This past Saturday, I headed to Mammoth Lakes in the Eastern Sierra for the Outdoor Writers Association of California fall meeting. My route crossed Echo Summit (U.S. 50); Luther Pass and Monitor Pass (CA-89); and Devil’s Gate Pass, Conway Summit and Deadman Summit (U.S. 395).
Side trips during the conference took me through Mono and Inyo Counties, along U.S. 395 and over Sherwin Summit to Bishop, then up Bishop Creek Canyon to the Parcher’s Resort at South Lake. I also joined outdoor writers on a Jeep expedition south of Mammoth Lakes and up Laurel Creek Canyon to 10,300′.
Returning yesterday, I checked the state of color change along U.S. 395 at June Lake and up the Virginia Lakes Canyon. I then crossed Sonora Pass (CA 108) to the Golden Chain Highway (CA 49) and rode north to El Dorado County.
I came away with an overall impression of what fall color will look like on Saturday, when autumn arrives officially.
My conclusion: The most colorful display (red, orange, yellow, gold, lime, dark green) will occur in the Bishop Creek Canyon (west of Bishop) toward South, North and Sabrina Lakes. Though, fluttering yellow and lime will be seen in stands of aspen above 9,000′ throughout the Eastern Sierra.
Pockets of nice color can be found below 9,000′, though lower elevations are still two to three weeks away before they approach 50% change.
Here’s what I found:
0 – 15% – Bracken fern have turned yellow-orange between 2,000 and 3,000′. At 6,000′, quaking aspen are liming with some yellow. From Strawberry Lodge to Sierra at Tahoe, willows have turned yellow to gold with lots of the drainage plants having turned.
CA – 89/88
0 – 15% – Luther Pass – Quaking aspen lining the edge of Grass Lake are showing the slightest change in color.
0 – 15% – Hope Valley – Several stands of quaking aspen have turned yellow near the Sorenson’s Resort, though peak appears to be two weeks away.
0 – 15% – Monitor Pass – There is some lime showing among the several stands of aspen along the pass, but very little yellow yet showing.
0 – 15% – Conway Summit – Groves of aspen to the west of the highway, approaching the summit are liming and tinged with yellow and gold, particularly at sunset.
15 – 30% – Virginia Lakes Canyon (9,200′) – Aspen not near water are showing signs of stress. Paul McFarland of Friends of the Inyo, a non-profit cooperative association that helps public agencies protect the Eastern Sierra, commented that he believes the previous dry winter has parched some trees and will lead to disappointing color in areas not near water sources. That phenomenon was seen in select stands of aspen, where leaves appeared desicated or spotted. However, most of the trees appear healthy, with their leaves green and shiny.
15 – 30% – Lundy Canyon - Color spotter Janet Fullwood reports color starting to appear in Lundy Canyon. It is similar to Virginia Lakes Canyon.
However, leaves on aspen near water sources are deeply green and appear healthy. Color spotter Carolyn Webb of the Virginia Lakes Resort believes it’s too early to tell whether the show will match previous years, though there’s still plenty of time for the trees to color up.
The weather at Virginia Lakes has been ideal for fishing and should continue through the weekend. Plan on the best color appearing in the next two weeks.
0 – 15% – June Lakes Basin – Too early. Plan for color to be near peaking in two to three weeks. In the meantime, the fishing is great!
0 – 15% – Mammoth Lakes Basin – Too early. Plan for color to be near peaking in two to three weeks. More great fishing here and nearby.
0 – 15% – U.S. 395 – The upper reaches of the Hilton Creek drainage (south of Mammoth Lakes) seen from U.S. 395 are aglow with orange, yellow and lime aspen.
15 – 30% – Laurel Lakes Canyon – Lots of lime and yellow are beginning to show among the aspen lining Laurel Creek. This is a rock and boulder strewn Jeep road that should be driven only with a 4WD vehicle. Only a couple of turnouts exist, so it’s a long drive uphill to get to one, once you pass the color.
15 – 30% – Bishop Creek Canyon – Dogtrekker.com editor Janet Fullwood (who won two photography awards at the Outdoor Writers conference) provided the following photograph taken in Bishop Creek Canyon. This area is prime to be full of color this weekend and for the next couple of weeks.
0 – 15% – Whitney Portal Road – Color spotter Dennis Vance sends this photo taken last Sunday at the Mount Whitney Portal trail at Big Horn Sheep Meadow as well as Out Post Camp. He saw a ” shade of yellow appearing on the willows within the meadow at 10,300′.
CA – 108
15 – 30% – Marine Corps Mountain Warfare Training Center – An impressive stand of quaking aspen is beginning to glow.
30 – 50% – Leavitt Meadows Pack Station – A spectacular stand of quaking aspen is seen on the eastern side of Sonora Pass at the Leavitt Meadows Pack Station.
0 – 15% – Sonora Pass (8,000′) – Clusters of robust aspen are seen at 8,000′, a dried out stand of aspen is found at 9,000′.
0 – 15 – Stanislaus National Forest – California is one of the few fall color destinations where wildflowers continue to bloom as trees turn color. This is seen at the entrance to the Eureka Valley Campground where a mullein grandmother plant and Yosemite aster bloom near stands of Fremont Cottenwoods with their distinctive tear drop shaped lime to yellow leaves. Black oak are still three weeks away from showing their deep orange color.
0 – 15% – The only gold to be found along Hwy 49 is in the Gold Country’s stream beds, as cottonwood, maple and oaks are still dressed in green.
0 – 15% – Sarah, a color spotter in the Shasta Cascade reports it’s still too early to see much change throughout the region, though expect ground plants in Lassen Volcanic National Park to turn color, first.
Find of the day: “The Big Cheese” sandwich served at Tahlula’s Restaurant in Sonora… a grilled combo of bacon, mac ‘n’ cheese, chedder, mozarella and parmesan. It’s worth the drive, even if there’s little fall color yet to be seen along Hwy 49.