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The Color of Harvest

Sunset, Oak Glen, San Bernardino Mountains (11/3/18) Alena Nicholas

The color of harvest is many faceted.

At Oak Glen in the San Bernardino Mountains, it is as: garnet-red as an apple, carrot-colored as a pumpkin, sorrel-brown as a chestnut, flaxen as a dry stalk of corn and as dazzling as a California sunset.

Harvest and Autumn’s peak met this week at Oak Glen, where visitors gathered apples, corn, chestnuts and pumpkins for their holiday tables.

Southern California color spotter Alena Nicholas was there to share the color of harvest. 

Harvest, Oak Glen (11/3/18) Alena Nicholas
  • Oak Glen (4,734′) – Peak (75-100%) GO NOW!
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On Track To Great Fall Color

Dunsmuir (11/2/18) Phillip Reedy

Along the Upper Sacramento River between Dunsmuir and the city of Mt. Shasta (I-5), you can hike beside railroad tracks laid by the pioneer Central Pacific RR to waterfalls, fabulous fly fishing and peak fall color.

Phillip Reedy and a fishing buddy hiked to fish the river on Friday, but “Not wanting to have our camera gear take a bath, we decided not to wade across the river and instead hiked along the railroad tracks from Shasta Way in Dunsmuir to Mossbrae falls,” discovering “great fall color and views of Mt. Shasta along the tracks, although we had to clear off of the tracks at one point to let a long freight train pass by.”

Phil estimates this is likely the last opportunity to see peak color between Dunsmuir and the city of Mt. Shasta.  “The trees still look great near Dunsmuir but are dropping leaves rapidly.  Closer to Mt. Shasta at Cantera Loop the trees are mostly bare.”

South of Dunsmuir, north of the I-5 fire area, the mountainsides are still very colorful with scrub oak. Though, overall fall color in the mountains of northern California is “dwindling rapidly, so it’s time to look to lower elevations”

He said the hike to Mossbrae Falls (near the bedroom community of Shasta Springs) and the falls themselves are beautiful and worth the effort. A shorter hike from a parking area in Dunsmuir leads to Hedge Creek Falls, nearing the end of their peak.

Dunsmuir is a town that loves trees and trains.

Dogwood Daze, held annually in late May, is a friendly, homespun event with pancake breakfast, pie social, doggie parade, soapbox derby, homemade crafts and a well-timed realtor’s open house. No doubt a number of out-of-towners were enticed to buy a second home in Dunsmuir after experiencing the small-town, innocent fun of Dogwood Daze.

The Dunsmuir Botanical Gardens in the town park is full of native white dogwood (Pacific Dogwood, Cornus nuttallii) which, though now past peak, carried heavy loads of red and rose-colored leaves this past month. Locals remain proud of a 1924 visit by major leaguers Babe Ruth and Bob Meusel who played an exhibition game in the park during a barnstorming tour by rail that stopped in Dunsmuir.

This railroad town is used to welcoming visitors. Amtrak’s Coast Starlight stops there, daily. Visitors can dine in an opulent dining car at the Dunsmuir Railroad Park Resort, or stay overnight in one of several cabooses (much warmer and inviting than described in the previous post). 

  • Mossbrae Falls, Shasta City (2,529′) – Peak (75-100%) GO NOW!
  • Hedge Creek Falls, Dunsmuir (2,490′) – Peak (75-100%) GO NOW!
  • Dunsmuir (2290′) – Peak to Past Peak, YOU ALMOST MISSED IT.
  • Mt Shasta City (3,586′) – Past Peak, YOU MISSED IT.
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All Aboard!

Dixiana, Roaring Camp Railroads, Felton (11/3/18) Melani Clark

The sound of the Dixiana’s mournful steam whistle piercing through the redwoods and resounding off surrounding hills is one that’s dear to my heart.

I worked for a year at the Roaring Camp Railroads in Felton, in the redwood forested Santa Cruz Mountains. My office was an ancient narrow-gauge caboose that sat on a siding beside the main track to Bear Mountain and near the historic Welch grove of redwoods, the first preserved in California.

The first hour of each morning was spent getting the caboose warm by  stoking its tiny iron stove with small splits of wood, the cabin filling with the smells of smoke, printer’s ink and hot coffee. We wore mittens and sweaters inside until the first shafts of sunlight would find their way through the chilly redwood canopy to warm the car.

By the time the chug and toot of the approaching Dixiana could be heard, we were taking off sweaters and walking across freshly raked decomposed granite paths to the depot to greet arriving passengers.

In autumn, the luminescent leaves of Western sycamore, bigleaf maple and black oak that grew near the depot would litter the tine-scored paths with spots of orange, yellow and gold. 

Once the Dixie departed for her journey up the mountain, her long, throaty whistle could be heard echoing through the woods as she climbed … a fond memory that is as fresh as the color seen above in the black oak canopy arching over the train. 

  • Roaring Camp Railroads, Felton (285′)  – Near Peak (50-75%) GO NOW!
  • Patchen Pass at Summit Road (CA-17) (1,814′)  – Peak (75-100%) GO NOW!
  • Big Basin Redwoods State Park, Boulder Creek (479′) – Near Peak (50-75%) GO NOW!
1912 Shay (logging) locomotive, Dixiana Engine No. 1, RC&BTNGRR, Felton (11/3/18) Melani Clark
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Inyo County Releases New Visitors Guides

11th Visitors Guide to Inyo County

11th Visitors Guide to Death Valley

If you plan to search for California’s first and finest fall color, you’ll be driving along US 395 through Inyo County.

Two guides that should be uploaded to any fall color spotter’s mobile device are the 11th Edition Visitors Guides to Inyo County and Death Valley.

These just-released travel guides are chock full of great tips, fascinating stories and all sorts of invaluable travel planning info. Follow these links to see them:

Guide to Inyo County

Guide to Death Valley

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KCET Continues Coastal Trail Series

Premiering tonight and continuing through summer, KCET airs six new video segments on its website, kcet.org/coastaltrail

The Web series explores the majestic California Coastal Trail; its past, its present and its future through historical narratives, camping and hiking guides, social media videos, and articles about important cultural points of interest along the Trail.

One new video per week will be posted on kcet.org/coastaltrail from July 6 to Aug. 3. The Web series will also be available on Roku and YouTube.

CALIFORNIA COASTAL TRAIL debuted three summers ago with the first year following the trail from San Diego to San Luis Obispo County. Then, in season two, it continued up the trail to Monterey, Santa Cruz and San Mateo.

Although there is little fall color to be enjoyed along the California Coastal Trail, we reasoned,
“What better way for fall color spotters to enjoy the outdoors and discover new areas of California in summer than exploring the California Coastal Trail?”

Partially funded by The California Coastal Commission, with support from Hilton Hotels, and presented in partnership with Rigler Creative, CALIFORNIA COASTAL TRAIL will share the state’s picturesque coastlines designed for a wide variety of audiences, including visiting tourists, casual vacationers and seasoned California outdoor enthusiasts.

This season’s segments head north passing through Mendocino, Humboldt and Del Norte Counties while looking at spots along the coast like Pelican Bluffs, Noyo Headlands Park and the Humboldt Bay Trail.

The series will also travel to Crescent City, site of a deadly tsunami in 1964 and explore redwood restoration at Del Norte Redwoods State Park.

The series takes viewers to a mill site that was converted into a coastal park in Fort Bragg and MacKerricher State Park, home of the endangered Snowy Plover.

Here’s what’s planned:

Fri., July 6 – Pelican Bluffs

Fri., July 13 – Noyo Headlands Park

Fri., July 20 – Haul Road

Fri., July 27 – Humboldt Bay Trail

Fri., Aug. 3 – Del Norte Coast

Fri., Aug. 10 – Crescent City Harbor Trail

Join the conversation on social media using #myCAcoast. 


A Bobcat Brought Us Back

Bobcat (11/20/17) Alena Nicholas

This bobcat brought us back to report about Oak Glen (see yesterday’s post).

Here’s the story. This past weekend, Southern California color spotter Alena Nicholas called to say she planned a Sunday drive to Oak Glen, and asked if we could use any photos. I answered that I thought it was Past Peak, but you never know, there might be something good to shoot.

She returned with yesterday’s report, including a nice shot of deer in an apple orchard, which inspired posting a pie recipe… it seemed like a nice way to tell our readers about neat places like Oak Glen.

After posting the article, Alena called again and said she was on vacation and planned to drive over to Idyllwild and Lake Hemet. Could we use photos of those places? Again, I answered that I thought it was Past Peak, but you never know, there might be something good to shoot, and – by the way – could she stay and shoot sunset? (see previous post).

On her way to the San Jacinto Mountains, Alena passed Oak Glen and called excitedly, asking, “Have you ever gotten a photograph of a bobcat with fall color?”

“Send it immediately, I’m putting together our year-end recap video,” I replied.

We’ll let her photos tell the rest of the story.

Bobcat, Oak Glen (11/20/17) Alena Nicholas

Bobcat, Oak Glen (11/20/17) Alena Nicholas

Apples, Oak Glen (11/20/17) Alena Nicholas

Apple orchard, Oak Glen (11/20/17) Alena Nicholas












Oak Glen (11/20/17) Alena Nicholas

Oak Glen (11/20/17) Alena Nicholas

Sumac, Oak Glen (11/20/17) Alena Nicholas

Black oak, Oak Glen (11/20/17) Alena Nicholas

















Lake Fulmor (11/20/17) Alena Nicholas

Lake Fulmor (11/20/17) Alena Nicholas


Creekside Inn, Bishop

Remington bronze cowboys welcome guests to the Creekside Inn

Bishop Creek runs through the middle of Creekside Inn

When traveling US 395, there is no more “Eastern Sierra” accommodation than the Creekside Inn, in Bishop on Main Street (US 395) nextdoor to Erick Schat’s Bakkery.

The inn is so stylistic a reflection of the Eastern Sierra that Bishop Creek actually winds through the middle of it, with planted aspen, pine and alder along a landscaped corridor of conversation decks, gas-fed fire pits, umbrellaed tables and a large swim/spa area.

The inn’s recent floor-to-ceiling remodeling of its guest rooms and public areas has been styled to reflect a grand western lodge with natural stone, fabric and wood, a large wood-burning fireplace in the lobby  lounge, oversized leather furniture, even a welcome by bronze cowboys sculpted by western artist Fredric Remington.

Creekside Inn knows who they serve… people of discriminating taste, there to experience the Eastern Sierra in style, affordably. The inn even has a fish-cleaning room for fish caught nearby and will open a new breakfast restaurant (The Whistling Trout) to replace its buffet at the beginning of trout season, with table service and hearty servings of French toast, sausage, house-made granola with Greek yogurt, for its active guests.

Spa and pool at the Creekside Inn in downtown Bishop

For photographers, there are large desks, free WiFi and Internet to make it easier to upload images to the cloud, as well as Simmons Felicity pillow-top mattresses, top-of-the-line linens and other comforting amenities to make getting up to catch the early light a bit easier.

I stayed there recently on a scouting trip to the Eastern Sierra. Presently, fall color is now past peak up all the canyons on the Eastside. Though, the Creekside Inn is such a temptation, I want to go back.

Editor’s note: CaliforniaFallColor.com has added Booking.com. On it, Creekside Inn is rated a 9.2, as one of the best in the Eastern Sierra. We plan more lodging reviews in the future (Destinations) and encourage readers to visit Booking.com on this site to plan their stays wherever fall color is peaking.


San Francisco’s Golden Palace

Editor’s Note:  2009 marks the centennial anniversary of the reopening of San Francisco’s Palace Hotel.  The hotel was destroyed during the 1906 earthquake and fire, rebuilt and reopened on Dec. 15, 1909.  November is San Francisco’s month for fall color, particularly in Golden Gate Park.  If you’re heading to The City during this glorious month, plan to include a visit to the Palace.  Whether you stay there, dine there or just tour its beautiful interiors, it’s worth the visit, as the following article originally written by me for California magazine tells.

Golden sunlight brightens the Beaux Arts décor of the Garden Court in San Francisco’s Palace Hotel, preserving for ever this city’s gilded age.

The Palace Hotel has long been where San Francisco’s financial, commercial and social royalty have held court, and the Garden Court has been its throne room.  “It is the most beautiful dining room in America,” says James Dalessandro, author of 1906, a novel about the San Francisco earthquake and fire, “There’s nothing that comes close to it.  It’s regal, yet comfortable.  The food is fabulous, and dining there is one of the great joys of visiting San Francisco.”

Garden Court diners sit at creamy, draped tables on Napoleonic armchairs, while curtained by lacy palm fronds and surrounded by a cloister of Ionic columns of Italian marble.  They dine on local Dungeness crab salads dripped with the hotel’s original Green Goddess dressing, as a harpist plays.  Overhead, a vaulted, 110 by 85 foot-long (33.5 x 25.9 meter), leaded-glass skylight, trimmed in antique gold, bathes the room with soft light, while Austrian crystal chandeliers suspended from the stained glass ceiling provide dazzling, dangling “bling.”

Everything about the Garden Court impresses, and that is what San Francisco pioneers William Ralston and Senator William Sharon intended when they opened the Palace Hotel in 1875.  It had been 27 years since gold had been discovered on the American River; in that time, San Francisco had evolved from a sleepy coastal village into America’s western commercial and financial capital.  A second, “green” gold rush fed by the export of abundant California produce and wine was just beginning, which would establish San Francisco as the most affluent city, per capita, in the United States.

And yet despite its growing affluence and influence, San Francisco got little respect, particularly in New York, Boston or Philadelphia.  So, Sharon and Ralston gambled their fortunes to build a grand hotel… one so elegant that with the first ring of its front desk bell, their city would be transformed from wild, frontier town to refined, cosmopolitan city.

To subsidize his $5 million dream, Ralston drained his banking empire and learned, two weeks before the hotel’s opening, that his Bank of California would be forced to close.  A day later, Ralston’s body was found floating in San Francisco Bay, leaving Sharon to foster the dream.

And, what a dream it was.  When the Palace opened, it was the world’s largest hotel.  Its guests were awed by its unprecedented size and luxury.  Four hydraulic elevators, known then as “arising rooms,” lifted the hotel’s guests in comfort and style.  Each room came with an electronic call button in order to access hotel services.  And, a 100-place solid-gold dinner service (one of the world’s oldest and most complete still in use) was set for state dinners and other grand occasions, causing a bedazzled Dom Pedro II, Emperor of Brazil, to say to the mayor of San Francisco, “Nothing makes me ashamed of Brazil so much as the Palace Hotel.”

The Palace’s comforts so surpassed all other San Francisco accommodations that it became the obvious destination for visiting potentates and celebrities.  Ten U.S. Presidents have stayed there, as well as countless kings, queens, statesmen, industrialists, generals, lords and ladies.  A list of the hotel’s celebrated guests numbers three, single-spaced pages, including such luminaries as: Andrew Carnegie, Winston Churchill, Amelia Earhart, Robert Anthony Eden, Thomas Edison, Field Marshalls Foch and Joffre, Ulysses S. Grant, Nikita Kruschev, Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr., Fiorello La Guardia, Ferdinand de Lesseps, Thomas Lipton, George B. McClellan, John Pierpont Morgan, Lord and Lady Mountbatten, John David Rockefeller, Franklin Delano Roosevelt, Theodore Roosevelt, Lillian Russell, William Tecumseh Sherman, Mark Twain, Oscar Wilde and Woodrow Wilson.

With its location on Market Street – the commercial spine of San Francisco – the Palace became the epicenter of the young city’s commerce and culture (today, it stands in the heart of San Francisco’s Financial District).  Such a central location made it a natural gathering point.  Businessmen would meet along the block-long Redwood Room bar, which ran from New Montgomery to Third Streets, an expanse so long that 30 bartenders were needed to keep glasses full.  It is said more deals were transacted along its length than occurred in the State Capitol.

Like a magnet, the Palace Hotel attracted not only the successful, but those seeking success.  One such young man was my grandfather, French immigrant Maurice Ducasse, who watched the deal makers come and go and noticed that there was no cigar store nearby to serve them.  So, he opened one across the street just days before the great San Francisco earthquake and fire of 1906.  Grandpa then watched his cigars go up in smoke, but not as he had intended.

Few would have thought Ralston and Sharon’s original Palace, designed by architect J. P. Gaynor, to be so vulnerable, as it was built to be earthquake and fire proof.  The hotel was banded with reinforcing steel and contained a million-gallon cistern below the hotel to fight fires.  It even had its own security and fire personnel.  Indeed, the hotel survived the earthquake and was defending itself from fire when its cisterns were drained battling fires in surrounding buildings.  Once the water was gone, the hotel became a casualty.

For San Franciscans like my grandfather, the Palace Hotel was more than a place of rest, it was a place to read the city’s pulse.  And thus, rumors of the Palace’s demise passed excitedly through refugee encampments in Golden Gate Park.  While many dreams ended in 1906, San Franciscans will tell you that more were renewed, including the Palace Hotel, which like its symbol – the mythical Phoenix bird – rose from its ashes as a new structure three years later for twice its original construction cost.

With its reopening on December 15, 1909, the original carriage entrance was enclosed for the Garden Court (today, the only indoor historic landmark in San Francisco), additional innovations were added and a more civilized bar was placed within the hotel that included a mural by American fantasy realist Maxfield Parrish whose fairy-tale-inspired mural of Old King Cole, painted in 1905 for John Jacob Astor’s Knickerbocker Hotel, set the style for hotel bars.

“Hotel owners, upon seeing the Old King Cole mural at the Knickerbocker, commissioned nursery-rhyme and fairy-tale paintings to enhance their own establishments,” Coy Ludwig writes in his book, Maxfield Parrish. In San Francisco, it was The Pied Piper… for the Palace Hotel and Sing a Song of Sixpence for the Hotel Sherman in Chicago.” More recently, a cluster of tourists on an “Urban Safari” tour of San Francisco (identifiable by the pith helmets they wear) was seen stopping at the bar’s entrance to view the mural and hear that the mural, originally commissioned for $6,000 is now considered to be worth as much as $6 million, though its cultural value to San Francisco is priceless.  As the time-crunched tour guide led the group away, he checked his watch and said, “Safari, so good.”

Parrish would have appreciated such mirth, as when asked why he chose the Pied Piper for its subject, he said, “I don’t exactly know, except that I must have thought it an attractive one, as I do now.  Seems to me I heard somewhere that it was not a subject quite suited to increase the receipts of a bar, as guests draining a glass were apt to note a child in the painting that resembled a little one at home and, then and there, cancel their wish for a second glass.”

Whoever said that never spent a night in San Francisco.  No painting of a child, mythic or real, would ever restrain its revelry.  San Franciscans are culturally wired to celebrate the fine things in life whether it be food, drink or entertainment.  Indeed, on the night of the earthquake and fire, no less a cultural icon of his day than tenor Enrico Caruso was in San Francisco to perform at the San Francisco Opera House.  After the earthquake shook him from his bed, he fled the Palace Hotel wearing only a towel and swearing, “I will never set foot in San Francisco again.”

Clearly, Caruso is one of the few who ever said they wouldn’t return to San Francisco or its Palace.  An extensive renovation of the hotel completed in 1991 restored the hotel to its original elegance and continued the tradition of innovation, adding conference facilities and a spa, pool and fitness center.  A stream of design and preservation awards honoring the restoration soon followed from such lofty organizations as The National Trust for Historic Preservation, American Institute of Architects, California Preservation Foundation and the California Heritage Council.

The restored guest rooms have lost none of their turn-of-the-century grandeur, high ceilings or opulent comfort.  Grey, cream and gold fine Italian Frette linens and pin-striped draperies complement refined palatial rooms, some furnished with Louis XV and Empire chairs and settees.  Whether your choice is the Presidential suite or a standard room, the same appointments are provided, though you’ll pay more for a better view of bustling Market Street, the San Francisco skyline or extra space in a suite.

“Sometimes luxury hotels can be intimidating, but the Palace has always been approachable,” explains the hotel’s business travel and international account director Sarah Bisa.  Among its accommodations, the Palace is pet friendly, a standard established after celebrated French stage actress Sarah Bernhardt arrived in 1887 with her pet baby tiger, and hotel management kindly provides its guests with bottled water.  However, what sets it apart, Ms. Bisa says, is that,“The Palace is a museum that happens to operate as a hotel. It is also the most San Franciscan of San Francisco hotels and its authenticity appeals to my international clients,” who, she explains, know that when staying in Las Vegas it’s all about the fantasy, whereas when staying in San Francisco it’s all about the history, environment and culture.

While the hotel’s rack rate is $599, shop online and you’re likely to find deals.  Prices are best on Friday and Saturday nights and during national holidays.  Although The Palace hotel is renowned among business travelers, it is pretty well designed for the leisure traveler with its shallow pool and location within walking distance of the trollies, cable cars and numerous attractions and museums.

Now part of Starwood Hotels & Resorts “Luxury Collection,” the Palace Hotel is owned by Kyo-ya Company, Ltd.  Though it is now a century and a third removed from the days of Ralston and Sharon, the Palace Hotel still basks in the golden glow of that age.  Diners at the Garden Court are enveloped by softly gilded light, as if the San Francisco air is filled with gold dust.  And, it is… at least, for those privileged guests of San Francisco’s Golden Palace.

Linking the Palace Hotel

The Palace Hotel

James Dalessandro

San Francisco CVB

1906 Earthquake


A Guide to San Francisco Fall Color

San Francisco Botanical Garden Fall Color Map

Music Concourse, Golden Gate Park (11/2/09)

Music Concourse, Golden Gate Park (11/2/09)

San Francisco is California’s emerald city by the Bay.  The City prides itself for being one of the most environmentally attentive municipalities on Earth and that pride is evident within its many parks and streets where beautiful fall color can be found.  This is particularly true in The City’s expansive Golden Gate Park.  However, Golden Gate Park is so large it can be difficult to find the color.

To the rescue comes San Francisco color spotter James Theriault who provides “a very clever, detailed map of the San Francisco Botanical Garden with notations on where the best color is to be found,” writes San Francisco publicist, Cindy Hu.  To open the map, click on the orange “San Francisco Botanical Garden Fall Color Map” above.  You’ll have to click again on it for the map to open.  This is a .pdf file, so you must have Adobe Acrobat Reader or another .pdf reader to see the map.

Begin your tour at the Music Concourse in Golden Gate Park.  This is an open-air concert hall between the fabulous de Young art museum, Japanese Tea Garden (a magical place to see fall color) and the world’s greenest museum, the California Academy of Sciences.

Congratulations to The Palace hotel, San Francisco’s great accommodation which on December 15 celebrates its 100th birthday.  I’ve stayed there many times and have enjoyed luxuriating in its traditions, beauty and superb service.  As a tribute to that great hotel, an article I penned about it for California magazine will be blogged here on Friday.  Now, The Palace’s anniversary has little to do with fall color, though now’s the time to head to San Francisco to see The City’s beautiful change of season and what better place to stay at than the grand and historic Palace Hotel!?  Besides, my daughter works there and I’m a couldn’t-be-prouder dad.

Photo Credit: copyright 2009, James McCormick