Leaf peepers head to Graveyard Fields in late September for the annual ritual of Autumn color in the high country. Located at mile 418 on the Blue Ridge Parkway, Graveyard Fields is one of the earliest locations to begin the chromatic display, as well as one of the most intense. From the bright red of the blueberry and sumac bushes, to the multi-colored hues of the maple and oak, this is a prime location year in and year out. But don’t limit yourself to Graveyard Fields. There is a 5-mile stretch of the Parkway from mile 416 through mile 421 that is always exceptional for early fall foliage.
I went up there on September 23, 2015 hoping to beat the crowds that flock to this area and was treated to an unusually early color presentation. There was as much color already apparent as there is sometimes 10-15 days later in the season. I first stopped for a view of Cold Mountain when I entered the Parkway from Hwy 276, then proceeded to Pounding Mill Overlook to pick up trash as a volunteer for Friends of the Blue Ridge Parkway. Thank you to the tourists for mostly behaving and not leaving much mess.
Then it was a short, but delightful, drive to the Graveyard Fields pullout. Even at this early hour there were already a dozen or so other vehicles there for the same reason I was. I setup the tripod, took a few shots, then moved on to make room for others. Next stop… Black Balsam Road for the view down into the bowl of Graveyard Fields. The goldenrod was glistening in the morning sun, while the blue of the asters tried its best to match the stunning azure sky.
The most inspiring scene, however, was the ocean of clouds rolling over the Pisgah Ridge and crashing upon mile 420 of the Parkway like so many waves on a surfing beach. I was mesmerized by the experience. The entire valley below the ridge was enveloped in morning fog, roiling to the rim like a witch’s brew only to dissipate upon reaching the bright sunshine bathing the mountaintops.
Next, I went for a hike along the service trail that parallels miles 420 and 419 to peer into that cauldron and get a ground-level view of the prismatic shrubs and ground cover along the pathway. I sat on an outcrop squinting deep into the foggy stew looking for just a glance of Pilot Mountain, knowing it was there, but unable to pierce the shroud. So I munched a snack and was like a child on a beach as each new wave of fog wafted over me.
Following a 3-mile walk I was back in my car heading the way I came, stopping at each overlook along the way, looking for views to the north of the scattered, puffy-white clouds that now accentuated the vistas. There were still a number of wildflowers along the roadway’s edge, hidden behind the guardrails that protect motorists from a fatal plunge. It was definitely what I like to call an “A” day.
I hope you enjoy these new photos from my visit to the high country along the Blue Ridge Parkway as much as I enjoyed the day. Please feel free to leave your comments below the gallery.