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Photos: Check out Utah’s fall colors at their best

And a quick explainer on why and how tree leaves change color

(Francisco Kjolseth | The Salt Lake Tribune) Leaves turn with the change of the season creating a tapestry of brilliant fall colors in the Wasatch Mountains on Wednesday, Sept. 29, 2021

Editor’s note • This article is part of 150 Things To Do, a reporting project and newsletter exploring the best that Utah has to offer. Click here to sign up for the 150 Things newsletter.

Fall has officially arrived and so has the explosion of reds, oranges and yellows from Utah’s trees. You can step outside just about anywhere to enjoy nature’s own artwork. And, since leaves at higher altitudes tend to change color first, the best views are often up in the mountains.

Before you head out on that scenic drive, here’s a refresher on just what’s going on with the trees themselves that makes this time of year so stunning. (Check out more of Tribune photographer Francisco Kjosleth’s fall foliage photos below for extra inspiration.)

(Francisco Kjolseth | The Salt Lake Tribune) Leaves turn with the change of the season creating a tapestry of brilliant fall colors in the Wasatch Mountains on Wednesday, Sept. 29, 2021

Tree leaves are green during the spring and summer due to a chemical called chlorophyl, according to the State University of New York’s College of Environmental Science and Forestry. Chlorophyl absorbs energy from sunlight, which is used for turning carbon dioxide and water into carbohydrates for the tree.

In autumn, however, tree leaves’ chlorophyll breaks down due to changes in temperature and in the amount of daylight. The absence of chlorophyl allows the leaves’ carotenes and xanthophyll pigments (yellow to orange colors) to become visible.

Other chemical changes can form red anthocyanin pigments, while other mixtures result in reddish to purplish hues.

Drought can cause fall colors to be less vivid, however, according to the Smithsonian Magazine.

That’s because the amount of moisture in a leaf impacts how and when its chlorophyll breaks down, and less water means duller colors. Drier leaves also tend to fall faster.

Utah’s autumn lovers don’t need to worry too much, though. Our most colorful tree species tend to be quaking aspen, canyon maple, scrub oak and Douglas hawthorn, often alongside the steady, dark hues of native evergreens.

Despite this year’s drought, the state’s trees have still managed to put out some extraordinary colors.

(Francisco Kjolseth | The Salt Lake Tribune) Leaves turn with the change of the season creating a tapestry of brilliant fall colors in the Wasatch Mountains on Wednesday, Sept. 29, 2021


(Francisco Kjolseth | The Salt Lake Tribune) Leaves turn with the change of the season creating a tapestry of brilliant fall colors in the Wasatch Mountains on Wednesday, Sept. 29, 2021

(Francisco Kjolseth | The Salt Lake Tribune) Leaves turn with the change of the season creating a tapestry of brilliant fall colors in the Wasatch Mountains on Wednesday, Sept. 29, 2021

(Francisco Kjolseth | The Salt Lake Tribune) Leaves turn with the change of the season creating a tapestry of brilliant fall colors in the Wasatch Mountains on Wednesday, Sept. 29, 2021

(Francisco Kjolseth | The Salt Lake Tribune) Leaves turn with the change of the season creating a tapestry of brilliant fall colors in the Wasatch Mountains on Wednesday, Sept. 29, 2021

(Francisco Kjolseth | The Salt Lake Tribune) Leaves turn with the change of the season creating a tapestry of brilliant fall colors in the Wasatch Mountains on Wednesday, Sept. 29, 2021

(Francisco Kjolseth | The Salt Lake Tribune) Leaves turn with the change of the season creating a tapestry of brilliant fall colors in the Wasatch Mountains at Bonanza Flats conservation area on Wednesday, Sept. 29, 2021

(Francisco Kjolseth | The Salt Lake Tribune) Leaves turn with the change of the season creating a tapestry of brilliant fall colors in the Wasatch Mountains on Wednesday, Sept. 29, 2021

(Francisco Kjolseth | The Salt Lake Tribune) Leaves turn with the change of the season creating a tapestry of brilliant fall colors in the Wasatch Mountains on Wednesday, Sept. 29, 2021

(Francisco Kjolseth | The Salt Lake Tribune) Leaves turn with the change of the season creating a tapestry of brilliant fall colors in the Wasatch Mountains at Bonanza Flats conservation area on Wednesday, Sept. 29, 2021

(Francisco Kjolseth | The Salt Lake Tribune) Leaves turn with the change of the season creating a tapestry of brilliant fall colors in the Wasatch Mountains at Bonanza Flats conservation area on Wednesday, Sept. 29, 2021

(Francisco Kjolseth | The Salt Lake Tribune) Leaves turn with the change of the season creating a tapestry of brilliant fall colors in the Wasatch Mountains on Wednesday, Sept. 29, 2021

Editor’s note • 150 Things To Do is a reporting project and weekly newsletter made possible by the generous support of the Utah Office of Tourism. Sign up for the 150 Things newsletter here.


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