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On a high-tech hunt for fall’s most glorious displays of color

Special to The Times

FALL in New England conjures images for many travelers of quiet walks through quaint villages under leafy canopies of brilliant displays of yellows, oranges and reds, smoke curling from a nearby chimney or pile of burning leaves and iPods plugged into ears tuned to the latest podcast to help determine the next leaf-peeping stop.

OK, so maybe the iPod is not a conventional image of autumnal New England. But it may become one as more websites employ bells and whistles designed to help travelers find the best spots for color-filled sightings.

Websites with fall foliage themes come to life this time of year as leaf spotters come out of their 10-month hibernation and attempt to home in on the best time and place for maximum color. But as any veteran leaf peeper will tell you, there is as much art as science to finding peak fall color.

YankeeFoliage.com, at www.yankeefoliage.com, is one of the largest and most sophisticated websites. Its parent company, Yankee Publishing, is celebrating its 70th anniversary this month. It also publishes Yankee Magazine and the Old Farmer’s Almanac. If anyone should know about foretelling fall color, it should be these folks.

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And yet, “You can’t predict foliage,” said Barbara Hall, Internet editor of Yankee Foliage.com. “We’re not in charge of it; it just happens.”

Nonetheless, on its site peepers will find tools to help guide them: interactive maps, forum discussions, driving tours and the world’s first fall foliage reports on a podcast (a sort of radio show that can be downloaded onto an iPod or MP3 player). Podcasts can be downloaded, often for free, from websites such as iTunes, www.itunes.com, and Podcast Alley, www.podcastalley.com.

Its first podcast in May, featuring musings on New England from Editor in Chief Judson Hale, had more than 10,000 downloads in the first six weeks, Hall said.

The site gathers information from state tourism offices as well as from “foliage ambassadors.” These are spotters in the field who observe the color change and then log onto Yankee Foliage.com and click on an interactive map with their county and the color they are seeing.

“We had over 20,000 foliage reports last year,” Hall said.

Other sites employ similar tactics. Foliage Network, www.foliagenetwork.com, collects data twice a week during the season from its 567 foliage spotters. Foliage Network plots and analyzes the data, then posts the information on its website and shares it with media outlets.

For those wanting to plan, some websites offer leaf-peeping guidance based on historical data. Weather website Intellicast has pages dedicated to fall foliage and offers a list of 38 states -- including California -- and the general times of peak foliage. It includes links to sites with specific information about each state. (Go to www.intellicast.com/FallFoliage then click on Current State Reports.)

The USDA Forest Service maintains a fall colors website, at www.fs.fed.us/news/fallcolors, that has links to fall foliage information in national forests, including those in California and the Pacific Northwest.

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Most New England states’ tourism sites have information about leaf peeping. There are also privately run sites by state such as Foliage-Vermont, www.foliage-vermont.com, which features an interactive map that, using historical data, follows the progression of color from Sept. 15 to Oct. 31.

So pack a jacket, comfortable shoes, a laptop and an iPod and enjoy your autumnal communion with nature.

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Contact James Gilden at www.theinternettraveler.com.

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