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Chasing Fall: A Day in the Catskills

Wandering the backroads in search of the finest foliage.

By: Jack Tumen + Save to a List

As a kid growing up in Catskill State Park, I was fortunate to experience four vastly different seasons each year. Winters were harsh, spring was fresh and stormy and summers were hot and humid. However, none of them compared to the colors and scents that emerged in fall. When the first leaves start to turn each year, I'm always overcome with a wave of nostalgia that takes me back to being six years old again; playing in leaf piles, walks in the woods and pumpkin picking.

I'm convinced that there's no better fall foliage on earth than in the Hudson Valley. I've missed it only once in my life and to be honest I was devastated about it. When you spend all those years molding your lifestyle around the seasonal cycles, disrupting that pattern is more offsetting than one might imagine. So I made a concerted effort to spend the entirety of fall back home this past year.

I went out on many day-ventures while being home. Usually, I waited for a cloudy day. The best days in fall are the cloudy ones; where the light is nice and soft. The colors of the leaves pop a bit more and it accentuates the comforting spookiness of the crooked northeastern woods.

While traveling the backroads, it always surprises me how differently I see things with the purpose of shooting in mind. This little house with the red roof? I must have driven past it thousands of times in my life but never truly noticed it was there. I first caught a glimpse of it sometime in late September when the trees behind it were still mostly green. I made sure to return when autumn was in full swing. It's nice having fresh eyes on a landscape that seems commonplace most days.

One challenge of trying to shoot around this area is the lack of space to quickly park your car if something catches your eye. I suppose that can be true in most places, but there are far too many occasions in which I find myself driving past a beautiful scene while my eyes follow it and I say "Gahh that was amazing" - whether it's a railroad beneath a bridge or a barn entangled in vines. This is especially true in the fall. Occasionally I'll get lucky if there's a conveniently placed side road or driveway. Stopping in the middle of the road is never exactly a smart or safe option, but sometimes it's anything for the shot...

One thing that photographs can't convey is the aroma of the leaves that pad the earth this time of year. The crunch of them under your feet is immeasurably satisfying and each step releases more of that sweet fall scent up into the air like a perfume. Combined with the crisp frosty smell of early October mornings, it's unbeatable.

The area is spotted with abandoned barns that are home only bats and memories these days. To some they might come off as haunting but to me it's a sight I've grown up with. I'm not sure what many of them were used for; hay, tools and other barn things is my best guess. Regardless, they're a signature sight that give this place it's charm. To me they say "home" as much as anything.

With abandoned barns comes abandoned cars and machinery as well. Folks park their old station wagons in the woods and they sit there for 10, 20, 30 years on end; rusting out and eventually becoming known as landmarks to locals and passerby's. The deep red and brown rusty colors blend well with the peak of the fall season.

Fall days in The Catskills are to be enjoyed to the fullest, especially as the days become shorter. Despite its equivalence in length to the other three divisions of the calendar year, autumn is fleeting. The sights and sensations simply do not last as long as those of other seasons. So if you're ever looking to chase some foliage, take a trip to the Catskills next fall. You'll be glad you did.

We want to acknowledge and thank the past, present, and future generations of all Native Nations and Indigenous Peoples whose ancestral lands we travel, explore, and play on. Always practice Leave No Trace ethics on your adventures and follow local regulations. Please explore responsibly!

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