Today, we chose to search for California’s gold and found it peaking on Carson Pass.
The pass is the high point of State Route 88. It was named after western explorer and scout, Kit Carson, who, in January 1844, proposed that the Frémont Expedition turn west in order to resupply at Sutter’s Fort in present-day Sacramento. Local Indians warned against attempting a winter crossing, but always impulsive, John C Frémont forged on across the Sierra, reaching Sutter’s Fort in March.
Four years later, Mormon emigrants blazed a route along what they called the Carson Trail, from Sly Park, across Carson Pass to the Carson Valley in Nevada. The route they laid out is now called Mormon Emigrant Trail. Our drive in search of golden leaves began on Hwy 50 in Folsom, traveling east along historic gold miner routes to Sly Park where we linked up with the Mormon Emigrant Trail.
The route is getting mixed reviews. We thought there was nice color, though Nanci Knight, a veteran color spotter didn’t see as much orange (true) as she’d seen in past years and thought the yellows to be pale, particularly continuing beyond Hope Valley to Monitor Pass (many trees there got stripped of trees by strong winds, the weekend before last). Nanci also conjectured poetically that the drought has reduced the amount of green growing beneath pines and aspen, “leaving a pervasive dull brown tableau of lifeless, gnarly dead wood/sticks.”
Just Starting (0 – 10%) – Mormon Emigrant Trail - The first color seen is an orange-yellow tinge to black oak leaves at 4,200′. At 7,500′, willows shine bright yellow, though the color spots are so few and far between that the road is hardly worth exploring for fall color, though as a road that is historic, wide, straight and untraveled, Mormon Emigrant has few peers.
GO NOW! Peak (75 – 100%) – West Slope, Carson Pass (Hwy 88) - As you near Silver Lake, stands of bright yellow aspen speckle the forest at 7,500′ elevation. A particularly good stand of very large, old aspen flickering bright yellow is found on the north side of the highway at elevation 7,200′ at the entrance to the Kirkwood Lake Road.
GO NOW! Peak (75 – 100%) – Kirkwood Mountain Resort - This was the weekend to be hiking goat trails surrounding the Kirkwood Mountain Resort, as color spotter Kevin Cooper (Coop) did to get these shots. The hike got Coop psyched for Kirkwood’s new guided, off-piste backcountry ski experience called Expedition Kirkwood Backcountry that will explore deep powder bowls.
GO NOW! Peak (75 – 100%) – Caples Lake - The east shore of Caples lake has bands of day-glo orange-red and yellow aspen. A nice view is from the fishing access parking area on the west shore of the lake at Caples Lake Resort.
GO NOW! Peak (75 – 100%) - East Slope, Carson Pass (Hwy 88) – The upper reaches of the Hope Valley near Carson Pass are at full peak. We diverted driving a dirt road toward Red Lake to find a boulevard of yellow, peaking aspen.
GO NOW! Near Peak (50 – 75%) - Hope Valley Recreation Area – Blue Lakes Road which travels through the Hope Valley Recreation Area has little color along it. Though there are a few brilliant stands. The best we saw was a boulevard of yellow aspen just beyond the winter road closure gates, after passing the Hope Valley Campground.
GO NOW! Near Peak (50 – 75%) - Hope Valley – There’s still quite a bit of green and lime, particularly on the north side of the valley, though too are wide swaths of red, orange and yellow among fir and pine forests.
GO NOW! Near Peak (50 – 75%) - Sorensen’s Resort – This popular collection of cabins set in a forest of towering aspen flickers with yellow. Across Hwy 88, large groves of aspen are mostly yellow and orange, though some trees still have green or lime leaves in abundance.
Patchy (10 – 50%) – Big Meadow - A little yellow is ringing Big Meadow on State Route 89, north of the Hope Valley, though it is still mostly green and lime. The drive up 89 to the meadow from Hope Valley passes through groves of very green aspen.
Patchy (10 – 50%) – U.S. 50 - Also called the Lincoln Highway, US 50 has a few pockets of yellow aspen on the west slope of its summit at 6,400′; black oak are beginning to be edged with orange and yellow at 5,400′, black cottonwood are turning gold at 3,600′ and bigleaf maple seem almost sun burned with edging of yellow and brown at 3,300′. US 50 is not known for its color, but get off the highway near Placerville onto Newtown Road in late October to mid November, and you’ll drive along branch-draped roads of fall color.