Fall Canyon Color Report

By Kimberly Talcott
Spearfish Canyon Enthusiast and freelance writer

 

September 29th

 

This is the final Spearfish Canyon Leaf Report of 2020. Spearfish experienced wind and periodic light rain over the weekend. Although the colors are past their peak color change, the slow leaf drop and mild temperatures are allowing us to enjoy the leaves a bit longer. 

Color Change: Past Peak 

Leaf Drop: Moderate

If you cruise through Spearfish Canyon in the coming days, you will notice a rich ombre of colors – the burnt, dark orange of dry leaves ready to fall along with surprise golden leaves on trees still making their seasonal change. Make sure to look down, as well as up into the heights of Spearfish Canyon for the full color experience – vines of red leaves climbing up low-lying rocks and scattered lime greens along the cliffs. 

What causes the leaves to finally drop their leaves? A layer of cells exists where a leaf’s stem connects with a tree’s branch. That layer of cells blocks off the leaf veins that transport water and food. This causes the leaf to dry out and, eventually, fall off the tree. Those leaves bring their remaining nutrients to the ground where they fall, benefiting Spearfish Canyon vegetation and animal residents.

 

 

September 24th

 

The trees in Spearfish Canyon are at or near peak color change. Take a drive through Spearfish Canyon in the next few days and you will be surrounded by autumn’s vibrant splendor. There are many convenient pull-off areas in the Canyon where you can park your vehicle or bike to get out and take a closer look at the trees and take a selfie or two. #leavesandme (Hey, it might catch on?)

Color Change: 90% (High)

Leaf Drop: Low to Moderate

When I drove through the Canyon on Thursday morning (9/24), my favorite areas to see the leaves were the curve past Bridal Veil Falls, Homestake Mining Hydro Plant area near Devil’s Bathtub, and mile markers 18, 20-21, and 24. 

Here’s what’s happening in those beautiful fall trees behind the scenes: As the days get shorter and the nights get colder and longer, the leaves are preparing for winter. The leaves stop making chlorophyll, a pigment that absorbs light and provides energy for photosynthesis. Slowly, the green in the leaves starts to fade. The yellows, oranges, and reds of the leaves emerge.

When you are out exploring the Canyon this weekend, you are seeing these chemical processes firsthand. Hope to see you out there leaf peepers!

 

 

September 22nd

 

It’s the first day of fall, and the autumn colors in Spearfish Canyon are on full display. Perhaps most striking right now are the bursts of golden trees in the higher elevations among the rocks and cliffs. In those areas especially, you can easily witness the change of the seasons from a distance as you cruise through the Canyon byway. 

Color Change: 80% (High)

Leaf Drop: Low to Moderate

This is the week to experience the multitude of colors in the Canyon: The lime greens of trees just about to transform, and the bright yellow trees leading the way into fall. Some Canyon areas are already at peak color change. Then a Canyon curve later you will see areas hiding their color for a bit longer. 

Over the past week the long-distance views in the Canyon have been slightly affected by haze in the air due to the west coast wildfires. How does hazy air affect the leaves in the Canyon? Wildfire smoke may actually increase plant productivity (how plants use energy from the sun for food) according to researchers Kyle Hemes, Joseph Verfaillie, and Dennis Baldocchi. Smoke scatters incoming sunlight, so energy from the Sun can reach even further into dense plant canopies on hazy days.

The warm, sunny days ahead in the forecast are a perfect invitation to continue letting Spearfish Canyon show off her autumnal beauty. Welcome fall!

 

 September 16th

 

This is the first Spearfish Canyon Leaf Report of 2020. As you drive into Spearfish Canyon you will notice several bright yellow birch and aspen trees nearing 100 percent color change. Don’t lose heart! Many trees are just starting to transform into their fall colors. Now is a great time to witness the beginning of the change of seasons in Spearfish Canyon.

Color Change: 35% (Low to Moderate)

Leaf drop: Very Low

As you ride through the Canyon, look for hints of what is to come: Aspen trees with lime and buttery yellow leaves and birch with pops of golden leaves mixed among the emerald. 

While the limestone cliffs of Spearfish Canyon may grab your attention, don’t forget to look down. The sumac and woodbine are also showing off their rainbow of colors right now – from yellow, to orange, to brilliant red. You may even see the resident mountain goats gnawing on the low-lying foliage.

Based on 20 years of Leaf Reports from Canyon author Jerry J. Boyer, we typically expect peak color change the last week of September. This summer’s hot, dry weather may mean less intense fall colors this year; but the warm, sunny days in the upcoming forecast coupled with cooler nights makes us hopeful for a brilliant fall leaf showing.

Canyon Colors 9/6

Past Peak as of September 29th

Canyon Colors 9/6

90% as of September 24th

Canyon Colors 9/6

80% as of September 22nd

Canyon Colors 9/6

35% as of September 16th

Les Heiserman Fall Color Photo Gallery

2020 Leaf Report and photos by:

Kimberly Talcott
Spearfish Canyon enthusiast and freelance writer