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Brilliance of autumn gets bittersweet welcome from some winter-weary Alaskans (+PHOTOS)

Fall colors along Turnagain Arm. September 28, 2012
Loren Holmes photo
The leaves of a birch tree turn yellow at Potter Marsh. September 27, 2012
Loren Holmes photo
Snow dusting the Chugach mountains at Glen Alps. September 27, 2012
Loren Holmes photo
Fall colors adorn a quiet Potter Marsh. September 27, 2012
Loren Holmes photo
The Anchorage Coastal Wildlife Refuge, bright yellow with fall colors. September 27, 2012
Loren Holmes photo
One yard raked, one yard not, in Anchorage's Oceanview neighborhood. September 27, 2012
Loren Holmes photo
Trumpeter swans depart Potter Marsh for warmer climes. September 28, 2012
Loren Holmes photo
Orange leaves brighten up a wet cliff along Turnagain Arm. September 28, 2012
Loren Holmes photo
Falling leaves cover a dirt road along Turnagain Arm. September 28, 2012
Loren Holmes photo
Yellow leaves cover a bridge along the Turnagain Arm trail. September 28, 2012
Loren Holmes photo
Fallen birch leaves decorate a still-green devil's club along the Turnagain Arm trail. September 28, 2012
Loren Holmes photo
Fall colors and fresh snow are reflected in a quiet pond in the Chugach mountains. September 28, 2012
Loren Holmes photo
New snow blankets Powerline Pass in Chugach State Park on September 29, 2012.
Loren Holmes photo
Hikers explore Powerline Pass in a newly snow covered Chugach State Park on September 29, 2012.
Loren Holmes photo
Mike Campbell,Loren Holmes

Yellows -- with a splash of orange and red -- still dominate the autumn landscape in Southcentral Alaska as birch, aspen, cottonwood and poplar trees turn. Despite the autumn windstorms of 2012 that stripped some trees bare, along with an early snowfall Saturday, there’s still a bit of color left before the landscape goes white until next spring.

Shorter autumn days mean that Alaska daylight gets cut by more than five minutes a day in most areas, and trees start getting ready for winter. Better hurry, though. A hard frost often spells the beginning of the end of  colorful foliage.

There’s not enough light for photosynthesis then, and the trees must live on whatever food they stored during summer. As they shut down their food-making factories, green chlorophyll disappears from tree leaves. As the bright green fades, yellow, red and orange replaces it. Small amounts of these colors have been in the leaves all along. We just can't see them in the summer, because they are covered up by the green chlorophyll.

A few places in Southcentral Alaska that offer dependable autumn colors include:

* Bird to Gird:  The 12-mile roundtrip trail paralleling the Seward Highway offers an expansive view of Turnagain Arm, so even if the leaves are thinning out a bit, the improved view of the waters below is a bonus.

* Powerline Pass: Reds and orange are sprinkled across the hillsides, and there can be an October treat, with rutting moose regularly seen on both sides of the South Fork of Campbell Creek toward the junction with the Middle Fork Loop trail and the pass. It’s a viewing opportunity that can be world class when dozens of moose gather during mating season.

* Kepler Bradley-Crevasse Moraine: Mountain bikers love these Mat-Su trails built on ridges and depressions formed by glaciers. There are some steep sections, and trail markers describe the difficulty. The Long Lake Trail connects Crevasse Moraine Trail System to the Kepler-Bradley State Recreation Area trail system. To get there, head west on the Palmer-Wasilla Highway and take a left on Loma Prieta Drive. Continue half a mile to the trailhead.

* Eklutna Lake: An old gravel roadbed up high and a single-track bike trail beside turquoise Eklutna Lake makes this trip perfect for families. In addition to the fall colors, Dall sheep roam the surrounding mountains, with 7,522-foot Bold Peak looming over the landscape.

--By Mike Campbell