Autumn Foliage Color Report for Virginia

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“I’m so glad I live in a world where there are Octobers.”
– L. M. Montgomery, Anne of Green Gables

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Peak Fall Color on the Blue Ridge Parkway: Glynn Wilson

Secret Vistas –
By Glynn Wilson –

As of September 29, the Virginia Department of Forestry was still reporting that while the calendar may say it’s fall, Virginia’s forests are still mostly green.

“Nature’s big wardrobe change will soon begin in western and higher elevation areas and progress eastward,” the agency says on the state’s Website.

Longer and cooler nights trigger changes in the pigments that give leaves their color. Conditions that create the brightest fall colors include ample summer rainfall, followed by a fairly dry September with cool nights and sunny days.

This week, look for the early harbingers of fall – the yellow of tulip-poplars, bright reds of black gum and sumacs, and duller reds of dogwood and poison ivy can be seen in patches all over the state. Trees that have been stressed over the summer may also change early, often with duller colors than usual.

This week the mountains are subtly polka-dotted with color, however. Red-orange, gold, auburn and lime dot the still dark green hillsides and hollows like billiard balls on a pool table. That’s what you’ll see from many of the overlooks along Skyline Drive anyway, according to the report from the Shenandoah National Park.

As you drive through the park or walk its trails, close-ups offer something entirely different: Birches and hickories are still startling with marigold hues. Sumacs, always a pleasant shock, shout out their amazing neons. Virginia creepers are the stars of the forest, storming the woods’ stage with their bright Hawaiian Punch-red displays. There is one dead hemlock tree on the east side of Skyline Drive, fittingly situated near Hemlock Springs Overlook, which is almost completely swathed in Virginia creeper, like someone draped a gravestone with a bright red scarf.

Asters and goldenrods are still gracing the roadsides and open spaces with hues reminiscent of a field in Provence – cheery yellows and lavenders. There are still quite a few bright green gum trees speckled with scarlet tips. Ash trees, like beautiful exotic ladies, smolder – purplish bronze on the outside, fiery amber within.

Big Meadows, in the park’s center, has turned somber – taupes, camels, and various shades of brown – but it, too, is dotted still with paprika oranges and cumin-colored ochers. You can tell when you look at Big Meadows it’s dozing off, preparing to pull on its winter blanket.

What’s always fun to watch is the way fall oozes down the mountains, into the hollows and valley below. When you gaze out from one of Skyline Drive’s overlooks, notice how this happens. Somehow, it’s comforting to witness. Though it varies each year in its intensity and pace, fall moves this way year after year, comforting in its sameness.

The colors of the forest are changing by the day, by the hour, by the minute. Come to Shenandoah and see it for yourself.

The fall color report will be updated on Friday, October 10. A ranger at the Shenandoah River State Park said the peak would not occur until the last 10 days of October and the first 10 days of November. We will be heading over that way soon to check it out for ourselves and get some pics.

© 2014, Glynn Wilson. All rights reserved.

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