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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

Naked Ladies Seen Across North Coast

Naked Ladies, Amacrinum, Carlotta (8/27/18) Walt Gabler

Don’t you just love headlines like this? I sure do.

Of course the Naked Ladies, of which I write, are not the kind that dance in bars. Instead, they’re a bi-generic cross of amaryllis belladonna, called Naked Ladies, that are native to South Africa and were  created by the great Santa Rosa botanist Luther Burbank.

He cross-bred Amaryllis and Crinum to create the new variety, Amacrinum which has naturalized itself across the North Coast region of California.

North Coast color spotter, Walt Gabler, was driving CA-36 through Carlotta when he passed bunches of the vibrant pink flowers.

Burbank started it all, when he created the hybrid which is now an natural and expected part of the North Coast landscape.

They bloom as summer is ending, indicating that autumn is just around the corner.

So, when you see Naked Ladies in the North Coast, you are permitted to blush with excitement, as Fall will soon arrive. 

Just Starting (0-10%) – North Coast – Lots of Naked Ladies (Amacrinum) are blooming throughout the North Coast region.

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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. 

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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.



Sonoma Hangin’ In There

Sunrise near Sebastopol, CA-116 (12/1/17) David Laurence

The beauty of autumn continues until it finally flames out, as seen in these images send by David Laurence.

Alexander Valley, Healdsburg (11/29/17) David Laurence

West of Sebastopol along CA-116, liquidambar are set ablaze by an autumn sunrise. While, midday in the Alexander Valley, north of Healdsburg, northern Sonoma County’s hillsides are scored with peaking vines.

Sonoma County – Peak to Past Peak – You Almost Missed It.


Pinot & Chardonnay Peak in Sonoma County

Chianti Rd., Geyserville (11/22/17) David Laurence Sharp

Madrone Rd., Sonoma Valley (11/18/17) David Laurence Sharp

Passalacqua Winery, Dry Creek Rd., Dry Creek Valley (11/22/17) David Laurence Sharp

Trentadue Winery, Geyserville (11/22/17) David Laurence Sharp

Madrone Rd., Sonoma Valley (11/18/17) David Laurence Sharp

Pinot and Chardonnay vines are peaking in Sonoma County, as is typical for Thanksgiving Week, local vineyard photographer David Laurence Sharp reports.

“The west county, where early ripening varieties such as Pinot Noir & Chardonnay are prevalent, are quickly losing their leaves,” Sharp writes, though “Northern Sonoma County, planted more to later ripening varieties, is in full color glory.”

Whereas, “Sonoma Valley is a mix of full-on color, some vineyards have lost their leaves.”

Sonoma Valley – Peak to Past Peak – You Almost Missed It.

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Orange Friday

Napa Valley (11/19/17) Tracy Zhou

Color spotters across California will avoid waiting in lines today, on Black Friday. Instead, they will be appreciating an Orange Friday at Peak to Past Peak locations like these. GO NOW! You almost missed it.

North Coast

Napa Valley (11/19/17) Tracy Zhou

Napa Valley (11/19/17) Tracy Zhou

Napa Valley (11/19/17) Tracy Zhou

Napa Valley (11/19/17) Tracy Zhou

Napa Valley (11/19/17) Tracy Zhou

Napa Valley (11/19/17) Tracy Zhou

Napa Valley (11/19/17) Tracy Zhou

Napa Valley (11/19/17) Tracy Zhou

Napa Valley (11/19/17) Tracy Zhou

Napa Valley (11/19/17) Tracy Zhou

Napa Valley (11/19/17) Tracy Zhou

Napa Valley (11/19/17) Tracy Zhou



















Napa Valley (11/23/17) Vasu Nargundkar

Napa Valley (11/23/17) Vasu Nargundkar

Napa Valley (11/23/17) Vasu Nargundkar

Napa Valley (11/23/17) Vasu Nargundkar









Central Valley

Mathews Ln./CA-20, Tambo (11/21/17) Robert Kermen

Merlin falcon, Mathews Ln./CA-20, Tambo (11/21/17) Robert Kermen

Prairie falcon, Mathews Ln./CA-20, Tambo (11/21/17) Robert Kermen

Red-shouldered hawk, Mathews Ln./CA-20, Tambo (11/21/17) Robert Kermen








Davis (11/19/17) Phillip Reedy

Davis (11/19/17) Phillip Reedy

Davis (11/19/17) Phillip Reedy

Davis (11/19/17) Phillip Reedy







Shasta Cascade

Meadow Valley (11/12/17) Michael Beatley

San Francisco Bay Area

Japanese Tea Garden, Golden Gate Park (11/14/17) Michael Beatley

Japanese Tea Garden, Golden Gate Park (11/14/17) Michael Beatley

Japanese Tea Garden, Golden Gate Park (11/14/17) Michael Beatley

Japanese Tea Garden, Golden Gate Park (11/14/17) Michael Beatley








Fairfax (11/23/17) Al Auger

Fairfax (11/23/17) Al Auger

Fairfax (11/23/17) Al Auger

Fairfax (11/23/17) Al Auger








San Diego County

Old Hwy 80, Boulder Oaks (11/22/17) Walt Gabler

Old Hwy 80, Boulder Oaks (11/22/17) Walt Gabler

Old Hwy 80, Boulder Oaks (11/22/17) Walt Gabler

Old Hwy 80, Boulder Oaks (11/22/17) Walt Gabler



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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!



Redwood Empire Fair, Ukiah, Mendocino County (11/7/17) Walt Gabler

These colors don’t run, Mendocino County (11/7/17) Walt Gabler

Compared to Napa and Sonoma counties, very few #MendoStrong signs can be seen, now that it has been weeks since the wine country fires occurred, reports Mendocino County color spotter Walt Gabler.

Walt was a first responder on the fire team; he found the small American flag (at left) in the area devastated by fire. It was surrounded by ash and discolored, but unburned.

Similar to Napa and Sonoma counties, fall color is now emerging in Mendocino County’s vineyards.

Finding it requires driving slowly along country roads near vineyards and looking for vines that are turning color. Some are Patchy, some Near Peak, some Peaking and some Past Peak.

Mendocino County (11/7/17) Walt Gabler

Do not enter vineyards without permission. They’re all private property, even if not posted (which they rarely are). Though, it is not necessary to enter a vineyard to see or photograph fall color, as it is readily seen along their edges.

And, if you don’t find fall color in the vineyards, then go wine tasting or go mushroom foraging in the woods (just know what mushrooms are safe to pick).

Either way, you return with an enjoyable day in Mendocino County.

Mendocino County – Near Peak (50-75%) GO NOW!



Sonoma Town Square (11/4/17) Darrell Sano

Responding to a call for reports from the wine country, color spotter Darrell Sano left before 7 a.m. on Saturday to get to Sonoma early. As, he’d planned a long day in the wine country.

On his drive, he monitored the weather as a band of rain was passing over. Darrell described driving into “a sleepy town” (Sonoma) at about 8 a.m. to find “Rain had lacquered the sidewalks with a gentle sheen.”

He walked Sonoma’s Town Square past Mission Sonoma to Buena Vista Winery, the oldest premium winery in California. Darrell recalled having watched helicopter footage of firefighters saving this historic building.

Sherrif Fred, Buena Vista (11/4/17) Darrell Sano

“That’s where I met Fred the “Sheriff of Buena Vista, who, in addition to telling stories of the winery’s history, told me that all of the fire companies surrounding Sonoma’s central square are Volunteer Fire Departments. Those volunteers joined thousands of other firefighters to battle the blaze. Click images to enlarge.

Buena Vista Winery (11/4/17) Darrell Sano

To Darrell’s amazement, “the hill behind BV was black, charred.” Yet, “Fred who has worked at Buena Vista for 17 years seemed unfazed by it all.”

Darrell described Sheriff Fred as “Resilient, #SonomaStrong. He epitomized the spirit in this valley.”

Bartholomew Park Winery (11/4/17) Darrell Sano

Darrell continued along Castle Road to the Bartholomew Foundation Park and Winery.  Its vines stood unscathed before “blackened, charred hillsides.”

Similar to what I found in Napa Valley, Darrell passed “hundreds of hand-written signs, everywhere I drove, expressing thanks to first responders, firefighters, police, state police, PG&E, etc. Remarkable. But maybe not so, after all, we are all strong here in California, #SonomaStrong.

Sonoma – Near Peak (50-75%) – GO NOW!

#SonomaStrong (11/4/17) Darrell Sano

Fire-scorched hills, Sonoma (11/4/17) Darrell Sano

Bartholomew Park Winery (11/4/17) Darrell Sano

Buena Vista Winery (11/4/17) Darrell Sano

Old Winery Rd., Sonoma (11/4/17) Darrell Sano