This report marks the 13th consecutive year of fall leaf color reporting by the Fall Color Guy. I started reporting in 2008 and it is truly remarkable how quickly the years have gone by. I also have been doing this long enough that I can go back and look for patterns in the timing of the fall color peak for each year to see how it has changed over time. I will work up a report on that and post it later this month.
I feel under some obligation to provide some guidance and advice for those of you contemplating coming up to the High Country to do your fall leaf looking, given the situation with the COVID-19 pandemic. One of the nice things about viewing the fall colors is that you do it in the big, wide outdoors. Leaf looking is an activity amenable to social distancing and can be relatively safe if you use some common-sense protocols.
First off, if you are planning to come to the High Country and stay overnight, be sure to book your accommodations early, as in normal times, this is the busiest tourist season. Also, check ahead for which businesses are still open, as some may have closed either temporarily, or sadly, permanently. Make sure your hosts are taking all the necessary precautions to keep you and your family safe and are following recommended CDC guidelines.
Second, take precautions when you are hiking or at scenic overlooks. Trails are narrow and when others are coming from the opposite direction, they will come into close proximity to you. If you can, step aside to let others go by so that you can be a safe distance (~6’) away as they pass. ALWAYS, put on your mask when people pass, even in the great outdoors. Without a mask, scientists have documented that your breath can travel up to 20’ away with virus particles in it. You can remove your mask once the people have passed and are a safe distance away.
When you stop at a viewpoint, keep socially distanced from others. Most scenic overlooks are wide enough that you can be away from others and still get a great view. WEAR YOUR MASK AT SCENIC VIEWPOINTS if others are there, even if they are appropriately distanced, because as I noted above, without it your breath can travel great distances. This means that others could infect you from far away, or, you could infect them. So, don’t be impudent – instead, be socially responsible and keep your breath to yourself. Save others and save yourself so you all can come back and see the colors next year.
Another option is to avoid the crowds. You can do this in several ways. One is to go out very early or later in the afternoon. While young kids (and maybe you too!) may not like to get up early, it is one of the best times to view the leaves, because when the sun is low on the horizon, the colors are brighter and there is better color saturation. Mornings and late afternoons are the best times to take pictures too. The worst time is when the sun is high in the sky around midday, which washes out the colors.
A second option is to go on a weekday instead of on the weekend. For those with kids, that may not be possible. However, if you can, the trails, roadways, and scenic overlooks will be much less crowded.
A third option is to simply avoid the most popular areas and take the roads less traveled, to quote Robert Frost. Country roads that are off the beaten path can bring you to forests with great color. A fourth option is simply to stop at empty scenic overlooks and to bypass the crowded ones. Often the views from the lesser-known overlooks are just as good.
If you take these simple precautions, you can still enjoy this year’s fall color season and ensure that you and your family stay healthy. After being cooped up in our homes for so long I think this fall season, in particular, will bring welcome relief to our boredom and sense of isolation. Perhaps getting back out into nature will help rejuvenate you and your family, and restore a sense of balance and wonder in your lives and remind you of just how beautiful nature can be.
As the folk singer Pete Seeger wrote, and The Byrds sang:
To everything (turn, turn, turn)
There is a season (turn, turn, turn)
And a time to every purpose, under heaven
And here's Pete Seeger singing the original version. He later confessed that he actually like the Byrd's version better.