In Sacramento, where I grew up, we would have the occasional colorful tree in the fall, but there weren’t any really impressive displays of fall color, at least not that I remember. It wasn’t until I was away at grad school, in Ithaca, NY, that I was in an area that could have really impressive displays. I also learned that the peak of fall color really lasts two weeks or so: there must be a mad dash among professional photographers who want to use beautiful fall color as a backdrop. We have this image of the canonical fall day: crisp air, blue sky, reds and oranges and yellows in the trees, but in reality we only get a handful of these days, not a whole season.
There are, for the fall foliage seeker, plenty of online guides: Maine, New Hampshire, Vermont, New York, Pennsylvania, and Virginia all have guides. The Foliage Network maps out reports from a network of 500 correspondents, and Yankee Foliage does the same for New England.1
There is a whole bunch of data out there, somewhere,2 which could probably answer the questions that came to my mind as I was thinking about fall foliage today:
- How much variation is there, geographically and year-to-year, in the duration of the peak color period?
- How fast does the peak color “front” move? Could you hike along with it?
- What is the longest hike you could plan that would keep you in peak color the whole time? Could you stay in peak color along, say, the Appalachian Trail?
- What sort of bike ride could you plan, to stay in peak fall color the whole time?
- Although the timing of the arrival of fall color shifts around from year to year, does all of the Northeast experience the same shift? Could one use the arrival of peak color in northern Maine to predict the arrival of peak color in central Pennsylvania?
And of course the big question, will I see any fall foliage this year?