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'Tis the season to be seeing: Fall in full spectrum

By Kristi Keck
CNN
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(CNN) -- It's that time of year -- the brilliant red and golden leaves say, "So long, summer -- autumn has arrived."

But fall isn't just about the maple trees in the Northeast. Areas across the country bear trademark sights that signal the start of fall.

From the iridescent flecks of rainbow trout scurrying through the streams of the Rocky Mountains to plump grapes in Napa Valley vineyards, fall's spectrum warrants more than just a passing glance.

A journey across the U.S. reveals the many colors this season offers.

Lost leaves

Some of the country's most dramatic maple leaves are actually found deep in the heart of Texas.

"Most people would think of Texas as either green or brown in the fall, but down here we have lots of color, and it's a treasure trove for the eye," said John Stuart, a park superintendent at Lost Maples State Natural Area in Vanderpool, Texas.

That treasure is an unusually dense population of maples trees and plants indigenous to the Hill Country of Texas.

The Bigtooth maples, which give the park its name, survived the ice ages that wiped out vast areas of forest, Stuart said. The rugged canyon wall protected the maples from the sheets of ice that killed off other maples.

The isolated Bigtooths create a stunning landscape against the exposed limestone walls that surround the park. The maples' radiant red and yellow leaves, in combination with the honeyed leaves of the black walnuts, elms and sycamores, set the scenery ablaze.

Stuart's advice if you want to get lost in the colors of Texas: "If you can, come during the weekday, because the weekends are so packed you'll be out on the highway maybe two hours waiting to get in."

The park's colors peak in November.

Traveling exhibit

You've heard the saying, "Birds of a feather flock together" -- that's especially true in the Northwest this time of year.

Thousands of birds travel along the Pacific coast as they move from Alaska and Canada into Central and South America.

Visitors can see the hunter green feathers of male mallards, speckled beige and ivory of western sandpipers and thousands of dark gray dunlin wading along the coast.

Dunlins often soar through the sky in synchronized flight, creating a canopy of activity.

"We get calls from people many times a day asking, "When are the birds coming? When are the birds coming through?" said Marian Bailey, a biologist with the Nisqually National Wildlife Refuge near Olympia, Washington.

"It's just spectacular to see them coming in."

Fluttering fireworks

The eucalyptus trees of Pacific Grove, California, look like they've been dipped in orange icing in the fall -- but it's not because the leaves are changing.

Each year, a cloud of monarch butterflies migrates thousands of miles before reaching the Monarch Grove sanctuary.

"Once they all arrive they coat the branches. Their wings overlap each other like shingles on a roof, forming big clusters. Sometimes they line up in chains even," said Ro Vaccaro, with the Friends of the Monarchs butterfly protection organization.

The monarchs begin arriving in October, and by November there are close to 20,000 of them spread across just six trees. At night, the monarchs close their wings and look like dead brown leaves hanging from the trees. When the sun hits in the morning, however, the monarchs burst to life.

"They do what we call a shimmy shake. They begin to rapidly flutter their wings to get their muscles warm," Vaccaro said.

Sometimes one butterfly will start a domino effect, and they will all leave the branch together.

"It's like fireworks in the sky. Everything turns orange," Vaccaro added.

Grape escape

Rich purples, tawny golds and browns mark fall in Napa Valley, where it is harvest season and the vineyards are in full swing.

The vineyard leaves turn from green to yellow to chestnut brown, with occasional reddish leaves. The colors of the poplars, oaks and sycamore trees are accompanied by an equally vibrant array of seasonal wines.

The fruit is at its optimum level in fall, and visitors can actually watch the grapes go from vine to bottle.

"That's something you can describe at other times of the year, but you can only see it now," Kevin Corley, president of Monticello Vineyards and self-described "winegrower."

Each vineyard shows off its own variation of fall colors.

"Some vineyard blocks of early ripening fruit may have been picked and show leaves that are starting to turn yellow, while other vineyard canopies remain green, still decorated with beautiful fruit," Corley said.

The full-bodied grapes lining the vines are never more beautiful than now.

"The fruit sometimes looks like it is so perfectly situated on the vines that it looks like it has been placed there rather than grown on the vine," Corley said.

Hooked on fall

Rivers and creeks across the country welcome fall with colors the untrained eye could easily miss. The striped bass and rainbow trout are striking as they bustle through the bubbling streams, adding pink and green shimmers to the ripples. As the waters start to cool off, the fish become more active and increase in number.

"That is a fall migration that happens every year as fish tend to school up, feed more intensely and start to head south ahead of winter along the coastline, so they become concentrated, and the fly fishing is terrific," said John Merwin, fishing editor of Field & Stream Magazine and fly fisherman with 55 years of experience.

From the Rocky Mountains to Canada to the California coast - now is the time to spot some really big fish.

"Brown trout spawn in the fall, so they are running up rivers and smaller creeks and it's a great time of year to catch the biggest fish that you will see all year," Merwin said.

The waters are home to spotted brown trout with cheetah-like scales and bass with stripes like zebras. And looking at the leaves and going fishing are not mutually exclusive.

"If you're going to do any kind of foliage tour in New England, late September, early October... through Vermont and New Hampshire, keep in mind the trout fishing can be very good. Bring a fly rod, too," Merwin advised


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Lost Maples State Natural Area in the Hill Country of Texas boasts beautiful foliage lining its trails and canyon walls.

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