Today I traveled on the Blue Ridge Parkway from the Bamboo Road intersection just north of Blowing Rock, all the way to the Lump Rock Overlook in Ashe County, about 20 miles north of where it crosses US 421. It is at this overlook where you can read the story of Tom Dula, who was hanged in 1868 for killing Laura Foster two years earlier and who was from nearby Wilkes County. It has been said that he was innocent of the murder, and so there is some controversy about what really happened back then. The Kingston Trio made this episode famous with their 1958 song “Hang Down Your Head Tom Dooley”, changing the spelling of the name of the doomed man, although Dula was pronounced “dooley” in those day. Their song was derived from a North Carolina folk song about the murder, but the Trio didn’t credit a Frank Warner, an early singer of the song and who had rights to it, and thus, had to pay his estate royalties from their recording.
This is a less traveled section of the Parkway, but it has several prominent overlooks and the popular Cascades Picnic area is just a few miles north of US 421. You can have a nice picnic lunch there on either the grass or using one of the many picnic tables there. Once you’re done lunch, take the approximately 1 mile loop trail to see Laurel Falls, where it cascades steeply downslope. This is a very popular location, and today the parking lot was nearly full, so if you want to avoid crowds, go early in the day, or during the week instead of on the weekend. The portion of the trail going to the falls overlooks are very narrow and steep (with rock steps), so there is no way to be socially distanced on this portion of the trail, so be aware of that.
Forests are still 100% green, although you can see the beginnings of fall creeping on to the landscape. Dogwood leaves are turning a dull burgundy red at this time, and later in the season will take a on a slightly brighter hue. Some red maples are beginning to drop a few leaves, mostly those with bacterial infections (see photos attached). These diseased leaves are of little benefit to the tree, so it drops them early. I saw the same thing with black gum leaves although it’s not as clear whether they were diseased or not. These leaf drops were infrequent and the rest of the trees were lush and green today.
There is still a lot of color to see from the end-of-year wildflower displays. In bloom now are several species of goldenrods, both along the roadsides and beneath the trees along foot trails, Joe-Pye Weed, White Snakeroot, Elderberry, Oxalis, Chickory, Ironweed, and many others all blooming now. And because it has been relatively wet up here this past month, there are lots of mushrooms popping out of the ground, some of which get 6”-8” across and range in color from pure white, to brown, to orange, to a brilliant red! Warning: unless you are a skilled mycologist (someone who studies fungi) do NOT ever eat a mushroom out in the wild – some are extremely deadly and if you ingest them, there is no antidote, just a painful death. So to be safe, get your mushrooms from the grocery store.
The weather over the next four weeks will determine both the timing and quality of this year’s fall leaf color display. If it begins to cool off, especially at night, and stays mostly sunny, we should expect an excellent display of colors, particularly among those trees that turn red, such as red maple, red oak, sourwood, and black gum. If it is unusually warm, and again, if that warming occurs at night, then the peak time for red leafed species will be delayed and they will be duller than normal.
The long-range 30 day forecast from NOAA is very problematic – they predict an equal chance of it being either cooler or warmer than normal, although not by much. Precipitation is not supposed to be near normal too. If these predictions hold up, then we could be back to a normal timing for peak leaf color of between Oct 12-18th in the High Country (Ashe County to Boone, to Blowing Rock to Grandfather Mt and points south) at elevations 3,000’ to 4,500’. It will peak a week or two earlier at the highest elevations, while for every 1,000’ below Boone-Blowing Rock, leaves will peak 7-10 days later.
But all of this depends on the weather and meteorologists will tell you that no weather prediction is very accurate after 5-7 days, so predicting the entire month of September from the end of August could be thought of as an exercise in futility. Nonetheless, NOAA long-range predictions are often “generally” correct, so I’m going with them for the moment.
Again, take proper precautions when viewing the leaves: if you’re hiking on a trail, respect others and cover your face with a mask when passing people going the other way, or if you overtake people on the trail going in the same direction. Covering your face protects your fellow nature lovers from getting infected from you, while their masks reduce your risk of getting infected from them. Don’t congregate in large crowds at the overlooks – spread yourselves out.
And most importantly – don’t discard your facemasks on the ground along the Blue Ridge Parkway, or for that matter, anywhere. Throw it in a trash bin, or take it home with you and dispose of later. Facemask trash is now becoming a major environmental problem and you can do your part by not throwing used masks carelessly on the ground. Again, think of what others will experience if they encounter your trash and take personal responsibility to keep our outdoors as clean and beautiful as possible.
Next weekend I will be in Georgia celebrating my son’s birthday and seeing he and his wife’s new house for the first time (they got married in July!). Looking forward to seeing them and their new home, and of course, as I drop off the mountain on my way to Hotlanta, I’ll be looking at the conditions of all the trees on my way there. As always if you have a question, send it to my fall color site, and I’ll try to answer it as quickly as possible.
To see my posted photos, please go to this link:
Hasta la vista!