Lynne Lewis stays busy during autumn leading backpacking tours into the La Plata Mountains from her operation, Rimrock Outfitters in Echo Basin.
Business will be good this week as colors peak in much of the San Juan Mountains.
As of the most recent update on Thursday, colors had hit 60% of peak in the La Platas near Mancos, 75% to 85% from Dolores to Rico and 75% to 85% from Rico to Telluride.
“All of the areas where we ride are good for viewing,” Lewis said. “Right now, the oaks are great – rust-red. Temperatures vary from year to year, but it’s been warm this year. The colors are a little late, but it’s great for riding.”
Tom Rice, recreation officer at the Dolores Public Lands Office, said the Dolores Canyon is among the region’s best areas for viewing colors.
Colorado Highway 145 is great for a leisurely drive, and Rice said U.S. Forest Service roads off Colorado 145 offer varied glimpses of autumn’s glory.
“We’ve got a lot of good gravel roads, especially through the Dolores watershed that carve through the landscape,” he said.
Predicting the peakDan West, an entomologist with the Colorado State Forest Service, said predicting peak colors is no easy task.
“It’s just not an exact science because of all the variables,” he said.
Shortened days limit the production of chlorophyll, which gives leaves their greenish hue. Then, other chemicals in leaves take dominance and turn colors orange and yellow.
Temperature, wind and precipitation also influence the timing.
“There’s just so much that goes into it,” West said.
How to trackThe U.S. Forest Service maintains a “Fall Colors Report,” which provides the most up-to-date information about how fall color conditions are shaping up in the forest. The report is updated at least once a week, depending on feedback from staffers.
Devin Wanner, a Forest Service spokesman, said employees in the field are asked each fall to report on the fall color process.
As of Thursday, for example, the area from Molas Pass to Silverton had reached 90% of its peak color. Silverton tends to be one of the first areas in the region to turn colors.
What to expect this yearBecause of a cold spring and a late start to summer, peak fall colors are showing up later than normal across the state, West said.
The highest elevations and latitude usually turn in mid-September, he said, but in the northern part of the state, the process is about 3 three weeks late.
West said trees in Southwest Colorado are just starting to turn.
Chris Cuoco, meteorologist with the National Weather Service in Grand Junction, said high winds the past few days might have knocked a good bit of leaves off trees in the area.
Over the next two days, overnight temperatures in Durango and at high elevations are expected to dip below freezing. Precipitation is possible Thursday night into Friday, Cuoco said, all of which will have impact on affect changing leaves.
Watch safelyAccording to spokeswoman Lisa Schwantes, the Colorado Department of Transportation offers a number of tips for remaining safe while leaf-watching, including:
Look out for other vehicles traveling at slow speeds.Watch for vehicles pulling off the road, and vehicles parked on the sides of roads.Never stop in the roadway.Watch for pedestrians with cameras.Pedestrians must watch for passing firstname.lastname@example.org