Eastward Autumn road trip rich with fall colors
By Mary Jane Breitling
My husband and I recently took a road trip to attend his high school class reunion in Virginia Beach and to visit family. We left in mid-October which is a wonderful time to view fall foliage and we were blessed with great weather most of the journey.
Heading east through Minnesota the roadsides were aglow with fiery Sumac. The rolling hills in Wisconsin were just beginning to look like a crazy quilt of color. We turned south in Illinois, however the scenery along this route is not much different than traveling from Fargo to Bismarck.
Once we reached Indiana, we got off the interstate and took some byways. Along the road, the trees were just starting to turn, but it was still very pretty. October is festival month in Indiana. We happened to arrive in Rockville, the center of the Parke County Covered Bridge festival on its first day. For at least twenty miles from there to Indianapolis, small towns and farmsteads held farmers markets and flea markets. There were numerous colorful displays of pumpkins, gourds, mums and cornstalks for sale. While staying in Indianapolis we attended a block festival in an old section of Indy and enjoyed local jazz and rock bands. The tree-lined street was festooned in bright lights and the historic houses had backlit windows illuminating scary scenes. Residents in costumes wove in and out of the crowds.
We kept to the back roads from Indiana to Ohio enjoying picturesque wooded areas interspersed with corn fields at least as high as an elephants eye. Crossing the Ohio River and heading south, we entered the blue grass state of Kentucky. The area was rolling pastureland featuring white horse fences around Lexington where we turned east. As we gradually drove into beautiful Daniel Boone National Forest in the Appalachian foothills, the foliage became more colorful probably because we were getting up in elevation. Most of the trees in this southern forest are deciduous, with few conifers, so red, green, gold, yellow and rust were in abundance.
We followed along the Kanawha River valley near Charleston, West Virginia and even though it is very industrialized, there is still much beauty. The road abuts tall rock walls dripping with colorful vines. The nuisance vine Kudzu was much in display clamoring over anything in its path and forming strange unworldly shapes. West Virginia is the mountain state and the road becomes more steep and winding changing into the most beautiful and colorful area so far. As we drove along Paint Creek, it was easy to see how it got its name. The mountainsides looked like a mad painter splashed color all over them.
Taking Highway 77 through Jefferson National Forest in western Virginia more evergreens are in the forest mix. The fall colors are muted but the drive was still beautiful. Once we reached Roanoke, VA, we were in the Blue Ridge Mountains, some of the most scenic so far. We dubbed Highway 58 or Jeb Stuart Highway, ’church lane’ because there was one steeple after another. The interstate through eastern Virginia took us through solid walls of evergreen trees until we arrived in the Chesapeake Bay area.
The weather continued to be nice at Virginia Beach so we could enjoy walks along the beach itself. The most fall color here was at a huge farmers market. As we left Virginia Beach, we took a road past swampy areas (Dismal Swamp), white cotton fields and freshly harvested peanut fields.
Virginia is home to a multitude of historical sites and being history buffs we always visit at least one whenever we are there. Our route took us by the village of Appomattox Court House, so we made a stop at this national park where Lee surrendered to Grant to begin the end of the Civil War.
Next, we drove about 100 miles along the Blue Ridge Parkway where you can see blue cast mountain vistas sometimes on both sides of the road at once. In between outlooks, we drove underneath canopies of trees set aglow with sunshine. Once we descended we drove through the famous Shenandoah Valley with the mountains off to the sides.
We made our way west on Highway 68 through the Alleghenies in Western Maryland, Pennsylvania and West Virginia which provided the most beautiful scenery yet. This national highway was begun by President Jefferson in the early 1800’s to forge a way to Ohio and he almost lost his presidency over the project.
Wisconsin on our way back was very colorful, especially around the Dells area. I can’t pretend to know what the trees were, but I know that Red oak, Birch and some Maples were in the mix and the roadsides had patches of bright yellow grasses next to maroon sumac patches. We drove across the Mississippi at La Crosse and enjoyed the bluffs along the river that were covered in color.
There is no need to take a 4000 mile round trip to enjoy fall foliage. There is plenty of color to see on a trip to Minneapolis or just right next door to Maplewood State Park. We met a couple of ’leaf peepers’ at Appomattox who were heading south from Vermont. They said the colors were more brilliant in the New England States and some day I would like to take that trip.