure with an electric iron (a lint free rag on top keeps the iron clean) which will ‘laminate’ the leaves. This makes a craft to hang in the window for the light to shine through.

Whether you are hiking, driving, riding a train, or making crafts, revisit (or discover) the smells, textures, and colors of Colorado’s fall foliage. Even better, rake them into piles and jump, bury, tunnel, etc!

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