25° x 36° x 118°

Alabama Hills, Inyo County (12/15/18) Bruce Wendler

Alabama Hills, Inyo County (12/15/18) Bruce Wendler

It was 25° when Bruce Wendler passed the Alabama Hills at 36° 35′ 41.141″ N by 118° 6′ 11.232″ W, yesterday.

Cold enough for a winter day, yet it was still autumn. The proof? These pictures. 

  • Alabama Hills (4,534′) – Past Peak, You Missed It.
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Last Light

Pecan orchard, CA-20, Williams (12/4/18) Walt Gabler

The last light of fall color can still be seen in California’s orchards and woodlands.

Walt Gabler found it along CA-20 from Williams to Clear Lake, though noted “It is nearing its end.”

Black oak, CA-20, Upper Lake (12/4/18) Walt Gabler

The Lake County region (north of the Napa Valley) gets its fall color from its pear and walnut orchards, vineyards and California native trees (bigleaf maple, black oak, cottonwood).

This lovely area surrounds the largest natural freshwater lake wholly within California. It is also ancient. Samples of sedimentary levels date it as 480,000 years old.

Renowned as a bass fishing water, Clear Lake is also famed for watersports, including swimming, water skiing, wakeboarding, sailing, jet skiing and boat racing.

More recently, the area’s wineries have attracted attention.  The best-known Lake County wineries include: Guenoc, Langtry Estate Vineyards and Winery, Ployez Winery, Steele Wines, and Wildhurst Vineyards.

Christmas berry, Toyon, Colusa/Lake County Line (12/4/18) Walt Gabler

This late in autumn, snow has dusted the High Sierra and California holly (Toyon) are now dressing coastal and valley woodlands with bright red Christmas berries. 

Conway Summit, US 395 (12/3/18) Walt Gabler
  • CA-20, Williams to Upper Lake – Peak to Past Peak, You Almost Missed It.

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Death Valley Crossing

Lone Pine (11/25/18) Crys Black

The story of the first crossing of Death Valley is an epic tale of ’49ers who attempted a late autumn trek from the Great Salt Lake to California’s gold fields by way of the “Old Spanish Trail,” which was purported to travel around the southern end of the Sierra.

By the time they neared Death Valley, they’d run out of water, abandoned their wagons, and killed their oxen and horses for sustenance. An early snow storm provided life-saving water.

Only one of the party, which had split into separate groups, died along the route, but as they made their way west over the Panamint Range, someone is said to have turned back to look upon the deep valley they’d struggled to cross and proclaimed, “Goodbye, Death Valley.”

And so, the valley was named.

Northern California color spotter Crys Black made her own Death Valley crossing over the Thanksgiving Day weekend. She wrote, “After struggling to get to the Eastern Sierra on Wednesday night, we enjoyed a lovely Thanksgiving at The Rafters in Mammoth Lakes.

“Foiled from traversing desert trails due to road closures, we went down Lower Rock Creek Rd and were stunned to see some color still hanging in that little community near the bottom that calls itself Paradise with these photos taken near the Lower Rock Creek Trail Lower Trailhead.

“Suddenly hopeful, we spent the weekend around Death Valley. Beatty, NV, home to wild donkeys, and Lone Pine were both in full and glorious peak color.

“We were terribly thankful to have been at the right places to continue to enjoy a continuing, wonderful fall color season,” Crys concluded.

We turn back and add, “Goodbye, Fall Color.” 


Fabled Hills of Western Lore

Cottonwood, Alabama Hills, Mt. Whitney, Eastern Sierra (11/25/18) Clayton Peoples

 The Alabama Hills, in the shadow of Mt. Whitney in California’s southern Eastern Sierra, are a fabled landscape.

Lone Pine Creek, Alabama Hills, Mt Whitney (11/25/18) Clayton Peoples

Virtually hundreds of films and television episodes were filmed there including such epic productions as Gunga Din and The Charge of the Light Brigade, though the Alabama Hills’ rounded and weathered rocks are visually synonymous with classic “Westerns.”

John Wayne, Gary Cooper, Gene Autry, Clint Eastwood, William Boyd (Hopalong Cassidy), Roy Rogers, Will Rogers, Clayton Moore (the Lone Ranger), Jimmy Stewart, Hoot Gibson and countless other Hollywood cowboys were ambushed among its rocks, draws and arches.

The hills were named by Confederate sympathizers after they heard news of the Confederate States Ship Alabama’s successes in raiding U.S. ships during the Civil War. The miners named many of their claims after the CSS Alabama and the name came to be applied to the entire range.

The Bureau of Land Management now manages the Alabama Hills which is a popular place for hiking, off-road touring, amateur astronomy (due to its clear skies), motion picture history and photography.

Color spotter Clayton Peoples visited on Sunday. He said, “I was delighted to find that fall color was still hanging on in the Alabama Hills. In fact, it was still what I would consider Peak and was some of some of the finest color I’ve ever encountered there.”

This is not unusual for the Alabama Hills. Photographs of the tree have been published here the past two Januarys, certifying California’s five-month display of peak fall color.

Clayton found the cottonwood “bearing a full coat of golden-yellow leaves.” And, in true ‘Westerns’ narrative style, continued, “Meanwhile, along Lone Pine Creek the variety of trees and shrubs that line its banks were sporting full color, ranging from yellow to orange to brown.”

Randolph Scott would be proud. 

  • Alabama Hills – Peak (75-100%) GO NOW!


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In Your Backyard – Eastern Sierra Fall Color

In Your Backyard,” a feature of Fox26 in Fresno, sent Sports Anchor Nick King to search for autumn adventures. He found them in the Eastern Sierra, this past month.

Fall color is now Past Peak in most of the Eastern Sierra (pockets of it can still be found in the Owens Valley), though the perspectives stated in Nick’s piece are timeless.

Nick is a fan of CaliforniaFallColor.com, saying he turns to this site for guidance on where to find fall color.

In this segment, he leaned upon CFC color spotters Josh Wray, Jared Smith, Jeff Simpson and yours truly for comments on what makes fall so special in California. 

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Gone Big in Big Pine

Frémont cottonwood, Big Pine (10/30/18) Mark Harding

Cottonwood cannot be overlooked in the Owens Valley. They’re just too big.

Color spotter Mark Harding was driving US 395 through Big Pine on Tuesday when he could hardly stop looking up, and it wasn’t the views of Mt. Whitney that caught his eye.

Frémont and black cottonwood (Populus Fremontii and Populus trichocarpa) each grow to 100 feet in height in the Eastern Sierra.

A landmark Frémont cottonwood can be as tall as an 11-story building and five feet wide at its base.

Their limbs are loaded with golden leaves at peak and, with little else as tall in the Owens Valley, elder cottonwood dominate the valley horizon.

The most pronounced difference between each genus is its leaves. Frémont cottonwood have heart-shaped leaves, while those of the black cottonwood are spear-tip shaped.

Those in Mark’s pictures are Near Peak, though cottonwood hold their leaves longer than aspen, so they will continue to stay bright for another two weeks.

Cottonwood growing nearby in the Alabama Hills have peaked in January, proving a durability that just cannot be overlooked. 

  • Big Pine (3,989′) – Near Peak (50-75%) GO NOW!
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The Eye of the Beholder

June Lake Loop (10/30/18) Mark Harding

A proverb restated since the third century, B.C., is that beauty is in the eye of the beholder.

One might look at Mark Harding’s photographs of June Lake, post peak, and see nothing but gray, bare limbs.

Mark recognized the beauty within the austerity of the forest.

Just because an object, a plant or a person is worn, past peak or aging does not mean it is without beauty, character or interest as Mark so artistically  depicts in his photographs. 

  • June Lake Loop (7,654′) – Past Peak, YOU MISSED IT. Or, did you?

It Was Beautiful While It Lasted

Halloween Tree, Black oak, Topaz Lake (10/30/18) Jeff Simpson/Mono County Tourism

Mono County color spotter Jeff Simpson’s final report just arrived. He wrote, “One of the most spectacular fall color seasons in recent memory is slowly coming to an end.

“Most locations in Mono County are now past peak with the exception of Lower Rock Creek Trail, the West Walker River and the towns of Walker, Coleville and Topaz. “All these locations are at full peak and will have good color for the next five days or so.”

A few groves along the June Lake Loop and in Lundy Canyon still carry bright color, though mostly across Mono County … YOU MISSED IT.

C’mon, Jeff. We expect treats on Halloween, not tricks. Ah well, it was beautiful while it lasted. 

  • Walker Canyon (5,200′) Peak to Past Peak, GO NOW, YOU ALMOST MISSED IT! – Great color remains along the banks of the West Walker River, with some sections Past Peak. The best color is located near Mountain Gate Park closer to Walker.
  • Walker, Coleville and Topaz (5,403′) Peak (75-100%) GO NOW! – A towering boulevard of gorgeous, peaking cottonwood lines US-395 and should remain stunning through the end of the week. Topaz Lake is at full peak and has beautiful sunrises and sunsets.
  • Lower Rock Creek Road (7,087′) Peak to Past Peak, GO NOW, YOU ALMOST MISSED IT! – Lower Rock Creek near Paradise is  still carrying nice color. A few peaking aspen can still be enjoyed along the Lower Rock Creek Trail. It’s now Past Peak above Tom’s Place.
  • Crowley Lake Community 6,949′)  – Peak to Past Peak, GO NOW, YOU ALMOST MISSED IT!

It was beautiful while it lasted.


June Swoon

Black leaf spot, Aspen, June Lake Loop (10/27/18) Jake Puchalski

Black leaf spot can be lovely, we just discovered.

June Lake Loop (10/27/18) Jake Puchalski

June Lake Loop (10/27/18) Jake Puchalski

Jake Puchalski toured the June Lake Loop on Saturday and appreciated, “a really cool mix of greying leaves blended throughout” peaking aspen.

The grey Jake saw was a blend of bare trees whose grey limbs had dropped their leaves and aspen groves still carrying leaves damaged by black leaf spot.

He noted, that because peak has been so durable (Mono County is getting a half-week more peak color this year than last, on average), “there were both vibrant gold aspen tree tops and green, grey, gold, and red leaves scattered all over the forest floor.”

What’s on the forest floor will be the story at June Lake this week, as more wind is predicted by Halloween. Could that be the trick that treats us to a final June Swoon? 

  • June Lake Loop – Peak to Past Peak, YOU ALMOST MISSED IT!

June Lake Loop (10/27/18) Jake Puchalski



An Unbelievable Autumn

Walker River (10/24/18) Jeff Simpson/Mono County Tourism

Convict Lake (10/24/18) Alicia Vennos/Mono County Tourism

California’s 2018 Autumn will be remembered as one of the most unbelievably beautiful and long-lasting, ever. In Mono County, the show has simply been beyond exclamation.

That’s encouraged Mono County’s Alicia Vennos to declare that her destination, our previous pick as “Peak of the Week,” should get its title extended another week, “thanks to gorgeous fall weather with little to no wind.”

Alicia certainly has a point. Many of Mono County’s fall color hotspots deserve a “GO NOW!” designation.

Being that it is so close to Halloween, we don’t want a curse placed on us that would upset fall spirits. So, we urge you to GO NOW! As, this well could be the last call for Peak viewing along US 395.

At the beginning of autumn, had Alicia vowed Mono County’s aspen would be peaking right up to Hallow’s Evening, we would have accused her of brewing an “Unfallen Leaf” spell.

Instead, she’s made us believers and expect one unbelievable Peak Party in Mammoth Lakes on All Hallow’s Eve. 

US 395, Coleville (10/24/18)Jeff Simpson/Mono County Tourism

Topaz Lake (10/24/18)Jeff Simpson/Mono County Tourism

US 395, Coleville (10/24/18) Jeff Simpson/Mono County Tourism

US 395, Coleville (10/24/18) Jeff Simpson/Mono County Tourism


  • Monitor Pass (8,314′) – Past Peak – YOU MISSED IT!
  • Lobdell Lake Road (8,600′) – Past Peak – YOU MISSED IT!
  • Walker Canyon (5,200′) – Peak (75-100%) GO NOW! – The shores of the West Walker are gleaming.
  • Towns of Walker & Coleville – Peak (75-100%) GO NOW! – Massive cottonwood along US 395 and beside the Walker River in the Antelope Valley are beautiful.
  • Sonora Pass (9,623′) – Past Peak – YOU MISSED IT!

Conway Summit (10/24/18)Alicia Vennos/Mono County Tourism


Bridgeport/Virginia Lakes

  • Twin Lakes (7,000′) – Peak (75-100%) GO NOW! –
  • Virginia Lakes (9,819’)- Past Peak – YOU MISSED IT!
  • Conway Summit (8,143′) – Peak (75-100%) GO NOW! – The south side of Conway Summit is at its prettiest. The north side is almost past peak. Conway has a rolling peak with some groves still green, beside bare branches and peak color mixed between them.
  • Summers Meadow (7,200′) – Peak (75-100%) GO NOW! – There’s great color all along the road.

Lee Vining

  • Tioga Pass (9,943′) – Past Peak – YOU MISSED IT!
  • Lee Vining Canyon (6,781′)  Peak to Past Peak, GO NOW, YOU ALMOST MISSED IT!
  • Lundy Lake & Canyon (7,858′) – Peako Past Peak, GO NOW, YOU ALMOST MISSED IT! – Lundy Lake Rd, Lundy Lake, Lundy Campground and the Beaver Ponds still have lots of peak color. The trail to the waterfalls is now Past Peak.

Mono Lake (10/24/18)Alicia Vennos/Mono County Tourism

Lundy Lake (10/24/18)Alicia Vennos/Mono County Tourism

Beaver Pond, Lundy Lake (10/24/18)Alicia Vennos/Mono County Tourism

Lundy Lake (10/24/18)Alicia Vennos/Mono County Tourism

Lundy Lake Rd (10/24/18)Alicia Vennos/Mono County Tourism

Lundy Lake Rd. (10/24/18)Alicia Vennos/Mono County Tourism

Benton & 120 East

  • Sagehen Summit (8,139’) -Past Peak – YOU MISSED IT!

June Lake Loop, Down Canyon (10/24/18)Alicia Vennos/Mono County Tourism

Silver Lake, June Lake Loop (10/24/18)Alicia Vennos/Mono County Tourism

June Lake Loop (10/24/18)Alicia Vennos/Mono County Tourism

June Lake Loop

  • June Lake Loop/Hwy 158 (7,654′) – Peak (75-100%)

Gull Lake Marina (10/24/18)Alicia Vennos/Mono County Tourism

GO NOW! – Fall Color Viewing Tip: The most iridescent color is seen when trees are backlit. Because this is a loop, drive it in both directions to see the best light and color. June Lake at Oh! Ridge is peaking, as is Gull Lake – highly recommended, right now.  The mountainside between Grant Lake is shining with a number of gold and orange aspen groves. Silver Lake is past peak, as are some of the roadside aspens along the Loop, particularly down canyon.

Mammoth Lakes

  • Mammoth Lakes Basin (8,996′) – Past Peak – YOU MISSED IT!
  • Laurel Canyon (8,500′) – Peak (75-100%) GO NOW! (high clearance 4WD required)

Crowley Lake/McGee Creek/Convict Lake

  • McGee Creek Canyon (8,600’) – Peak (75-100%) GO NOW! – Fingers crossed that it doesn’t blow. If it doesn’t, the color will remain good for another week around the campground and along the trail.
  • Around Crowley community (6,781′) – Peak (75-100%) GO NOW! – This has been Crowley’s best year for Fall Color. It is literally aglow with color.
  • Convict Lake (7850′) – Peak (75-100%) GO NOW! – Convict Lake Campground, the road between Convict Lake Resort and the Marina, and the entire shoreline are inspirational this week. The hike around the lake offers colorful views and photo ops around every bend.

Rock Creek Canyon

  • Rock Creek Road (8,500’+) – Past Peak – YOU MISSED IT!

Remember: even though an area is listed as Past Peak, you will still be able to find spots of nice color. So, if you have the time to explore them, you won’t be disappointed, as the scenery is other worldly.