Fall Color Report for the Week of Oct 1, 2023
This week I traveled to Roan Mountain on the NC/TN border along with a colleague from the Chemistry Department at Appstate, Eduardo de Campos, who hails from Brazil. This was his first foray to the mountain and also to the Blue Ridge Parkway. Go to the Fall Color Guy page to see explanations of the photos in the folder posted here.
Roan is an easy drive from Linville, NC (about 35 minutes) and about 1 hour from Boone. Just head into TN from Elk Park, NC on US 19E, turn left at the sign for Roan Mountain State Park, and 10 miles or so later you’ll get to Carver’s Gap at the top. There is parking at the Gap and a rest room. Begin your hike by heading north on the Appalachian Trail (on your left as you come up the mountain).
The best hike is to head out for about two miles, going past Jane Bald and heading up the tall mountain past that point to the monument on the rock. From there you can see Grandfather Mountain and the Linville Gorge Wilderness area, and to your right Mt. Mitchell. Not too hard a hike, although there are significant portions with a lot of uphill climbing, and it is rocky in parts. But well worth it!
I’m happy to report that above 4,000’ elevation colors are coming along nicely. Based on the amount of color that I saw here and along the Blue Ridge Parkway (which we took on the way home), forests are about 25% colored up now, with a few places more than a third colored. Next weekend should be great for foliage viewing and even the next week after that.
The weather has warmed up this week, but because the skies are clear, temperatures drop significantly at night. But the forecast is calling for a significant decrease in temperature by the second week in October, with highs in the 50s and 60s, which means 40s and 50s at the higher elevations. as a major cold front moves in. Temperatures could drop into the 30s at night. That will speed up the development of color and so far, we are still looking at a fall color season that is on time. It may also be a vibrant one too, since the conditions for good color are present this fall.
This is THE year of the Mt. Ash (Sorbus americana). Roan has an abundance of this species and all the trees this year are fruiting profusely (a mast year). The berries are a bright red that is stunning when viewed against a deep blue sky. I have posted lots of photos of this species here because I like this tree, so pardon my bias! Other woody species that are turning color are mountain maple (yellow/orange; Acer spicatum), birch (Betula alleghaniensis, turning yellow), and blueberries/huckleberries (Vaccinum sp.; red) and blackberry (Rubus allegheniensis and/or Rubus canadensis), a deep purple.
Roan is also a “bald”, that is, a large portion of the summit has no trees, even though it looks like they could grow there. Why there are no trees is still a matter of debate, but hypotheses include burning by Native Americans to attract deer for easier hunting, lasting effects from settlers grazing cattle, lightning, or perhaps grazing by Pleistocene mammals that no longer exist now. The matter is still being debated.
Roan is also known for its rare and endangered plant species. “There are more rare and endangered species found on Roan Mountain Massif than any other location in the Southern Appalachian Mountains,” said Paul Bradley, district ranger of the USDA Forest Service, the agency responsible for managing Roan Mountain (see more about this at https://greensboro.com/roan-mountain-bald-can-be-beautiful/article_6839afc3-f6e4-559f-b59e-48134be59832.html).
The drive up to Roan from the small town of Roan Mountain takes you from about 2000’ elevation to nearly 5,512’ elevation at Carver’s Gap. As you exit Roan Mt. State Park, which you drive through on the way up to the top, you will see fall colors become showier with increases in elevation. There are several turn-offs where you can get great views into TN of the fall colors. Colors should peak between next weekend and the one following.
Once you are on the Appalachian Trail you can view fall colors at the lower elevations in both TN and NC, depending on which way you are facing. Be aware that the weather can change quickly in this exposed high elevation habitat, and you should be prepared by taking warm clothes that you can layer on or off if you get warm or cold (like when the sun is hidden by clouds). You should also take along rain gear, as storms can come up quickly and without proper clothing you can quickly get hypothermia. If there is a thunderstorm in the area (somewhat rare in the fall, but not totally absent), you should head down off the mountain to be safe. Lastly, there are bear up at Roan, so I recommend hiking with someone to be safe.
After Roan, we headed to Newland and then Linville, where we got on the Parkway and went south about ½ mile to the Flat Rock Overlook Trail. This is an easy 1-mile loop trail with views to the west and north (of Grandfather Mt). It also has a lot of interesting plants, including the Table Mt. Pine (Pinus pungens) and Carolina Hemlock (Tsuga caroliniana), both of which are endemic to the Southern Appalachians.
Then we drove north on the Blue Ridge Parkway, went across the amazing Linn Cove Viaduct, onour way to Price Lake. At Price Lake you can take an easy 2-mile hike around the lake. Our last stop was at the Cone Manor before heading home.
Next week I’ll be going to Grandfather Mountain and surrounding environs to check things out. If you get out and do some leaf looking in areas I haven’t been to yet, don’t hesitate to let me know how the colors are doing (send photos!). In conclusion, color is picking up at the higher elevations, is noticeable down to 3,000’, and should get better by next weekend and the weekend after that. Ciao!