"How beautiful, when a whole tree is like one great scarlet fruit full of ripe juices, every leaf, from lowest limb to topmost spire, all aglow, especially if you look toward the sun! What more remarkable object can there be in a landscape?"
~ Henry David Thoreau
Finally, autumn has arrived in Shenandoah National Park –and she's carrying her own torches to light her way.
This is the moment we've all been waiting for.
How many synonyms are there for astounding? You can drive through Shenandoah on Skyline Drive in any direction you choose –any way is gorgeous –but this reporter drove in both directions yesterday (Thursday, October 20) from early afternoon until dusk, from Low Gap at mile 8 to Browns Gap at mile 83. And the color this reporter saw was: astounding, mind-blowing, stupendous, astonishing, glowing, electrifying, breathtaking, eye-popping, wondrous –or, to keep it simple as Thoreau did: beautiful.
Sassafras trees are on fire –virtually, of course, but when you first lay eyes on some of them in the Park this week, you'll think their flames are real. Overnight most turned Day-Glo orange, but some choose to burn fire-engine red, others candlelight gold or lemon yellow, while a hesitant few still wear the pea greens of summer. Some sassafras trees bear all five colors at once, looking for all the world like a Southwestern kitchen's mise en place for tacos with salsa fresca –multicolored chiles, bell peppers, cilantro, and heirloom tomatoes. A quarter-mile or so south of mile 21, a patch of fiery sassafras I saw as I rounded the curve was so beautiful it brought tears to my eyes. Another patch across from Ivy Creek Overlook near mile 77 I saw as the sun descended looked like a circa-1965 Christmas tree –wonderful bulbs of primary-color light.
Sumacs vie for attention, too, and have no trouble catching it. The burning bush Moses saw could not have been brighter. Just north of mile 82 a splash of sumac seen in the 6:00 evening sun was otherworldly. Sumacs are show-offs, displaying many hues on one plant;sassafras and sumacs imitate each other in this regard, although they paint their colors on differently –sumacs in bold, Jamaican-looking stripes, sassafras in impressionist dabs. But when you catch sight of them, both shrubs are so unreal they will make you laugh out loud –pop-art of the Skyline Drive roadside. The gold of hickory trees right now is surreal –not a color you expect in nature, except perhaps from sunflowers or marigolds. Poison ivy running up a tree in the south district is shocking yellow-gold, like a sequined boa wrapped full length around a Vegas showgirl.
The view from Brown Mountain Overlook at mile 76.6 is sulky but magnificent. From there you can see the effects of the Rocky Mount Fire of six months ago. Depending on their aspect, some hillsides are dark with scorch, while others boast the reds, golds, greens, and russets of October. Bare rock on the mountaintops there give the whole scene the appearance of a big, scruffy black bear slumbering in a fall forest. Just behind the rock wall at Brown Mountain Overlook orange-red sumacs lit from behind will make you wonder –for a second or two, until you catch your breath –if a new wildfire has just self-ignited. Driving north on Skyline Drive toward Brown Mountain in the 6:20 dying sunset light, the blue-pink sky shimmering with shell-pink and pearl-white clouds, was like driving full tilt into a Maxfield Parrish painting.
So come. Come to Shenandoah National Park and experience the three-ring circus of color that is October in these lovely mountains. There's no time like the present.
For a peek at more fall color photos taken in Shenandoah National Park this past week, check out our new fall color week-by-week Flickr post here:https://www.flickr.com/pho…/snpphotos/sets/72157675507455855
Plan a Shenandoah National Park Fall Getaway:
Last Updated: 10/24/2016
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