On the Road Again

Conway Summit (9/18/12) John Poimiroo

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).

Monitor Pass, aspen begin to turn lime green (9/15/12) John Poimiroo

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.

Yellow rabbitbrush provide the brightest color along Monitor Pass (9/15/12) John Poimiroo

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:

U.S. 50

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.

Conway Summit aspen backlit by sunset (9/15/12) John Poimiroo

U.S. 395

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.


Virginia Lakes – Trumbull Lake (9/18/12) John Poimiroo

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.

Virginia Lakes (9/18/12) John Poimiroo

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.

Virginia Lakes (9/18/12) John Poimiroo

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.

Jeeps drive a rocky road to Laurel Canyon (9/17/12) John Poimiroo

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.

A Gecko-green Jeep Wrangler seems camouflaged as it rides toward the changing colors of Laurel Canyon (9/17/12) John Poimiroo

CA 168

Bishop Creek Canyon, approaching South Lake (9/18/12) Janet Fullwood

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.

U.S. 395

Whitney Portal Trail (9/16/12) Dennis Vance

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 – Marine Corps Warfare Center (9/18/12) John Poimiroo

CA – 108

15 – 30% – Marine Corps Mountain Warfare Training Center – An impressive stand of quaking aspen is beginning to glow.

CA 108 – Leavitt Meadows Pack Station (9/18/12) John Poimiroo

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′.

Mullein – Stanislaus Nat’l Forest (9/18/12) John Poimiroo

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.

CA 49

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.

Fremont Cottonwood – Stanislaus Nat’l Forest (9/18/12) John Poimiroo

Shasta Cascade

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.

17 replies
  1. Kahlee says:

    Wow… You really covered the whole eastside on this one. Great having the images to see the amount of color at this point. Thanks, John.

    • John Poimiroo says:

      Thanks. When I can, I get out to report what’s happening, but that’s not always possible. All readers are potential color spotters, just email a photo and describe what you see. I appreciate the comment.

  2. Sue Johnson says:

    Do you think a trip along virginia lakes and Lundy canyon areas from sept. 27th thru Oct . 4th will give me a good fall color viewing ?? Or I would have to go Oct. 8th thru the 14th. Any input on which of these dates to choose for fantastic fall colors???

    The last 2 years, going in late sept was a tad early alltho very pretty still.

    • John Poimiroo says:

      Both Virginia Lakes and Lundy Canyon are one to two weeks away from peak. You should still have good fall color viewing there until early October, and if not, then drop down to Conway Summit, June Lakes or Twin Lakes for color. Stay tuned to the site for the latest reports. Carolyn Webb says she’s been having internet problems (tough in the High Sierra), so her reports have been affected. Anyone else in the area, please send what you’ve seen and we’ll knight you as a “color spotter.”

  3. Brooke Pare says:

    John, Your photos and commentary are wonderful! I’ve just found this site and am thoroughly enjoying it. My husband and I have gone through Yosemite to Tioga on 120 to Lee Vining in the past and noted the stands of Aspen along Lee Vining Creek and Powerhouse Road. Does anyone report on this area? Appreciate your thoughts.

    • John Poimiroo says:

      So kind of you, Brooke. I often have difficulty getting reports from Yosemite Nat’l Pk, unless I call them… and with everything else I do, it’s difficult to do so. Lee Vining Creek is lovely. I have some historic photos of the area and will attempt to get reports from the Mono Lake Committee on what’s happening there. Stay tuned.

  4. John says:

    Awesome report! Thanks so much! Will be going to Bishop next (hopefully) Thurs for six days. Seems like I will be right on time 😉 Coming home to Santa Rosa last year, I came up through Monitor Pass. YIKES!!!! Huge walls, steep drop-offs, no guardrails! My mind was playing games with me! I almost had to pull to the side and stop. But there is no place to do so, lol! It was to say the least, the scariest hour of my life. Yes, that’s how long it took me to get through. Once past that area, the drive is beautiful all the way to Tahoe. Thanks for letting me post…….

  5. Kahlee says:

    For the person who asked about Lundy and Virginia Lakes… Every year, there are slight variations on timing, but things generally start at the higher elevations at the end of September and move down the mountains through the end of October. Typically, Virginia Lakes (higher up in the mountains) peaks before Lundy in early October. Lundy is generally around mid-October and it has become a zoo in terms of people — especially on the high clearance dirt road up past the beaver ponds. Very little parking and people do not seem to respect that these are very narrow one-lane dirt roads in varying conditions (large potholes, ruts and eroded old pavement). Please be careful in the Eastern Sierra as it gets more and more crowded each year during Fall color season, and remember these areas were not meant to handle high volume traffic. That said, I hope everyone enjoys the bountiful beauty that this season offers each year. Again, John, thank you for your website and reports.

    • John Poimiroo says:

      Kahlee, very helpful. Thanks for the tips. And, yes, folks… to preserve the experience for everyone: spread out, visit some of the out of the way areas, park in turnouts and tread lightly. Now, let’s go fill our souls with the beauty of fall color!

  6. Sue Johnson says:

    Thanks Kahlee.
    The last few years I have gone to Rock creek canyon in late sept. Didnt seem to badly crowded but then again I do tend to go weekdays whenever possible. When you say its been a zoo, do you mostly refer to weekends? or all the time??
    Anyways, am planning on going either sept. 27th thru Oct. 4th or later , like Oct. 8th thru the 14th. Need to make up my mind soon. I am also open as to where I go. Have not been to lundy or virgiina lakes area so thought about explorring that.
    Am checking this website daily to see what is going on as I do hope to catch the great fall colors … thanks everyone for posting.

  7. Kahlee says:

    Hi Sue — A few years ago, the “zoo” factor was only on weekends. For the most popular spots (North Lake, Lundy, etc.), however, thats not the case any more. It can be nuts any day and every day during peak color. Last year, I visited Lundy on a Tuesday, and it was insanely busy. But I’ve found other places nearby that aren’t as well-known and they were peaceful and just wonderful.

    Always a challenge to predict Mom Nature’s plans, but I’d say your first time frame (September 27th-October 4th) is probably better for the higher elevations around Bishop Creek (Sabrina, North Lake, South Lake, etc.) and Rock Creek (may even be a bit past prime for Rock Creek by then — at least this year.) The 8th through the 14th will likely provide better color at the mid-level elevations (canyons, meadows, etc.). Lundy peaked last year in mid-October along with Lee Vining Canyon, June Lake Loop, etc. September 27-October 4 may be early there except in the upper portions of the canyons or places like Parker Bench and possibly Virginia Lakes.

    The most important consideration in enjoying the Eastern Sierra during Fall color time is to remain open-minded. Even if one area is past peak, another may be just starting. And there is beauty even in bare trees with all the fallen leaves creating abstract patterns on the ground, or finding one red leaf among all the green.

    No matter which time frame you choose, I can guarantee you will be able to find wonderful vistas and areas to explore. If you can get off the main roads with a 4×4, even better. But there are so many places that aren’t jam-packed — even on the weekends.

    I hope you have a glorious time. If you see a tall blonde wearing a sequin visor and driving a dark green 4Runner, feel free to say “Hi.” Always happy to say howdy to other followers of this beautiful season in the Sierra.

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