Faithful To The End

Frémont cottonwood, Alabama Hills, Inyo County (12/13/20) Kathy Jonokuchi

As Southern California color spotter Kathy Jonokuchi returned from the Eastern Sierra following a recent getaway, storm clouds were gathering as a Frémont cottonwood stood guard among the jumble of rocks that form the Alabama Hills near Lone Pine.

She snapped a picture of it with her camera phone, worrying that it might not be good enough to make the big screen, but this is just the kind of scene that John Ford would have captured in one of his westerns.

A lone tree stands resolutely against the elements, not ready to give up its autumn gold to the dark forces of winter. A last holdout, faithful to the end.

  • Alabama Hills, Inyo County – Peak to Past Peak, GO NOW, You Almost Missed It.

The Party’s Over

Black cottonwood, Coleville, Antelope Valley (11/9/20) Jeff Simpson | Mono County Tourism

The party’s over in Mono County. This was the year for northern Mono County to strut its stuff, even to the end.

Appropriate for a year when wildfire smoke and Covid concerns closed much of the Inyo National Forest in southern Mono County, areas near the Humboldt-Toiyabe National Forest to its north gained attention.

We’ve been watching as peak dropped, and now as snows begin to fall in the Eastern Sierra, the Antelope Valley (lowest of the elevations in Mono County) is now past peak, Jeff Simpson reports.

A boulevard of towering black cottonwood beside US 395 in Coleville hold Mono County’s last remaining deep orange leaves. They are a final party favor during an autumn of beautiful color in the Eastern Sierra.

  • Coleville, Antelope Valley (5,141′) – Past Peak, You Missed It.

Beguiling Bishop

Front Yard, Bishop (11/4/20) Chardonnay McPherson

If you head up the canyons near Bishop, you’ll be disappointed. The color’s not there. Stay in the Owens Valley and you’ll find it, beguiling, warm and embracing.

Here’s what Josh and Chardonnay McPherson discovered on a visit to the Owens Valley.

  • A red and orange caboose complements trees in a Bishop front yard;
  • Lower Rock Creek Rd. is now the only place you’ll find peak color along the famous fall color route that climbs to 10,400′;
  • Signature cottonwood lift apricot-colored limbs toward azure skies beside naturally reflective canals;
  • A bath house that opened in 1920 is surrounded by gilded garlands; and
  • A church established in 1896 seems a timeless tribute to the faithful people of Big Pine.

There you have it. Beguiling, warm and embracing, just like the good folk of the Owens Valley.

  • Owens Valley (4,000′) – Peak (75-100%) GO NOW!

Owens What a Beautiful Day

City Park, Bishop (10/31/20) Gary Young

Oh, what a beautiful morning. Everything was going Gary Young’s way when he toured the Owens Valley where a balmy clime and peak cottonwood were to be enjoyed in Bishop and throughout. Call it Peak.

  • Owens Valley (4,000′) – Peak (75-100%) GO NOW!

East Side Apocalypse Survivors

Twin Lakes, Bridgeport (10/28/20) Clayton Peoples

Weather and time-weary, these survivors of the smoky apocalypse that has finally lifted from the Eastern Sierra still carry golden and russett leaves that vary between Near Peak and Past Peak.

Clayton Peoples reports from Twin Lakes near Bridgeport that fall color varies from Near Peak to Past Peak, with patches of green.

He continues that Lower Lundy Canyon remains “lovely, though as one proceeds further up the trail, it is Past Peak. Specifically, areas below Lundy Lake (e.g. the campground) remain at Peak.”

Clayton reported a mix of Peak and Past Peak beyond the first beaver pond, with Past Peak from the second beaver pond up the trail. Ever the fall color optimist, he described Lundy as “still worth a trip.”

We’d say, however, that Clayton’s enthusiasm will only be shared until Halloween night, as whatever leaves remain are sure to drop soon thereafter like a pumpkin off the shoulders of the Headless Horseman.

Along the June Lake Loop, there’s both joy and disappointment. Joy has settled in as skies have cleared and the air quality is perfect. There’s also a bit of joy to be seen along the Loop, with a mixture of green and gold, but disappointing are many brown and stripped trees. The northern portion of the “Loop” tends to be better’n the southern portion.

While you will find bright Peak aspen lighting points along the Loop, Past Peak always hovers nearby like the decaying victims of the zombie apocalypse. So, we advise this is the last week to enjoy fall color in June Lake. The horror.

  • Twin Lakes, Bridgeport (7,000′) – Near Peak to Peak (50-100%) GO NOW!
  • Conway Summit, US 395 (8,143′) – Past Peak, You Missed It.
  • Lundy Canyon (7,858′) – Peak to Past Peak, GO NOW, You Almost Missed It.
  • June Lake Loop (7,654′) – Peak to Past Peak, GO NOW, You Almost Missed It.


Lobdell Lake Rd., Mono County (10/24/20) Ryan Boyd

Fall color was glorious, simply glorious along the Lobdell Lake Rd. in northern Mono County, this past month.

Ryan Boyd’s photographs taken on Saturday illustrate that all that’s left of the glory are gilded memories.

For the best of autumn’s show in Mono County, visit Conway Summit. As seen below, peak color is still being seen.

Conway Summit, Mono County (10/25/20) Ryan Boyd
  • Lobdell Lake Rd. (8,600′) – Past Peak, You Missed It.
  • Conway Summit (8,143′) – Peak (75-100%) GO NOW!

On Golden Ponds

If there’s a benefit to the haze that has smothered the Eastern Sierra this autumn, it is that it has transformed Bishop’s Buckley Ponds to golden ponds, as seen in Gary Young’s photographs.

Patchy color is transitioning to Near Peak there, as cottonwood, rabbitbrush, cattails and willows are similarly gilded.

Water fowl and raptors offer entertaining distractions to a Buckley Ponds visit. Location of Buckley Ponds is found on the California Fall Color Map (at right).

Two days earlier, Wally Tran found the following glimpses of final color along South Lake Road in Bishop Creek Canyon. The color has definitely dropped out of the canyon to lower elevations, though the images remain beautiful, as seen in Mark Harding’s images taken today.

  • Buckley Ponds, Bishop (4,150′) – Patchy to Near Peak (10-75%) – Go Now.
  • Bishop Creek Canyon (below 8,000′) – Peak to Past Peak, GO NOW, You Almost Missed It.

Leavitt Creek Revisited

Leavitt Creek, Sonora Pass (10/24/20) Todd Backman

Leavitt Creek continues to shine. We first visited it nine days ago when Philip Reedy introduced us to its cascade.

In Todd Backman’s iPhone XR capture (above) the aspen to its right carry more peak color.

Todd writes for those who want to find the creek, it’s on the eastern side of Sonora Pass (CA-108), just above the 8,000′ sign on the south side of the road. While this location was full of peak color at 11 this morning, Backman writes the rest of the area is Past Peak.

Still, he passed “some really nice groves further east, along the West Walker River north of the 108/395 junction.

As for Monitor Pass, stick a fork in it. It’s done.

Backman continued his 108, 395, 89 loop by returning by way of Ebbet’s Pass (CA-4) which has pretty views of lush color on both sides of the East Carson River.

He bemoaned with sad-faced emojis, something I’ve often bemoaned. We color spotters have a tendency to pass the first peak we see, thinking it’s gonna get better a little further down the road.

Not so. What dazzles you is good because the light is perfect at that moment. And, it’s probably not going to get better.

When on a quest to find fall color, I’ve learned to stop as soon as there’s a safe turnout. This means traveling slightly below the speed limit and pulling over to let others pass. Then, I stop whenever I see something beautiful. Otherwise, it’s a nice, pretty drive with nothing to show.

  • Leavitt Creek, Sonora Pass (8,000′) – Peak to Past Peak – GO NOW, You Almost Missed It.

June, June, June

June Lake (10/18/20) Adarsh Dattani

Poor June Lake. It’s such a spectacular fall color location … one of the most dramatic in California. Last year it never got off. This year, though the color has been good, smoke has suffocated the views and generated photographs smothered with pathos.

Aspen glow, Rush Creek, June Lake Loop (10/18/20) Adarsh Dattani

Now, it appears June Lake has peaked before the air has cleared.

The comparison between when Adarsh Dattani was there a week ago and Bruce Wendler’s iPhone XR snaps taken yesterday show the frustrating persistence of the Creek Fire’s haze and a gradual fall of leaves.

Bruce wrote that along the June Lake Loop, “leaves were dropping fast, making the creeks spinning with leaves.”

In contrast, the air is clear up Lundy Canyon and though the trees are dropping color, a lot remains to enjoy on the hike along Mill Creek.

Heading down US 395, Convict Lake is at peak, but also streaked with smoke.

And, as a sign of changing fortunes, cottonwood surrounding Bishop are now from high Patchy to Near Peak, in some places their color complements a soiled sky.

  • Lundy Canyon (7,858′) – Peak (75-100%) GO NOW!
  • June Lake Loop (7,654′) – Peak (75-100%) GO NOW!
  • Convict Lake (7,850′) – Peak (75-100%) GO NOW!
  • Bishop (4,150′) – Patchy to Near Peak (10-75%) Go Now.
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June Is Busting Out All Over

Conway Summit (10/19/20) Jeff Simpson | Mono County Tourism

It’s time to break out into song, ’cause June Lake is busting out, and peak color is being seen all over Mono County.

Mono County Tourism’s Jeff Simpson calls it “the week we’ve been waiting for,” and it’s easy to see why. For the next week to ten days the best color left in the Eastern Sierra is putting on a show. That’s why the June Lake Loop has been named CaliforniaFallColor.com’s Peak of the Week and Driving Tour of the Week.

As is seen in Jeff’s and Alicia Vennos’ photographs, weather and smoke vary greatly day by day, hour by hour. One moment it’s crystal clear, the next it’s congested.

Knowing when it’s best outside, is a matter of referring to tools like PurpleAir.com. This app provides an immediate color-coded view of what’s happening where you are and where you plan to go.

Despite the intermittent haze, the entire front country of the Eastern Sierra is open to fall color viewing. It is only wilderness areas in the backcountry of Inyo National Forest that remain closed.

All locations pictured here can be visited, and as is evident – they’re beautiful right now.

Unfortunately, not everyone visiting the outdoors this year has done so responsibly. Yesterday, I posted that Taylor Creek at Lake Tahoe had to be closed because people were jumping fences and trampling the forest in order to take selfies of bear feeding on spawning salmon.

The many fall color spotters I’ve met are responsible and careful about protecting the places we visit. So, we can help keep the forests open for fall color and wildlife viewing by packing out any litter that’s been left behind and encourage others to do the same.

It’s all about practicing Mountain Manners, as they say in Mono County.

Monitor Pass, CA-89 (10/16/20) Jeff Simpson

Walker / Coleville / Topaz

  • Monitor Pass (8,314′) – Peak to Past Peak, GO NOW, You Almost Missed It. – We’ve had Monitor Pass at Peak to Past Peak for a week. It won’t last much longer.
  • West Walker River, Walker, Coleville and Topaz (5,200′) – Near Peak (50-75%) Go Now. – The Antelope Valley should peak within the week. Towering cottonwood rain bright golden leaves on US 395 that swirl as vehicles pass.

Sonora Pass / Lobdell Lake Rd.

  • Sonora Pass (9,623′) – Peak to Past Peak, GO NOW, You Almost Missed It. – The top of the pass is past peak, but Leavitt Meadows is still gorgeous.
  • Lobdell Lake Rd (9,274′) – Peak to Past Peak – GO NOW, You Almost Missed It. – Most of Lobdell Lake Rd. is now past peak, though those groves that were green when the rest of the road was peaking are now lovely. This is the place to go to be at one with nature and feel what it must have been like for Mark Twain to travel similar dirt roads through the aspen.

Bridgeport / Virginia Lakes

  • Twin Lakes (7,000′) – Near Peak (50-75%) Go Now. – It’ll just get better each day over the coming week as Peak arrives.
  • Virginia Lakes (9,819’) – Past Peak – You Missed It.
  • Conway Summit (8,143) – Peak (75-100%) GO NOW! – Rolling layers of color, lush trees and a horizon that rises to alpine splendor. A broad vista hardly gets better that at Conway Summit, right now. Be cautious when stopping along US 395 to view the color. Find a wide area along the turnout and be cautious before exiting your vehicle. The trees can lose leaves, but we don’t want to lose you.
  • Summers Meadow (7,200′) – Peak (75-100%) GO NOW! – Cascading layers of brilliant color are dressing the rolling hillsides of Summer’s Meadow.

Lee Vining

  • Lee Vining Canyon (6,781′) – Peak (75-100%) GO NOW! –  As we reported four days ago, Lee Vining Canyon has powered up. Its forest has red, gold, yellow, lime, orange. Drink it all in.
  • Lundy Lake & Canyon (7,858′) – Peak (75-100%) GO NOW! – If you didn’t hike Lundy Canyon last week, this is the last week to see it it its best. There’s probably a week to ten days of additional peak color there, but don’t delay.

June Lake Loop

  • June Lake Loop/Hwy 158 (7,654′) – Peak (75-100%) GO NOW! – “
    June Lake Loop is California Fall Color’s Peak of the Week. As the song goes, “June is busting out all over!” It’s just “spectacular” throughout the the June Lake Loop (CA-158). All its classic viewing spots will be perfect for the next week to ten days. GO NOW!

Mammoth Lakes

  • Mammoth Lakes Basin (8,996′) Peak to Past Peak, GO NOW, You Almost Missed It. – The Mammoth Lakes Basin is past peak, though beautiful color lights up the town of Mammoth Lakes along Snow Creek.

Crowley Lake/ McGee Creek Canyon / Convict Lake

  • McGee Creek Canyon (8,600’) – Peak (75-100%) GO NOW! – Everything up McGee Creek is now at peak, including the campground and pack station. A walk along the creek is a delightful fall color experience.
  • Around Crowley community (6,781′) – Near Peak (50-75%) Go Now. – Every fall color viewing location in Mono County is now peaking. Crowley still has a little green, but now more color than not is showing. It’ll stay good for two solid weeks. So if your travels don’t get you to the Eastern Sierra until November, you’ll still find scattered peak color here.
  • Convict Lake (7850′) – Peak (75-100%) GO NOW! – Convict Lake has just edged past 75%, so it’s got a solid week to ten days of glorious color ringing it.

Rock Creek Canyon

  • Rock Creek Rd (9,600′) – Peak to Past Peak – GO NOW, You Almost Missed It. – The upper section of Rock Creek Rd. is past peak, though from midway down to Tom’s Cabin is where you’ll find the best color.
  • Lower Rock Creek Rd. (7,087′) – Near Peak (50-75%) Go Now.
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