It seems like colors popped on the mountains almost overnight last Thursday or Friday. It went from a spot of color here and there to a mix of yellows, reds and oranges splashing down the mountainsides. I think those few nights with temperatures in the low 40s helped. Cold temperatures help trap anthocyanin — the pigment responsible for the red in much of our fall foliage — in the leaves.
And now, just as the color parade is getting underway, comes two of leaf season’s biggest enemies — rain and wind. But, as I have preached in this column before, this October is going to be the best leaf season we’re going to have this year. And don’t be afraid to get out on those drizzly, overcast days.
While we all revel in those bluebird autumn days when we can see multi-colored ridge after multi-colored ridge stretching to the horizon like a rumpled patchwork quilt, clouds and fog can produce their own striking effects.
If you’re a shutterbug hoping to capture some of autumn’s rich color for posterity, you are probably already a fan of cloud cover. Those bluebird days are great for looking at but often they don’t translate well in photos. Bright sunlight tends to wash out highlights created by subtle shifts in hues and/or tones. Plus shadows are hard to escape.
Overcast skies produce a more diffuse, balanced light. They eliminate shadows and reflections and let the true colors speak for themselves. And if you have the talent (I wish I did) and fog is swirling, then you can get really creative.
But you can’t see and/or photograph anything if you don’t get out and look. Here are one of my favorite autumn drives:
Take U.S. 276 from Waynesville, to Bethel and pick up N.C. 215. Drive N.C. 215 through Shining Rock Wilderness and across the Blue Ridge Parkway. After the Parkway, N.C. 215 is a windy, high-elevation drive until it starts to fall down toward Rosman and U.S. 64. From N.C. 215, you get a good view of Roy Taylor Forest to the southwest.
At Rosman, take U.S. 64 West through Sapphire Valley to Cashiers and on to Highlands. You will be immersed in color. Continue on U.S. 64 West from Highlands through the Cullasaja Gorge to Franklin. The gorge provides spectacular scenery.
In Franklin, pickup U.S. 441 North to Dillsboro. The drive out of Franklin may start out a little boring, but the Cowee Mountains are sure to spice it up.
At Dillsboro, you will pickup U.S. 23/74 East back to Waynesville. If you drive this road often you may not pay a lot of attention. But coming from Sylva, the Balsam Mountains provide outstanding vistas during peak color.