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The hunt for Red October: Finding autumn foliage

Special to The Los Angeles Times

It's officially fall, and the delicate, ephemeral dance that transforms summer's deep greens into autumn's sunset-colored hues has begun across the nation.

As the days get shorter and less sun-blessed, deciduous trees gradually stop producing chlorophyll. This allows other pigments, including carotenoids (yellows and oranges) and anthocyanins (reds and purples), the short-lived chance to shine -- or, rather, glow.

At the same time, droves of travelers gear up for the chance to soak in the season's dramatic spectral array. If you are among those seeking a kaleidoscopic foliage experience, here are several vibrant vantage points from which you can see nature awash in all its glory.

Pohono Bridge, Yosemite National Park, California

Where: At the far west entrance to Yosemite Valley, this arched bridge crosses the Merced River. Arrive by way of California 140 or 120.

Stars of the show: The plentiful dogwood trees flaunt pinks and crimsons, while maples and black oaks become a brilliant yellow.

Color peak: Oct. 12 to 19

More info: (209) 372-0200, www.nps.gov/yose or www.yosemitepark.com.

Independence Pass Road (Colorado 82), southeast of Aspen, Colo.

Where: A 44-mile, high-altitude scenic route in White River National Forest (Aspen Ranger District).

Stars of the show: Aspen trees' quivering leaves, translucent when lighted by the sun, turn a shimmering gold. Cottonwoods get an orange-tinged yellow, and scrub oaks gleam red. In a state with "color" in its name, it doesn't get much better than this.

Color peak: now to Friday

More info: (970) 925-3445, www.fs.fed.us/r2/whiteriver or www.aspenchamber.org.

Great Smoky Mountains National Park, south of Gatlinburg, Tenn.

Where: In the mid-elevation levels (2,000 to 4,000 feet) of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park.

Stars of the show: About 100 diverse plant species, including sugar maple, scarlet oak, sweet gum, hobblebush and the hickories extend from pink to purple.

Color peak: Oct. 18 to 31

More info: (800) 588-1817, www.gatlinburg.com/fall-foliage.asp or www.nps.gov/grsm.

Atop Camelback Mountain, Big Pocono State Park, northeast Pennsylvania

Where: From the summit, you'll see color in eastern Pennsylvania, the gorgeous Delaware Water Gap and parts of New Jersey and New York.

Stars of the show: The view encompasses maple, birch, poplar, sycamore, oak, hickory and dogwood trees -- a stunning canvas painted with bright reds, oranges and yellows.

Color peak: Oct. 12 to 17

More info: The Poconos' 24-hour Fall Foliage Hotline: (570) 421-5565; www.dcnr.state.pa.us, www.800poconos.com or www.fallinpa.com.

Mt. Greylock, northwestern Massachusetts

Where: On the Appalachian Trail in the Berkshires, east of U.S. 7.

Stars of the show: On the lower slopes, maples and red oaks are a deep scarlet; at higher elevations (the summit, at 3,491 feet, is Massachusetts' highest point), yellow birches and mountain ash steal the spotlight. Hiking trails take you up through the majestic spectrum.

Color peak: Monday to Oct. 8

More info: (617) 626-1250, www.mass.gov/dcr/parks/.

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