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Wyoming Offers Gorgeous Fall Colors All Over State

in News/Recreation
The famous Aspen Alley is a narrow road off WYO 71 from Battle Mountain Pass. This photo was taken during the height of the fall colors of the Aspen Trees. Photo credit: Randy Wagner of Cheyenne.
The famous Aspen Alley is a narrow road off WYO 71 from Battle Mountain Pass. This photo was taken during the height of the fall colors of the Aspen Trees. Photo credit: Randy Wagner of Cheyenne.
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By Ellen Fike, Cowboy State Daily

From Cody to Cheyenne and all corners of the state, there’s basically no way you can miss the fall foliage colors in Wyoming over the next 10 days.

Wyoming weatherman Don Day told Cowboy State Daily on Friday that the weekend of Sept. 25 was going to be one of the best times to see the peak of the fall colors, especially at higher elevations such as the Snowy Range Pass between Albany and Carbon counties.

“It’s hard to find a place where it’s gonna suck,” Day said.

While Wyoming may have fewer trees than most other states in the nation, the ones the state does have can produce some gorgeous colors by the time the end of September rolls around.

Day suggested some of the state’s more well known routes, such as the Snowy Range Pass and Beartooth Pass in Cody, as great options for longer drives to see tons of color.

However, he added a trip anywhere in the state will give viewers the opportunity to see the gorgeous reds, oranges and yellows of fall as the leaves prepare to hit the ground.

Aspen Alley in Carbon County is one great option, Day said.

“I know some people who will do a day trip by starting in Fort Collins, Colorado, go to Walden, Colorado, then head to Steamboat Springs, Colorado,” Day said. “Then, they will go from Steamboat to Baggs and then over to Encampment. If you’re into a really long drive, you can go from Encampment to Saratoga over Snowy Range Pass back to Cheyenne.”

One lesser-known spot Day recommended was Battle Mountain Pass between Baggs and Encampment, although he also said Ten Sleep Canyon will also be a great spot to see the fall foliage.

“I saw a picture of Aspen Mountain that’s not far from Rock Springs and it was just gorgeous,” he said. “There’s areas where you’re not going to see the colors over long stretches, but more like pockets.”

Other great spots for leaf-peeping in Wyoming this weekend include Bear River State Park near Evanston, Hot Springs State Park near Thermopolis, the Loop Road near Lander and the Star Valley Scenic Byway.

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Fall colors depend on spring rains, first frost

in News/weather
leaves
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By Ike Fredregill, Cowboy State Daily

It’s that time of year again. The pumpkin spice is flowing, the birds are flying south, and according to social media, the leaves are turning.

But for most Wyomingites, fall colors only appear for a few days before the world turns dead and gray. 

In southeast Wyoming, it can feel like it takes longer to rake all the brown leaves than it did for them to die and fall to the ground. In northwest Wyoming, however, residents report fall looks more like the story books with yellows and reds dotting the landscape for weeks at a time.

“The intensity of the colors depends on three different things: Sunlight, temperature and moisture,” said Katie Cheesbrough, a Wyoming Game and Fish Department habitat biologist. “But frost is your major color killer.”

Working primarily in the Saratoga region, Cheesbrough said she couldn’t say for sure why northwest Wyoming experienced brilliant fall colors longer than other parts of the state, but it could be related to wind.

“I think the secret in Jackson is they just have less wind,” she said. “Down here, the wind tends to blow the leaves off the trees before they’ve had a chance to fully turn.”

Most leaves are green in the spring and summer because of the chemical chlorophyll, which is essential to the photosynthesis process, allowing trees to absorb energy from light.

As the weather changes, “The green pigment breaks down rather quickly,” Cheesbrough said. 

Without chlorophyll, red and yellow pigments, which are present throughout the year, come to the fore.

Yellow pigments are caused by carotenoid and red pigments are the product of anthocyanin, Cheesbrough explained.

“You’re going to see the best, most intense colors if you have a moist growing season early on, drier periods in the late summer and warm, sunny days in the fall with cool nights that don’t drop below freezing,” she said. 

Tree species also play a role in leaf color.

“Maples will have red leaves and aspens are primarily yellow, but do have some red,” Cheesbrough explained.

Leaf colors are genetic traits passed down through generations of trees, which is why an aspen copse tends to be monotoned, she said. But, occasionally, a person might see a bright red aspen floating in a sea of yellow.

“Most people think aspens only reproduce through cloning,” Cheesbrough said, explaining cloning is the process of a single tree growing new stems upward from a single root system. “But they also reproduce through seeds. When you see a lone aspen with different color leaves among others, you’re seeing a different tree’s genes at work.”

Deciduous trees shed their leaves while conifers, like pines and firs, retain their needles.

“They’re completely different organisms with completely different strategies,” Cheesbrough said. “Like some animals migrate to avoid winter and others hibernate, (deciduous trees) basically ditch these energetically expensive parts of themselves. Meanwhile, conifers still need their needles to photosynthesize, but in winter, they go into a dormant state to prevent them losing water through their needles.”

U.S. Forest Service spokesman Aaron Voos said it is common to see leaves in an area change colors at different times.

“We do see a really wide variety of when leaves change throughout Medicine Bow National Forest, and how leaves change color,” Voos said. “This year, a lot of our trees turned much later than normal.”

One of the scientific theories Voos said is predominant in arborist circles is leaves turn based on the length of available daylight, rather than specific weather patterns. No matter the science, he said the early bird gets the worm.

“The best bit of advice I’ve ever got is, ‘When they’re turning, go see them,’” Voos said. “They may not be around that long.”

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