St. Elmo 2016

Old buildings in the historic mining town of St. Elmo stand amid golden aspen trees in 2016, a good year for leaf peeping. Fall color in the high country is predicted to peak next week.

Leaf peepers may have to wait an extra few days for peak color this year, but U.S. Forest Service silviculturalist Alex Rudney said he expects the aspens in the Chaffee County high country to peak next week.

Rudney said the moisture from last winter did not seem to affect the aspens, and the relatively dry summer should make for a good leaf year.

Often when summer is wetter, leaf spot causes black patches on the leaves, which makes for a dull display.

One reason the leaves may be green a little longer than usual this year is the relatively warm nights leading into fall.

Rudney said there have been a few cold nights up in the high country, and possibly some frosts, but it is those cold nights that help break down chlorophyll in the leaves so other colors, such as yellow and orange, which are hidden by the green during the growing season, can be seen.

Rudney suggests a drive up U.S. 50 to Monarch Pass for an easy trip to see the aspen.

Another popular drive is Aspen Ridge, off Colo. 291 on CR 175 and CR 184. Portions of the road are a little rough.

CR 162 west from U.S. 285 will take peepers through Chalk Creek Canyon to St. Elmo and some high country color.

Cottonwood Lake west of Buena Vista on the way to Cottonwood Pass is a color destination. From U.S. 24, take CR 306 west for about 6 miles then turn left onto CR 344. Cottonwood Lake is about 3 miles further.

Another set of lakes with a view is farther north at Twin Lakes. Heading north from Buena Vista on U.S. 24, turn left at Colo. 82.

Take a hike on the Colorado Trail to the ghost resort of Interlaken, take a boat ride across the lake or continue on up to Independence Pass.

Be on the lookout for other leaf peepers on the road. The Colorado Department of Transportation offers these suggestions to stay safe while viewing aspen:

• Drivers are urged to look out for other vehicles that may be traveling at lower speeds.

• Watch for vehicles pulling off the roadways and parked on the sides of the roads.

• Always look for safe, designated areas to park.

• Motorists need to watch out for pedestrians. Other leaf peepers will be out of their vehicles with their cameras.

• Pedestrians are encouraged to be extremely diligent and watch out for passing cars and trucks.

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