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March 21st; Maples Lead the Way

This week's Color Report will cover the section from Beech Gap (Hwy 215) to Wagon Gap Road entrance (Hwy 276), highlighting popular areas such as Looking Glass Rock, Graveyard Fields, and East Fork Overlook.

No need to cancel work plans and rush up to the Parkway as most of the action is confined to the valley floor where numerous species are coming to life, responding to temps in the 60's and 70's these past two weeks. The cold snap this week will only delay the transition slightly as we expect spring temps to return this weekend and continue through next week.

For those who did not hear, snow fell across the area (mainly flurries with a few moderate - heavy showers) this past Monday, dropping a skiff of snow above 5800'. Although this is not a game changer for spring colors, it shows that winter weather can and does linger along our highest ridgelines well into March and in some years, April and even May. Latest in the season I have observed snow falling was in May, on May 17th (2011), at Richland Balsam Overlook (6053); only token flakes, no accumulation.

If you are a photographer, this week and next are good windows to capture some early season buds, mainly maples as they spring to life with red, yellow, and orange buds. In some cases you will see a patch of color among a sea of brown, making for a striking contrast. This setup is currently available along Hwy 215, shortly before Sunburst Falls (a drone is needed to fully capture this scene).

The spring color transition is not as stark and discrete as the fall transition, however I continue to see a dividing line around 3500 - 4000' between an active awakening with gorgeous colors and dormancy with little to no action; especially above 5000'. The rivers and waterways hold the best chance for spring colors, perhaps due to a few more hours of direct sunlight compared to the denser canopy.

The weather tomorrow (Sunday) is looking fantastic and as the system moves out today, clear and cool (ish) weather will move into our region. This sets the table for long range views that are crystal clear, the kind we typically see during winter. Below are some examples taken this past week during a dry, windy day on top.

We added three 360° views with this update, at East Fork Overlook (4955'), Pounding Mill Overlook (4700'), and Upper Graveyard Fields (5800'). Click here to check them out.

I'll circle back next Thursday (Mar 28th) and I do apologize for the delayed Color Report this week. My day job is keeping me extremely busy (in a good way) and I was only able to find the time to produce the report this morning. Enjoy the spring colors!

Taken at Pounding Mill Overlook

Zoomed in version

Looking Glass Rock

East Fork Overlook

Worm Moon over the Pink Beds

The Southern Section of the Parkway remains roughly 90% open, with the southern entrance closed as NPS deals with maintenance, no timeline as to when it will reopen.


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