US (10/15/13) - Jaunts to view fall foliage are popular excursions come autumn. The vivid color on display in forests and parks is simply too much for many motorists to resist.
Though nature's beauty is often on display regardless of geography, some locales tend to boast more beauteous backdrops and picturesque landscapes than others. The key is to visit during peak viewing times.
Leaves begin to change earlier in the northernmost latitudes. For example, much of Canada and portions of the northern United States begin to witness changes in foliage in late September, whereas regions further south must wait until October to see those changes. Mid-October is when peak times are most prevalent for the greatest portion of the United States. Travelers in North Dakota and Wyoming can view fall foliage at this time. Autumn coloring persists until late October and early November in certain areas, including the southeastern and central regions of the United States.
When planning a road trip to see fall foliage, pay attention to local weather and foliage reports. Remember, road trips are quite popular this time of year, and municipal parks may be quite crowded on the weekends. If you can spare time off during the week, it may work to your advantage to cruise around when traffic is less congested. Bring along maps or a GPS system so that you can travel to multiple areas.
Autumn leaves can be enjoyed from a car, but they are equally enjoyable when experienced on a hiking trip. Pack a bagged lunch and picnic in a quiet spot, and you're bound to spot squirrels and other wildlife gathering up food reserves in preparation for the winter weather.
While the foliage is impressive enough on its own, the science behind this awesome display of color is something to behold as well. During the spring and summer, leaves produce most of the food necessary for the tree's growth. Cells inside of the leaves contain chlorophyll, which absorbs sunlight, turning it into sugars and starch that the tree uses for food. In addition to green chlorophyll, other pigments specific to the types of trees are present. These pigments are generally masked by the large amount of chlorophyll present during warm weather.
When autumn arrives, changes in the duration of sunlight result in the gradual decrease of chlorophyll and the breakdown of residual chlorophyll in the leaves as the trees prepare to stop food production for the cold hibernation. Other chemical changes take place as the leaves prepare for winter, and these mix with chlorophyll residue to produce various shades of colors. Weather, light and water supply will influence the shades of colors as well. Rainy weather makes them more vivid.
While the colors are appearing, a special layer of cells develops, and this layer gradually severs the tissues of the leaf from the branches before the leaves fall to the ground.
The best days to see leaves are those days that are cool and dry. Leaves that fall on roadways and are dampened by rain can be very slippery, so it is important to exercise caution while driving.
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