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Earth Day Wildflowers

Winter Mustard (file photo) Bob McClenahan, Visit Napa Valley

It was a beautiful Earth Day weekend to be out enjoying California’s spring wildflowers.

California poppies and California lilac (file photo) Bob McClenahan, Visit Napa Valley

In the vineyards of Napa and Sonoma counties, the last of late winter’s yellow mustard blossoms have given way to populations of poppies, lupine and all varieties of colorful wildflowers, between the vines, along their edges, beside roadways and on open land.

The colorful springtime display, particularly showy in areas where last fall’s wildfires opened overgrown woodlands to wildflowers, has been nourished by the nutrients left behind by the fires. This will be one of the best years to see big displays of wildflowers because of last fall’s wildfires.

Western Wildflower  lists 17 trails in Napa County to hike for dazzling displays of flora. One of California’s best areas is the Missimer Wildflower Preserve, a protected native grassland. Across its acres of open meadows grow several species listed by the California Native Plant Society as endangered, including the narrow-leaved daisy, Napa western flax, Colusa lavia and yellow Mariposa lily, Calochortus luteus.

Sonoma County Tourism lists 10 Great Wildflower Walks with a colorful array of orange poppies, deep blue iris (now in bloom), purple lupine, white woodland stars, yellow columbine, pink shooting stars, golden fairy lanterns, red larkspur and lavendar clarkia (June) splashed throughout Sonoma County.

California poppies, Gwinllan Vineyards (5/22/18) John Poimiroo

In Sierra Nevada foothills, orange, red and golden California poppies are at their most glorious anywhere grassy slopes face the southern sky. The South Fork of the Merced River, from Mariposa to Yosemite National Park along CA-140 is considered to have one of the best shows, though the upper areas of the Merced River Canyon peaked in mid March.

HIKE OF THE WEEK – The 6.5-mile Hite Cove Trail, leading from Savage’s Trading Post (midway between Mariposa and Yosemite) is spectacular right now with profuse displays of wildflowers growing beside the trail.

If you plan to hike this famed wildflower trail, start early and carry a large bottle of water – you’ll need all of it. The trail is moderate to strenuous, though it has a bonus if you make it to the end… an abandoned mine.

Sierra foothills are carpeted with wildflowers (5/22/18) John Poimiroo

When you capture great images of California’s wildflowers, send them to us and we’ll post them here.

 

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Speeding Toward Winter At Warp

Midway Rd., Durham (11/24/17) Robert Kermen

With just 24 days of autumn remaining and winter storms now wetting California every few days, autumn is speeding toward winter at warp speed, as Robert Kermen depicts in his Thanksgiving Day photo of the Midway, between Durham and Chico (northern Sacramento Valley).

Sonoma Valley (11/24/17) Anson Davalos

Colusa (11/24/17) Nancy Hull

This past weekend’s storms stripped many Northern California trees and vines of color that was evident when these images were taken by Anson Davalos and Nancy Hull on Thanksgiving Day.

Cottonwood along the American River in the Sierra Foothhills have lost their lustrous crowns of bright gold and other landmark trees in the Sacramento Valley are now Past Peak.

Splotches of auburn and orange can still be seen in Gold Country and Central Valley towns, though rain has knocked much of the color from the trees, creating a mash of fallen leaves on the pavement.

Sierra Foothills – Past Peak – You Missed It.

Sacramento Valley – Past Peak – You Missed It.

 

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Sweeping Fall Away

Doug Wilber sweeps leaves along 43rd St. in Sacramento (11/18/17) John Poimiroo

41st St., Sacramento (11/18/17) John Poimiroo

Doug Wilber spent part of his Saturday, much as he has done each Autumn for the past 17 years… raking and sweeping leaves into a pile in front of his Sacramento home.

His neighbors along 43rd St. had or were doing the same when I visited today.

The City of Sacramento calls this time of year, “Leaf Season.” It’s when the city’s fastidious residents rake, sweep and blow leaves from their front yards into piles every few feet along city streets.  Then, every couple of weeks from November through January, city workers come by and scoop them up.

That leaf removal continues for three months in Sacramento tells you just how many trees grow there. This capital city loves its deciduous trees, which provide cooling shade in summer and warming sunlight during winter.

Folsom Bike Trail (11/18/17) John Poimiroo

Mormon Island Wetland Reserve, Folsom (11/18/17) John Poimiroo

Even SMUD, the local public utility, encourages their being planted to save energy. Sacramento County residents are able to get ten free shade trees through a partnership between the Sacramento Tree Foundation and SMUD.

In Sacramento’s Shady Eighty program, residents can choose the desired height, shape, level of water dependency, if the tree flowers, how close or far it might be planted to structures or power lines, and – yes – desired fall color (red, yellow or orange).

Gingko biloba, William Land Regional Park, Sacramento (11/18/17) John Poimiroo

Gingko biloba leaves and clover, Land Park, Sacramento (11/18/17) John Poimiroo

Each year in the week before Thanksgiving, Sacramento streets are layered with canopies of ruby, crimson, orange, gold, yellow, green and buff-colored leaves. It is an impressive sight and worth a trip to Sacramento in addition to its great museums, bars, restaurants and the Freeport Bakery with its famous leaf cookies and other irresistible baked goods.

 

Roosters, Village Park, Fair Oaks (11/18/17) John Poimiroo

Leaf Cookies, Freeport Bakery, Sacramento (11/18/17) John Poimiroo

My favorite locations for seeing fall color in Sacramento County include: Mormon Island Wetland Reserve and bike trails of Folsom, quaint Fair Oaks where chickens run free, East Sacramento’s Fabulous Forties (Gracious Tudor, Colonial Revival, Arts and Crafts, California Bungalow and other grand homes along tree-lined streets numbered in the 40s), William Land Regional Park in South Sacramento and along the American River Parkway (Jedediah Smith Memorial Trail – a 32-mile paved bike and pedestrian trail from the Sacramento River to Folsom Lake).

Sacramento County – Peak (75-100%) GO NOW!

 

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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!

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Fall Farmer’s Markets

Farmer’s Market, Nevada City (11/11/17) Robert Kermen

Farmer’s Market, Nevada City (11/11/17) Robert Kermen

Farmer’s Market, Nevada City (11/11/17) Robert Kermen

California loves its farmer’s markets.

There are literally hundreds of them in the state, and they are found in just about any city of significant population.

Los Angeles has 30 farmer’s markets… some periodic, some permanent.

Although farmer’s markets can be enjoyed year-round here, they’re best in autumn.

Farmer’s Market, Nevada City (11/11/17) Robert Kermen

Farmer’s Market, Nevada City (11/11/17) Robert Kermen

There’s just nothing quite as satisfying as exploring a farmer’s market’s booths and wares on a crisp autumn day. You walk the market in a cozy sweater and spend time leisurely chatting with the farmers, artists, authors and vendors.

Buying at a farmer’s market isn’t just about what you buy, it’s about the relationship you make with the person selling it.

Today, I bought three books, as birthday gifts, directly from the author, a writing instructor at the University of the Pacific.

I didn’t need a book review to know they might be something worth treasuring. His enthusiasm communicated that. You don’t get that on Amazon.com. Spending time at a farmer’s market gives you that and more.

Robert Kermen spent Veterans Day in Nevada City at its farmer’s market. The fall color in town was so-so, but the color to be seen at its farmer’s market was off the charts.

CLICK HERE for where to find farmer’s markets in California.

 

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East/West Redbud Debate

Western redbud, cercis occidentalis (11/10/17) Robert Kermen

Eastern redbud, cercis canadensis (11/7/17) John Poimiroo

When it comes to redbud, it’s debatable as to which is prettiest in autumn… East or West.

The eastern variety, cercis canadensis, displays bright gold and green heart-shaped leaves.

Whereas, western redbud, cercis occidentalis, display orange, red, gold and lime heart-shaped leaves.

Both are equally stunning.

Redbud is often overlooked by color spotters who give up looking for great fall color as soon as the forests of aspen have turned, but not Robert Kermen or me.

Robert found western redbud growing along Big Chico Creek in Chico’s Bidwell Park.

Cercis occidentalis are native to the Sierra and North Coast foothills. Native California indians used their barks for basket weaving and as a red dye. In springtime, their showy pink and magenta blossoms grow in clusters all over redbud shrubs that garnish foothill river canyons.

Western redbud, cercis occidentalis (11/10/17) Robert Kermen

Western redbud, cercis occidentalis (11/10/17) Robert Kermen

I have the pleasure of enjoying an Eastern redbud all year long. It grows in my side yard (El Dorado Hills) and provides an inspiring show when autumn light backlights the leaves in kelly green and yellow.

Eastern redbud are a popular landscape and street tree, appreciated for their shape, shade and autumn color (best from late October to early November).

Their heart-shaped leaves flutter in a soft autumn breeze, as if they’re beating.

OK, there’s no debate. East or West, who couldn’t love redbud with all they have to show?

Cercis Occidentalis Range – Wikipedia

Redbud – Peak (75-100%) – Their range forms an upside down fish hook, leading from the SF Bay Area north through wine country and the Redwood Highway, then bending east through Trinity County to the northern Sierra foothills, then south to the Southern Sierra. GO NOW!

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Grass Valley Glows

Black oak, Grass Valley (11/8/17) Robert Kermen

Bigleaf maple, Grass Valley (11/8/17) Robert Kermen

Red maple, Grass Valley (11/8/17) Robert Kermen

Black oak, bigleaf maple, red maple and gingko biloba were at peak today in Grass Valley, color spotter Robert Kermen reports, a sure sign that the Gold Country is a Peak of the Week destination for this weekend.

Grass Valley (2,411′) – Peak (75-100%) GO NOW!

Gingko biloba, Grass Valley (11/8/17) Robert Kermen

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American River Reflections

Sycamore, American River, Lotus (10/21/17) Hari Reddy

In autumn, the American River is placid, unlike the surging stream it is in late spring and early summer. Sycamore, Frémont cottonwood and black oak cast golden, orange, yellow and lime reflections across its slow moving waters.

Lotus, near where gold was discovered in Coloma in 1848, is a popular put-in spot for rafters and kayakers, making the American the most popular whitewater rafting destination in California. Though in autumn, paddling is as quiet as the river.

American River, Lotus (722′) – Near Peak (50-75%) GO NOW!

El Dorado Hills (768′) – Near Peak (50-75%) GO NOW! – Exotic Chinese pistache, sycamore, flowering plum and pears and native blue oaks planted along El Dorado Hills Blvd. are a mix of burgundy, auburn, crimson, yellow, orange, lime and buff.

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A Riot Along the Bear River

Maple, St. Canice Catholic Church, Nevada City (10/14/17) Robert Kermen

Bear Valley (10/14/17) Robert Kermen

Bear River (10/14/17) Robert Kermen

There’s a riot of color to be seen along the Bear River in Nevada County, Robert Kermen reports. He travels CA-20 and I-80 almost weekly and encounters “multiple color spots along the route.”

Kermen reports that one of his favorite stops is “the headwaters of Bear River which is located on Bowman Lake road just after you pass through Bear Valley headed eastbound on CA-20. This whole area is a riot of color now with bigleaf maple,  dogwood, and a few aspen at peak.”
Nevada City is also looking good with maple providing crimson and yellow highlights.
Nevada City (2,477′) – Peak (75-100%) GO NOW! – Peaking from Nevada City to the headwaters of the Bear River, along CA-20.
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Apple Hill – Ripe for Picking

Apple Hill (10/12/17) John Poimiroo

A detour on my return from Lake Tahoe, yesterday, included a stop at Apple Hill in Camino to take photos and – what else!? – buy an apple pie.

Newtown Rd., Placerville (10/12/17) John Poimiroo

Bigleaf maple (10/12/17) John Poimiroo

My route took me through Pleasant Valley (great wine tasting) down Newtown Rd. toward Placerville, US 50 and Camino.

Newtown is a lovely, winding road canopied by huge black oak and bigleaf maple, that now are speckled with huge bright yellow and lime-colored maple leaves.

At Camino, apples lay rotting between the trees at Boa Vista Orchards, as kids romped through a nearby pumpkin patch.

Similar to the experience at Julian in San Diego County, Apple Hill is more than a place to grow apples.

It is an annual harvest festival that continues from late summer to Christmas, with all kinds of homemade preserves, pies, baked goods, fresh fruit and produce on sale, along with handmade crafts and wine tasting at nearby Sierra Foothill wineries.

At this time of year, Apple Hill is wholesome fun and ripe for picking.

Apple Hill, Camino (3,133′) – Near Peak (50-75%) GO NOW!

Newtown Road, Pleasant Valley – Patchy to Near Peak (10-75%) GO NOW!