Jack Frost's Icy Fingers Touch the Leaves of Wyalusing State Park

Wyalusing State Park visitors and campers are encouraged to keep the camera batteries charged and to not put the tent or the picnic basket away just yet, because the fall color season could be the best it has been in a decade.

The area of southwestern Wisconsin experienced adequate rain during the last two growing seasons and recent weather have included an ideal combination of warm, sunny days and cool evenings. A vivid display of spectacular fall colors is underway and might well climax in a burst of colors during the weekend of October 7-9 –just in time for Columbus Day.

According to Native American myth, hunters in the Heavens killed the Great Bear in Autumn and its blood dripped over Earth's forests coloring some of the leaves red. As the hunters cooked the meat, fat dripped from the Heavens and colored some of the leaves yellow.

Some folks today, assume old Jack Frost is responsible for changes in leaf color. The mythical Jack Frost brings reds and purples to the forest by pinching the leaves with his icy fingers. The hues of yellow, gold, and brown are mixed on his paint palette and applied with quick broad strokes of his brush as he silently moves among the trees to decorate them.

The change in coloring is the result of chemical processes which take place in the tree as the seasons change.
Tree leaves turn color in the fall due to the presence of carotenoids (pigments in the photosynthesizing cells), which are responsible for the fall colors, in the leaves during the growing season. However, the colors are eclipsed by the green chlorophyll. Toward the end of summer, when the chlorophyll production ceases, the other colors of the carotenoids (such as yellow, orange, red, or purple) become visible.

In the Fall, the decrease in intensity and shorter hours of sunlight and the cooler temperatures cause the leaves to stop their food-making process. The chlorophyll breaks down, the green color disappears, and the yellowish colors or pigments already in the leaf become visible.

Listed below are the autumn leaf colors of some common trees found in Wyalusing State Park: 
  • Oak leaves tend to turn brown or red or a mix of those two. 
  • Hickory leaves tend to turn bronze colored. 
  • Aspen leaves tend to turn golden colored. 
  • Dogwood leaves tend to turn a mix of purple and red.
  • Maple tree leaves vary quite a bit in autumn color.  
  • Red maple will turn scarlet.  
  • Sugar maple will turn orange-ish/red.  
  • Black maple will turn bright yellow
  • Elm tree leaves tend to simply fall off without really changing color much before falling.

The best conditions for production of these intense shades of red are bright sunny days followed by crisp, cool nights.

As you walk the trails of Wyalusing State Park in the late evening or very early morning be on the lookout for a Great Bear in the Sky or an elfin ice man sneaking around the woods.
Be sure to take time to walk in the woods or drive along the country roads and marvel at the magic wrought by mythological creatures and nature.

Click to view all fall photos in this album!
Bonus Click! View the latest fall color report on travelwisconsin.com.