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First leaf colors appear in N.C. mountains

  • http://media.charlotteobserver.com/smedia/2013/09/27/18/42/JYdqm.Em.138.jpeg|210
    JEFF WILLHELM - jwillhelm@charlotteobserver.com
    A branch of maple leaves are an indication that autumn is near. A wet summer and slowly cooling August and September lead some to predict this fall will be spectacular, but only Mother Nature knows for sure.
  • http://media.charlotteobserver.com/smedia/2013/09/27/18/42/FR6Fc.Em.138.jpeg|487
    JEFF WILLHELM - jwillhelm@charlotteobserver.com
    Late summer wildflowers and golden leaves announce the approach of autumn near Elk Knob State Park in Ashe County on Wednesday.

Like clockwork, autumn colors are starting to appear on trees in North Carolina’s highest elevations.

Travel officials expect this weekend to launch the leaf-viewing season in the high country, and the color show should be visible in some part of the Carolinas for the next seven weeks.

Howie Neufeld, the Appalachian State University biology professor known for his weekly leaf reports, says anyone headed to the mountains this weekend should consider the area near Mount Jefferson State Nature Area in Ashe County.

Officials in the Asheville area say spotty color is visible in the higher elevations, and they say the leaves are accompanied by some late-summer wildflowers.

North Carolina tourism officials say it’s still a bit early for peak colors, but they say you’ll even find some leaves changing colors in relatively lower elevations like Gaston County’s Crowders Mountain.

And on the Blue Ridge Parkway, the best viewing is in Virginia and in higher elevations like Graveyard Fields and Craggy Gardens.

Here is this week’s report:

• Northwest N.C. mountains: Peak colors are reported in the higher elevations along the Blue Ridge Parkway, such as Craggy Gardens and Graveyard Fields. Also check out Bass Lake, near the Moses Cone Manor House (mileposts 297-299 and 301-305).

Also consider driving south on N.C. 194, from near West Jefferson to Todd. In the Boone area, good color is expected by late next week above 3,500 feet.

• Western N.C. mountains: Appalachian State’s Howie Neufeld recommends Satulah Mountain, along U.S. 64 near Highlands.

• Foothills: Not much color is visible so far. Along the New River, the dogwoods (red) and tulip poplars (purple) are starting to change. Some scattered color is visible north of Winston-Salem at Pilot Mountain and Stone Mountain state parks.

Northeast of Charlotte, it’s still far too early in the Uwharrie Forest and at Morrow Mountain State Park.

• Piedmont: Some spotty colors visible in Crowders Mountain area of Gaston County.

• Other states: Virginia is the place to be. One recommended area is Peaks of Otter, south of Interstate 81 near Buchanan, Va. Black cherry, black gum, dogwood, mountain ash, sourwood and white ash are producing vivid colors.

It’s too early for peak colors in Tennessee, South Carolina and Georgia.

Steve Lyttle: 704-358-6107 Twitter: @slyttle
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