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"“There is a harmony in autumn and a luster in its sky…”"
This all might sound a bit lofty, yes. But if you come to Shenandoah National Park anytime in the next week, you might be surprised by how the colors of fall in the Blue Ridge help bring a sense of accord – with nature, with the world, with yourself. Gazing out onto hillsides coated in the splendid golds, oranges, and scarlets of autumn is good for the blood pressure, a great stress reliever, a bringer of peace of mind.
Although it might seem like an easy thing to do, predicting a fall color peak is almost impossible – at least it’s impossible to do expertly or well. Colors peak in different places – different elevations, different temperatures, different forest types – at different times. When the color is at peak at mile 42 along Skyline Drive, around Stony Man, it might still be very green at mile 10, at Compton Gap. A hillside that faces north, like the one you can see from Eaton Hollow Overlook at mile 70.3, can still be vivid green, even as the southwest-facing hillside directly across from it is flocked with the colors of a Thanksgiving Day buffet table. The color at Hawksbill, in the park’s highest elevation, will peak long before that at Low Gap in the north district. Like meringue swirled and spun with a pie-maker’s spatula and popped into a blazing hot oven, high points color first.
That being said, if there is one week to come to Shenandoah to absorb the de-stressing benefits of fall, it is this week. You’re likely to see the widest range of color in these mountains between Front Royal and Waynesboro if you plan to arrive in the park sometime between now and next weekend. While there’s still a surfeit of green in the leaves in the lower elevations, in many parts of Shenandoah green is just a backdrop for the speckles of pumpkin oranges, carnelians, wines, and almost metallic golds and bronzes of maples, Virginia creeper, hickories, and ashes. Sumacs are still surprising with their chameleon Day-Glo tones of shocking orange, chartreuse, and pomegranate red. Sassafras’s mitten-shaped leaves seem to wave at you, in candy store shades – butterscotch, Fireball, lime, and tangerine. In places where the leaves have already started to waft ground-ward, a lone maple the color of a Tahiti sunset startles you awake. The views from Skyline Drive’s overlooks are heart-stopping magnificent. Prepare to be surprised!
This fall color report will be updated on Friday, October 24, 2014. Check back then to see how the color is progressing.
*Shenandoah staff will post a weekly fall color update each Friday through October. Reports are based on the writer's observations during the preceding week. Please keep in mind that the park is more than 100 miles long and spans a wide elevation range. Fall color conditions can vary dramatically from area to area. Weather affects the color from day to day and even hour to hour. It is impossible to predict a peak. We will do our best to give accurate reports, but please remember that many variables contribute to conditions.
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