Autumn color is fading, catch it here while you still can

Bil Bowden

A few years ago, during an autumn vacation to see the flaming yellow aspen trees in Colorado, I stopped at a gas station to fill up. It was in tabletop-flat Kansas, and the car on the island's opposite side was from Colorado. It was a cloudy, bright afternoon, and the driver and I agreed it was a beautiful day to drive. No glaring sun, no wind and traffic was light.


"Where are you headed?" I asked. "He noticed my Keystone State plate and grinned. "Where you're coming from. The Poconos are gorgeous this time of year, with all the color."

You always want what you don't have.  We have hills in Pennsylvania, I wanted yellow aspen and mountains. With snow.  He was driving all that day to see the Poconos' maples, hickories, cherry, locust and oaks in all their blue, orange, red  -- and yellow.

It's always that way, isn't it? We have some beautiful countryside here in Pennsylvania, enough to keep us busy for a lifetime. But we want to see the rest of the world.


Anyway, I've always wondered-- if you live in Utah, where else can you go for vacation? Everything for the nature lover is there-- red rocks, mountains, desert, lakes, white water, canyons. Maybe they come to York County, because we have color that Utah doesn't-- or at least, doesn't have in Pennsylvania's abundance .

One of the best places to see color and how it transforms a small creek bed into a painting is in York County's southeast.  Just south of Airville, take McCalls Ferry Road through some pretty farm country. It takes a hard left turn to become a one-lane gravel road through the woods and meets the Mason Dixon Trail at the Susquehanna River.


On the way to Airville, take a quick side trip to Muddy Creek Forks, where the Maryland and Pennsylvania Railroad is still king, its trainyard basking in the burg's background color.  The Ma and Pa Railroad Heritage Village is closed for now, and will reopen December 9 for its Christmas season. Visitors to the yard are welcome. 

Along the way, check the color, and look for creatures-- they're everywhere. At the Holtwood Dam, stop to check out the now-quiet whitewater course, maybe climb on the rocks. Water is only trickling over the dam at this time of year, and you'll see dozens of shad in the pools where the river usually runs. You might be surprised how high the dam is-- 55 feet-- when you stand at its base.

The huge bald eagle nest that sat on a electric tower is gone, but another has been rebuilt on the very top of another tower just to the south.

Beyond that, park the car at a bridge over a small creek. The Mason Dixon Trail comes down off the ridge here, and you can hike it back to the top for a terrific view of the dam, the electric facility and Lancaster County across the river-- and the season's colors. This time of year, the sun drops behind the York County ridge early, so if you're looking for sun to brighten the leaves, see this before mid-afternoon. While there, wander over remnants of the Susquehanna and Tidewater Canal's Lock 12. The canal stretched from Wrightsville to Havre de Grace, Md., and was completed in 1840.

The creek offers some wonderful sights for photographers, with plenty of waterfalls. The larger ones are close to the road, but smaller falls are more numerous further into the woods.


A short distance from the road-- maybe a quarter mile-- the creeks split to the left and right. The MD Trail heads to the right, but if you're looking for a climbing adventure, wander left where there is no trail.

But as my Dad told me years ago, don't walk on green rocks. If you have to, be careful-- they are very slippery. First aid help is miles away.

The color is fading now, but it's still vibrant.

Catch it while you can.