Jeepers, Creepers — Here come the Leaf Peepers
Welcome to October — the month Haywood and surrounding counties welcome throngs of visitors each year — all in search of good fall color. We call them “leaf peepers.”
But before I wax eloquent about those who love all-thing-autumnal, I want to take a moment of silence.
It appears that the hummingbirds who dodged and darted, hummed and hunted, chirped and chortled, descended from the tree line and delighted us all summer long — have left us.
They typically begin their southern migration around the first week of October every year, and by the look of the females at our feeders at the end of September — they were bulked-up for the long journey.
They set out a little earlier this year — maybe they sensed the approach of Hurricane Matthew. As I write this, we have several friends and family in harm’s way as Matthew swipes coastal areas of Florida, Georgia and South Carolina. We hope that they fare well.
As for the hummingbirds en-route, their survival instinct should keep them safe. Never-the-less, we’ll miss you, little hummers. Hasta luego.
Meanwhile, back in WNC, deck sitting has taken on a new dimension — watching the leaves turn color and beginning their own, shorter migration — from green — to yellow, orange and red.
The color has started in the high elevations right now, and “leaf peepers” — both residents and tourists — are in for a good show.
One of our favorite fall color vantage points is Graveyard Fields (Blue Ridge Parkway milepost 418.8.) From the outlook, you can see a vast panorama of fall color. Hikers can make a 4-mile loop past two beautiful waterfalls.
The only catch with Graveyard Fields is that it is very popular. Even with an expanded parking area, you may have to hunt for a parking space.
Not too far from Graveyard Fields is another popular outlook — Devil’s Courthouse (Blue Ridge Parkway Milepost 422.4.) Here you’ll find good fall color and an opportunity to have a birds-eye view from the peak. It’s a strenuous half-mile hike/climb, but the view from the top is spectacular.
A popular place to hang-out after Devil’s Courthouse is the Pisgah Inn (Blue Ride Parkway Milepost 408.6.) where you can relax, enjoy a good meal or just enjoy the mile-high view. It gets crowded, so expect a wait — or better yet, go during off hours.
These three Blue Ridge Parkway gems make for a great day of “Leaf Peeping.”
Another B.R.P. great vantage point is Mount Mitchell (Blue Ridge Parkway Milepost 355.) Mount Mitchell is the highest peak east of the Mississippi River — 6,684 feet — which makes it perfect for fall color. It’s just a short drive on the parkway from Asheville, and along the way you can take a break at Craggy Gardens (Blue Ridge Parkway Milepost 364), recognized by North Carolina as a Natural Heritage Area.
A few years ago, we were fortunate to pass through Craggy Gardens when it was fully adorned with a frosting of rime ice. It was a fairy tale scene like nothing we had ever experienced. It was cold, but is among the most spectacular looks at nature I have ever experienced.
Both my wife, Carol and I took several photographs, but none could capture the remarkable beauty of that day. BTW, you can view many of those photos online — Just Google “Craggy Gardens rime ice.”
For another great vantage point for early fall “leaf peeping,” head to the Great Smoky Mountains National Park and visit Clingman’s Dome. At 6,643 feet, it is the highest point in GSMNP, and provides breathtaking views all year long.
Finally, here’s one more recommendation for great fall color, panoramic scenic overlooks and picnic opportunities — The Foothills Parkway in Tennessee. It’s just a short drive on I-40 West, just across the state line.
Take exit 443, in Cocke County, and prepare for six miles of spectacular views from Tennessee’s lower mountain vistas across the face of Great Smoky Mountains National Park. Trust me, it’s worth the drive.
We are so blessed with natural beauty throughout Western North Carolina. Take the time to break away from the football games, get out into nature and enjoy the Awwwwww-some fall color.
Happy “Leaf Peeping.”