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Fall Color Detectives

Poison Oak, Briones Regional Park (9/4/18) Darrell Sano

I just love “Who Done Its.” Though, in fall color’s case, it’s more “Where Is It?”

Today, I received reports from Lance Pifer and Darrell Sano who uncovered more evidence that fall is approaching.

1000 Island Lakes, Pacific Crest Trail (9/1/18) Lance Pifer

North Lake, Bishop Creek Canyon (9/1/18) Lance Pifer

Lance visited the Eastern Sierra where he found spots of fall color lighting up the Pacific Crest Trail near 1000 Island Lake and at North Lake in Bishop Creek Canyon, where aspen remain  green and lake grasses are highlighted lightly with gold.

Darrell was a road warrior, exploring far and wide. On Friday (as previously reported) he drove across Sonora Pass, returning via Tioga Pass. About three to four miles after entering Yosemite National Park’s east entrance, he stopped to investigate “a scene that looks like it was planned, meaning so perfect–layered trees, leaves from pink to golden yellow, colors receding into the background, such depth. And it’s peaceful, quiet.” He continued that this area was severely damaged by fire, with at least half of it changed.

The following day, he drove north from the Bay Area to Cloverdale, then along CA 128 to the coast. As expected, there was no color to be seen other than a little in low shrubs, though reminds us that by driving the route he was reminded about how stunning Mendocino county is.

Poison Oak, Briones Regional Park (9/4/18) Darrell Sano

On Labor Day, he stayed near home, taking “a long hike in Briones Regional Park (one of the great East Bay Regional Parks – some of the best managed and most beautiful in California), hiking nine miles while criss-crossing trails. Along his route, he passed “vile poison oak” in toxic profusion, recalling the many times he’s suffered after having been covered in its sap, but noted, “When you see beds of its brilliant red in filtered light, you know 1) don’t go in there 2) enjoy the color from a distance.”

Darrell’s detective work included observing the afternoon light which due to skies, still tinted with wildfire haze, cast a yellow ochre tint that was accented by the lower angle of sunlight, dramatizing the shadows, and noted the dryness of the landscape, observing that despite their parched appearance, thistles and grasses remained beautiful remnants of summer. 

Dry thistles and grasses, Briones Regional Park (9/4/18) Darrell Sano

Briones Regional Park (9/4/18) Darrell Sano

Just Starting (0-10%) – Tioga Pass

Just Starting (0-10%) – 1000 Islands Lake
Just Starting (0-10%) – North Lake
Just Starting (0-10%) – CA 128 (Cloverdale to the Coast)
Just Starting (0-10%) – Briones Regional Park, SF Bay Area
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Inyo County Releases New Visitors Guides

11th Visitors Guide to Inyo County

11th Visitors Guide to Death Valley

If you plan to search for California’s first and finest fall color, you’ll be driving along US 395 through Inyo County.

Two guides that should be uploaded to any fall color spotter’s mobile device are the 11th Edition Visitors Guides to Inyo County and Death Valley.

These just-released travel guides are chock full of great tips, fascinating stories and all sorts of invaluable travel planning info. Follow these links to see them:

Guide to Inyo County

Guide to Death Valley

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KCET Continues Coastal Trail Series

Premiering tonight and continuing through summer, KCET airs six new video segments on its website, kcet.org/coastaltrail

The Web series explores the majestic California Coastal Trail; its past, its present and its future through historical narratives, camping and hiking guides, social media videos, and articles about important cultural points of interest along the Trail.

One new video per week will be posted on kcet.org/coastaltrail from July 6 to Aug. 3. The Web series will also be available on Roku and YouTube.

CALIFORNIA COASTAL TRAIL debuted three summers ago with the first year following the trail from San Diego to San Luis Obispo County. Then, in season two, it continued up the trail to Monterey, Santa Cruz and San Mateo.

Although there is little fall color to be enjoyed along the California Coastal Trail, we reasoned,
“What better way for fall color spotters to enjoy the outdoors and discover new areas of California in summer than exploring the California Coastal Trail?”

Partially funded by The California Coastal Commission, with support from Hilton Hotels, and presented in partnership with Rigler Creative, CALIFORNIA COASTAL TRAIL will share the state’s picturesque coastlines designed for a wide variety of audiences, including visiting tourists, casual vacationers and seasoned California outdoor enthusiasts.

This season’s segments head north passing through Mendocino, Humboldt and Del Norte Counties while looking at spots along the coast like Pelican Bluffs, Noyo Headlands Park and the Humboldt Bay Trail.

The series will also travel to Crescent City, site of a deadly tsunami in 1964 and explore redwood restoration at Del Norte Redwoods State Park.

The series takes viewers to a mill site that was converted into a coastal park in Fort Bragg and MacKerricher State Park, home of the endangered Snowy Plover.

Here’s what’s planned:

Fri., July 6 – Pelican Bluffs

Fri., July 13 – Noyo Headlands Park

Fri., July 20 – Haul Road

Fri., July 27 – Humboldt Bay Trail

Fri., Aug. 3 – Del Norte Coast

Fri., Aug. 10 – Crescent City Harbor Trail

Join the conversation on social media using #myCAcoast. 


Wine and Fall Color Pairing

Helwig Winery (11/12/17) Darrell Sano

Iron Hub Winery, Shenandoah Valley (11/12/17) Darrell Sano

Bella Piazza Winery, Shenandoah Valley  (11/12/17) Darrell Sano

Unless you’re a club member of one of California’s largest wineries, the welcome is often less than enthusiastic.

Not so in the Sierra Foothills. The wineries there are so lightly visited that the welcome is genuine and warm, and the tasting is often free.

Their hospitality, some extraordinarily exceptional wines and lovely fall color from late-October to mid-November

Counoise, Holly’s Hill (11/12/17) John Poimiroo

Maple, Holly’s Hill (11/12/17) John Poimiroo

make them a great choice.

Today, East Bay color spotter Darrell Sano and I visited the Sierra Foothill AVA, independently. He toured Shenandoah Valley vineyards in Amador County while I stopped in El Dorado County’s Pleasant Valley.

There, Holly’s Hill was holding a wine and cheese pairing, with cheese from an artisan cheese shop in nearby Placerville, which used to be called “Hangtown” for all the hangings that occurred there (the El Dorado County seat) in the late 1800s. Today, all that hangs there are sausages in the cheese shop.

Newtown Rd., Placerville (11/12/17) John Poimiroo

Bigleaf maple (11/12/17) John Poimiroo

At this time of year, Newtown Road, between Placerville and Pleasant Valley, is over hanging with bright yellow  bigleaf maple and orange black oak.

It’s the kind of scenic route that Darrell searches for among “the lofty hills and gentle curves in this somewhat hidden area” of California.


Shenandoah Vineyards (11/12/17) Darrell Sano

Turley Vineyards (11/12/17) Darrell Sano

Despite a late start from Oakland, he found “the morning light was still something to behold, illuminating the hills, intensifying the color.”

That’s why John Muir preferred to call the Sierra Nevada “the range of light.”

Darrell says that one thing he finds wonderful about fall is that “The quality of light at 1 p.m. is like 7 p.m. in summer… intensifying clarity and structure.”

He adds that though the Sierra foothills are peaking, its wine tasting “is never past peak.”

What Darrell enjoys most about tasting in Amador and El Dorado Counties are their  “bucolic hills, traffic-less roads, and no limos!”

You’re not likely to encounter backups as people pose for pictures beside their cars or with their girlfriends. You’ll have the road mostly to yourself, except for an occasional rancher, local or fellow oenophile.

As you motor, craggy Sierra peaks spray-painted white with fresh snow are glimpsed to the east, while the western horizon undulates with layers of purple foothills, scored by rows of vines.

It amazes me how many of California’s most famous labels grow zinfandel, syrah, mourvedre, grenache and viognier in the Sierra. It’s not something they brag about doing – “We grow our grapes in the Sierra!” – but they do.

Fiddletown (11/12/17) Darrell Sano

Farnham House hidden by fall color (11/12/17) Darrell Sano

Then, you sweep past workers picking olives, apples or pears. Harvest is still coming in, even if the grapes have long-since been picked. Darrell stopped and spent a moment talking to the olive harvesters and “relished the moment.”

In places you’ll find fall color surrounding 1855 Victorian structures, like the Farnham House in Fiddletown.

Soon after gold was found nearby, it got so busy that six stage coaches would stop there, each day.

“Today, Darrell was one of the few who stopped during his trip to pair fall color with wine tasting.

Sierra Foothills – Peak (75-100%) GO NOW!

Road Trip: CA-120, US 395

US 395 (10/15/17) Anirudh Natekar

Yosemite National Park (10/13/17) Anirudh Natekar

Silver Lake, June Lake Loop (10/13/17) Anirudh Natekar

June Lake (10/13/15) Anirudh Natekar

It’s fun to follow someone’s road trip through the snaps they took along the way.

Today, Anirudh Natekar sent these images of his road trip from the SF Bay Area up CA-120 through Yosemite National Park and south on US 395 past the June Lake Loop to Bishop Creek Canyon.

Bishop Creek is pretty much Past Peak at higher elevations (like North Lake seen in one of his photos), though spots of lovely color can be found along this road trip.

North Lake, Bishop Creek Canyon (10/14/17) Anirudh Natekar

Bishop Creek Canyon (10/14/17) Anirudh Natekar

South Lake Rd., Bishop Creek Canyon (10/14/17) Anirudh Natekar

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Weekend Drive – LaPorte Road, Quincy

LaPorte Rd., Quincy (10/9/17) Jeff Luke Titcomb

Bigleaf maple, LaPorte Rd., Quincy (10/9/17) Jeff Luke Titcomb

Dogwood, LaPorte Rd., Quincy (10/9/17) Jeff Luke Titcomb

The LaPorte Road, just out of Quincy, “is ripe for color drives, all along the road,” reports Plumas County color spotter Jeff Luke Titcomb.

Yellow bigleaf maple, rosy dogwood and black oak, their big leaves splotched with orange, yellow and lime, “are just stunning right now,” Jeff writes, “It’s a great drive, especially when the sun changes direction and just makes the yellow glow.”

LaPorte Rd., Quincy (3,432′) – Peak (75-100%) GO NOW!

Greater Bishop Area

Hot rod, hot color, hot photo at Bishop Creek (10/2/16) Daniel Stas

In the second of our new series of driving tours, here are recommended drives near Bishop. Again, these are based on historic peak.

Bishop Creek CanyonPeak Color: from the last week of Sept. to the first week of Oct., though areas of peak color can be enjoyed from mid Sept. to mid Oct. From downtown Bishop (US 395), take W. Line St. (CA 168) toward the Sierra Nevada. Bishop Creek Canyon has three main fall color areas: South Lake, North Lake and Sabrina Lake.  For your safety, please pull off to the side of the road and park at lots, campgrounds and turnouts. Foliage: Quaking aspen, willows.

  • South Lake – South Lake Road is 15 miles west of Bishop on CA 168. Turn left onto S. Lake Rd and continue 6 mi. to South Lake. Prime locations, by descending color,  include: South Lake, Weir Pond, Parchers Camp, Willow, Table Mtn. , Surveyor’s Meadow, Stiny Loop/Mt. Glen,  Mist Falls, Four Jeffries and Big Trees.
  • North Lake –  North Lake Rd. is 2.8 mi past S. Lake Rd. on CA 168. Turn right onto N. Lake Rd. and continue 2 mi to North Lake. As you approach North Lake, you will pass through a boulevard of aspen, that at peak is breathtaking. Prime locations, by descending color, include: Upper North Lake, North Lake, North Lake Rd.,
  • Lake Sabrina – Continue 4 miles past S. Lake Rd. on CA 168 to Lake Sabrina. Prime locations, by descending color, include: Upper Sabrina, Lake Sabrina, Sabrina Campground, Groves Above Cardinal Village, Aspendell and Intake II.

Round Valley to Pine Creek – Peak Color: early October. Take US 395 north from Bishop to Pine Creek Rd. at Mesa. Travel west through Round Valley, passing cadmium yellow rabbitbrush. Golden cottonwood glow along Pine Creek. Continue up Pine Creek Canyon to groves of aspen growing beside Gable and Pine creeks.

Buckley Ponds and Rawson Ponds, BishopPeak Color: Mid Oct. to early Nov. Take E. Line St./Polenta Rd. east toward Airport Rd., then south to Shober Ln, then east to the Buckley ponds. Clusters of landmark cottonwoods and colorful grasses grow along the edges of the ponds. The Rawson Ponds are near the Owens River between E. Line and Warm Springs Rd.

Southern Inyo County

Whitney Portal Trail (9/16/12) Dennis Vance

A new feature this autumn is driving tours of prime fall color destinations across California. First up: Southern Inyo County. These driving tours predict when and where color will be peaking. As with any prediction, it is subject to be off, depending on conditions.

Whitney Portal Peak Color: mid September. From Lone Pine, drive west along the Whitney Portal Road to trail’s end, then hike (strenuous) up the trail to Big Horn Sheep Meadow (10,300’) to be dazzled by bright yellow willows.

Onion Valley – Peak color: Early to mid October. From Independence, drive west on Onion Valley Rd., along Independence Creek to the Onion Valley Campground.  Stands of aspen and meadows full of willows provide displays of autumn color. For hikers (strenuous), the Bubbs Creek trail leads to Pothole, Gilbert and Flower lakes.

Big Pine Creek – Peak color: Early to mid October. From Big Pine, take the Glacier Lodge Road west along Big Pine Creek to Glacier Lodge.  Aspen, cottonwood and willow grow along the creek and in meadows. For hikers, the North Fork hike gains 3,000’ in 9.2 mi. and is listed as strenuous, though beautiful stands of color are seen the higher you hike.

Mt. Whitney Fish Hatchery – Peak color: mid to late October. Although the fish hatchery has been closed since 2008, due to storm damage, its majestic structures and surrounding cottonwoods provide dramatic color and visual interest.  The site is reached easily from Independence.

Alabama Hills – Peak Color: late November to early December. Take US 395 west from Lone Pine to the Alabama Hills, a rugged location often used as the backdrop for television and motion picture “westerns.” In December, weathered cottonwoods provide a colorful contrast to the snowcapped Sierra.

Next up: driving tours of the Bishop area of Inyo County.


Driving Tour of Plumas County

Frenchman Canyon (10/23/14) Chuck Viebrock

Frenchman Canyon (10/23/14) Chuck Viebrock

If you don’t check back to read comments, earlier this week Sharon wrote that she was planning a trip this weekend to Plumas County and asked what advice we might offer.  Here’s the touring guide to Plumas County that we recommended:

  1. Drive to Truckee on I-80, then north on CA-89/CA-70 to Quincy. There will be spots of color along the road. Greenhorn Creek parallels the road. As you approach East Quincy, the La Porte Road is often cited as a location where good color is found. Follow the La Porte Road south to Nelson Creek where good color has been reported in past years. The Quincy-La Porte Road is also good, heading toward the town of La Porte. Color spotters report the best color in Plumas County is found off highway. That would require an SUV in some cases, an ATV in extreme cases (USFS service roads), but a normal car in most cases. Plumas County is laced with old roads that follow streams. That’s where you’ll find some of the county’s best color. Indian Creek, is one. Though, you’d need time to explore the backroads and if you don’t have it, continue on to Quincy. In the town of Quincy are many exotics: the famed Judge Thieler sugar maple (now past peak) and lovely trees around the Murray home. This is more like shooting in New England, where architecture and foliage combine, though the architecture here isn’t as old or as classic. Plumas County used to have an excellent visitor center whose proprietor, Suzi Brakken, would come out and wash the windshields of leaf peepers. The county defunded support to that organization, so try the Quincy Chamber of Commerce for local advice. Karen Moritz of Plumas County also recommended taking “the short trip (17) miles up to Bucks Lake – west of Quincy. Lots of aspen, dogwood and bigleaf maple just off the highway.” Beyond Quincy is Indian Valley and Greenville. There’s often lovely color along the streams leading into the valley. The trick is to know the streams at which there’ll be color (the Indian Valley Chamber in Greenville may have advice). Look for brilliant orange Indian Rhubarb along the edges of creeks. I haven’t found the area beyond Greenville and Indian Valley to be that productive, though there are black oak and bigleaf maple on the west shore of Lake Almanor. So, once you reach Greenville, you might want to turn back and head down CA-70 toward Paradise and Oroville. There is Indian Rhubarb at the top of Hwy 70 (Feather River Canyon) and some bigleaf maple, though the farther down you go, the color will diminish. Paradise and Oroville further down Hwy 70 are just starting. So, the lower you go down the canyon, the less you will see as most of the Shasta Cascade is patchy for the moment.
  2. The second approach is basically the reverse of what we just described. Get to Hwy 70, then follow it up to Greenville, then backtrack along Hwy 89 through Quincy toward Truckee.  You’ll find the best color on side trips to La Porte, Bucks Lake and other spots away from the main road.
  3. For another trip or a longer stay, eastern Plumas County can have great color in late October at Antelope Lake, along Babcock Creek and in Squaw Valley (not the ski area).