SANTA FE, N.M. (AP) — Aspen trees rooted in the slopes of the Sangre de Cristo Mountains above Santa Fe are shedding their golden leaves right on schedule, but coming cold weather may cut the viewing season short.
Tree expert Rich Atkinson said the aspen leaves usually start to lose their green color and begin falling in early October, but he warned that freezing temperatures may hasten the process. Forecasters with AccuWeather predicted that Friday night temperatures in Santa Fe could drop to 29 degrees, and Saturday's low could dip to 33 degrees.
"It's nature's way of telling the trees it's time to close up shop," Atkinson said.
He predicted the viewing season may last until around Oct. 21, although trees at lower altitudes might still be shedding their leaves.
But there are plenty of places where you can enjoy the autumn colors while they last.
For those looking to sit and relax, aspens are plentiful near the ski runs at Ski Santa Fe. Candy DeJoia, spokesperson for the ski area, said the Super Chief Quad chairlift carries riders over plenty of aspens. It will operate daily from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. Saturday, Oct. 5, until Oct. 13, if weather permits. A round trip costs $12, while a one-way ride for those who want to hike back down is $8. Season pass holders ride for free. Children under 46 inches tall and people 72 or older also ride free of charge.
DeJoia noted that the drive up to the ski area also features plenty of aspen views.
For those who want to experience nature simply on foot, the go-to destination is the Aspen Vista Trail in Santa Fe National Forest. The trail, which is almost like a road, has an expansive parking lot. Local hiking experts said the trail is mostly even and wouldn't pose a problem for even for beginning hikers, but it would give them a chance to walk among the yellowing trees.
For a more challenging trail, Norma McCallan, with the Northern Chapter of the Sierra Club, said visitors could try Carl's Meadow. To get there, take an immediate left at the Aspen Vista gate. It's a steeper path, but it leads "right smack into the middle of the aspens," McCallan said.
Dave Gold, a man who has led more than 500 hikes in Santa Fe during the past five years, said more experienced hikers can also try other Santa Fe National Forest trails, such as the Big Tesuque Trail or the Rio en Medio. And he said the most experienced hikers should consider hiking the Winsor Trail, also in the Santa Fe National Forest.
Gold said he discovered most of his favorite spots by venturing off the trails, but he warned beginners should stick to the path unless they're with someone who knows the terrain. Gold does offer guided hikes with his club, the Santa Fe Hiking Meetup Group, which can be found online at meetup.com/hiking-399.
Another hiking expert, Brian Johnson, recommended setting aside a half or full day to enjoy the trails.
"There's no need to be hurried about it," he said. "Fall can be a really beautiful time with clear skies and the sunlight dancing on everything."