Leaves are blazing, apples are crisping and temperatures are dipping. It can only mean one thing "” road trip!

Fall's the time to pull on a sweatshirt and fire up the car, meandering from pumpkin patch to apple orchard. Southwest Ohio, with broad swatches of fall color flamestitching up the hillsides, is veined with backroads for the taking.

A trip through the Miami Valley means great art, architecture and scenery. Here are some highlights:

Dayton Art Institute


Heading north to the Dayton Art Institute, let's skip I-75 and slow things down on state Route 741. The more leisurely pace into the art institute seems to match the tone of this imposing Italianate building on a knoll in Grafton Hill.

The institute is celebrating a century of African American art with 70 sculptures, prints and drawings from the Arthur Primas Collection.

"Of course, no one show could cover 100 years of African-American art," Chief Curator Will South says. "These are top works of art."

The exhibit often juxtaposes images to signal the sweep of creativity. The opening display pairs a portrait of Frederick Douglass on an 1883 Harper's Weekly cover with a 2004 woodcut of the hero by Elizabeth Catlett.

"Identification of heroes and role models," South says, "is very important in the African American community."

No one personifies the artistic role model in Dayton more than Willis "Bing" Davis, who taught in the Dayton Public Schools for 42 years. DAI will show his Ancestral Spirit Dance series, large pastels on black paper that Davis has been creating for decades.

456 Belmonte Park North, Dayton.(937) 223-5277 or www.daytonartinstitute.org.

U.S. Air Force Museum

East of the art institute, another grand collection unfolds at the National Museum of the U.S. Air Force. And since we're talking airplanes, we're talking acres.

The Air Force museum can keep you enthralled for days, but many people zero in on the Presidential Collection. They want to see the Sacred Cow that carried Franklin Roosevelt and Air Force One that carried a vibrant John Kennedy to Dallas in November 1963 and his body home that night.

Roosevelt was the first U.S. president to fly while in office, aboard a commercial Boeing 314 Clipper Ship to Casablanca in 1943. Douglas Aircraft built an aircraft specifically for him, VC-54C, nicknamed the Sacred Cow.

President Kennedy's Boeing VC-137C/Air Force One was the first jet made specifically for the Commander in Chief. The president flew this to Berlin in 1963, and to Dallas in November 1963, where he was assassinated. Vice President Lyndon B. Johnson was sworn in onboard. This Air Force One went on to carry eight presidents, through Bill Clinton.

The Presidential Gallery is on the active part of Wright-Patterson Air Force Base, so you'll take a shuttle bus from the main museum "” sign up early.

110o Spaatz St., Wright-Patterson Air Force Base. (937) 255-3286 or www.nationalmuseum.af.mil.

Grand Architecture

Leaving Dayton, it's back to the asphalt along Route 4 toward Springfield. Next stop, some of the state's richest architectural history.

David Snively and his wife built Pennsylvania House in 1839, after the National Road/Route 40 was cut through the wilderness. Travelers l looked for its sign tacked on an oak tree. Even Charles Dickens found his way to a bed here.

No one knows if Snively chose the name for his native state or to attract wayfarers from Pennsylvania, but it's stuck for 171 years.

Beautifully restored by the Lagonda Chapter of the DAR, Pennsylvania House is a weekend stop to marvel at the architecture, plus a collection of 100,000 buttons and a Federal doll house. Don't miss the artifacts unearthed during archaeological excavations: pottery, clay pipes, and children's marbles from the inn's earliest days.

1311 W. Main St., Springfield. (937) 322-7668 or House that Wright Built

Nearby in Springfield, another American treasure opens its doors at the Westcott House. Frank Lloyd Wright designed this Prairie Style home, his only one in Ohio, for Burton and Orpha Westcott in 1908. Today, its foundation leads daily tours.

Westcott owned Westcott Motor Co., which hand-assembled touring cars. Orpha, hearing about an avant-garde architect in Chicago, invited Wright to Springfield.

The Westcotts and Wright were determined to set the house in permanent green space, and you can't get more permanent than next-door Greenmount Cemetery. The leaves flash, and visitors are welcome to wander. Look up through the kaleidoscope of gold and orange in the fall tree canopy.

1340 E. High St., Springfield. (937) 327-9291 or www.westcotthouse.org.

Cider's Siren Call

This meandering is thirsty work "” time to answer the siren call of apple cider at Peifer Orchards south in Yellow Springs. This roadside market pours a mean cider, and who can resist their Winesap and Crispin apples to take home?

And speaking of resistance, it's absolutely futile when you realize you're next door to Young's Jersey Dairy (pictured). Generations of drivers have found that their cars automatically turn in to Young's.

The dairy rolls out fresh flavors of ice cream each week. The new taste on Oct. 4 is Chocolate Chunk Black Cherry, followed Oct. 11 by chocolate gelato, Oct. 18 butter pecan and Oct. 25 peanut butter cup.

Getaways should be guilt-free, but just to work off a few calories, take a turn solving the mystery of the corn maze, three acres of twists and turns. Then hop on a wagon to pick the perfect pumpkin.

Peifer, 4590 U.S. Route 68 N., Yellow Springs. (937) 767-2208 or www.peiferorchards.com. Young's, 6880 Springfield-Xenia Road, Yellow Springs. (937) 325-0629 or www.youngsdairy.com.

Ready for Bed

Autumn days dim more quickly, and it's time to settle in. Grinnell Mill B&B in Yellow Springs has turned down the quilt.

This massive red building reflects Ohio's earliest days of statehood. Andrew and Robert Moody built the mill in 1813 and rebuilt it on the original limestone foundation in 1821 after a fire. Mills once lined this stretch of the Little Miami River, but now Grinnell and its big cousin, Clifton Mill, are the main survivors.

Its water power diverted, Grinnell Mill welcomes guests in two upstairs rooms. Hardy cyclists roll in from Cincinnati and Columbus to bunk down inside Glen Helen Nature Preserve.

A trail from the inn's front door leads deeper into the woods. It's especially inviting after one of innkeeper Donna McGovern's big breakfasts: scrambled eggs, challah French toast and a wicked apple frapple from the pride of Peifer Orchards crop. "I always use Honeycrisp apples," McGovern says. "Why bother with anything else?"

3536 Bryan Park Road, Yellow Springs. (937) 767-9108 or www.grinnellmill.com.

Quilting Time

After a good stretch along the trail, it's back in the car. How about a little detour north along state Route 41 into Troy, stitching a route through quilt country?

Miami County has 66 quilt patterns painted on its barns, a legacy from the 2007 bicentennial. Just ask for a brochure, or print out a map at www.visitmiamicounty.org, and head out to spot the vibrant blocks. There's the Ohio Schoolhouse block in Piqua and the Weathervane and Sunbonnet Sue in Covington. Look for Mariner's Compass in Troy, pointing the way back home. www.visitmiamicounty.org.
 
Betsa Marsh is a Cincinnati-based travel journalist who has reported from all the continents. She was recently voted president-elect of the Society of American Travel Writers.