Mother Nature takes center stage for colorful show in Colorado mountains |

Mother Nature takes center stage for colorful show in Colorado mountains

Rain drops sit on an Aspen lead that has fallen o

STEAMBOAT SPRINGS — The fall colors are just starting to show on the mountain slopes surrounding Steamboat Springs, but the phones at the Steamboat Springs Chamber Resort Association started ringing several months ago.

"I think it's huge," said Maren McCutchan, public relations manager at the Steamboat Springs Chamber Resort Association, said of visitors coming the valley to explore in the fall. "The colors are a big portion of our fall visitation, and the unique thing here it that you can wrap in different activities with leaf peeping.

“Even when you are just driving up to Strawberry Park, you can get a spectacular view of the fall colors looking back at the valley,” McCutchan continued. “If you are biking, you can ride your bike down the trail right among the aspen trees on Flash of Gold. If you go hiking, you can get up to a really great spot and then see a huge range of colors from a number of different places close to Steamboat."

Traditionally, leaves start changing about mid- to late-September and the colors can last for several weeks. Prime viewing spots include Rabbit Ears Pass, Buffalo Pass, the Zirkel Wilderness Area, the Flat Tops Wilderness Area, Rabbit Ears and just about everywhere in the Yampa Valley.

But this year, that fall window may be short lived.

Matt Makens, metrologist with Channel 2 KDVR in Denver, is encouraging folks to get out this weekend and enjoy the color while it lasts. He warns that the longterm forecast may put an end to those colors.

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Makens predicts color will peak in the Steamboat Springs area sometime next week.

"I've been encouraging people to go this weekend to find color," Makens said. "It's going to be great, but late next week there is snow that will be coming in, particularly in your area . . . that could have a minor or significant impact on the leaves depending on the heaviness of that snow."

But even if the leaves survive that brush with winter weather, many experts and locals feel that this may not be a banner year.

"The Aspen got hit with Marssonina blight this year, and that produces little black spots all over the leaves,” said Karen Vail, senior naturalist at Yampatika. “We tend to get that in really wet springs, and it makes the leaves turn a little blackish. Most of the stands that I've seen have been affected by that. I don't see that we are going to get a lot of color from those.

“Plus, the dry has really stressed the leaves, and I see a lot of curling brown edges from drought stress,” Vail explained. “So far I have not seen much color at all — maybe a tree or two that may have been a little more protected."

She predicts there will be more color south of Steamboat this fall, particularly in the Flat Tops.

Steamboat Springs photographer Jim Steinberg loves to photograph aspens and has built a reputation of creating amazing images of fall colors in the Yampa Valley.

Some of his favorite spots for taking pictures of fall color include the ridge near the top of Buffalo Pass, the Muddy Lake area and the Indian Creek area just off of Colorado 14 toward Walden.

"I think some of the things that make Routt County really nice is that it is a very different perspective," Steinberg said. "We have some wonderful areas of cottonwoods, for instance, along the Yampa. As you come out of the Ghost Creek Canyon coming back from Hayden, there are some really nice areas of cottonwoods there and also down at the Nature Conservancy Preserve (Carpenter Ranch) you have a wonderful mix of red dogwood osier,  cottonwood and willow, so you get the orange of the willows, the red of the red dogwood osier and the bright colors of the cottonwood. It's just beautiful down there."

And even if the fall colors aren’t expected to be as bright as usual, Kellie Gorman, Yampatika program director, encourages people to still get out there and enjoy fall in Routt County.

"Mother Nature gives us a show every year,” Gorman said. “Sometimes it is more spectacular, and sometimes it's less than what we anticipate and hope for. It's so worth it to get out no matter what the colors are doing."

To reach John F. Russell, call 970-871-4209, email or follow him on Twitter @Framp1966.

Colorful views

Flash of Gold — One of the newest Mountain Bike Trails in the  Steamboat Ski area will offer those wanting to check out the colors for the seat of a bike the chance to cruise through Aspen Groves and get their blood pumping with a scenic ride. This is a very pleasant cross-country trail suitable for riders with intermediate skills. It traverses Aspen forest and high-country meadows as it climbs steadily southwards through Medicine Bow Routt National Forests. The gradient is extremely well controlled. 

Muddy Pass Lake —Found on the opposite side of Rabbit Ears Pass the Aspen groves that can be found near this lake are normally golden and colorful. If the leave hang on long enough you might even find a few reds in the later months. The other great thing about this spot is that if you frame it just right the Rabbit Ears can fill the background.

Buffalo Pass — Take the turnoff for Buffalo Pass can be found just off of Routt County Road 36 and is clearly marked by a sign. Traditionally the drive up the bumpy, windy road offers plenty of colorful Aspen stands and along the way a breathtaking view of the Yampa Valley.

Ripple Creek Pass — For those headed South Ripple Creek Pass provides a scenic drive, and may be one of the best places to view Aspens this year. Form Phippsburg take Routt County Road 15, continue on Routt County Road 19 and then onto Routt County Road 132. Continue on County Road 8 into Rio Blanco County and then onto Ripple Creek Pass. The trip is roughly 40 miles and should take just over and hour and a half.

Indian Creek — To reach this area travel east from Steamboat  on US 40 over Rabbit Ears Pass and make a left onto Colorado Highway 14 toward Walden for roughly six to 10 miles. Then make  a right toward the Never Summer Mountains.