Monday, October 18, 2010


Listen... do your hear that? It's the sound of falling leaves, which means only one thing to me: fall foliage road trip! Yeah, I pay some neighborhood kid to rake my lawn and hit the road for this annual display of color, compliments of Mother Nature. Hey, do you know why leaves change their color in the fall? Me neither, but I think it's a reminder to stop putting off mowing the grass and start putting off cleaning out the gutters. Regardless, I did learn recently where the colors come from. Those brilliant reds, oranges, and yellows are actually present in the leaves all year long. That's right, the carotenoids in leaves are responsible for yellows, oranges, and browns; while anthocyanins provide the reds and purples. But the chlorophyll used in photosynthesis by leaf-bearing trees has a dominant green pigment to it, obscuring the others. As the nights grow longer and cooler, chlorophyll production slows and the hidden colors are revealed; sort of like watching my summer tan fade away, sans the love handles and back hair. That's probably more than you needed to know.

Anyway, I've got a route I like to take each year to maximize the amount of color I can see, and great towns and villages I can visit. I start way up north in New England and finish up in the Great Smokey Mountains of Tennessee. Along the way I like to rent timeshares at some great resorts, and catch a bit of the local flavor along the way. For example, from Bangor, ME, to Boston, MA, the fall colors are at or near their peak right now. I like The Falls at Ogunquit in Maine and Marriott's Custom House in Beantown. You can still enjoy a great bowl of chowdah and, unlike most of the 20th century, the Red Sox might still be playing baseball. And while it is wicked ha'd to pa'k your ca' in New England during the summer, the crowds have largely dispersed by the time the frost forms on the pumpkins.

Then I like shoot across Connecticut, catching more color and great antiquing along the way, and head into the Catskills region of New York. Villa Roma Resort Lodges in Callicoon provides a front row seat for some of the best "leaf-peeping" as they like to call it here. You are only about two hours from NYC if you want to do some "people-peeping" as well. Just watch out for the Naked Cowboy in Gotham, and don't get caught by the headless horseman as you make your way through the village of Sleepy Hollow.

Next up I like to head south through the Delaware Valley, which separates New Jersey from Pennsylvania, and stop at Ridge Top Village at Shawnee Resort. I always encounter intense colors in this stretch of the Appalachian spine, and not just from the fall leaves. The Crayola crayon factory is located in nearby Easton, PA, and is part of my annual pilgrimage. There is nothing quite like the smell of a new box of crayons wafting upon the crisp fall air.

Finally, I cross the Mason-Dixon line to hit the Massanutten area of Virginia, and on down to the greater Gatlinburg region of the Volunteer State of Tennessee. Eagle Trace at Massanutten puts you in the heart of Virginia's Shenandoah Valley. When you are not being bowled over by the reds and oranges of the Appalachian hardwoods, you can take in some of the blue and gray. There are fourteen civil war battlefields in the region, which saw action in Stonewall Jackson's Valley Campaign of 1862. You can visit Jackson's home in the beautiful town of Lexington, VA, about an hour away, and even visit his gravesite. Oddly, his left arm, which had to be amputated prior to his death, is buried about two hours away in Orange County, VA. So if you are a real Stonewall Jackson nut, you might want to plan an extra trip for that. The Westgate Smoky Mountain Resort provides my final abode in Gatlinburg, TN. Nestled in this quiet hillside community, I can't think of any better place to wrap up a fall foliage trip; except perhaps a trip over to Dollywood in nearby Pigeon Forge. That's right, Dolly Parton's got her own theme park in the town of her birth. So if you've got a hankerin' for some good old country music, spandex, and rhinestones, head on over. You'll be glad you did.

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