The season is upon us, that time of year when I start planning a drive or a long weekend on the western slopes of the Colorado Rockies. The leaves and shrubs are turning, and the blue bird skies mixed with the dramatic golden and red foliage make for some amazing photo ops.
Why do leaves change color? As autumn approaches and the days grow shorter, plants don't get as much light for photosynthesis. The chlorophyll, which is what makes plants green and normally provides nutrients to the plants disappears and the natural colors, which vary greatly, appear.
Eventually the leaves brown and die from both the lack of chlorophyll, as well as dropping temps,and fall. This period of changing colors can last only a week or two in certain areas, meaning a very small window of time to get out and get your shots. There are several websites that offer estiimated calendars of these windows for different areas. The US Forest Service has a nice one.
Where should you go for the best fall color viewing or photography in Colorado?
Just about anywhere in Colorado this time of year you'll find beautiful scenery. Usually the last two weeks in September is peak, but because of the range in altitudes and its affect on the change, it can start in early September and go well into October.
Popular destinations for viewing fall colors in the Colorado Rockies include Trail Ridge Road in Rocky Mountain National Park, Peak to Peak Highway between Nederland and Estes Park, but for me the western slopes are where it's at.
This year I'll be hitting Ouray and Telluride, both known for amazing autumn views, and hope to drive the Million Dollar road. Then the following weekend Crested Butte is on the agenda.
A special bonus - both locales are dark sky areas, so some astrophotography might be in order.
The last couple years I've visited Aspen, Snowmass, Independence Pass and the Indian Peaks Wilderness area. At the end of this article are some photos from those trips, including the iconic Maroon Bells, in the Snowmass Wilderness Area. The Maroon Bells is one of the most photographed fall color spots in the country, and that's no surprise. When the sun hits the peaks and lights up the aspens, there aren't enough words to describe it. It's simply breathtaking.
You can view some photos from those trips in my Aspen / Snowmass gallery.
Hopefully these will inspire you to get out and see some of the beauty our state has to offer in fall.