Now that the skies have cleared of haze almost entirely across the Eastern Sierra, wouldn’t you know it? Fall color is mostly past peak.
There is peak color to be seen along US 395, but it no longer compares with the overwhelming beauty photographed two weeks ago. Now to appreciate autumn’s display, in the Eastern Sierra, you need to be inspired by the contrast of bare limbs beside others laden with deep color.
The best remaining color in Inyo County is found at the bottom of Bishop Creek Canyon, in Pine Creek Canyon where lush stands of black cottonwood are found, in the Round Valley where old cottonwood shade decaying shepherd’s shacks and at the Buckley Ponds near Bishop where soaring trees reflect their golden boughs upon still waters.
North along US 395 in Mono County, Twin Lakes is the last great remaining holdout still to peak fully. The legendary June Lake Loop is now capped with a cerulean sky (wildfire smoke has cleared away), though its long boulevards of aspen are a shattered mix of still-green, peaking gold and brown leaves and, of course, barren branches. Hikers trekking to Lundy Lake still enjoy color at the start of the trail, but as they reach the beaver ponds, it dwindles and a chill breeze alerts them that winter is approaching.
Peak has ended over Tioga Pass, Sonora Pass, Ebbetts Pass, Monitor Pass and Carson Pass. Only Echo Summit, Donner Pass and Yuba Pass have yet to peak fully. The Hope Valley is officially past peak and this is likely the last week of peak at Lake Tahoe.
Even in Plumas County at the northern end of the Sierra, peak fall color is disappearing. The county’s famous sugar maples are now denuded, their orange leaves spin behind passing cars. Downtown Quincy remains a hold out with big color surrounding the Plumas County Courthouse.
Increasing numbers of Past Peak reports does not mean the show has ended. Peak has just dropped in elevation to between 3,500 and 6,000′, depending on location. Also, different species are now peaking.
Gone are the Pacific aspen. Arriving are the black oak, which display black limbs and deep orange leaves from Halloween into November. Bigleaf maple continue to dazzle with their gigantic gamboge leaves. And soon the vineyards, orchards and foothills will be dressed. While, long, undulating Vs of squawking geese indicate it’s time to head to the rice fields to see crane, heron, egrets, ducks and stilts posturing and preening.
Throughout Plumas County’s Indian Valley a decided air of final harvest remains as gold and orange dominate. Peak fall color has moved to the northern end of the Sierra and southern Cascades, to embrace Lake Almanor, Susanville and arc through the Shasta Cascade toward the Trinity Alps, Marble Mountains and north coast.
We’ve heard little from color spotters in that part of California. They’ve been dealing with wildfires and Covid closures and only now are sending back photos of plants that had no idea the rest of the world had stopped. While we were focused on fighting fires and a virus, they’ve been turning color.
In Southern California, the exotics in the San Bernardino Mountains (notably Big Bear Lake and Lake Almanor) have been peaking for a week. Aspen are now past peak. Near Peak are black oak. Native trees at Oak Glen are between Patchy and Near Peak, with lots of color and activity among the U-pick orchards and farm stands.
Hike of the Week is a walk through downtown Quincy. CLICK HERE for the route.
Bike of the Week is the Lake Almanor Recreation Trail near Chester. An 18.9-mile lightly trafficked, dog-friendly bike/foot path connects Almanor West with Canyon Dam. The trail has a 830′ gain. This is a pine and fir forest with fall color mostly consisting of willows. Though, good color is found around the lake in Chester, along the south east shore and down CA-89 through the Indian Valley.
Peak of the Week and Drive of the Week is the Indian Valley (CA-89) between Quincy and Lake Almanor in Plumas County (northern Sierra). Orange black oak are brightening the route. Visit the Plumas County Courthouse in Quincy to look up into towering fully peaking trees at Courthouse Square.