Salinas Valley Peaking

Alvarado Road, Salinas Valley (10/23/13) John Poimiroo

Alvarado Road, Salinas Valley (10/23/13) John Poimiroo

The old Spanish highway from San Diego to San Francisco (U.S. 101) is called the El Camino Real (the king’s highway) and near King City in the Salinas Valley, oaks and cottonwood along the Salinas River are dressed regally.

GO NOW! 75 – 100% – Salinas Valley – Oaks and black cottonwood along the Salinas River are backlit yellow-green to orange on a morning drive south through the Salinas Valley.  Stop in King City and just south of it for the best show.

California Sycamores Dress for Thanksgiving – Go Now!

California Sycamore (historic) Mathias J Alten, University Art Center

California sycamore, platanus racemosa, a native tree common in California’s foothills and along the Central Coast, has been the subject of artist paintbrushes, through the years, for their multiple and scabrous cream to grey trunks and gracefully twisted branches laden with deeply lobed leaves which vary in color from chartreuse to orange-red.  In early autumn the sycamore are the first to decorate woodland floors with their spent, dusty-brown leaves.  In winter, stemless seedballs, carried on stalks, provide interest.

This week, the Santa Ynez Valley News reports the sycamore, along with golden cottonwoods (Californios called them Los Alamos), exotic orange-red liquidambars, burgundy and bronze vineyards and crimson poison oak are dressing the Central Coast in time for Thanksgiving Day dinner.

50 – 75% – Central Coast – Riparian areas along the Central Coast have been nearing peak for the past two weeks and will provide lovely color through the Thanksgiving Day weekend and beyond.

Travel U.S. 101 between Salinas and Ventura along the El Camino Real.   An anonymous color spotter reports, “I did the whole 101 drive from Monterey County to Ventura County yesterday. Vineyards all the way down, have a blend of different shades of fall colors. Brilliant colors like I’ve never seen! … and Paso Robles, Templeton, Atascadero are saturated with bright yellows, reds, oranges. The fall this year in these areas are better than I’ve seen in years. A must see!”  Go Now!

Central Coast Colors Up

Salinas River (11/15/12) John Poimiroo

The Central Coast is showing nice color, particular with in its redwood forests and river valleys.

75 – 100% – Santa Cruz Mountains – Bigleaf maple are putting on a glorious show of bright yellow within the oak woodlands and redwood forests of the Santa Cruz Mountains.  Drive the Soquel-San Jose Road from Summit Road down to Soquel between 4 p.m. and 5 p.m. for a backlit display that will brighten your day.

Salinas River (11/15/12) John Poimiroo

30 – 50% – El Camino Real – From Salinas south to Paso Robles along US 101 (The El Camino Real) are showing yellow to orange among native willows, oaks, sycamores and cottonwood along the banks of the Salinas and Nacimiento Rivers.  Several of California’s most beautiful Spanish missions are located along this historic route, worth stopping at, as well as wine tasting near Paso Robles and along the Salinas Valley.  This is John Steinbeck country, so plan a visit the extraordinary Steinbeck Museum in Salinas.

Monarch Butterflies Return to Santa Cruz

Monarch Butterfly, Lighthouse Field (file photo) John Poimiroo

Another California Fall Color is embodied in the annual return of the Monarch Butterfly to the coast.  On Sunday, Oct. 14, the monarchs will be officially welcomed back to Natural Bridges State Beach in Santa Cruz, from 1 to 4 p.m.

Park visitors can participate in numerous activities including arts & crafts, active games for children, music by the 5M’s (the mostly mediocre musical monarch mariposas), feasting on hand-cranked ‘monarch’ ice cream (it’s really pumpkin), along with informational booths including “how-to’s” for creating a successful butterfly garden.  Kids and adults are encouraged to dress up in orange and black.  Join monarch man and monarch woman in the Monarch Parade, and meet the guests of honor:  the monarchs themselves.

Monarch Butterflies are famous for their striking beauty, and their multi-generational migration from western states to the California coast.  The monarchs head to Santa Cruz from states west of the Rocky Mountains.  The new arrivals are 4 to 5 generations removed from the butterflies that left Santa Cruz, last spring.  The overwintering population you see along the coast is the longest lived generation—surviving up to 9 months before they travel to spots north and east in search of milkweed.  There, the females lay their eggs only on the milkweed plants, the only thing caterpillars eat.  By injesting the toxins contained in milkweed plants, the monarchs become toxic to most predators.

The monarchs are seen clustering on eucalyptus, Monterey cypress and other trees for protection from wind and rain.  When the weather warms to above 55 degrees Fahrenheit, a burst of monarchs may flutter about in search of flower nectar and water. Natural Bridges State Beach is located at the end of West Cliff Drive at the north end of Santa Cruz.  Butterflies can also be seen at Lighthouse Field near the Santa Cruz Lighthouse.

Return of the Monarchs

Monarch Butterflies, Santa Cruz (1/15/2006) © 2006 John Poimiroo

A tradition of California Fall Color has been to report all things autumn and colorful, including the annual return of the Monarch Butterflies to the Central Coast.

In keeping with that tradition, Natural Bridges State Beach will welcome back the Monarchs officially, on Sunday, October 9, from 10am to 4pm.  This annual event marks the homecoming of the brilliantly-colored orange and black monarchs with guided tours of the monarch grove, live music by the 5-M’s band (Mostly Mediocre Musical Monarch Mariposas), educational displays and guest lecturers that will reveal the mystery of monarch migration and more. Children can participate in monarch butterfly themed active-learning games and crafts, and everyone is invited to dress up for the butterfly-themed parade.

The park’s Monarch Grove provides a seasonal home for monarch butterflies each winter. From mid-October until early February, they form a “city in the trees.” The areas mild ocean air and protected eucalyptus grove provide a safe roost until spring. In spring and summer, the butterflies migrate to valley regions west of the Rocky Mountains where milkweed, the only plant a monarch caterpillar eats, is plentiful.

October marks the beginning of their arrival, with numbers and activity usually peaking near Thanksgiving, when many park visitors gather to enjoy and photograph the butterflies.  Visitors can view the over-wintering Monarchs by walking down the park’s wheelchair and stroller-accessible boardwalk to the observation deck in the eucalyptus grove. The Monarch Grove has been declared a Natural Preserve, thus protecting the Monarchs and their winter habitat from human encroachment or harm. This is the only State Monarch Preserve in California.

Weekend Guided tours of the Monarch Grove take place on Saturdays and Sundays at 11:00am and 2:00pm, from October 9 until the monarchs migrate, usually in late January.  Monarch migration is variable; please call the park if you would like more information.  Public tours are offered on weekends and no reservations are necessary, or call (831) 423-4609 to arrange a tour for a group of 10 or more. Meet at the Visitor Center for the hour-long program. The walk is stroller and wheelchair accessible.

Natural Bridges State Park is located at the end of West Cliff Drive at the north end of Santa Cruz. Take Swift Avenue west from Highway 1, or follow West Cliff Drive north along the in-town bluffs until it ends at Natural Bridges.

Monarch Butterflies Return to Monterey Bay

Monarch Butterflies (1/16/06)

Monarch Butterflies (1/16/06)

The seasonal show of fall color in California is not limited to falling leaves.  Every autumn, beautiful orange and black Monarch butterflies return to the Monterey Bay area to mate.  One of the best places to see the display is at Natural Bridges State Beach in Santa Cruz.  Jodi Apelt of the California State Parks reports that on every Saturday and Sunday at 11 a.m. and 2 p.m. through Feb. 14 (or until the migratory Monarchs depart), Monarch Butterfly Tours will occur.  Natural Bridges is located at the end of West Cliff Drive.   To know that the Monarchs are there when you plan to visit, call (831) 423-4609 in advance.

Monarch Butterfly (1/16/06)

Monarch Butterfly (1/16/06)

Other colorful California State parks fall events in the Santa Cruz area include a program on Mushrooms of the Santa Cruz Mountains, Nov. 7 from 1 p.m. to 3 p.m. at Ranche del Oso Nature and History Center near Waddell Creek Bridge (16 mi. north of Santa Cruz off CA-1).  A mushroom taxonomist will describe where to find them, how to be sure they’re “the right ones,” and tips on gourmet preparation of wild mushrooms.

On the Sunday of the Thanksgiving Day Weekend (Nov. 29), a “Creeping Forest Ramble” will leave at noon from Park Headquarters at Big Basin Redwoods State Park.  Docent Doreen Devorah will lead a three-hour, 2.5 mi hike up and down the “creeping” terrain, along creeks, through fire-scarred redwoods and over log bridges.   Bring water, a snack and good hiking shoes.

Photo Credit: © 2006, John Poimiroo

Announcing California Fall Color

Black Oak, Upper Yosemite Fall (file photograph) – John Poimiroo

Some people believe there’s no change in season in California.  They don’t know where to look.

California has a beautiful and varied seasonal change, as this blog will attest.

Following Labor Day and continuing to Thanksgiving Day, will report where it’s peaking, what’s peaking, where to stay and lead readers to fall color resources.

To comment on any report or add your own, just click on a headline or email