Spot Report: Bishop Creek Canyon

Reports just received (text and email) from Inyo County indicate that fall color is moving from just starting to patchy at the highest elevations in Bishop Creek Canyon.

No photos have been supplied, but expect to see spotty splashes of yellow among otherwise green to lime aspen above 9,000′.

Locals anticipate it moving quickly from patchy to near peak next week.

Bishop Creek Canyon (8,000′ – 9,768′) – Just Starting to Patchy – Splashes of yellow are emerging above 9,000′


Why Don’t Evergreen Trees Lose Leaves and Change Color?

Coastal Redwood, El Dorado Hills (9/7/17) John Poimiroo

Actually, they do.  It just doesn’t happen all at once.

Evergreen trees have both broad leafs and needles. Madrone, magnolia and photinia are examples of broadleaved evergreens, while pine, fir cedar, spruce, redwood have needled leaves.

Evergreen needles can last anywhere from a year to 20 years, but eventually they are replaced by new leaves. When that happens, the old needles turn color and fall, but not all together, and not as dramatically as deciduous trees (e.g., maple, oak, dogwood, alder, birch).

The reason needles are green is that they are full of chlorophyll which photosynthesizes sunlight into food for the tree and reflects green light waves, making the needles look green.

Needles, just like deciduous leaves, contain carotenoid and anthocyanin pigments. You just don’t see them until the green chlorophyll stops being produced. Once that happens, hidden carotenoids (yellow, orange and brown) emerge, as is seen in the above photograph. Additionally, red, blue and purple Anthocyanins – produced in autumn from the combination of bright light and and excess sugars in the leaf cells – also emerge once the chlorophyll subsides. Yes, even evergreen leaves change color… eventually.

Evergreen trees tend to carry needles in snowy regions. A waxy coating on needles along with their narrow shape, allows them to hold water better, keeps water from freezing inside the needle (which would otherwise destroy the leaf), prevents snow from weighing down and breaking evergreen branches, and sustains the production (though slowed) of chlorophyll through winter. Whereas, broadleaved deciduous trees would be damaged if they kept producing chlorophyll and didn’t drop their leaves.

Evergreen trees do lose their leaves and the leaves do change color. It just isn’t as spectacular.


Why Do Trees Lose Their Leaves?

Snowcreek (11/2/15) Alicia Vennos

It’s survival not just of the fittest, but of the wisest.

Deciduous trees drop their leaves in order to survive.  As days grow shorter and colder, deciduous trees shut down veins and capillaries (that carry water and nutrients) with a barrier of cells that form at the leaf’s stem.

Called “abscission” cells, the barrier prevents the leaf from being nourished. Eventually, like scissors, the abscission cells close the connection between leaf and branch and the leaf falls.

Had the leaves remained on branches, the leaves would have continued to drink and, once temperatures drop to freezing, the water in the tree’s veins would freeze, killing the tree.

Further, with leaves fallen, bare branches are able to carry what little snow collects on them, protecting them from being broken under the weight of the snow. So, by cutting off their food supply (leaves), deciduous trees survive winter.

The fallen leaves continue to benefit the tree through winter, spring and summer by creating a humus on the forest floor that insulates roots from winter cold and summer heat, collects dew and rainfall, and decomposes to enrich the soil and nurture life.

It’s a cycle of survival, planned wisely.

Why Do Leaves Change Color?

Chlorophyll Molecule (Wikipedia)

Leaves on deciduous trees change color in autumn from green to various hues of lime, yellow, gold, orange, red and brown because of a combination of shorter days and colder temperatures.

Throughout spring and summer, green chlorophyll (which allows trees to absorb sunlight and produce nutrients) is made and replaced constantly. However, as days grow shorter, “cells near the juncture of the leaf and stem divide rapidly but do not expand,” reports, “This action of the cells form a layer called the abscission layer. The abscission layer then blocks the transportation of materials from the leaf to the branch and from the roots to the leaves. As Chlorophyll is blocked from the leaves, it disappears completely from them.”

That’s when vivid yellow xanthophylls, orange carotenoids and red and purple anthocyanins emerge.

Orange is found in leaves with lots of beta-carotene, a compound that absorbs blue and green light and reflects yellow and red light, giving the leaves their orange color.

Yellow comes from Xanthophylls and Flavonols that reflect yellow light. Xanthophylls are compounds and Flavonols are proteins.  They’re what give egg yolks their color.

Though always present in the leaves, Carotenoids and Xanthophylls are not visible until Chlorophyll production slows.

Red comes from the Anthocyanin compound. It protects the leaf in autumn, prolonging its life. Anthocyanins are pigments manufactured from the sugars trapped in the leaf, giving term to the expression that the leaves are sugaring up.

The best fall color occurs when days are warm and nights are clear and cold. California’s cloudless skies and extreme range of elevations (sea level to 14,000′) provide ideal conditions for the development of consistently vivid fall color, as seen in these reports.

Sierra Primed For Fall

North Lake (6/26/17) Alena Nicholas

Summer has just begun, but all indications are that the Sierra Nevada are now primed for a spectacular autumn.

Convict Lake (6/17) Alena Nicholas

Virginia Lakes (6/17) Alena Nicholas

South Lake (6/17) Alena Nicholas

South Lake (6/17) Alena Nicholas

Rush Creek (6/17) Alena Nicholas

Rush Creek (6/17) Alena Nicholas

June Lake (6/17) Alena Nicholas

June Lake (6/17) Alena Nicholas

Gull Lake (6/17) Alena Nicholas




















Alena Nicholas spent the past week touring the east and west sides of the central Sierra, returning with these beautiful images. She said all the lakes were “pretty much full to capacity” with locals reporting the lakes are as high as they can remember them ever being. Even Grant Lake (in Mono County near June Lake) is full. Alena says the last time she saw it, it was not much more than a stream of water.

Rush Creek (6/17) Alena Nicholas

Rush Creek (6/17) Alena Nicholas

Rush Creek (6/17) Alena Nicholas

Creeks have become mini rivers in places where Alena waded, previously. Now, they’re so full its too unsafe to enter them.

Quaking Aspen (6/17) Alena Nicholas

Rush Creek (6/17) Alena Nicholas

North Lake Creek (6/17) Alena Nicholas








The aspen I’ve seen on springtime trips into the Sierra, and those which Alena captured, are healthy and green with no indication of black spot fungus. Though she also noted several aspen whose branches have been bent or snapped branches from heavy snows. This is particularly evident “along Silver Lake, and up below Sabrina Lake” where “a few of the Aspens seemed to have lost their leaves,” perhaps from broken branches.

Bishop Creek Meadow (6/17) Alena Nicholas

Western Blue Flag iris, Rush Creek (6/17) Alena Nicholas

Grant Lake (6/17) Alena Nicholas

Western Tiger Swallowtail and willow (6/17) Alena Nicholas

Mule Deer, Rush Creek Meadows (6/17) Alena Nicholas

Mule Deer, Rush Creek Meadows (6/17) Alena Nicholas














Alena reports meadows as being lush green and full of wildflowers and wildlife. At higher elevations, like Virginia Lakes, there’s still a good amount of snow melting with waterfalls everywhere. I returned from the east coast this past week, flying over the snowcapped Sierra which looked more like they do in March, than June.

Mono Lake (6/17) Alena Nicholas

What does this all mean for fall color spotters, leaf peepers and photographers? In past years when there’s been a lot of water, the autumn show seems to start slightly later (a few days to a week) and last longer. That’s because the leaves are healthier and less likely to dry out and drop sooner.

As for the intensity of the color, that all depends on autumn weather.  As, once days begin to shorten and trees stop producing chlorophyll, as long as the days remain warm and the nights cold (clear skies), autumn color should be intense and vibrant.

Until then, let’s enjoy California’s 8-month spring (wildflowers began appearing in the Deserts in February and continue to bloom at increasingly higher elevations through September).

, , ,

Bishop Creek – Getting Past Peak, But Lots to Enjoy

Groves at Cardinal Village, Bishop Creek (10/2/16) Daniel Stas

Groves at Cardinal Village, Bishop Creek (10/2/16) Daniel Stas

A lot changed this week which we were unable to report, due to “technical difficulties.” Fundamentally, high areas of the canyon were at peak on Friday, then conditions deteriorated with North Lake – in particular – taking the biggest hit.  Wind stripped the beautiful color on Saturday and it was gone by Sunday.

We weren’t sure, until we’d received confirming reports from several spotters, as some of our very reliable spotters up the canyon were unable to report. Now, I know you all want to know:

Q. “What does this mean for fall color viewing and photography?”

A. Peak color can be seen at many, many areas of Bishop Creek Canyon and throughout the Eastern Sierra. More areas will peak in coming days. So, despite that several favorite areas have peaked, the show isn’t over.  Far from it.

Please be mindful, however, of where it’s peaking and avoid fruitless trips to places where it has already peaked. You missed it, there.

In a nutshell, here’s where to go and where not near Bishop, Calif.

North Lake Road, Bishop Creek (10/2/16) Daniel Stas

North Lake Road, Bishop Creek (10/2/16) Daniel Stas

General Conditions – Bishop Creek Canyon

  • Above 9000’ – Past Peak YOU MISSED IT!
  • 8,000’ and 9,000’ – Near Peak (50-75%) to Peak (75-100%)
  • 7,000’ to 8,000’ – Patchy (10-50%)

Weir Pond (9,650’) – Past Peak YOU MISSED IT!

Sabrina Lake, Bishop Creek (10/2/16) Daniel Stas

Sabrina Lake, Bishop Creek (10/2/16) Daniel Stas

Sabrina Campground Area (9,000’) – Peak ( 75-100%) to Past Peak GO NOW! or YOU MISSED IT!  – The aspen along Hwy 168 are now past peak, however aspen within the campground itself and along the stream are still peaking.

Parchers Resort (9,260’) – Past Peak YOU MISSED IT! – The canyon walls to the east and west of the resort are now past peak.

Willow Campground (9,000’) – Peak to Past Peak YOU ALMOST MISSED IT! – The campground and the aspen lining the road and the beaver pond are still holding their peak color, though many have peaked.

Table Mountain Camp (8,900’) – Peak to Past Peak YOU ALMOST MISSED IT! – The mountainside down canyon from the campground is now past peak, though aspen along the creek are peaking.

Surveyors Meadow (8,975’) – Peak (75-100%) GO NOW! – Surveyor’s meadow is now a mix of peaking and past peak stands. Give it another week of peak color here.

Lake Sabrina (9,150’) – Peak (75-100%) to Past Peak YOU ALMOST MISSED IT!  

Sabrina Approach, Bishop Creek (10/2/16) Daniel Stas

Sabrina Approach, Bishop Creek (10/2/16) Daniel Stas

Sabrina Approach (9,100’) – Near Peak (50-75%) – The approach to Sabrina and the small ponds below the dam are peaking.

Quaking Aspen, Bishop Creek (10/2/16) Daniel Stas

Quaking Aspen, Bishop Creek (10/2/16) Daniel Stas

Quaking Aspen, Bishop Creek (10/2/16) Daniel Stas

Quaking Aspen, Bishop Creek (10/2/16) Daniel Stas

Quaking Aspen, Bishop Creek (10/2/16) Daniel Stas

Quaking Aspen, Bishop Creek (10/2/16) Daniel Stas

Quaking Aspen, Bishop Creek (10/2/16) Daniel Stas

Quaking Aspen, Bishop Creek (10/2/16) Daniel Stas

North Lake (9,255’) – Past Peak YOU MISSED IT!

North Lake Road – Past Peak YOU MISSED IT!

Mist Falls and the groves above Bishop Creek Lodge (8,350’) – Peak ( 75-100%) GO NOW! – Absolutely beautiful. This area has a week or two left of peak color.

Aspendell (8,400’) – Patchy (10-50%) Aspendell is often one of the last areas of Bishop Creek Canyon to change.  This area has many stands of lush aspen in it.

Groves above Cardinal Village (8,550’) – Peak ( 75-100%) GO NOW! – The canyon slope from above Cardinal Village up to Cardinal Pinnacle is losing its peak color, though areas near the middle fork of Bishop Creek and surrounding Cardinal Village are peaking.

Four Jeffries (8,000’) – Patchy (10 – 50%)  – More yellow is appearing.

Intake II (8,000’) – Near Peak (50-75%) – Lovely right now!

Big Trees Campground (7,800’) – Patchy – (10 – 50%) – Yellow is now showing among the aspen.

Round Valley – Patchy (10-50%) – Gigi deJong reports that the Round Valley, northwest of Bishop, is carpeted with brilliant cadmium yellow rabbitbrush, providing a spectacular scene, particularly in morning light. Cottonwood along Pine Creek are a mix of developing gold and lime.

Elliot McGucken Captures Glory


North Lake (9/30/16) Elliot McGucken

North Lake (9/30/16) Elliot McGucken

Photographer Elliot McGucken knew to GO NOW! and traveled to Bishop Creek Canyon over the past few days to capture these glorious images of the canyon at peak color.

If you’ve done similarly, email your best photos to:

We’ll post them for those to enjoy who can’t GO NOW!.

North Lake (9/30/16) Elliot McGucken

Surveyor’s Meadow 9/30/16) Elliot McGucken

Table Mountain (9/30/16) Elliot McGucken

Surveyor’s Meadow, Bishop Creek (9/30/16) Elliot McGucken

Quaking Aspen, Bishop Creek Canyon (10/1/16) Elliot McGucken

Quaking Aspen, Bishop Creek Canyon (10/1/16) Elliot McGucken

South Fork, Bishop Creek (10/1/16) Elliot McGucken

South Fork, Bishop Creek (10/1/16) Elliot McGucken

Quaking Aspen, Bishop Creek Canyon (10/1/16) Elliot McGucken

Quaking Aspen, Bishop Creek Canyon (10/1/16) Elliot McGucken

Bishop Creek Canyon (10/1/16) Elliot McGucken

Bishop Creek Canyon (10/1/16) Elliot McGucken

When Should I Go?

Laurel Canyon, Mono County (9/28/16) Josh Wray

Laurel Canyon, Mono County (9/28/16) Josh Wray

“When should I go?” is the most common question we receive.

“Go Now!” is our response. Don’t put off visiting an area if it is Near Peak or, certainly, at Peak. As, when a location is peaking it only has two weeks – at most – of peak color to be seen at that elevation.

Each photo posted on this site, identifies when and where it was taken. We try to post photos not older than a week. What you see in a photo will be different by the time you get there.

Above, Josh Wray captured yellow and lime aspen leaves on his hike up Laurel Canyon, near Mammoth, this week.  Today, many of those green leaves have turned to lime, the lime leaves to yellow, and some of the yellow leaves have fallen.

If you want to see a specific area at peak, go to “Categories” on the left side of this site and click on the region you plan to visit.  Then, scroll back in time to see where it was peaking and when in the past.

If you can only travel on a given date, click on “Archives” on the left side of this site and scroll back in time to see what was peaking.  Then, go there.

If you want to see reports for specific locations (e.g., Laurel Canyon), enter the location in the Search bar above the map.

But mostly, GO NOW!

DogTrekking in the Vineyards is the of traveling with dogs in California.

So, it was a satisfying bone to chew, reading this week’s number about autumn treks to wine country with man’s best friend.

The issue describes what to expect on visits to Mendocino County, the Suisun Valley and Vacaville, the Napa Valley and Sonoma County, setting readers up for great trips to California’s best wines and fall color in the vineyards.

CLICK HERE to read Dogtrekker’s report on spending autumn days in the vineyards with Fido.

Autumn Arrives


The autumnal equinox marks the official change of seasons today, though fall color has been reported since August.

That does not mean an earlier autumn. The change of seasons is fairly consistent in California.

Last year, peak was first reported on Sept. 24, this year on Sept. 21. OK, we reported peak three days earlier, but that may have been more a result of who reported what, than that peak was actually earlier. It could have peaked earlier last year, we just didn’t get a report documenting it.

What is consistent is that peak usually occurs within a week of what occurred historically. That means, though you may see one area being reported as peaking, other nearby areas will peak soon thereafter.

We’ve received anxious questions about a given trail or area (news of the color at Lundy Lake has been hotly anticipated of late). If we’re not reporting an area that you want to visit, that’s because no one has sent a report about it, but it does not mean the area has or has not peaked.

We depend on reports submitted by volunteer color spotters and local tourism offices; they don’t always get to every location.

One way to estimate peak in a non-reported area is to follow reports from areas in the same region at similar elevations. The area you want to visit will likely be peaking about the same time as a reported area in the same region and at the same elevation.

#FirstDayofFall is trending on Twitter with over 152,000 tweets as of the posting of this blog. So, there’s high interest in the season and more reports are sure to follow.

If you’d like to be part of the trend, send photos and descriptions to