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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



Barrow Lane, Napa Napa Valley (11/5/17) John Poimiroo

Blackened hills singe the edges of Napa’s vineyards, east of the Silverado Trail, though the vineyards themselves remain green and gold.

That’s the story of this past month’s wine country fires. Though devastating (41 dead, 220,000 acres and 2,800 homes destroyed), the fires have not broken Napa, Sonoma or Mendocino counties.

Their spirits are strong and ebullient, their wineries largely untouched, their towns as enticing, and their landscapes as beautiful as ever. In two words, “GO NOW!”

Elizabeth Vianna, winemaker at Chimney Rock (untouched by fire that licked at its property line) said, “Vineyards have so much water in them, that they’re almost like a fire break.” That quality protected the vines, though a few wineries, particularly in eastern Napa Valley received significant damage.

Most visitors to the Napa Valley would never notice it, however. Even the blackened hills (seen above) are not that different to the eye than the normally dark foliage of oaks and brush.

#NapaStrong (11/5/17) John Poimiroo

What is evident throughout the wine country are the number of signs thanking first responders for saving homes and neighborhoods. Heroic stands occurred that spared many neighborhoods, businesses and wineries. Click images to enlarge.

Acacia Rd., Oakville (11/5/17) John Poimiroo

Today, Canada geese flew low over Napa vineyards, calling to one another. Brightly colored hot air balloons floated slowly in the crisp morning air and people returned to the wine country’s great art galleries, restaurants and tasting rooms.

Acacia Rd., Far Niente (11/5/17) John Poimiroo

Fall color has returned to the Napa Valley, as well. Car enthusiasts took pictures of their classic rides on narrow boulevards lined with peaking gingko biloba and vines were showing bright red, yellow and lime, though the vineyards remain mostly patchy. Peak color will continue to appear through Thanksgiving Day in the wine country.

Napa Valley – Near Peak (50-75%) – GO NOW!

Acacia Rd., Oakville (11/5/17) John Poimiroo

Calistoga, Napa Valley (11/4/17) Darrell Sano

Calistoga, Napa Valley (11/4/17) Darrell Sano

Acacia Rd., Oakville (11/5/17) John Poimiroo

Acacia Rd., Oakville (11/5/17) John Poimiroo

Acacia Rd., Oakville (11/5/17) John Poimiroo

Paradigm Winery, Acacia Rd., Oakville (11/5/17) John Poimiroo

Hawthorne, Acacia Rd., Oakville, Napa Valley (11/5/17) John Poimiroo

Far Niente, Oakville Grade (11/5/17) John Poimiroo

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Redwood Highway – Glimpses of Brilliance

Bigleaf maple and ferns, Prairie Creek Redwoods State Park (10/29/17) Max Forster


Mill Creek, Jedediah Smith Redwoods SP (10/29/17) Max Forster

James Irvine Trail, Prairie Creek Redwoods SP (10/29/17) Max Forster

North Coast color spotter Max Forster sends glimpses of brilliance from his most recent tour along the Redwood Highway.

He reports that despite recent rain (perhaps until this weekend), stormy weather has not “truly returned to the North Coast, extending fall color into November.”

As Max predicted in his previous report, peak color has continued and the Roosevelt elk “are still very active” from

Howland Hill Rd., Jedediah Smith Redwoods SP (10/29/17) Max Forster

Beneath Mill Creek Bridge, Jedediah Smith Redwoods SP (10/29/17) Max Forster

Big Lagoon to Prairie Creek State Park.

Redwood National Park and Prairie Creek Redwoods State Park – Peak (75-100%) – Bigleaf maple along Drury Parkway near the Big Tree are the finest Max recalls having seen in years.  “Almost all of the trees are peaking together.” GO NOW!

Jedediah Smith Redwoods State Park – Peak (75-100%) – “The drive through the park

Mill Creek, Jedediah Smith Redwoods SP (10/29/17) Max Forster

along Howland Hill Road will be very colorful this week, with the forest carpeted in golden vine maple,” Max reported. He hiked the entirety of Mill Creek through the park over this past weekend and found bigleaf maple in top form. GO NOW!

Bull elk defends his harem, Elk Meadow (10/29/17) Max Forster


Fires Out, Color Begins to Appear

Old River Rd., Ukiah (10/31/17) Walt Gabler

Old River Rd., Ukiah (10/31/17) Walt Gabler

Now that the fires in Mendocino County are out, color spotters have returned to photographing fall color.

Walt Gabler found Mendocino County’s vineyards to be full of color and Near Peak.  As is typical of vineyards, some vines are past peak, others patchy and still others near or at peak.

Walt visited the Nelson Family Vineyards and Saracina Vineyards between Hopland and Ukiah along Highway 101, then traveled the Old River Road along the Russian River between Hopland and Ukiah and near Talmadge along Old River Road, just outside Ukiah.

Hopland/Ukiah – Near Peak (50-75%) GO NOW!

Nelson Family Vineyards, Mendocino County (10/31/17) Walt Gabler


Close to the Heart in Sonoma County

Downtown Petaluma (file photo) Deborah Garber

Sonoma County vineyard (10/22/17) Karin Davalos

Napa, Sonoma and Mendocino Counties have one of the latest and longest-lasting peaks in California with peak color appearing from mid October to Thanksgiving Day.

In Sonoma County, fall color can be found in the vineyards, in wine country cities like Petaluma where native and exotic trees line downtown streets and in state parks where lovely color is found in the woods.

Anson and Karin Davalos visited Sonoma County this past week to report that despite the devastation left behind by wildfires in some of the wine country, “much of the area and the vineyards are as beautiful as ever.”

Petaluma Historical Museum (file photo) Deborah Garber

Karin should know, as she’s a local girl who grew up there. So, we know how anxious she was to return and see the places closest to her heart.

Presently, there are a lot of as-yet-unturned green vines to be seen, but also certain varieties are peaking with deep red, orange, yellow and lime to be seen. Vineyards peak by individual grape variety, so while one vineyard may be green, another nearby may be brilliant burgundy or past peak.

More than anything else, what Napa, Sonoma and Mendocino Counties need – following this past month’s fires – is for normalcy to return. That can only happen once travelers return to visiting normally.

For fall color spotters that means including Napa, Sonoma and Mendocino Counties in your fall travel plans, and visiting now.

Liquidambar and vines, Sonoma County (10/22/17) Karin Davalos

So, I’m putting out the challenge to all color spotters – particularly those great photographers who’ve shown the best of the wine country in the past – let’s show everyone how beautiful these areas are and what great fall color can be found there now, through Thanksgiving Day.

Email current photographs of fall color in Napa, Sonoma and Mendocino Counties to editor@CaliforniaFallColor.com and we’ll post them because, like Karin, the wine country is close to all of California’s hearts, right now.

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




Mushroom Madness in Mendocino

Fly Amanita (poisonous) mushroom, Mendocino Mushroom, Wine and Beer Festival, Nov 3 – 12

Chanterelle growing on a Mendocino forest floor

Mushrooms, 3,000 varieties of them, will be hunted, discussed, tasted and feted at Mendocino County’s 19th Annual Mushroom Wine and Beer Festival, Nov. 3 – 12. It is the world’s largest mushroom festival.

What makes Mendocino County such a great mushroom foraging area? “It’s the trees,” says Eric Schramm who will be leading a hike from Jughandle Creek Farm on Nov. 12, one of many walks, talks, cooking classes, concerts, rides and hunts focused on learning more about Mendocino mushrooms.

Mendocino’s forests are populated with many evergreen and deciduous trees whose fallen leaves and needles cultivate a broad variety of spores.

For the fall color spotter, Mendocino County’s forest are speckled with autumn color from: (orange) black oak, (yellow) bigleaf maple, (orange-yellow) valley oak, (yellow) white alder, (red-purple) creek dogwood, (gold-orange) various willows, (yellow) California buckeye, (burgundy) choke cherry, (yellow) Oregon ash, (chartreuse) vine maple, (gold) black cottonwood, (red) Klamath plum and all those mushrooms.

Schramm notes that the detritus deposited on the forest floor by certain trees, combined  with Mendocino’s moist coastal climate, nourishes the abundant growth of fungi. It is tree species that leads foragers to prized mushrooms. Chanterelle grow beneath Douglas fir, black trumpet below tan oak and porcini underneath shore pine.

“The annual haul is nothing short of historic,” writes Visit Mendocino, and the response is that mushrooms make just about every great Mendocino menu. Mendocino’s wine makers and brewers find inventive ways to pair their makings with nature’s bounty in endlessly tantalizing ways, making Mendocino the go-to destination for mushroom lovers.

3,000 mushroom varieties grow in Mendocino County. 500 are edible.

Mushrooms are not just good to eat (that is, the 500 edible varieties growing in Mendocino County), but they’re also wonderful to photograph, as seen in the slider across the top of our site.

Schramm says not only is it just plain fun to go mushroom hunting, but festival goers learn a lot about the medicinal, spiritual, culinary, scientific and emotional benefits of mushrooms, stating, “Mushrooms are the wave of the future. We’re just starting to understand their many uses as tools in bioremediation to naturally clean the Earth.”

So, here’s a rundown of some of the fungi fest’s favorites. CLICK HERE for links to them:

  • Daily – Mushroom Hunt Ride, Ricochet Ridge Ranch, Ft. Bragg.
  • Daily – Live Mushroom Exhibit, Ford House Museum, Mendocino.
  • Nov. 3 – Wild Mushroom and Winemaker Dinner, MacCallum House Inn and Graziano.
  • Nov. 3 – 5 – Mushroom Exploration Tours, Stanford Inn, Mendocino.
  • Nov. 4 – Mushroom Foraging at UC Hopland Research and Extension Center.
  • Nov. 4 – Guitarist Alex de Grassi, UC Hopland Research and Extension Center.
  • Nov. 3 – Coro Winemaker Dinner at the Golden Pig.
  • Nov. 4 – Afternoon Tea at Glendeven Inn with mushroom tea sandwiches.
  • Nov. 4 – Mad Fritz Brewing Co. at the Bewildered Pig.
  • Nov. 5 – Bars, Bordellos and Mushrooms, Kelley House, Mendocino.
  • Nov. 5 – Mycellium in Art & History, Mendocino Art Center.
  • Nov. 5 – Ravens Restaurant medicinal mushroom breakfast.
  • Nov. 5 – Pennyroyal Farm mushroom brunch.
  • Nov. 5 – Foray with Mario Abreu (for beginning foragers), Ft. Bragg.
  • Nov. 7 – Blue Collar Winemaker Dinner at Cucina Verona.
  • Nov. 8 – Barra of Mendocino Winemaker Dinner at Crush.
  • Nov. 8 – Wild Fish Winemaker Dinner.
  • Nov. 10 – Little River Inn Mushroom and Belgian Beer Dinner.
  • Nov. 11 – Mushrooms at the Mendocino Coast Bontanical Gardens, Ft. Bragg.
  • Nov. 11 – Mushroom Foray and Cooking Class at Jade Court, Ft. Bragg.
  • Nov. 11 – Maple Creek Winery/Artevino Mushroom Hike & Forage.
  • Nov. 11 – Saracina Mushroom Foraging and Gourmet Luncheon.
  • Nov. 11 – Jaxon Keys Winemaker Dinner.
  • Nov. 11 – Yamakiri Winery and Ravens Restaurant Mushroom and Winemaker Dinner.
  • Nov. 11 – Campovida Winemaker Dinner.
  • Nov. 12 – Fungi Finale – A Walk on the Wild Side with Eric Schramm, Caspar.
  • Ongoing Excursions/Tours as Posted – Skunk Train, Point Arena Lighthouse, B. Bryan Preserve (endangered African hoof stock).

During November, 25 hotel properties in Mendocino County are offering special packages. Follow the above link to them.



Two Weeks Left on the Redwood Highway

S. Fork Eel River, Redwood Highway (10/24/17) Max Forster

Bigleaf maple, Prairie Creek Redwoods SP (10/24/17) Max Forster

Bigleaf maple, Mill Creek, Jedediah Smith Redwoods SP (10/24/17) Max Forster

North Coast color spotter Max Forster estimates the Redwood Highway has another couple of weeks of peak color.

There’s a good reason there are so many state parks and a national park in the North Coast region, as it is full of wonderful foliage to see.

Here’s what Max found:

Humboldt Redwoods State Park – Peak (75-100%) – Avenue of The Giants will be seeing peak conditions throughout this week as bigleaf maple and creeping poison oak put on their display.  The drive along US 101 in Mendocino County from just north of Willits into southern Humboldt County is also looking spectacular. GO NOW!

Redwood National Park & Prairie Creek Redwoods State Park – Peak (75-100%) – Bigleaf maple are at peak while most of the vine maple are just starting to turn.  Best places to see color will be along Drury Parkway near the Big Tree parking area, Prairie Creek Trail from the visitor center to the Zig Zag #2 Trail and the road to Lost Man Creek.  Roosevelt elk are still very active, at the tail end of the seasonal rut.  Outside of the bulls protecting their herds of females, you can find groups of rejected bachelors, nursing battle wounds and damaged egos. GO NOW!

El Viejo, Jedediah Smith Redwoods SP (10/24/17) Max Forster

Jedidiah Smith Redwoods State Park – Peak (75-100%) – Bigleaf maple along Mill Creek are at peak.  The forest understory of vine maple, salmonberry, thimbleberry and cascara along Howland Hill Road will be peaking this week, making the drive through the heart of the park even more spectacular than usual. GO NOW!


Violent Sex Returns to the Redwoods

Bull Elk in Rut, Prairie Creek Redwoods State Park (10/1/17) Max Forster

Roosevelt Elk are in rut at Redwood National & State Parks (Orick) where deciduous leaves began changing fast last week, North Coast color spotter Max Forster reports.

The annual elk rut is one of California’s colorful displays in autumn, as massive bull elks challenge one another for the right to mate with herds of female elk cows. Young suitors playfight one another while bloody battles occur between the existing bull of a herd and his rivals.

It’s elk-styled Match.com, but with bugling, violent challenges and fights to exhaustion, as the ladies watch indifferently from afar.

Corkscrew Leaning Maple, Prairie Creek Redwoods State Park (10/1/17) Max Forster

Elsewhere in the redwood forest of northwestern California, bigleaf maple that have received full sun began transitioning last week, while the vines and maple that haven’t gotten direct sun have not yet begun to change.

Don’t expect a big showy splash of color, but for the true fan of autumn color, it is gorgeous, as the vines, maple and poison oak show chartreuse, yellow and crimson in rolling displays as sunlight hits them through the tall trees.

Max writes that “Notable sections for big leaf maple over the next week include Lost Man Creek in Redwood National Park and between the Corkscrew Tree and Zig Zag #1 Trail in Prairie Creek State Park.”

Redwood National & State Parks (Sea level to 500′) – Patchy (10-50%)