A year ago, CaliforniaFallColor.com was reporting more orange in the Eastern Sierra than Sunkist has. What a difference a year makes.
This autumn, Peak color is arriving a week and a half late with Near Peak color only just reported from Virginia Lakes and Sagehen Summit, both in Mono County (US 395).
The late arrival of fall color – which historically has peaked in a few locations before the first day of autumn – has exasperated Eastern Sierra fall color observers and complicated answering whether autumn’s show is on time or not.
That’s because locations in the Northern Sierra and Southern Cascades have filed photos showing Patchy color, well before the region’s mid-October norm for fall color.
Most definitely, fall color is late in the Eastern Sierra, but it’s too early to say it will be late everywhere.
What seems to be certain is that there’s plenty of lush foliage in the forests, because of last winter’s heavy snow and rainfall, meaning that the display of fall color this autumn could be one of the best (should weather conditions permit).
Ideal conditions for the development of vibrant fall color require: healthy trees, clear skies, warm days and cold nights. So far, Mother Nature has been providing those conditions.
Now that peak color is appearing, it will spread rapidly with Peak color likely to appear this weekend and next week (Sept. 27 – Oct. 2) at elevations above 9,000’ in the Eastern Sierra. It then descends by elevation at a general rate of 500 feet per week, meaning that if it is peaking in one canyon at 9,500’, the following week it will be peaking at 9,000’ and so on.
There are a few exceptions to this rule of thumb, of course. Some locations (Sagehen Summit, as an example) peak earlier, while others (Tioga Pass) peak later than similar elevations.
High elevations do not inhibit seeing fall color, as paved roads lead right to aspen groves and tree-lined lakes in numerous canyons along the eastern side of the Sierra, making fall color viewing easily reached.
Elsewhere in the Sierra Nevada mostly Patchy color is being seen with Hope Valley (CA-88, Carson Pass) still a week away from Peak color. Yosemite, the Western Sierra and the Gold Country will peak from mid October to mid November
California’s vineyards peak by grape variety, between mid October and late November.
The Shasta Cascade region (northeast California) is reporting early patchy color at locations, but the region will not be peaking until mid October.
Southern California fall color spotters have not yet reported from the San Bernardino, San Gabriel, Santa Monica, San Jacinto or Laguna mountains. These areas are typically mid October to late November peaks, depending on location.
And, California’s urban forests peak in November, its deserts in December.
Finally, we can admit that – for the moment – Sunkist has more orange than California has fall color.