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Despite last week's heavy rains, the forest color palette is beginning to change this week in the higher mountain areas. At high elevations in southwest Virginia and along the Blue Ridge Parkway, yellow patches are most obvious, dominated by early sugar maples, hickories, black birch, and yellow-poplar. The upper elevations of Shenandoah Valley are also showing patches of yellow. All over the mountains, reds can be seen in early changers like Virginia creeper, dogwood, and black gum. Check out this under-appreciated species along roadsides, where it can be identified at a distance by its branching pattern, at right angles to the trunk. Meanwhile, shades of green will predominate for awhile in central and eastern Virginia.
In general, trees with greater exposure in any location are among the earliest changers and may even lose their leaves early if the weather is rainy or windy. But don’t worry, the show is just getting started, and there are still billions of leaves left to change! The last few sunny days will be especially helpful in developing the red and orange colors.
The color is coming on in the Park, burning through the rain in fits and starts, like the opening sequence in the TV show Bonanza. In the north district – between the Park entrance in Front Royal, Virginia, to Thornton Gap at route 211 – the leaves are still mostly green. But as you head south toward Thornton Gap you’re going higher elevation wise, and so the color increases, too. (Remember: unlike spring, fall creeps down the mountain.) Larger patches of golden yellows, tangerine oranges, and scarlets greet you as you drive south. In the central portion of the Park – the highest elevations – those M&M colors are even more abundant and dramatic, especially around Skyland and Hawksbill – the Park’s highest peaks. These are hickories and maples, sumac and Virginia creeper. When asked about how Big Meadows’ colors are looking, especially as regards the copious rainfall and ensuing heavy fog, one ranger at Byrd Visitor Center (mile 51 on Skyline Drive, in the Park’s center) responded, “The last time I saw the meadow – which has been a few days ago now – it was very colorful – reddish orange from the blueberry bushes, mostly.” The northern end and toward the meadow’s middle is turning red-orange – like a simmering pot of chili, taking on the hues of the spices that make it come alive with flavor. As you head further south along Skyline Drive, into the southern half of the Park, trees are still green, but they’re tinged ever so slightly with the colors of the season – faint bronzes, russets, and greenish-golds. Read the full report.
Escape, just the two of you, to Virginia's fall splendor.
Take the road less traveled. Enjoy photogenic foliage opportunities, great eats, and other hidden treasures.
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