It’s no secret that Colorado in autumn is a sight to behold. Rich reds, glittery golds and deep oranges blaze across the mountainsides, and on bluebird days the views are especially spectacular. What makes the fall display all the more special is how fleeting it is; before we know it our landscapes will be covered in snow (and have been briefly already!)
There really is no better place to soak up the awesome autumn colors than from Glenwood Caverns Adventure Park. Taking the tram up to the park offers unmatched opportunities to see the Roaring Fork Valley in all its splendor. Early storms have topped Mt. Sopris and other peaks with white snow, creating even more dramatic panoramas. You really can see it all.
Once you get to the park, you can see nature’s artwork up close. One example is the red maple tree near the entrance to the cave tours walkway that almost doesn’t seem real. It’s leaves are a brilliant scarlet color from top to bottom.
Many locals and frequent visitors have noticed that this year’s fall foliage is especially dazzling, and that’s no accident. “A growing season with ample moisture that is followed by a rather dry, cool, sunny autumn that is marked by warm days and cool but frostless nights provides the best weather conditions for development of the brightest fall colors,” according to the United States National Arboretum. This pretty much sums up our weather this season: very moist and rainy summer, with most of September being relatively dry and sunny.
Ever wondered why, exactly, leaves change their color? As trees prepare for the winter, they start to lose chlorophyll, an essential compound for photosynthesis, which transforms energy from the sun into food for the tree. Chlorophyll is also the most abundant color pigment in a tree’s leaves. As the chlorophyll goes away, it allows the other color pigments to shine through, namely carotenoids, which produce yellow, orange, and brown colors. Carotenoids are always present in leaves, but the color pigment of chlorophyll is much more dominant. So the golden yellow and orange hues we see have always been there, they have just been in hiding.
Reddish tones, like the ones on the gorgeous tree at Glenwood Caverns, are a different story. Some trees produce red-hued anthocyanins, a naturally occurring pigment that gives raspberries, blueberries and any other red-to-purple plant its color. For trees, it is usually produced only in autumn. Scientists aren’t exactly sure what function the production of anthocyanins serve, but there are ideas that it might serve as a kind of sunscreen or antifreeze for the trees (from National Geographic.com).
So come up to Glenwood Caverns to see carotenoids and anthocyanins in all their beautiful glory while they last, and make sure to bring along your camera! You can ride the tram up and stay for rides and cave tours, too! Go to Park Info for fall hours and more information.