It sounds so corny, this uncontrollable desire to drive country roads and look at autumn's painted trees. We can't help it. Blazing crimson and burning amber take our breath away.
We're called leaf peepers, and we rank right up there with travelers who scale lighthouses or proudly boast at visiting every one of the California missions. Youngsters think we're nuts and hipsters hope they don't become one of us.
Their loss. Every year, the leaves enchant us and we rub our eyes in disbelief. Can these colors be natural?
When the hurricane season is in full bloom, when Labor Day is as hot and sweaty as the Fourth of July, when we just can't stand it anymore, we dream of traveling north. Sweaters. Chilly nights. Hot cider and doughnuts.
The parade of colors begins in late September in far northern New England and higher elevations where frost visits first. The brilliant show marches southward down the East Coast through New York, New Jersey, Washington, the mid-Atlantic states and then the South, lasting nearly until Thanksgiving in warmer climates.
There's still time to plan a trip to see fall's annual extravaganza. So what if the kids think you're hopeless.
Janet K. Keeler, Times food and travel editor
TENNESSEE: More than 400 species of deciduous trees paint Tennessee's landscape. The state's peak colors appear the last two weeks of October, changing first in the northeastern mountains, including the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, then moving west, peaking near Memphis by late November. For fall foliage reports, call toll-free 1-800-697-4200; www.fall.tnvacation.com/foliage.
VERMONT: Fall is a legendary season in Vermont and the state is No. 1 on most leaf peepers' must-see list. Peak leaf season is the last week of September through mid-October. To check on the progress of color in Vermont, call toll-free 1-800-837-6668; www.yankeefoliage.com, www.foliage-vermont.com.
MARYLAND: A canopy of orange greets visitors of the Green Ridge State Forest from the State Forest Headquarters near Flintstone, Md. Leaves turn in late September in western Maryland, reach the eastern shore by mid October and last through Halloween. High elevations show color first. Call the Department of Natural Resources' toll-free fall color hotline, 1-800-532-8371; www.dnr.state.md.us/outdoors/fallfoliage.
NEW JERSEY: Foliage frames the historic Van Dorn Mill in Basking Ridge, N.J. The state's toll-free fall foliage hotline, open later this month, is 1-800-847-4865.
NORTH CAROLINA: The Blue Ridge Parkway, shown here as it crosses the Linn Cove Viaduct at Grandfather Mountain in Linville, N.C., is lit in fall with the changing colors of sugar maples, poplars, birches and oaks. Color shows in the coastal plains in late October and in the mountains earlier. Look for leaf reports starting the last week of September. Call toll-free 1-800-847-4862; www.visitNC.com.
Tracking fall leaves
Determining when the leaves will begin to turn and then show peak color makes planning a leaf-peeping trip a bit of a guessing game. It is a natural show decided, in part, by the first frost and also the year's rainfall. A dry year produces dull color because the leaves often go brown and fall quickly. A wet year usually produces more brilliant and lasting color.
The perfect conditions to view the leaves are dry and sunny days, which make the colors more vivid. Again, those conditions are up to both Mother Nature and a lot of luck.
For general information on fall foliage across the United States, go to www.foliagenetwork.com. The U.S. Forest Service links to fall color reports in all but a few states at www.fs.fed.us/news/fallcolors/. Both sites will update information by mid-month.