By Victor Block
Dan and Mary Stroudt ooh and aah at the multicolored scenery below the hot-air balloon in which they're riding. The journey is very different for Mark and Marylee Sutherland as they help to paddle a rubber raft along a stretch of whitewater in the Blue Ridge Mountains of North Carolina. Betsy Goodman and Tom Cross are traveling at a slower pace, strolling across a glass-bottom observation deck.
What these disparate experiences have in common is that they all provide opportunities to enjoy the annual fall foliage display of color in new and different ways.
"Leaf-peepers" seeking to relish Mother Nature's annual Technicolor extravaganza have a variety of choices beyond driving along a traffic-clogged road. Countless places around the country provide ways to enjoy the changing foliage and imaginative ways of doing so.
The ride that the Stroudts enjoyed is offered by aptly named Gone Ballooning, which conducts gentle trips over the colorful rolling landscape of western Connecticut with vistas that take in unique barns, graceful Colonial homes and other vestiges of New England history. Flights are followed by the traditional toast of champagne and snacks. The Sutherlands have to work harder for their fall-foliage fix. They're participants in one of the whitewater-rafting adventures operated by the Nantahala Outdoor Center in North Carolina, South Carolina and Georgia. The rivers thread their way through the yellows, reds and oranges of the changing foliage that blankets the shorelines.
Rather than passing through the autumn color, Betsy and Tom chose to walk above it. When it was built in 1882, the Kinzua Railroad Viaduct in Pennsylvania was the longest and highest such structure in the world. After the last trains crossed it in 1959 it was reinvented as the Kinzua Sky Walk. A glass-bottom observation deck provides views of the support towers and the foliage below and around them.
Trains of the Mount Washington Cog Railway continue to carry passengers to the highest peak in the Northeast, as they have since 1869. After climbing grades that approach a 38% incline, riders are rewarded with panoramic views over the majestic White Mountains of New Hampshire and, if they're lucky, sightings of moose and bears.
The slow pace of the Cog Railway is a far cry from the adrenalin-boosting ride on the Runaway Mountain Coaster at Mountain Adventure Park in Branson, Missouri. As the track dips, turns and corkscrews through Ozark woodlands, riders may choose to pass by the foliage at speeds of more than 30 miles an hour or use the brake to slow the descent for a more leisurely look.
Other Branson foliage-watching opportunities include thrill rides such as "Outlaw Run" and chill trips aboard the Frisco Silver Dollar Line Steam Train. An added fall bonus at Silver Dollar City is a seasonal array of pumpkins of all shapes, sizes and colors that are scattered about the park.
An experience that combines both thrill and chill is paragliding over the multihued Aspen and Snowmass mountains in Colorado. Tandem gliders carry pilot and passenger several thousand feet high for a gentle ride and bird's-eye view of the vibrant display on the ground below. While flights may vary depending upon the conditions each day, the experience usually lasts about two hours.
Those who rely on pedal power to enjoy fall foliage also have options. Backroads offers bicycle trips through Yellowstone National Park and the Tetons mountain range, and plans to schedule fall-foliage rides as areas and cities open for tourism.
The fall-foliage biking tours operated by Great Freedom Adventures in Vermont and New York's Hudson Valley include lodging, meals, bicycles and other features. Side excursions can range from mansion tours and wine-tastings to kayaking and sunset sails
Folks who prefer to take in fall foliage from the deck of a ship may wish to check out the Hudson River voyages of American Cruise Lines. The eight-day sailings, round-trip from New York City, pass the color-clad Catskill Mountains on one shoreline and the Taconic and Berkshire Hills on the other. Towns along the route date back to English and Dutch rule, and passengers alight for guided tours of grand mansions and historic sites.
This provides an introduction to — but hardly a complete list of — some alternative ways to enjoy the seasonal change of color. At this time of uncertain travel arrangements, it's best to check ahead to make sure your preferred mode will be available.
WHEN YOU GO
Gone Ballooning: www.goneballooning.com
Nantahala Outdoor Center: www.noc.com
Kinzua Sky Walk: www.visitanf.com
Mount Washington Cog Railway: www.thecog.com
Branson, Missouri: www.explorebranson.com
Aspen Paragliding: www.aspenparagliding.com
Great Freedom Adventures: www.greatfreedomadventures.com
American Cruise Lines: www.americancruiselines.com
Victor Block is a freelance writer. To read features by other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate website at www.creators.com.
Cruising along the New England coastline is a good way to see fall foliage in that part of the country. Photo courtesy of American Cruise Lines.