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Change of seasons with dusting of snow appearing on the Elk Mountains on Saturday, Oct, 2, outside Aspen. (Hugh Carey, The Colorado Sun)

ASPEN — The first snow of the season dusted the Elk Mountains above Aspen on Saturday, providing an early glimpse of winter as chill sneaked into glowing aspen forests. For the last two weeks, aspen trees in the Roaring Fork Valley have exploded in dazzling hues, ranging from neon yellow to pale red. 

Carbondale resident Carl Johnson pedals through aspen groves above town of Aspen on Sunday afternoon, Oct. 3. (Hugh Carey, The Colorado Sun)

Some groves peaked earlier than others in drainages in the Roaring Fork Valley and yet thousands of visitors continue to pour into the valley hoping for their moment to witness nature’s annual show; an artful display that longtime locals say is much brighter this year than usual. A vibrant palette still lingers in the valley, with aspens and scrub oak splashing floor-to-ceiling color across the forest.


Quaking Aspens are one of the largest living organisms on earth, reproducing through the sprouts from the roots to grow as clones, seen on Sunday afternoon, Oct. 3, in Aspen. (Hugh Carey, The Colorado Sun)
Aspen leaves, round or oval shape with serrated edges, laid to rest for the winter on Friday, Oct. 1, outside Aspen. (Hugh Carey, The Colorado Sun)

The quaking aspen leaves begin their autumnal transition from green depending on weather, elevation, latitude, and the amount of sunshine they absorb. Fluctuating sunlight, precipitation and temperatures provide a level of unpredictability for high country color chasers. A windy rainstorm can strip entire mountainsides of color overnight. A dry fall can leave aspens colorfully quaking for many weeks. 

Cyclists pedal Castle Creek Road on Sunday, Oct. 3, outside Aspen. (Hugh Carey, The Colorado Sun)

Aspen was known as Ute City prior to 1880. The silver-mining town changed its name, as legend holds, based on the abundance of aspens climbing the valley’s slopes and mountains. The Aspen Daily News, in March 2, 1950, quoted silver miners who said they re-named the town after Aspen Mountain due to “the large number of quakenasp which grew upon it.”

Aspen leaves change depending on elevation, latitude, sun aspect, and recent climate changes. The White River National Forest on Saturday, Oct. 2, outside Aspen. (Hugh Carey, The Colorado Sun)

From there, the town grew with banks, schools, churches, and an opera house rooted in the steady flow of silver pouring out of the Smuggler Mine. Eventually the nascent ski area at the end of the valley began drawing high-profile visitors and a new flow of wealth began flowing into town. 

Change of seasons with dusting of snow appearing on Capitol Peak inside the Maroon Bells-Snowmass Wilderness on Saturday afternoon, Oct. 2, outside Aspen. (Hugh Carey, The Colorado Sun)

The quaking aspens, with their root-connected, miles-wide groves making them among the largest and oldest living organisms on Earth, continue their seasonal transition year after year, oblivious to the changes on the valley floor. This autumn’s brief, yet spectacular explosion of colors, once again reminds us that change is imminent and inevitable. 

Changing of seasons inside Elk Mountain Range on Friday, Oct. 1, 2021, in the Castle Creek Valley outside Aspen.
(Hugh Carey, The Colorado Sun)
An aspen forest soaks up the remaining sun rays on Friday, Oct. 1, outside Aspen. (Hugh Carey, The Colorado Sun)


Summit County

Hugh covers a variety of topics for The Colorado Sun, with a focus on outdoor and Western topics, environment and breaking news. Prior to working for The Sun, Hugh was a daily news photographer/videographer in Utah, Michigan, Wyoming and within the Summit County community, including winter Olympic qualifying events, breaking news, and story features.

He also earned Wyoming Press Association Photographer of the Year Award while at the Wyoming Tribune Eagle, and served as a guide and backcountry first responder in Alaska and Montana in between newspaper gigs.

Topic expertise: Western Slope topics, including the ski and outdoor industries, mountain town news, ranching and farming, environment and breaking news

Language(s) in addition to English: American Sign Language (ASL)

Education: University of Montana School of Journalism

Honors & Awards: 2016 Wyoming Press Association Photographer of the Year and roughly a zillion Colorado based awards

Professional membership: National Press Photographer Association


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