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Orange Friday

It’s Orange Friday, the day following Thanksgiving Day when California overcomes tryptophan-induced lethargy and goes outdoors to enjoy fall color before it’s gone.

On the San Francisco Peninsula, tall gingko biloba are littering city streets with gold.

Elsewhere in the Bay Area, American beautyberries (Callicarpa americana) provide holiday ornamentation at the UC Berkeley Botanical Garden and fallen leaves are now strewn across Berkeley.

Down south, the place for peak color is the LA County Arboretum and Botanic Gardens in Arcadia. Orange-toned crepe myrtle (Lagerstroemia) now dominate and more color is revealed each day to mid December.

Along the American River, cyclists, skaters and walkers on the 32-mile American River Parkway are enjoying one of the most colorful autumns in memory.

In the Gold Country, “Maple Lane,” a boulevard of maples leading to the Empire Cottage at Empire Mine SHP is at peak and will remain good through this weekend. So, spend your Orange Friday weekend being filled with the beauty of this lovely and historic place.

Maple Lane, Empire Mine SHP (11/25/20) Steve Arita

Or at old Monterey where gingko biloba, Asian maple and sycamore dress city streets with gold, yellow and chartreuse-colored leaves.

But, don’t plan to go swimming in Davis where backyard pools are covered with leaves.

Backyard pool, Davis (11/26/20) Philip Reedy

Unless you’re a duck. This pintail drake just enjoyed his morning bath at the Colusa NWR.

Morning bath, Pintail duck drake, Colusa NWR (11/25/20) Philip Reedy

Today is just another Orange Friday. It’s a day best spent outdoors enjoying fleeting moments of California Fall Color.

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Color Runs Thru Scotts Valley

Scotts Valley (11/21/20) Anson Davalos

Anson Davalos didn’t get far on his morning run through Scotts Valley before realizing he was carrying his phone and needed to record the beauty he was seeing.

As he ran through its neighborhoods his run was interrupted with stops to photograph peaking water birch, sycamore, gingko and pear.

It’s peak in the Santa Cruz Mountains and everywhere else below 1,000′ in elevation. The vibrance of neighborhood trees right now is breathtaking, even at dawn.

  • Scotts Valley (561′) – Peak (785-100%) GO NOW!
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San Lorenzo River

Coast redwood, bigleaf maple, Santa Cruz, Big Trees & Pacific Ry (11/20/20) Sam Reeves

The San Lorenzo River travels down from redwood forests in the San Lorenzo Valley to Santa Cruz. As this gentle stream descends, it passes through Henry Cowell Redwoods State Park and near the Roaring Camp Railroads in Felton.

Monterey Peninsula color spotter Sam Reeves and I share a love of similar places. I spent my youth on another peninsula, the San Francisco one – where Sam enjoys exploring – and later, headed marketing at the Roaring Camp Railroads, where he makes an annual trek. Often, I’d leave the caboose containing my office, that sat on a railroad siding beside the state park, and spend my lunch break walking through the Joseph Welch Grove of Big Trees.

Welch was the first person in California to preserve the redwoods from being cut and this grove and those at Roaring Camp stand as testament to his pioneering private contributions to conserving old-growth redwoods. In a sorry twist of fate, Henry Cowell, who profited from clearing the Santa Cruz Mountains of redwood forests and whose family donated the land he’d denuded to the State of California, got the park named after him, while Welch – the true savior of the redwoods – remains little known.

A mix of winter deciduous foliage grows in the forest, including dispersed pockets of orange black oak, yellow bigleaf maple, orange-yellow valley oak, rosy creek dogwood, golden black cottonwood, orange-yellow blue elderberry, crimson poison oak, yellow box elder, orange-russet western sycamore, lemon-colored alder and scarlet bitter cherry berries.

Reeves visits the Welch grove and park each autumn. About today’s trip he said, “it did not disappoint.  The bulk of fall color is located on the trails adjacent to the San Lorenzo River.  Maples, cottonwoods, alders, and sycamores were all at peak colors.”

Peak often lasts through the Thanksgiving weekend. You’ll find “some isolated color in the redwood loop, but not as much as you will see next to the river.  There’s also opportunities to see fall color south of the redwood loop at Garden of Eden, and the Rincon on Highway 9.” Fall Creek remains closed due to fire lines that were made there in August.

At Roaring Camp, the sycamore near the depot are fading. Though colorful maples line both the narrow gauge and standard gauge right of ways into the redwoods. A ride on the narrow-gauge line takes passengers up through the redwood forest, over trestles to the summit of Bear Mountain; one on the standard-gauge line travels down beside to San Lorenzo River to the Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk. Spots of bright color are seen along both routes.

  • Henry Cowell Redwoods State Park, Felton (285′) – Peak (75-100%) GO NOW!
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Pinnacles, Not Yet

Frémont cottonwood, Pinnacles NP (11/11/20) Sam Reeves

“Pinnacle” means the culmination, but at Pinnacles National Park, east of Soledad, fall color still has a couple of weeks until it pinnacles.

Pinnacles NP’s landmark deciduous trees are valley oak (Quercus lobata) and Frémont cottonwood (Populus fremontii), and Sam Reeves was there this morning “in hopes of seeing the colorful cottonwoods on Chalone Creek.”

He’d seen colorful images posted on Google in Nov., 2014, “and thought I could time it out right for this year.” What he found is that much of San Benito County seems to be behind schedule.  “Many of the vineyards, creeks, and the national park are still green with slight hints of yellow.

Frémont cottonwood leaves, Pinnacles NP (11/11/20) Sam Reeves

This means it might well be prime to visit on Orange Friday (the day after Thanksgiving Day) when most Californians forego crowded malls for fall color viewing (Yeah, right).

California quail, Pinnacles NP (11/11/20) Sam Reeves

Sam saw a couple upsides of being there early: 1) Pinnacles NP isn’t charging fees during the pandemic, and 2) California quail (Callipepla californica) were putting on a show by scurrying about.

  • Pinnacles National Park (500′) – Patchy (10-50%)
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Always on Time

Dixiana, 1912 Shay Locomotive, Roaring Camp RR, Felton (11/9/19) Melani Clark

A good railroad always arrives and departs on time.

The same can be said of fall color at the Roaring Camp & Big Trees Narrow Gauge Railroad in Felton (Santa Cruz Mountains), where bigleaf maple, western sycamore and black oak dress its historical train depot with yellow, chartreuse, lime and orange each November.

This past Saturday, Melani Clark, superintendent of the railroad, took this image of steam rising and autumn color falling as the Dixiana stood ready for its run through the redwoods to Bear Mountain.

Autumn weather has been kind to the Santa Cruz mountains where warm, clear days have created ideal conditions to enjoy a walk through a redwood forest and train rides to the summit of Bear Mountain and down to Santa Cruz and Monterey Bay.

  • Roaring Camp Railroads (285′) – Peak (75-100%) GO NOW!
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Ventana Wilderness

Ventana Wilderness (11/11/19) Leor Pantilat

The Ventana Wilderness along the Central Coast is peaking with warm orange and yellow flashes.

Color spotter Leor Pantilat found valley oak, black cottonwood, bigleaf maple and grasses to be providing the color, with Western sycamore estimated to peak later this month.

The Ventana Wilderness is known for its steep, sharply crested ridges and deep v-shaped canyons. This wild area east of the California highway 1 near Big Sur also has red and white alder and creek dogwood which are now past peak.

  • Ventana Wilderness – Peak (75-100%) GO NOW!
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Paso Robles – Pass of the Oaks

Poison oak enveloped by coastal fog (10/10/19) Mark Harding

Paso Robles, on the Central Coast, is named for its oaks, which are mostly Live Oaks (evergreen). Of its many oaks, only Valley Oak is deciduous.

There is color to be found on the Central Coast, when you look for Fremont cottonwood, bigleaf maple, box elder, California sycamore, creek dogwood, California ash, vineyards, willows and poison oak.

Though, CaliforniaFallColor.com receives few reports from the Central Coast, because the region’s mild climate doesn’t encourage the development of deciduous plants. Those that are native there, also grow in colder areas of California.

Central Coast color spotter Mark Harding sends back these images taken in Templeton and Paso, proving that fall color does appear along the coast.

  • Paso Robles (732’) – Patchy (10-50%)
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Orchard Pickings

Apple tree, Los Rios Orchard, Oak Glen Rd. (11/11/18) Ravi Ranganathan

Visiting orchards has become a late-autumn tradition, with Californians heading to Julian for apple dumplings, to Oak Glen for cider-infused mini donuts, to San Luis Obispo for hard cider, to Sebastopol for U-pick apples, to Kelseyville in Lake County for a Pear Belle Helene (pear ice cream sundae), and to Apple Hill in Camino for apple pies.

With so many calories ahead, Southern California color spotter Ravi Ranganathan recommends walking the Oak Glen Preserve Botanical Garden in Yucaipa, soon after the trail opens at 8 a.m. It’s  got kid-friendly sections, as well as others that get your heart pumping and “beautiful fall colors along the trail.”

Of course, if that hike works up your appetite, head over to Snow Line Orchard for their delicious apple-cider-infused mini donuts and a glass of freshly pressed cider. Ravi recommends picnicking under an ancient chestnut tree beside an apple orchard. 

  • Julian – Peak (75-100%) GO NOW!
  • Oak Glen – Peak (75-100%) GO NOW!
  • San Luis Obispo – Peak (75-100%) GO NOW!
  • Sebastopol – Peak (75-100%) GO NOW!
  • Kelseyville – Peak (75-100%) GO NOW!
  • Camino – Peak (75-100%) GO NOW!
Chestnut and apple orchard, Snow Line Orchard, Oak Glen Rd (11/11/18) Ravi Ranganathan
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Beauty Returns to the Ventana Wilderness

 

Pine Valley, Ventana Wilderness (11/19/17) Leor Pantilat

Pine Valley, Ventana Wilderness (11/19/17) Leor Pantilat

Tassajara Rd., Ventana Wilderness (11/19/17) Leor Pantilat

Until this year, the Soberanes Fire in the Pine Valley area of the Ventana Wilderness was the most expensive wildfire in U.S. history.

The Tubbs Fire which scorched Santa Rosa in October erased that dubious record.

Color spotter Leor Pantilat revisited Pine Valley and the Ventana Wilderness in Monterey County this past Sunday to find that most of the ponderosa pines, several of the larger landmark black oaks and cottonwoods there survived the Soberanes Fire. The latter are carrying bright orange and golden color.

He found the Tassajara Road, a dirt road that leads to the trailhead at China Camp, also full of beautiful orange black oaks.

That is reassuring news to areas hit by wildfire this year. As, nature is forgiving and beauty returns quickly.

Leor classifies the Ventana Wilderness at Peak and advises that the area is prime for fall color hikes over the Thanksgiving holiday weekend, making Pine Valley in the Ventana Wilderness Hike of the Week.

Ventana Wilderness, Monterey County – Peak (75-100%) GO NOW!

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Ventana Wilderness / Big Sur

Bigleaf Maple, Ventana Wilderness (10/1/17) Leor Pantilat

(Big Sur – 10/3/17) California’s Central Coast is not known for its fall color, though “the coast-facing canyons of Big Sur contain a nice concentration of bigleaf maples,” reports Leor Pantilat who scores a prized First Report.

Ventana Wilderness (10/1/17) Leor Pantilat

Poison Oak, Ventana Wilderness (10/1/17) Leor Pantilat

Ventana Wilderness (10/1/17) Leor Pantilat

In these mountains, the fall color progression is a rolling peak depending on the slope aspect and elevation. For now the best color is at the highest elevations of the Santa Lucia Mountains.

Pantilat states that “the endemic Santa Lucia Fir forest provides a unique setting. Bountiful poison oak is also bright red at the higher elevations.

Leor took these images near Cone Peak on Sunday. He estimates that color will persist in this area for at least a couple more weeks and then progressively move down the canyon where it will mix with redwoods below ~2000 ft into November.

Expect spots of bright color in an otherwise evergreen forest of fir, redwood and live oak.

Ventana Wilderness – Big Sur Hills (3,000 to 5,000 feet) – Near Peak (50-75%) GO NOW!