In search of fall foliage outside of New England
In most parts of the world autumn leaves turn brown and fall off with little, if any, fanfare. But all over the Eastern mountain ranges of the United States -- not just in New England, as New Englanders would have you believe -- leaves turn wonderful mellow colors around October or so. You'd think people would be satisfied with that, but no; there is a snobbery to leaf-peeping. Merely yellow leaves can be found in the East wherever there are deciduous trees; the challenge is to catch the big trophy -- peak season, when entire hillsides turn orange, yellow, purple, and most important of all, red. Appalachian MountainsSkip to next paragraph
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The Appalachian Mountains, a range that angles up from Alabama all the way to the Gasp'e Peninsula in Canada, are known for their colorful autumns. Tom Watson of Winston-Salem, N.C., who hiked the whole Appalachian Trail one fall, says that Vermont might be a little more spectacular than the rest, because it has more deciduous trees -- maples and birches, for instance -- while southern Appalachia has more pines and firs. ``But our trees come out with reds and golds also,'' he says proudly.
The yellow pigment is common because it is present in the leaves all the time; when green chlorophyll is no longer produced, the natural yellow tone asserts itself. The elusive orange, red, and purple colors are created by another pigment, anthocyanin, that is produced only in the fall, particularly when the temperature drops to between 32 and 45 degrees F. The intensity of autumn colors varies from year to year; warm days and cool nights create the most brilliant effects. Great Smoky Mountains National Park
A particularly popular spot for an autumn outing is the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, an international biosphere reserve and home to 130 species of trees. ``You cannot move in this park on October weekends, so I suggest October weekdays,'' says Park Service spokesman Stephanie Gibert.
If you must come here on weekends, you might try the nearby 620,000-acre Cherokee National Forest, which offers brilliant color and smaller crowds. Horseback riding, cycling, and hiking are a few of the ways of seeing the forest; the Smokies can be viewed the same way, but are too hilly for bikes, except in the Cades Cove area.
One special Tennessee foliage event is the Fall Color Cruise and Folk Festival, held near Chattanooga. On Oct. 19-20 and 26-27, excursion boats will take visitors through the Tennessee River's ``Grand Canyon'' to the Shellmound Recreation area; events there include a pickin' and fiddlin' contest, clogging, and sky diving exhibitions. (For more information, call the Chattanooga Convention and Visitors Bureau, 800-322-2244 outside of Tennessee; in Tennessee, 800-338-3999.) Another event of note is the Aut umn Leaf Special (Oct. 12-13, 19, 20), a steam-train ride over the Cumberland Mountains (contact the Tennessee Valley Railroad Museum, Chattanooga, 615-894-8028). A list of events and other information can be obtained from Tennessee Tourist Development, PO Box 23170 Nashville, Tenn. 37202; telephone (615) 741-2158.
Foliage in eastern Tennessee usually turns its most colorful around the second week in October; in Chattanooga the season often goes into November. Shenandoah National Park and Blue Ridge Parkway