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In Your Backyard – Eastern Sierra Fall Color

In Your Backyard,” a feature of Fox26 in Fresno, sent Sports Anchor Nick King to search for autumn adventures. He found them in the Eastern Sierra, this past month.

Fall color is now Past Peak in most of the Eastern Sierra (pockets of it can still be found in the Owens Valley), though the perspectives stated in Nick’s piece are timeless.

Nick is a fan of CaliforniaFallColor.com, saying he turns to this site for guidance on where to find fall color.

In this segment, he leaned upon CFC color spotters Josh Wray, Jared Smith, Jeff Simpson and yours truly for comments on what makes fall so special in California. 

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Gone Big in Big Pine

Frémont cottonwood, Big Pine (10/30/18) Mark Harding

Cottonwood cannot be overlooked in the Owens Valley. They’re just too big.

Color spotter Mark Harding was driving US 395 through Big Pine on Tuesday when he could hardly stop looking up, and it wasn’t the views of Mt. Whitney that caught his eye.

Frémont and black cottonwood (Populus Fremontii and Populus trichocarpa) each grow to 100 feet in height in the Eastern Sierra.

A landmark Frémont cottonwood can be as tall as an 11-story building and five feet wide at its base.

Their limbs are loaded with golden leaves at peak and, with little else as tall in the Owens Valley, elder cottonwood dominate the valley horizon.

The most pronounced difference between each genus is its leaves. Frémont cottonwood have heart-shaped leaves, while those of the black cottonwood are spear-tip shaped.

Those in Mark’s pictures are Near Peak, though cottonwood hold their leaves longer than aspen, so they will continue to stay bright for another two weeks.

Cottonwood growing nearby in the Alabama Hills have peaked in January, proving a durability that just cannot be overlooked. 

  • Big Pine (3,989′) – Near Peak (50-75%) GO NOW!
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The Eye of the Beholder

June Lake Loop (10/30/18) Mark Harding

A proverb restated since the third century, B.C., is that beauty is in the eye of the beholder.

One might look at Mark Harding’s photographs of June Lake, post peak, and see nothing but gray, bare limbs.

Mark recognized the beauty within the austerity of the forest.

Just because an object, a plant or a person is worn, past peak or aging does not mean it is without beauty, character or interest as Mark so artistically  depicts in his photographs. 

  • June Lake Loop (7,654′) – Past Peak, YOU MISSED IT. Or, did you?

It Was Beautiful While It Lasted

Halloween Tree, Black oak, Topaz Lake (10/30/18) Jeff Simpson/Mono County Tourism

Mono County color spotter Jeff Simpson’s final report just arrived. He wrote, “One of the most spectacular fall color seasons in recent memory is slowly coming to an end.

“Most locations in Mono County are now past peak with the exception of Lower Rock Creek Trail, the West Walker River and the towns of Walker, Coleville and Topaz. “All these locations are at full peak and will have good color for the next five days or so.”

A few groves along the June Lake Loop and in Lundy Canyon still carry bright color, though mostly across Mono County … YOU MISSED IT.

C’mon, Jeff. We expect treats on Halloween, not tricks. Ah well, it was beautiful while it lasted. 

  • Walker Canyon (5,200′) Peak to Past Peak, GO NOW, YOU ALMOST MISSED IT! – Great color remains along the banks of the West Walker River, with some sections Past Peak. The best color is located near Mountain Gate Park closer to Walker.
  • Walker, Coleville and Topaz (5,403′) Peak (75-100%) GO NOW! – A towering boulevard of gorgeous, peaking cottonwood lines US-395 and should remain stunning through the end of the week. Topaz Lake is at full peak and has beautiful sunrises and sunsets.
  • Lower Rock Creek Road (7,087′) Peak to Past Peak, GO NOW, YOU ALMOST MISSED IT! – Lower Rock Creek near Paradise is  still carrying nice color. A few peaking aspen can still be enjoyed along the Lower Rock Creek Trail. It’s now Past Peak above Tom’s Place.
  • Crowley Lake Community 6,949′)  – Peak to Past Peak, GO NOW, YOU ALMOST MISSED IT!

It was beautiful while it lasted.


June Swoon

Black leaf spot, Aspen, June Lake Loop (10/27/18) Jake Puchalski

Black leaf spot can be lovely, we just discovered.

June Lake Loop (10/27/18) Jake Puchalski

June Lake Loop (10/27/18) Jake Puchalski

Jake Puchalski toured the June Lake Loop on Saturday and appreciated, “a really cool mix of greying leaves blended throughout” peaking aspen.

The grey Jake saw was a blend of bare trees whose grey limbs had dropped their leaves and aspen groves still carrying leaves damaged by black leaf spot.

He noted, that because peak has been so durable (Mono County is getting a half-week more peak color this year than last, on average), “there were both vibrant gold aspen tree tops and green, grey, gold, and red leaves scattered all over the forest floor.”

What’s on the forest floor will be the story at June Lake this week, as more wind is predicted by Halloween. Could that be the trick that treats us to a final June Swoon? 

  • June Lake Loop – Peak to Past Peak, YOU ALMOST MISSED IT!

June Lake Loop (10/27/18) Jake Puchalski



An Unbelievable Autumn

Walker River (10/24/18) Jeff Simpson/Mono County Tourism

Convict Lake (10/24/18) Alicia Vennos/Mono County Tourism

California’s 2018 Autumn will be remembered as one of the most unbelievably beautiful and long-lasting, ever. In Mono County, the show has simply been beyond exclamation.

That’s encouraged Mono County’s Alicia Vennos to declare that her destination, our previous pick as “Peak of the Week,” should get its title extended another week, “thanks to gorgeous fall weather with little to no wind.”

Alicia certainly has a point. Many of Mono County’s fall color hotspots deserve a “GO NOW!” designation.

Being that it is so close to Halloween, we don’t want a curse placed on us that would upset fall spirits. So, we urge you to GO NOW! As, this well could be the last call for Peak viewing along US 395.

At the beginning of autumn, had Alicia vowed Mono County’s aspen would be peaking right up to Hallow’s Evening, we would have accused her of brewing an “Unfallen Leaf” spell.

Instead, she’s made us believers and expect one unbelievable Peak Party in Mammoth Lakes on All Hallow’s Eve. 

US 395, Coleville (10/24/18)Jeff Simpson/Mono County Tourism

Topaz Lake (10/24/18)Jeff Simpson/Mono County Tourism

US 395, Coleville (10/24/18) Jeff Simpson/Mono County Tourism

US 395, Coleville (10/24/18) Jeff Simpson/Mono County Tourism


  • Monitor Pass (8,314′) – Past Peak – YOU MISSED IT!
  • Lobdell Lake Road (8,600′) – Past Peak – YOU MISSED IT!
  • Walker Canyon (5,200′) – Peak (75-100%) GO NOW! – The shores of the West Walker are gleaming.
  • Towns of Walker & Coleville – Peak (75-100%) GO NOW! – Massive cottonwood along US 395 and beside the Walker River in the Antelope Valley are beautiful.
  • Sonora Pass (9,623′) – Past Peak – YOU MISSED IT!

Conway Summit (10/24/18)Alicia Vennos/Mono County Tourism


Bridgeport/Virginia Lakes

  • Twin Lakes (7,000′) – Peak (75-100%) GO NOW! –
  • Virginia Lakes (9,819’)- Past Peak – YOU MISSED IT!
  • Conway Summit (8,143′) – Peak (75-100%) GO NOW! – The south side of Conway Summit is at its prettiest. The north side is almost past peak. Conway has a rolling peak with some groves still green, beside bare branches and peak color mixed between them.
  • Summers Meadow (7,200′) – Peak (75-100%) GO NOW! – There’s great color all along the road.

Lee Vining

  • Tioga Pass (9,943′) – Past Peak – YOU MISSED IT!
  • Lee Vining Canyon (6,781′)  Peak to Past Peak, GO NOW, YOU ALMOST MISSED IT!
  • Lundy Lake & Canyon (7,858′) – Peako Past Peak, GO NOW, YOU ALMOST MISSED IT! – Lundy Lake Rd, Lundy Lake, Lundy Campground and the Beaver Ponds still have lots of peak color. The trail to the waterfalls is now Past Peak.

Mono Lake (10/24/18)Alicia Vennos/Mono County Tourism

Lundy Lake (10/24/18)Alicia Vennos/Mono County Tourism

Beaver Pond, Lundy Lake (10/24/18)Alicia Vennos/Mono County Tourism

Lundy Lake (10/24/18)Alicia Vennos/Mono County Tourism

Lundy Lake Rd (10/24/18)Alicia Vennos/Mono County Tourism

Lundy Lake Rd. (10/24/18)Alicia Vennos/Mono County Tourism

Benton & 120 East

  • Sagehen Summit (8,139’) -Past Peak – YOU MISSED IT!

June Lake Loop, Down Canyon (10/24/18)Alicia Vennos/Mono County Tourism

Silver Lake, June Lake Loop (10/24/18)Alicia Vennos/Mono County Tourism

June Lake Loop (10/24/18)Alicia Vennos/Mono County Tourism

June Lake Loop

  • June Lake Loop/Hwy 158 (7,654′) – Peak (75-100%)

Gull Lake Marina (10/24/18)Alicia Vennos/Mono County Tourism

GO NOW! – Fall Color Viewing Tip: The most iridescent color is seen when trees are backlit. Because this is a loop, drive it in both directions to see the best light and color. June Lake at Oh! Ridge is peaking, as is Gull Lake – highly recommended, right now.  The mountainside between Grant Lake is shining with a number of gold and orange aspen groves. Silver Lake is past peak, as are some of the roadside aspens along the Loop, particularly down canyon.

Mammoth Lakes

  • Mammoth Lakes Basin (8,996′) – Past Peak – YOU MISSED IT!
  • Laurel Canyon (8,500′) – Peak (75-100%) GO NOW! (high clearance 4WD required)

Crowley Lake/McGee Creek/Convict Lake

  • McGee Creek Canyon (8,600’) – Peak (75-100%) GO NOW! – Fingers crossed that it doesn’t blow. If it doesn’t, the color will remain good for another week around the campground and along the trail.
  • Around Crowley community (6,781′) – Peak (75-100%) GO NOW! – This has been Crowley’s best year for Fall Color. It is literally aglow with color.
  • Convict Lake (7850′) – Peak (75-100%) GO NOW! – Convict Lake Campground, the road between Convict Lake Resort and the Marina, and the entire shoreline are inspirational this week. The hike around the lake offers colorful views and photo ops around every bend.

Rock Creek Canyon

  • Rock Creek Road (8,500’+) – Past Peak – YOU MISSED IT!

Remember: even though an area is listed as Past Peak, you will still be able to find spots of nice color. So, if you have the time to explore them, you won’t be disappointed, as the scenery is other worldly.


Peak Flows Into Owens Valley Softly, Like a Poet’s Verse

Old and Young Cottonwood, Owens Valley (10/22/18) Gigi de Jong

Pine Creek Canyon, Inyo County (10/22/18) Gigi de Jong

Pine Creek Canyon, Inyo County (10/22/18) Gigi de Jong

Pine Creek Pass Trailhead, Inyo County (10/22/18) Gigi de Jong

Cottonwood, Owens Valley (10/22/18) Gigi de Jong

“Peak fall color is tumbling down the mountains and spreading out across the Owens Valley,” Bishop color spotter Gigi de Jong describes poetically.

Bishop Canyon is now drained of its Peak color, which she says “seems to be flowing into
the lower creeks and canyons.”

California’s largest and finest display of peaking black cottonwood are at peak in Pine Creek Canyon, “with a beautiful display of yellow and umber … alongside the creek.”

While higher up the steep-sided canyon, Gigi writes, “Small knots of young aspen … are holding onto their color as tightly as they’re holding onto the mountainside.

As the canyon opens up to the valley below, cottonwoods cluster in groups and stand in
lines like partygoers dressed in their golden finery at an Autumn Harvest Ball.

Across the Owens Valley, Gigi continues, “Every open field, where water courses along canals or spreads out in marshy tracts, hosts these radiant trees. Every neighborhood street is glowing with color. They all seem adamant to outshine one another.

“On the east side of Bishop, in the wide-open spaces near the Owens River, are where the larger groups congregate. These groves are wild and wonderful and really show the passage time.

‘Younger trees stand shoulder to shoulder with mature trees, showing off their strength and
resilience. The big, old trunks that have lost their limbs and their shimmering coats, still play a part in the cycle of life out here.

‘There are signs and sounds of life everywhere. There are deer in the canyon and birds in the
trees,” she concluded that when you stand quietly, you can “feel the energy of life as is shifts from one season to the next.” 

  • Bishop Creek Canyon – Past Peak, YOU MISSED IT!
  • Pine Creek Canyon – Peak (75-100%) GO NOW!
  • Owens Valley – Near Peak (50-75%) GO NOW!
  • Bishop – Near Peak (50-75%) GO NOW!


Mule Deer, Pine Creek Canyon, Inyo County (10/22/18) Gigi de Jong

Red-tailed Hawk, Owens Valley (10/22/18) Gigi de Jong

Red-tailed Hawk, Owens Valley (10/22/18) Gigi de Jong

Owens Valley, Inyo County (10/22/18) Gigi de Jong

Bishop, Inyo County (10/22/18) Gigi de Jong




Lovin’ Lundy

Lundy Canyon Campground (10/21/18) Sophie Geaney

Lundy Canyon Campground (10/21/18) Sophie Geaney

Sophie Geaney was lovin’ Lundy this past weekend, finding it “peaking perfectly,” with lush aspen throughout the campground and up the first 1.5 miles of the trail, described as “really amazing.”

The trail to Parker Lake is Past Peak, though there’s color once at the lake. June Lake, of course, is magnificent this week. 

  • Lundy Canyon Trail – Peak (75-100%) GO NOW!
  • June Lake Loop – Peak (75-100%) GO NOW!’
  • Parker Lake – Peak to Past Peak, YOU ALMOST MISSED IT!





Lundy Canyon Trailhead (10/21/18) Sophie Geaney

Lundy Canyon Trail (10/21/18) Sophie Geaney

June Lake Loop (10/21/18) Sophie Geaney

Parker Lake (10/21/18) Sophie Geaney

Convict Lake (10/21/18) Candace Gregory

Gull Lake, June Lake Loop (10/21/18) Candace Gregory


Camping on the East Side

Rock Creek Rd., Mono County (10/21/18) Tor Lacy

Big Meadow Campground, Rock Creek Rd., Mono County (10/21/18) Tor Lacy

Numerous color spotters took our advice and headed to the Eastern Sierra this past weekend.

Tor Lacy and his wife got “out of Long Beach” to camp at Big Meadow along Rock Creek Rd. surrounded by quaking aspen full of Peak color. 

  • Big Meadow Campground, Rock Creek Rd. – Peak (75-100%) GO NOW!

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Stay or Drive

Lundy Lake, Mono County (10/21/18) Clayton Peoples

Conway Summit, Mono County (10/21/18) Clayton Peoples

Lundy Lake, Mono County (10/21/18) Clayton Peoples

Lundy Lake, Mono County (10/21/18) Clayton Peoples

Lundy Lake, Mono County (10/21/18) Clayton Peoples

June Lake, Mono County (10/21/18) Clayton Peoples

June Lake, Mono County (10/21/18) Clayton Peoples

Half Dome, Yosemite National Park (10/21/18) Clayton Peoples

Lower Yosemite Fall, Yosemite National Park (10/21/18) Clayton Peoples

Merced River, Yosemite National Park (10/21/18) Clayton Peoples

There are two types of color spotters: one Stays at a location and works it, the other Drives to many locations, seeing fall color across a broad area.

There’s something to be said for both approaches.

The Stay approach allows time for hiking, relaxing, taking in the color and being at a select spot longer providing for better opportunities to see and photograph it at its best.

The Drive approach provides the experience of enjoying driving along boulevards of fall color, of seeing many places, of appreciating the variety of color to be seen and exploring the forests and towns where fall color is best.

This past weekend, color spotter Clayton Peoples drove a large Sierra loop to the Eastern Sierra and back to the Western Sierra, demonstrating the advantages of the Drive approach.

He reports, “Conway Summit is still just patchy. There’s lots of green among the aspen groves, but there are some stands that are turning. A good zoom lens is best at the moment, which allows one to focus in on groves that are turning and/or mixed.

“Lundy Canyon is at peak. The groves around Lundy Lake are in full color, as are the groves along the dirt road to the trailhead and beside the Lundy Canyon Trail. It is mostly brilliant yellow with a bit of light orange mixed in. Definitely worth a trip!

“The June Lake Loop has reached peak color. Aspen along the Loop and surrounding its pristine lakes have all turned and range from vivid golden yellow to orange. Good color will likely last here another week or so … I recommend that folks “GO NOW” before the best is in the past.

“Yosemite National Park is patchy. The few aspen groves at higher elevations are at full peak, but trees at lower elevations are just beginning to turn. That said, some of the black oak along the Merced River are already sporting bright yellow leaves, and brush ranges from green to yellow to red, so progress toward “near peak” status is not far away,” Clayton reported. 

  • Conway Summit, Mono County – Near Peak (50-75%) GO NOW! (While Clayton rated Conway as Patchy, that’s the nature of the groves, which turn sequentially. The area evolves through successive Patchy, Near Peak and Peak ratings.)
  • Lundy Canyon, Mono County – Peak (75-100%) GO NOW!
  • June Lake Loop, Mono County – Peak (75-100%) GO NOW!
  • Tioga Road, Yosemite National Park, Tuolumne County – Past Peak, YOU MISSED IT!
  • Yosemite Valley, Yosemite National Park, Mariposa County – Near Peak (75-100%) GO NOW! Again, our assessment varies from Clayton’s, as Yosemite has rolling peaks. Because of this, it is easily mis-classified. After the small amount of fall color has peaked along the Tioga Road, Pacific dogwood begin to turn rose to pink and red, then bigleaf maple turn yellow, then cottonwood gold and finally black oak turn orange. Though one specie may be patchy, another may be past peak or peaking. Knowing this helps determine when to visit Yosemite. Yosemite’s famous pioneer sugar maple (planted a century ago near the Yosemite Chapel) peaked in the past two weeks. Now, bigleaf maple are peaking and cottonwood and black oak are approaching peak.