In most parts of the world autumn leaves turn brown and fall off with little, if any, fanfare. But all over the Eastern mountain ranges of the United States -- not just in New England, as New Englanders would have you believe -- leaves turn wonderful mellow colors around October or so. You'd think people would be satisfied with that, but no; there is a snobbery to leaf-peeping. Merely yellow leaves can be found in the East wherever there are deciduous trees; the challenge is to catch the big trophy -- peak season, when entire hillsides turn orange, yellow, purple, and most important of all, red. Appalachian Mountains
The Appalachian Mountains, a range that angles up from Alabama all the way to the Gasp'e Peninsula in Canada, are known for their colorful autumns. Tom Watson of Winston-Salem, N.C., who hiked the whole Appalachian Trail one fall, says that Vermont might be a little more spectacular than the rest, because it has more deciduous trees -- maples and birches, for instance -- while southern Appalachia has more pines and firs. ``But our trees come out with reds and golds also,'' he says proudly.
The yellow pigment is common because it is present in the leaves all the time; when green chlorophyll is no longer produced, the natural yellow tone asserts itself. The elusive orange, red, and purple colors are created by another pigment, anthocyanin, that is produced only in the fall, particularly when the temperature drops to between 32 and 45 degrees F. The intensity of autumn colors varies from year to year; warm days and cool nights create the most brilliant effects. Great Smoky Mountains National Park
A particularly popular spot for an autumn outing is the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, an international biosphere reserve and home to 130 species of trees. ``You cannot move in this park on October weekends, so I suggest October weekdays,'' says Park Service spokesman Stephanie Gibert.
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