Fall Driving Tour
Shawano Country is perfect for experiencing autumn’s kaleidoscope of colors and cultures. Colorful drives winding past over 400 Barn Quilts, thick forestland, sedge meadows, and cedar swamps, lead to quaint shops, cultural attractions, and unique experiences. Several scenic fall driving routes have been featured in Midwest Living Magazine, Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, Green Bay Press Gazette and Travel Wisconsin publications. A sampling of colorful routes are listed below. Mid-September to Mid-October is generally considered fall peak season, but it varies from year to year.
Rustic Road 47
The highlight of Rustic Road 47‘s 14-mile drive is the rolling farmland, with autumn-splashed wooded hills as a backdrop, but this agricultural tour has plenty of color of its own! Rustic Road 47 travels between County Q and US 45. Travelers can take some time at historic sites along and near the drive. Located in an old schoolhouse, the Wittenberg Historical Museum has native American artifacts, vintage photographs and other exhibits. The Tigerton Historical Park is comprised of four historic structures; a church, a pioneer cabin the original town hall and a bandstand. From the road, visitors can also see a red granite town hall, a round barn and charming streams.
State Highway 55
Considered a favorite among motorcyle riders, State Highway 55 travels north from Shawano through the Menominee Indian Reservation following the Wild & Scenic Wolf River. Cyclist and motorists enjoy this curvy, woodsy ride. Cultural, historic, and scenic stops include Spirit Rock, Keshena Falls, Menominee Logging Camp and Cultural Museum, Menominee Casino Resort, Wolf River Dells, and Big Smokey Falls. For more information view the Menominee Cultural Tour map here.
Navarino Nature Center
Navarino State Wildlife Area stretches across southern Shawano and northeast Waupaca counties with nearly 15,000 acres of land. Many color seekers come here to where maples, oaks, and tamaracks paint the rolling sandhills in a rich tapestry of color. According to the DNR, the area 43 miles northwest of Green Bay, features “sandy uplands and ridges with marshy depressions,” with the most developed spaces near its Lower Wolf River Bottomlands Natural Resources Area.There are also plenty of wetlands as well as open fields and forest area including aspen, oak and pine plantations — excellent for hiking and enjoying the fall colors and wildlife viewing.
Choose from a variety of cultural tours including the Amish Country Tour, Menominee Nation Cultural Tour, Mohican Nation Cultural Tour, and Walls of Wittenberg Murals Tour. (Links to self-guided tour maps are below.) You can enjoy these driving tours any time of the year, but fall provides a relaxing and colorful backdrop to your travels.
Why Leaves Change Color
Over the centuries, many explanations have been offered as to why leaves change color each fall. According to a Native American legend, celestial hunters slew the Great Bear in the autumn and his blood dripping on the forests, changed many leaves to red. Other trees were turned yellow by the fat that splattered out of the kettle as the hunters cooked the meat. Actually the colorful splendor enjoyed by both visitors and residents is the result of some complex coordination by Mother Nature. First, she chills the air to just above freezing to start the coloring process. During the growing season, the leaves are filled with green chlorophyll and other pigments. When temperatures drop, chlorophyll production stops and the colored pigments are revealed. Next, Mother Nature adds an abundance of bright sunny days, then a pinch of rain and presto – a brilliant natural palette has been created.
The crisp yellows found in poplar, some beech and most birches mean the leaves have few tannins. An abundance of these brownish compounds will cast a brownish-yellow color in certain species of oak and beech trees.
Vibrant reds depend on sunshine. Sunlight coverts sugars that have been trapped in certain leaves into anthocyanins. The more anthocyanins a leaf has, the deeper the red and purple hues. Maples and sumacs are noted for these brilliant shades.
Not all trees shimmer with color in their autumn transitions. Giants like the willow alder, elder and some oaks are relatively colorless. However, their neutral shades add a rich dimension to the entire spectrum of natural color.
Why Trees Lose Their Leaves
When leaves begin to fall, it’s more than gravity that brings them swirling down. At the end of each leaf, where it connects to the tree’s stem, are abscission cells. When the growing season ends and the leaves begin to dry out. These cells shrink and release the leaf from the stem. Of course, some trees do not conform to the norm. Oaks, for instance, never develop abscission cells, Their leaves hang on into winter until they are weathered off their stems.