Thursday, September 12, 2013

Caterpillars Versus Aspen Fall Colors

Fall colors on Kebler Pass 2012
Photo by Aakash sahai, CCL3.0
Fall colors in Colorado are beautiful if you time it right. A golden week of Aspen color makes its way through Colorado--north to south--from early September to mid-October. If you time it right, the Rockies are alight with gold with hints of orange and red. If not, the gold is still easy to find, but not nearly as plentiful.

It's usually one or the other for my family when we go. Most years, anyway.

I've been hearing some disturbing rumors that the season will be severely affected or possibly killed outright in some regions like far southern Colorado and northern New Mexico by a rampaging herd of caterpillars. Tent worms or tent caterpillars apparently love to munch aspen leaves. As though the fires earlier this year and the perennial beetle kill in other parts of the state weren't enough, we now may have a total lack of foliage in some formerly picturesque spots.

Steam Train Videos has a shot of one of James Parfrey's latest trips shot earlier this 2013 season. It turns out the infestation was turning the tracks into a slippery ...well, if you care about insects, you probably shouldn't watch. I can't imagine what bird--except a Mudhen like 463--wouldn't mind growing fat on these things, especially after a train ...wounds so many of them. On the bright side, aspen leaves are good for salicylates, the key ingredient in aspirin, so when the train crushes one of the buggers, they might not feel pain ...at least not as much.



According to a family friend, folks are saying that the aspens can take this for a year or even two, but continued over-grazing by the Tent caterpillar could negatively affect the aspen stands in a permanent way. Let's hope they're wrong. I don't truly know how severe it is for this season or for every location, but a well-timed call to the Cumbres & Toltec or your specific railroad of choice may keep your fall trip from going bust.

For more, watch the video below. It's a bit alarmist, but like the guy says, time will tell.◊


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