The Sherwins Color Up Above Mammoth Lakes

The Sherwins, Mammoth Lakes; Christie Osborne; © Mammoth Lakes Visitors Bureau, 9/11/13

The Sherwins, Mammoth Lakes; Christie Osborne; © Mammoth Lakes Visitors Bureau, 9/11/13

Seeing is believing!  A week before the first day of autumn, color spotters are reporting 30 – 50% change at high elevations surrounding Mammoth Lakes.

The Sherwins, Mammoth Lakes; Christie Osborne; © Mammoth Lakes Visitors Bureau, 9/11/13

The Sherwins, Mammoth Lakes; Christie Osborne; © Mammoth Lakes Visitors Bureau, 9/11/13

Color spotter Christie Osborne reports that, “The Sherwins above Snowcreek golf course in Mammoth Lakes are showing some fine color at approximately 8,500 feet. Lower, at the 7,500-8,000 foot level just the first hints of color are starting to show, but there is mostly little or no color in town. Fall dessert flowers are also blooming with a show of purple and gold.”

Color spotter Leanne K comments, “… just got back from a long weekend in Mammoth. The high meadows like Agnew, Crater and the meadow between Shadow Lake and Ediza Lake were already gold. The willows and grasses were beautiful in the blue sky. No smoke from the fires. The aspen trees were definitely getting lime and some had begun to change to yellow. It seems like it is a bit early, but really does feel like fall. Other low growing type plants were beginning to yellow.”  Leanne wasn’t sure how to assign a %, though Christie suggests:

Mammoth Lakes
0 – 15% in town at approximately 7,500 feet. Some yellow green.
30 – 50% in the Lakes Basin near Twin Lakes at approximately 8500 feet.
30-50% above approximately 8,500 feet along slopes on the Sherwin Mountain Range.

Note: the 30 – 50% evaluation is for high areas in The Sherwins, above 8,500′.  There’s still lots and lots of time to see great color at Mammoth Lakes and in the Eastern Sierra.

Only in California - wildflowers blooming in autumn; Christie  Osborne; © Mammoth Lakes Visitors Bureau, 9/11/13

Only in California – wildflowers blooming in autumn; Christie Osborne; © Mammoth Lakes Visitors Bureau, 9/11/13

California Fall Color in 3-D

Put on 3-D glasses to watch this fun YouTube video by Jim Carbonetti.  It’ll come right at ya.

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For Joy! California Color Reports Are Streaming In

Willow Creek Campground (8/25/13) © 2013 Jared Smith

Willow Creek Campground (8/25/13) © 2013 Jared Smith

We’re getting lots of great reports from color spotters all over California about the great early color being seen.  In the comments section are reports from Ben who writes, “There is a ton of fall color in Berkeley right now. Does that count?”  You bet it does, Ben.

We report all color, whether native or exotic.  Like we reported at the beginning of August, the color started appearing then.  Ben is seeing “Lots of red on the sweetgums, the Japanese maples are turning, yellow on pistache, yellow gingkos…” even “the big leaf maples are already turning yellow in the City and in the Berkeley Hills/Tilden Park. Lots of red in Tilden park in bushes…” surprise, surprise even some “Black oaks started showing some color about 2 weeks ago.”

Rebecca reports she regularly visits the site (apologies to all you California Fall Color fanatics who missed our reports during those other seasons) and repeats what Ben’s seeing… pistaches turning early, some maples are green and red with not a lot of yellow.  She visited Carmel this past weekend and found maples turning there, as well.  A lot of you out there are finding the early change to be unexpected.  We haven’t seen it this early, but then early shows have never meant a less spectacular fall.

Esther reports back from Aspendell (Eastern Sierra) where she was painting landscapes en pleine air  and was shocked by the “yellow Aspen leaves on the ground already after a windy night. I took a few home in a notebook. I was just trying to plan a fall weekend to go back up there. Looks like I better plan it for early to mid October.”

Then reporting yesterday was reliable color spotter Jared Smith of the Parcher’s Resort in the Bishop Creek Canyon (Eastern Sierra) who provides the first full report of the year (see below).  If Jared is reporting this early, we’re full on.

For your review, here’s how we report color change.  It’s easy to become a California Fall Color Spotter, just email your report to us at editor(at)  We love getting photos (the best photo of each location is all we can publish – great photos get sent to TV weather reporters across California).

We use a scale to identify the percentage of color for a given location.  This is the same scale used by The Weather Channel:

0 – 15% – Little to no color change, some lime or yellow may appear.  (Note: we include lime as color change, even though it’s yellow-green.

15 – 30% – Still mostly green though up to a third of the forest is showing lime and other colors (yellow, orange, red).

30 – 50% – Approaching half the forest is showing (lime, yellow, red, orange, pink), though half the forest remains green.

50 – 75% – Solid color change – lots of yellow, orange or red, some lime, less than 25% of the trees are green – At 50% we’ll report GO NOW!

75 – 100% – As good as it gets, this is full peak – We continue to report GO NOW!

Past Peak – Most of the leaves have blown off or turned brown or are discolored.  Still, we like to receive past peak reports, as they help identify elevation levels that are changing.

Color change can happen quickly, so be prepared to travel if the color is approaching 50%.  If you follow our reports, you’ll be able to see at what elevations color is appearing.  That will help you plan a trip.

Native trees tend to change at the same time by elevation.  Exotic trees (those not native to California) change at different times.  Individual trees may turn early or late, so they’re not as predictable as those native to California.  OK, now that you’ve had a refresher, here’s the first full report from the Eastern Sierra, though Richard McCutcheon gets the nod for sending the first report of color (Aug. 1) of an Indian Rhubarb flushing orangy-red along Butt Creek (Plumas County).


Color spotter Jared Smith of the Parcher’s Resort is reporting an early show of yellow among the aspen and writes, “we figured we’d get the show on the road as it were.”  Jared plans to supply reports each week beginning in September and twice a week, if time permits, Sept. 15 – Oct. 20.  We will say, after seeing his reports and photographs, if you’ve not seen autumn in the Eastern Sierra, it is one of California’s great foliage shows and should be on your life’s list.

Willow Creek Campground (8/25/13) © 2013 Jared Smith

Willow Creek Campground (8/25/13) © 2013 Jared Smith

Overall Conditions above 8500′

0-15% –   Still mostly green but there are just a handful of little pockets where some bright yellow can be seen. The willows are starting to lighten considerably.

Overall Conditions below 8500′

0 – 15%   –     Still mostly green but one can see the hue changing from dark to lime green has begun.

Location-specific Reports

0-15% – South Lake Rd above Mt. Glen Camp (8600ft)

0-15% – Mountain Glen Campground (8400ft).

0-15% – Mist Falls and the groves above Bishop Creek Lodge (8350ft)

0-15% – Groves above Cardinal Village & Aspendell    (8550ft)

0-15%% – Forks Campground (8000ft – 8300ft)

0-15% – Table Mountain Camp (8900ft)

0-15% – Surveyors Meadow (8975ft)

0-15% – Willow Campground (9100ft)

0-15% – Lake Sabrina (9150ft)

0-15% – North Lake (9255ft)


Early Color

Chinese Pistache - 2013 John Poimiroo

Chinese Pistache – 2013 John Poimiroo

Something odd is happening.

Early color is not unusual, but Indian Rhubarb showing in Plumas County (4,500′), Chinese Pistache showing in El Dorado County (800′), Fremont Cottonwood coloring up in Folsom wetlands (Sacramento County) and Quaking Aspen showing in Inyo County (5,000′) at the same time?  That’s unusual.

Quaking Aspen - 2013 Zach Behrens

Quaking Aspen – 2013 Zach Behrens

Last winter was unusually dry.  A dry winter often translates into earlier color (at least as far as we’ve noticed in past years).

We think naturalists and scientists might say “hogwash.”  But then we don’t pretend to be naturalists or scientists at California Fall Color, just observers of color change in the Golden State.

What are you seeing where you live and travel?

0 – 15% – Showing early color in the northern Sierra, eastern Sierra, Gold Country and Sierra foothills (exotic).

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Who’s On First

Indian Rhubarb, Butt Creek - © Richard McCutcheon, 2013

Indian Rhubarb, Butt Creek – © Richard McCutcheon, 2013

Color spotter Richard McCutcheon sends this lovely spot of color seen yesterday in Butt Creek (Plumas County) and reports, “Could not believe it on Aug 1st, Indian Ruhbarb turned on Butt Creek.”

0 – 15% – Plumas County – Earning honors for the first report of autumn (at the beginning of August), Richard McCutcheon reports a hint of the glory to come now appearing along High Sierra streams.

A Video Look At 2012

On the final day of autumn, we remember some of the fabulous photographs provided to us by California Fall Color spotters in 2012, and express our thanks to all who contributed to or carried our reports.


Special thanks to Inyo County, Mono County, Mammoth Lakes Tourism, Redding Convention & Visitors Bureau, Shasta Cascade Wonderland Association and The California Parks Company for making California Fall Color possible and to Ron Tyler for creating this video.

Past Peak – California.

See you next autumn.

LA County Arboretum & Botanic Garden Still Burning

Wild California Grape, LA County Arboretum (12/14/12) Frank McDonough

Wild California Grape clambering on bamboo, LA County Arboretum (12/14/12) Frank McDonough

LA County Arboretum (12/14/12) Frank McDonough

Liquidambar styraciflua: Burgundy, Festival and Palo Alto (12/14/12) Frank McDonough

LA County Arboretum (12/14/12) Frank McDonough

Meyberg Falls: [from left] ficus benjamina “variegata” and gold and orange examples of Japanese maple [acer palmatum] (12/14/12) Frank McDonough

LA County Arboretum (12/14/12) Frank McDonough

A mix of color still showing at the LA County arboretum, including liquidambar and red maple (12/14/12) Frank McDonough

Frank McDonough of the Los Angeles County Arboretum & Botanic Garden sends these shots taken today.

With a week of autumn still remaining, the color is still intense at the LA County Arboretum, which remains a refuge of serenity separated from the  pell-mell pace of holiday shopping.  To sense the inward peace of this season, head to Arcadia.

75 – 100% – LA County Arboretum & Botanic Garden – Flame colors continue to burn as winter approaches.

Atmospheric River Floods the Color Away

North Arm, Indian Valley, Lights Creek (12/2/12) Richard McCutcheon

Color spotter Richard McCutcheon sends a link showing how this past week’s series of  storms stripped Plumas County’s Indian Valley of color and flooded fields and roads.  A phenomenon called an “atmospheric river” carried three tropical storms from Hawaii to California, deluging the north state.  McCutcheon reports his area was without power for nearly 39 hours.  To see more of his photos, CLICK HERE.

Past Peak – Plumas County – Recent storms have washed away what remaining color was on trees.

What a Difference a Day Makes

Japanese Maple Leaves during storm (11/28/12) John Poimiroo

Redbud (11/28/12) John Poimiroo

Redbud (11/29/12) John Poimiroo

Mission olives (11/28/12) John Poimiroo

A lot changes in a day, as seen in these photos (left) taken of a redbud tree in El Dorado Hills that was denuded in a day.

High winds and rain have knocked color from trees (above), carpeting Northern California with wet color.

On Tuesday, we traveled up CA-99 to Chico, stopping at Chaffin Family Farms near Oroville, where another aspect of fall color was seen… the olive harvest.

75 – 100% – Sacramento Valley – Nut and fruit orchards vary from peaking to past peak.  Recent storms have stripped trees of turned leaves, though color remains to be seen throughout the valley.

75 – 100% – Chico – Cottonwood were showing 75% yellow with some lime to green in riparian areas along the Sacramento River, west of Chico.

75 – 100% – CA-99 – Cottonwood are 75% yellow with some lime to green along the Feather River, east of Gridley.

A Day of Thanks

Sierra Autumn (10/22/2012) Nicholas Barnhart

On Thanksgiving Day, we give thanks to the over 50 color spotters and photographers who provided reports on California’s Fall Color this autumn.

The following individuals contributed reports and photographs to this blog this year: Rob Bohning, Nicholas Barnhart, Kimberly Kofala, Portia Soderberg, K Ashwini, Richard McCutcheon, Heather Heinz, Diana Wroblewski, Krisdina Karady, Jared Smith, Jon Klusmire, Alicia Vennos, Amanda Sweeny, Steve Wolfe, Charlie Noback, Scott McGuire, Barbara Steinberg, Dennis Vance, Kathy Levine, Helen Gunter, Jyoti Kumar Suravarjula, Jeff Luke Titcomb, Mike Nellor, Sue Fischer, Larry Trettin, Debbie Trettin, Brittini McGuire, Jenny Zink, Carolyn Webb, Laurie Baker, Sandy Steinman, Alison Maloney, Karen Haner, Tim Fesko, Dustin Osborne, Dan McKernan, Todd Stepien, Steve Caloca, Karen Moritz, Charley Arrowsmith, Michael Beatley, Joe Willis, Grace Smith, Amy King, Nicole Coburn, Michael Frye, Frank McDonough, Jeff Simpson, Will Klair, Carrie Klair, Grant Roden, Joe Pollini, Rachel Anderson, Mel Seator,  Jyoti Kumar Salvady, Charissa Gilmer and Rob McSkimming.

Without doubt, many others contributed reports, as well.  And, for those who I overlooked or did not know, please know that I am indebted to each of you for your efforts, talents, attentiveness and generosity in providing others reports on what you witnessed.  This list is incomplete without including my wife, Joan, who has humored my recording color percentages, species and elevations as we would travel hither and yon, and – more importantly – point out particularly beautiful color on our travels across California.  Every person should have so dear and understanding a friend, companion and lover.

Special thanks are also expressed to the many reporters and media who carried our reports and gave attention to what we have shown about California’s fall color.  And, of course to the many tens of thousands of people who have followed and contributed to this site, and our Facebook and Twitter pages.  You are, after all, the reason we do this.

Our first “fall color report” was published on September 12 and our first peak was reported on September 16, a week before the Autumnal Equinox.  Fall color is often reported in California right up to the Winter Equinox and beyond.  We consider that to be proof of our claim that California truly has the longest and most varied season of autumn color in North America.  Indeed, California quite possibly holds the world record.  As one of the few Mediterranean climate regions on Earth, California is able to grow a variety of colorful foliage that provides a spectacle unmatched anywhere.  That, combined with California’s varied terrain and elevations makes our fall color the most varied and long-lasting for leaf peepers, photographers and nature lovers.

Doubting Thomases need only click through any year on the archive, at left, to see the progression of color across The Golden State.  The change of color this past season was particularly magnificent.  It began earlier than in previous years and was long-lasting.  As of today, the show is still progressing, with beautiful color to be seen in the state’s urban forests (San Francisco, the San Francisco Peninsula, South Bay and East Bay, its vineyards, the Gold Country, Central Coast and Los Angeles, Orange and San Diego counties).  And, it hasn’t ended; the show will continue well into December.

California Fall Color will continue to report color, as it receives reports.  Though, as of today we stop sending weekly updates and photographs to California meteorologists, travel and outdoor writers, until next autumn.

75 – 100% – California – In my heart, it is always peaking.