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COOL WEATHER AND DROUGHT HAVE USHERED IN AN EARLY FALL

Fall leaf peepers should poise themselves for quick action. The canyons' beautiful array of red, yellow and orange came early this year - and experts say it won't stay long.

"The fall colors came about six weeks earlier than last year. An early fall is brought on by drought stress. The lack of rain during the summer months caused the trees to run out of water, especially in lower elevations," said Kimball Harper, professor of botany and range science at Brigham Young University.In northern Utah, nearly all of the leaves have already turned. Bruce Strom, information specialist for Wasatch-Cache National Forest, said the leaves fell earlier because of lack of moisture.

While color changes are primarily brought on by increasing hours of darkness that accompany the fall season, timing and length of appearance are also affected by weather, said Stan Krugman, director of the National Forest Service's forest management research programs.

"The cooler weather we've had brought the color out earlier," Krugman said.

During the fall months, changes in daylight and temperature slow food production. As the amount of chlorophyll decreases, so does the green color in leaves, which allows other pigments to show through, Krugman said.

"The leaves will fall off more quickly. They probably will only be here another two or three weeks. They are fragile - a gentle wind or rain will take them off," Harper said.

Krugman explained that pigments called carotenoids give hickory, aspen and birch leaves their yellow, brown and orange colors, just as they give carrots and bananas their colors. Oranges, red and bronze hues are found in dogwood, sumac and oak trees. Reds and purples aren't too common because the pigment anthocyanins that create them are not found in all leaves.

In the northern part of the state, almost the only area remaining colorful is the South Fork of the Weber River, which is in the Ogden Ranger District not far from Pineview Reservoir.

Other than that, Strom said, the leaves are "pretty much already turned and gone."

Those wishing to enjoy the scenery farther south still can go to any of the canyons recommended as prime color spots by the Uinta National Forest Service:

- The Alpine Loop is a spectacular scenic drive with bright yellow, orange and brilliant reds adorning Mount Timpanogos Sundance Resort, Tibble Fork reservoir and Bridal Veil Falls.

- The Mount Nebo Scenic Loop climbs through mountain overpasses overlooking surrounding valleys. The peak is the tallest mountain peak on the Wasatch range. Areas of interest include Payson Lakes; Blackhawk campground, with its horseman's campground loop; and the Devil's Kitchen, which is a smaller-scale version of Bryce Canyon National Park.

- Spanish Fork Canyon and Hobble Creek Canyon are the experts' choices for the areas with the most beautiful fall time colors.

- Daniels Canyon and Strawberry Reservoir - one of Utah's premier fishing reservoirs - have a brilliant display of yellow Aspen tree leaves.

Staff writer Joseph Bauman contributed to this report.