Current Status | National Fall Color Web Site | Hotline: 1-800-354-4595
There's a riot of color in the Southwestern forests each autumn--and the gold is free!
From mid-September through mid-October, the color is yours and you have many options.
Leisurely drives through the national forests will take you on roads that have strategically placed turnouts, allowing you to pull off the road or park to enjoy the scenery. If you want to get out of your car and into the woods, these same forests offer trails for hiking, horseback riding, mountain biking, and four-wheelin'!
Want to leave the crowds behind? Remote, rugged wildernesses beckon you to hike, hunt, or travel by horseback to the high country.
Crisp weather hones crisp colors to create an artist's and a photographer's feast.
All this and more, that's a Southwestern autumn!
Will Our Children Be Able to See Aspen?
Aspen's radiant gold is brought to you by fires that raged through this part of the world a century ago. Aspen is the mother of the forest, usually the first tree species to appear after a fire or after logging. Aspen sprouts from suckers in the ground and as it grows, it shades the ground, allowing young fir and spruce to take hold. Once they do, the aspen falls over and dies, only to reappear once again after fire or logging.
Deer and Elk Need Aspen Too
Aspen offers autumn beauty but also keeps many deer and elk alive through harsh winters in the mountains. These animals eat leaves and new shoots on young aspen and the bark of taller trees. The Forest Service helps keep aspen part of the forest by planned burning and selective logging in areas where deer and elk spend the winter.
Why Do Leaves Change Color?
During spring and summer, leaves serve as factories, manufacturing most of the foods necessary for a tree's growth. This takes place in the leaf cells that contain chlorophyll, which gives the leaf its green color. But leaves also contain orange and yellow pigments masked much of the year by green chlorophyll.
Autumn's shorter days and cooler nights halt the leaf's food manufacturing. Chlorophyll breaks down, exposing other pigments. Other chemical changes can happen, creating even more pigments--yellow, red, and blue--which you see in the red and purple of maples or the bronze or brown of oak and beech.
Also, colors on the same tree can vary from year to year, depending upon weather conditions. When autumns are warm and rainy, leaves are less colorful.
When leaves fall to the ground and decay, they help fertilize the soil, returning some elements borrowed by the growing tree.
Enjoy Nature's recycled autumn brilliance!