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Kenucky’s Land Of Painted Leaves

"October is the month for painted leaves," Thoreau mused. He could have been talking about Kentucky's Red River Gorge.

“October is the month for painted leaves,” Thoreau mused, but my 11-year-old niece’s description is decidedly more modern. “That,” Sarah exclaimed from a spot overlooking the steep-walled canyon in Kentucky’s Red River Gorge, “is some crazy color.” She then explained her theory on fall foliage, summed up as follows: An out-of-control group of fairies transformed the color of every leaf with magic wands.

Ever the skeptic, I challenged her. “Where’s the logic?” I asked as we scrambled up the Rough Trail to the base of a sandstone arch. The red-and-tan-tinged stone arches and natural bridges, more than 70 in all, are among the many gems protected within the 25,600-acre Red River Gorge Geologic Area. The 11-mile Rough Trail is part of a 36-mile loop system that takes hikers on a spectacular tour of the arches,

as well as of the river and forest. “Fairies,” my niece replied smartly, “aren’t logical.”

Well, science is logical, I told her, and then explained that some people say autumn’s increasingly shorter days cause a drop in a leaf’s green chlorophyll. This allows yellow pigments to emerge. Subsequent chemical reactions create red and brown hues. It’s not nearly as interesting a theory as fairies flitting over the landscape, a fact that didn’t escape me for a single breathless moment as we climbed out of a rhododendron-choked valley for a stunning vista of fall foliage crowding the level tops of 50-foot-high sandstone monoliths. “More crazy colors,” she said, preferring to ignore my logic. I had to agree.

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