TELLER COUNTY, Colo. — Driving along HWY 24 from Colorado Springs to Woodland Park there are just brief reminders that it is, indeed, fall. The trees are a sea of green with speckles of yellow here and there. Further up in elevation, over 9,000 feet, a few more speckles of yellow are present in the forest. The drive up to Cripple Creek in late September usually is a feast for the eyes of fall foliage. This year the color change for fall is delayed by about 10 days, give or take. Leaving Coloradans and tourists a bit longer to plan our leaf peeping trips.
There are several reasons why the change may be delayed. We first must understand the science behind the process first. During the growing season, plants have an abundance of chlorophyll. These molecules are a green pigment found in plants that absorb sunlight and drive photosynthesis. Chlorophyll are sensitive to temperatures. In autumn, sunlight is reduced and temperatures. With less sunlight, the amount of energy produced is lower, and cold temperatures can slow down the chlorophyll even more. Eventually the chlorophyll breaks down and the plant is forced to conserve energy by dropping leaves. The bright yellows, reds, purples are actually always present pigments in the leaf, but are usually outshined by the green chlorophyll.
With the science broken down, the delay in color change this year is likely due to two reasons. The amount of sunlight always decreases in fall, which will inevitably lead to the color change. But this year, late summer temperatures have been very warm. September is on track to be one of the warmest on record for Pueblo and Colorado Springs. This warmth helps chlorophyll stay healthier. Another factor in the late color change may be the moisture Colorado has seen this year. From late winter into spring, Colorado was drought free. The foliage is healthy and may be less inclined to conserve energy just yet.
That being said, the leaves are starting to turn. From 9,000 to 10,000 feet the peak may now be the first half of October. Lower elevations, less than 9,000 feet will likely peak mid to late October. Good luck, leaf peepers! Feel free to share your fall foliage photos with KOAA.
Special thanks to Colorado Jeep Tours. Schedule a fall colors tour with them today!