By Kim O’Hare
There aren’t many tourist spectacles in the world that are free. Whether it’s waterfalls, ancient artifacts or Roman ruins, someone has usually found a way to separate tourists from their travellers’ cheques.
But those visiting North America in the autumn are able to witness a symphony of colour, free of charge, as trees change colour in preparation of winter. Smaller towns often stage fall colour festivals and tour companies offer sightseeing trips but when all is said and done, you can plan your own fall colour tour without having to pay anyone.
As an added bonus, many of the best areas for viewing falls colours are relatively close to major urban areas in the Northeastern United States and Eastern Canada. A short drive in the country will land you smack in the middle of nature’s kaleidoscope.
Because the fall colours follow nature’s calendar, as opposed to the schedule created by your travel agent, conditions can be somewhat unpredictable. Temperature, precipitation, wind and other variables all affect the rate of colour change and ultimately determine when the show is over for the year.
Fortunately, it is easy to get up-to-the-minute status reports on specific viewing areas through a couple of handy websites.
The US Department of Agriculture Forest Service at
http://www.fs.fed.us/r9/conditions/fall_color/report/ updates its site regularly and there’s a handy drop down menu which will provide a report on any one of several specific areas.
Generally the states in the north east - Vermont, New Hampshire, Massachusetts, Maine and Pennsylvania - are among the best.
If you are heading for Canada, the Ontario travel centre provides twice a week updates at http://www.ontariotravel.net/publications/fallcolourreport.pdf . Another handy Canadian site is provided by the Weather Network http://www.theweathernetwork.com/features/fallcolour/pages/ON.htm
So what are you actually looking at when you see fall colours? Well, it’s a sad story really - you are witnessing the slow death of the leaves due to the decay of chlorophyll, the stuff that made the leaves appear green in the first place. The leaves are dying. The exact colour and vibrancy that develop are influenced by plant genetics and the environment.
A final note of caution, at the same time that the leaves are changing there is another fall ritual taking place - hunting season.
Find out from local residents if it is hunting season and make sure you are not planning your walk in a shooting range. It’s a good idea to wear bright fluorescent clothes. It’s always amazing how many people are killed or injured each year by hunters who shoot first then ask questions later.
Besides, Dick Cheney might be in the area…