First came heat; temps in the 80s do not mix well with fall color tours in my book. I didn't see myself hiking in the woods in search of pretty reds and crimsons coupled with taking a dip in a forest stream to wash away the sweat.

Then came the winds, so much that many leaves across the state blew off before they hit peak color.

So when I headed out to look for fall color recently -- wearing a seasonally appropriate sweater -- I first logged on to the Department of Natural Resources fall color map. Good thing. I'd wanted to go to Nerestrand-Big Woods State Park, near Northfield. Though in a typical year, it'd  be awash in brilliant hues, now it was a dull scene. The map pointed me in the right direction: Amid a state depicted in nearly all brown (the color code for "past peak"), a swath of a bluff country along the Mississippi was showing promise, so I hit the road. Driving south, it seemed as though the brightest color I'd find was the yellow stripe in the middle of the road. Then I turned a bend and saw a valley blanketed in autumn's rich display. While the wind and rain that had buffeted the area had done a number of the highest trees, those in the more sheltered valleys hung onto their leaves.

I just peaked at the trusty DNR map again: Seems like even the beloved bluffs along the Mississippi are past their prime. But if you want one last glorious encounter with the beauty of autumn, all is not lost. Go to the Lanesboro area, south of Rochester. The hilltops may be brown, but keep to the valleys and you may find your reward.