Highest Sierra Color Blown Out, Now 7,000′ to 8,500′

Above 8,500′ there’s little color to be seen in the High Sierra, after last week’s storm.  The combination of winds (clearing colored leaves from branches) and snow mixed with icy temperatures (spotting yellow aspen leaves brown like week-old bananas) has blown away the dazzling color seen at the highest elevations of Bishop Creek Canyon in the Eastern Sierra.

The Good news is that trees that hadn’t yet turned color seemed not as affected by the cold snap and storm, so there are still a lot of trees yet to turn color in the high country.  Also, as reported in the blog immediately below this one, several areas of Mono County between 7,000′ and 8,500′ in elevation were not hit as hard and are showing nice color.  Still to emerge are elevations above 6,000′.  Look for the next two weeks for fall color to extend across the Sierra and to lower elevations.


Past Peak – South Lake (9768′). There’s not much color left at South Lake as the brilliant colors have largely been replaced by bare trees or brown leaves.

Weir Pond (10/7/09)

Weir Pond (10/7/09)

Past Peak – Weir Pond (9592′). Only a few trees on the east side of the pond are holding their color with most falling victim to the cold and wind. There are a few good photo ops possible still but the classic shots now have to wait until next fall.

Past Peak –Parchers Camp (9260′). Jared Smith reports that the view from his porch at the Parchers Resort “is not what it was a week ago as most of the color on the hills has turned to brown. There are some nice pockets of color just below the resort as well as some late turning aspens, so there are some prospects for the next few weeks – especially the granite face in between here and Willow Camp that has a few aspen and some snowberry bushes (the ones that turn bright red in the fall).”

North Lake Road (10/6/09)

North Lake Road (10/6/09)

Past Peak – North Lake (9255′) –North Lake was hit hard cold and very little color remains around the lake or on the road.

Past Peak – Lake Sabrina (9,150′). Jared reports the same conditions as South Lake with the cold snap being too much for the majority of peaking aspen.  Nevertheless, a picture of the skyline above the lake is “as epic as it always is, but there just isn’t much color left.”

Past Peak – Sabrina Camp Groves (9000′) – To paraphrase Peter, Paul and Mary, “Where has all the color gone, long time passing?”

Sabrina Approach (10/6/09)

Sabrina Approach (10/6/09)

Past Peak – Lake Sabrina Approach (9100′). And, to quote Jared Smith, Lots of brown with a little bit of green – ouch.”

Past Peak – Willow Camp (9065′).  Although many of the trees got slammed by the storm and cold, Jared reports, “there are quite a few trees which managed to withstand the weather. It’s not nearly as good as it was a week ago but there are still some good opportunities for fall color shots in the area just above or below Willow Camp.”

Past Peak – Table Mountain Group Campground (8845′).  You shoulda been there a week ago.  Areas above and below Table Mountain campground that were glowing with color have only a few pockets of yellow and orange remaining.

Mist Falls (10/6/09)

Famous Mist Falls (10/6/09)

15-30% – The Famous Mist Falls on South Fork Bishop Creek. There’s still a lot of green at Mist Falls, with a few spots of yellow.  The aspen here seem not to have been affected by the cold snap. Jared predicts,If the weather holds out there will still be some epic photographic opportunities at this location in the coming weeks.”

0-15% – Cardinal Mine Area. What happened here is that almost all of the color that had peaked is now gone.  What is left is a whole bunch of green that is just now starting to lighten up. Look for this area to pop in another week or two if the weather holds,” says Jared.

0-15% – Apsendell. None of the many aspen in the neighborhood at Aspendell have started to turn.  There’s a bit of the bright lime green which is typically the color seen just before yellows start to appear,  but that’s all.

0-15% – Intake II. There’s a lot of green at the small lake called Intake II. Jared says he’s ve seen some breathtaking photos from this location, “So, I’m excited to see how it looks in another week or two when the color starts to develop around the shore. Pocket of trees near the south shore can are usually the best but they’re still a dark shade of green.”

0-15% – Big Trees Campground. A very large grouping of aspen right above Big Trees campground along Bishop Creek is mostly lime green, which means it should color up in the next two weeks.

0-15% – Four Jeffrey Camp Groves.  Jared reports that the area of the canyon around Four Jeffrey Campground which is thick with aspens, has a few trees just below the camp which turned early and were affected by the cold weather.  However, the majority of the trees, especially those above the camp, are still a bright green and look to be fine.  This is one of those areas, Jared reports, that is worth watching as “it can be awesome.”

15-30% – Mountain Glen Campground. Give the hills above Mountain Glen campground a week or so and the color should be “epic” so predicts Jared Smith. Presently, the majority of the trees are a bright green with a bit of yellow mixed in. This weekend’s warmer daytime temperatures combined with cold nighttime temps should help turn them.  If the weather predicted next week is mild, the future for this particular spot is bright.

South Fork Loop Road (10/6/09)

South Fork Loop Road (10/6/09)

15-30% – Loop on South Fork. For those who missed seeing or photographing the color on the North Lake Rd or the approach to Sabrina (see pictures below), there is a loop off South Lake Rd between Mt. Glen camp and Table Mountain Camp which should offer comparable color in a week.


0-15% – Yosemite National Park. Kenny Karst reports that very little color is showing in Yosemite Valley.  At 5,000′ in elevation, Yosemite is one of the last spectacular locations in the Sierra to show color.  The first to change color will be a non-native eastern sugar maple which was planted by early park settlers near the Yosemite Chapel.  When this tree turns, it happens quickly and lasts for only a few days.  As this is an eastern tree, its color is a bright, bright red – unusual for California.  The classic photograph of this tree shows it in its ruby glory with Half Dome above and the chapel to the right… gorgeous.  As for Yosemite’s native trees, California big leaf maple turn yellow. cottonwoods gold, dogwood pink to red, and black oaks orange.  Contrasted against the park’s giant sequoia, Merced River and granite monoliths, the show is literally breathtaking.  It could begin at any moment, though we figure there’s another week to two before it breaks, depending on weather.  So, stay tuned to California Fall Color.

15-30% – Sonora Pass. Sandy Gordon reports that color is beginning to show on CA-108, though “the best is yet to come.”  At the top of the pass (9000′) it was 40 degrees at 11 a.m. today. Warm temps like that and cold nights are ideal conditions for developing the color, which Sandy expects will develop over the next two to three weeks.

Photography copyright 2009 Jared Smith


15-30% – Lake Tahoe. Jennifer Boyd reports that when this past week’s dusting of snow melted at Lake Tahoe, it seemed as if the aspen emerged with orange, red and yellow leaves.  Still a lot of green, though the best viewing locations are: Emerald Bay, Fallen Leaf Lake, Camp Richardson Resort, Hope Valley and Borne meadow (on the Nevada side on the way to Zephyr Cove).

15-30% – Hope Valley. The Carson Pass (CA-88) is often best once you reach the Hope Valley (east of Kirkwood).  We have not gotten a report from this area since the beginning of October, though chat on other sites by spotters indicates it should be in its own this weekend.  To get a better indicator, we called Sorenson’s Resort at the lower end of the Hope Valley (near Markleville).  The desk manager said there’s a touch of yellow near the resort and guests have commented about the beauty of the color up valley.  Given that, it should be sufficient color to head that direction this weekend and will likely peak in a week to two, given predicted storms next week don’t do to the Hope Valley what happened to upper Bishop Creek.

15-30% – Monitor Pass (CA-89). Travel writer Barbara Steinberg called to say she’d just traveled through the Hope Valley (CA-88) through Markleeville and over Monitor Pass (el. 8,314 ft. / 2,534 m) and was disappointed that it just wasn’t happening anywhere along the route in a big way.  “No big bursts of color, except in spots at higher elevations.”  Lots of green still with touches of yellow.  Barbara predicts that if the coming week’s storm doesn’t damage the color too greatly, it should pop on the weekend of Oct. 17 and 18 which would be the weekend to travel 88 to 89 to 395 and south.


Sweet Gum, Plumas County Courthouse, Quincy (10/7/09)

Sweet Gum, Plumas County Courthouse, Quincy (10/7/09)

15-30% – Plumas County. Joe Willis reports that big leaf maples are beginning to turn in Quincy, but aren’t expected to peak for another two weeks.  At this stage, the trees will show occasional bright red leaves or individual branches, which contrast with the remaining green.  Undergrowth is where the action remains, as reported two weeks previously, particularly in drainages where some indian rhubarb are coloring red, dogbane and bracken fern are showing deep yellow against brown beds of pine needles at 3,000′ to 4,000′.  For the moment, the color is limited to specific trees, often exotics, in the county seat of Quincy.  Joe says there’s “the prettiest little maple” in front of Moon’s restaurant, a sweet gum in front of the courthouse and lovely detail to be found in the veins of changing leaves.    He reported that on his drive today “from Quincy to Greenville, especially on Hwy 89 from the Greenville Y to Crescent Mills, there’s lots more bigleaf maple, black oak, and service berry that turned color than last week, but peak time is still at least a week away.  I figure by the weekend of the 17th we should be seeing solid masses of yellow and orange among the aforementioned as well as the black cottonwoods along the creeks and rivers in the 3000-4000′ range.”  As if you needed another reason to see fall color, there’s a Mountain Harvest Festival in Quincy on Saturday at the Plumas Sierra Fairgrounds with music, microbrew tasting and two forms of belly dancing (Now, that has nothing to do with fall color, but heck… belly dancing!? I’ve got to report it!).

Photography copyright 2009 Joe Willis

Indian Rhubarb (10/9/09)

Indian Rhubarb (10/9/09)

15-30% – Buck’s Lake. Mike Nellor of Ada’s Place Cottages in Quincy says that west of Quincy on the way to Buck’s Lake, the Indian Rhubarb is starting to show red, and the alders are coloring up nicely.  Big Leaf Maple and Mountain Dogwoods are also turning around Deer, Slate and Rock Creek,” he said.  Watershed resource expert, Jim Wilcox, of Genesee Valley, reports that aspen on the east side of Plumas County are best seen and brightest along lakes and creeks.  He says, the aspens are starting to turn along the road 2 miles west of Antelope Lake.

Mountain Dogwood (10/9/09)

Mountain Dogwood (10/9/09)

Photography copyright 2009 Mike Nellor


0-15% – San Francisco. Cindy Hu reports that San Francisco is still basking in its “real summer”.  SF insiders know that October in San Francisco is when The City warms to the best weather of the year… clement days, clear air and little fog (although it’s emotional to experience the fog enter the Golden Gate).  Once color starts breaking (probably early November), head to Golden Gate Park with your camera for brilliant color at the Japanese Tea Garden and in secluded glades throughout the park (one of America’s great urban parks).


0-15% – Humboldt County. Richard Stenger reports that poison oak are coloring pink to red, though big leaf maple and cottonwoods have not yet begun to show yellow and gold.  The California Coastal Range doesn’t have the mass color displays seen in the Sierra, though it has lovely color which is less susceptible to cold snaps, as the weather is more temperate.  Dave Stockton says about 25% of the trees will show color and that a couple of the best places to view fall color in this region are from the Founder’s Grove and Weott Overlook in Humboldt Redwoods State Park.


15-30% – Shasta Cascade Region. Karen Whitaker says that her spotters are not reporting much change as yet, although as throughout the state, color can always be found in grasses and sedges near drainage areas.  Earlier this week we reported that the aspen groves in Lassen Volcanic National Park are beginning to transition from green to lime-green.  That color change should continue to yellow this coming week as color appears in the 7,000′ to 8,000′ elevations.

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