Kathryn Joines comes at the yearly leaf-watching fascination with a history, and a knowledge possessed by those who have spent a lifetime in the N.C. mountains.
So when Joines says the fall finery will peak this weekend, you better pay attention.
She's experiencing her 82nd October, the last 57 of them serving customers – and looking out the window – at the Bluffs Coffee Shop on the Blue Ridge Parkway at milepost 241, northeast of Boone.
“It's hard to remember a year when the leaves have been prettier,” she said Tuesday, taking a break before the dinner rush of leaf gawkers. “The dark maroons are magnificent; the yellows are so vibrant.
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“There's still a little green out there. But it'll be peaking by this weekend.”
October is easily the Bluffs' busiest month, drawing as many customers as in all of July and August.
Seven days a week, it fills up for breakfast and refills for lunch and dinner with mostly leaf watchers who drive up and down the parkway to witness nature's yearly tapestry – when green surrenders to yellows and oranges and reds and golds.
“We see the same people coming through here year after year,” she said. “That's why I keep working. I like seeing them.”
It's that way farther south at the Grandfather Mountain Campground near Banner Elk.
All 75 campsites – tents and RVs – are full the whole month, said Carla Wooten, who works in the campground office.
“When people check out, they'll book October 2009,” she said. “The changing leaves are that important to them.”
Wooten grew up in Banner Elk and has witnessed 28 Octobers. She describes this year's leaves as “a bowl of Fruity Pebbles (cereal).”
The maples are really red, Bradford pears purple and sweetgums yellow and gold. Rain from Tropical Storm Fay in September is credited for the vibrant colors.
“When you live up here this long, you tend to take things for granted – but I still find myself stopping and looking at the leaves and thinking: ‘Wow, they really are beautiful,'” Wooten said. “I think the colors are more vivid this year than I've seen in previous ones.”
At the campground, peak is still a few days away. But 5,946 feet up on Grandfather Mountain, the trees can't squeeze out any more color, said spokeswoman Landis Wofford.
Rain is forecast for Friday into Saturday morning, but “I think the colors will hang around for the weekend,” Wofford said. So as it is most October weekends, the parkway will be bumper to bumper.
“Once again, it's been a really great fall for colors.”