Ozarks Foliage To New England Foliage
written by Gary Cooley
I've spent many a fall in both Vermont and the Ozarks. Hard pressed
to say which I enjoy the most, I'll describe the differences and let you decide which
sounds best to you.
If we measure the beauty of the foliage itself on a scale of one to
ten, New England peak foliage is a ten. Ozark foliage runs a seven or eight. The Ozarks
are in a warmer climate zone so we don't get as much foliage-producing cooler weather.
New England has more sugar maple groves and white birch stands
resulting in foliage displays with a higher density of brilliant reds, oranges, and
yellows. In the Ozarks sugar maples are rarely found in stands of more than a few trees. I
have seen few white birch in the Ozarks.
Mockernut hickory, a very common Ozark tree, turns brilliant yellow
or orange. The reds, oranges, and yellows are just as brilliant in the Ozarks, there is
just less of them. With fewer trees in one location the color pack is less dense. You will
see some very interesting black foliage on Ozark gum trees, something I have not seen a
great deal of in New England.
Hillside pastures turn a beautiful green in both the Ozarks and New
England. The green serves as a beautiful framework for the foliage further up the
hillside. Hills in New England are much higher than those in the Ozarks so you see more of
the pasture/foliage color combo in New England.
Yet Ozark foliage offers a few things New England foliage does not.
The American smoke tree, which is common in the Ozarks, has intense fluorescent pinks and
oranges not found on any other tree in America. One of the oldest and largest smoke tree
stands in America grows along the Glade Top Trail in the
south central Ozarks near Ava, Missouri.
I enjoy the Ozarks understory foliage more than New England
understory color. Dogwoods grow thick here, and they turn impressive reds, pinks, or even
orange. Growing only about 20 feet high, they add color to the forest floor. Hickory
saplings about 3 feet high have very large leaves which turn a deep orange or yellow.
Several other understory trees and shrubs also turn brilliant colors. Walk a trail and
you'll see a variety of bright color at eye level.
Fall weather is warmer in the Ozarks, which is one of the reasons
our color does not develop as brilliantly as in New England. But for many, it is a nice
trade-off. The foliage is still beautiful, and you can enjoy it in shirt sleeves. This
also means you can enjoy a picnic without being chilly on most Ozark fall days.
Enjoying fall foliage entails more than just leaf-peeping. What's a
cool fall day without stopping for fresh hot cider? I also enjoy fall events, like the
tent art show held at the edge of town at Stowe, Vermont. There are art galleries, fine
dinning, cafes, concerts, harvest festivals, and a long list of other social events and
attractions all across New England, all linked into a common fall foliage spirit. You
won't see as much of these events in the Ozarks.
Every year fall foliage tourism generates hundreds of millions of
dollars for New England. Fall foliage in the Ozarks has never been promoted and
commercialized to this level. Why? Simple logistics.
The New England fall foliage hotspots are all a sensible day's drive
from huge population centers like New York City, Boston, Montreal, Albany, Concord,
Hartford, Philadelphia, and the northeast coastline Megalopolis. Tens of millions of
Americans live a sensible drive from many New England foliage attractions and events.
Far fewer people live a sensible driving distance from Ozark foliage
attractions. There are a few large Ozark fall festivals, such as the Bean Fest in Mountain
View, Arkansas which draws 30,000 each year.
Ozark fall foliage is a personal and independent experience. It is a
self-guided vacation. Instead of the sophisticated and numerous fall events held in New
England you'll be stopping at small town restaurants and rural country stores. It is
indeed a true Norman Rockwell experience.
In the Ozarks you won't find the lines, the crowds, and the
bumper-to-bumper traffic experienced in many foliage destinations. I find spots where I
hear no human-made sounds for hours other than occasional faint roars from high altitude
jets. I see and hear a lot more wildlife. I can find the same in New England, but it takes
more driving to get to it.
The hot cider? I bring my own, or heat it on a little hiking stove
under the trees at some remote scenic overlook. My wife and I enjoy picnics as much as we
enjoy stopping at local country stores and restaurants. There will be only a few other
people stopping by during either type of meal.
Do I miss the art shows, the harvest festivals, and all the fun
people one meets standing in line for a mug of hot New England apple cider? Sure. It can
be a real hair-splitter trying to pick a favorite. Here's how I solve the dilemma.
If I want the New England foliage experience I travel to New
England, enjoy the peak with my cider and festivals, then come back to the Ozarks just in
time to enjoy a second fall foliage display. Since the New England peak is normally in the
first week of October, and because the Ozarks peak in the last week of October, I can
enjoy both locales in one year, with a two or three week pause in between. Now how much
better can leaf-peeping be than that!