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Bill Leslie's Carolina Conversations

Kiss of Autumn

Posted September 22, 2009 10:37 a.m. EDT
Updated September 22, 2009 10:42 a.m. EDT

It is the kiss of autumn. Day one and I’m already chomping at the bit. I can’t wait to head for the hills and celebrate the fabulous fall colors of North Carolina. With all the rain we’ve had out west some of the biological experts say we may not have as great a display of foliage this year as we enjoyed in 2008. I am always skeptical of those forecasts. I’ve always been able to find some wonderful colors. North Carolina has such a rich diversity of hardwoods that you can savor the transformation of summer to fall over several weeks as the colors work their way down the mountains. I fully anticipate great colors next week when I visit the Roan Highlands including Big Yellow Mountain at 5,540 feet. Already around here we see the dogwood leaves turning.

I interviewed Dodie Stephens of the Asheville Convention & Visitors Bureau this morning and she anticipates another grand display of colors this fall. With the economy on the rebound many hotels, B&Bs, resorts and restaurants are hoping for a thick flock of fall tourists.

My father described the mountains this time of year as “a Persian rug of colors” and delighted in multiple car trips and vigorous hikes. He never grew tired of watching the hardwood trees change into their vibrant autumnal wardrobe. However, he worried that NC natives might take the beauty for granted: “Those of us whose happy fate it is to live in this section are apt to become tepid in our appreciation and enjoyment of the beauties of nature that surround us.” My father was an artist, newspaper columnist and Morganton merchant. His watercolor “Pageant of Color” is attached to this blog. You can read more about his work and love of the mountains in my book Blue Ridge Reunion.

People frequently ask me to recommend fall color routes. I’ve come up with five new ones this year. What about you? What are your favorite autumn roads? Please share.

Here are my Top Five Fall Foliage Drives for 2009:

1. Waterfall Byway from US 64 and NC 215 intersection near Rosman to Murphy. You will encounter 98 miles of grand views of waterfalls and autumn leaves.

2. Blue Ridge Parkway from Blowing Rock to Grandfather Mountain.

3. Cherohala Skyway outside Robbinsville.

4. Flat Rock Scenic Byway near Hendersonville.

5. Highway 9 from Montreat through Black Mountain onto Chimney Rock and Lake Lure.