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Mano á Mono

Dunderberg Meadow Rd (9/26/20) Bruce Wendler

With Inyo National Forest closed (at least until Oct. 1), the Humboldt-Toiyabe National Forest in northern Mono County is the place to see peak fall color now through this coming week.

One of our color spotters, Bruce Wendler, visited the Virginia Lakes, but found the trees ringing Little Virginia Lake to be blown out.

Upper Summers Meadow Rd. (9/26/20) Bruce Wendler

However, when he continued along California Fall Color’s recommended Driving Tour of the Week, the color along Dunderberg Meadow Rd. was as predicted, with “nice redheads and yellows.”

At the upper terminus of Upper Summers Meadow Rd, color is at peak, though lower down, Wendler noted drought-stressed trees that need a week or two before they get there. Right now, they’re Patchy (10-50%).

Driving south of Conway Summit, Bruce passed areas of the Inyo National Forest that are closed to visitation. Bruce was able, however, to take pictures from afar.

Approaching Lundy Canyon, Bruce saw color that was just barely Patchy. That means Lundy Canyon still has a week to two to go. Hopefully, the forest will reopen this week as the Lundy Canyon Trail is one of the finest fall color hikes in California. We estimate it to be at peak in 1.5 to two weeks.

Sagehen (9/26/20) Bruce Wendler

Sagehen looks promising, as seen from a distance (the area remains closed). It appears to be at the lower end of Near Peak conditions. So, plan to head there as soon as the closure is lifted, but not before!

Wendler’s photos show clear skies, but at June Lakes, the area was being smothered by smoke from the Creek Fire (west of June Lakes and Mammoth Lakes). A check this morning has the air quality as good, and it’s even clearer in Mammoth Lakes, though it varies from unhealthy to good.

Unhealthy air quality was most likely a contributing reason why Inyo National Forest was closed. As soon as the Creek Fire is doused (now 39% contained), it’s hopeful that restrictions will be lifted, barring another fire.

Please, stay out of closed areas until the closures are lifted. No public access for hiking, biking, camping, fishing and fall color viewing is permitted during Inyo NF’s closure.

  • Virginia Lakes (9,819′) – Peak (75-100%), GO NOW!
  • Dunderberg Meadows Rd (8,845′) – Near Peak (50-75%), Go Now!
  • Summers Meadow (7,200′) – Patchy (10-50%)
  • Upper Summers Meadow Rd. (8,500′) – Near Peak (50-75%) Go Now!
  • Upper Summers Meadow Rd. (10,065′) – Peak (75-100%) GO NOW!
  • Lundy Lake (7,858′) – INYO NF CLOSED
  • Sagehen Summit (8,139′) – INYO NF CLOSED
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Lovely Lobdell

Lobdell Lakes Rd., Mono County (9/25/20) Clayton Peoples

Though he’d had his heart set on visiting Bishop Creek Canyon, with Inyo National Forest closed, Reno color spotter Clayton Peoples took our advice instead and drove south on US 395 to Lobdell Lakes in northern Mono County. He was not disappointed.

We have learned that some of the most spectacular fall color is seen when the forest isn’t fully at peak but when it is dressed in layers of color. Presently, Lobdell Lakes Road is lined with beautiful green, lime-green, yellow, orange and red quaking aspen.

Clayton wrote that while the groves are Patchy (10-50%) overall, many along the road are Near Peak (50-75%). He described the route as “lovely” with “great stands of aspen on both sides of the road, and the colors range from green to yellow to orange and red (although green and yellow dominate right now).”

The best photography develops for those who wait. Peoples said the best of his photos (seen at top), “benefited from dust being kicked up from a passing car, causing sunbeams to be visible through the aspen, via the dust.” 

  • Lobell Lake Rd. (8,600′) – Patchy (10-50%) – Areas of the road are Near Peak – GO NOW!
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Yes Virginia, There is an Autumn

Virginia Lakes Rd (9/22/20) Jeff Simpson | Mono County Tourism

Virginia Lakes has received CaliforniaFallColor.com‘s first “Go Now!” with Near Peak fall color appearing along the upper section of the Virginia Lakes Road, at the Virginia Lakes Resort and ringing the shoreline of Virginia Lake.

Presently, northern Mono County is one of the few places in California to see Near Peak fall color, as the Humboldt-Toiyabe National Forest is open. Inyo National Forest, Mono County’s Eastern Sierra neighbor to the south, remains closed, and CaliforniaFallColor.com just received notice that Inyo National Forest plans to extend the closure another week.

That means, the only easily accessible location to see peak fall color in the coming week in the Eastern Sierra will be at Virginia Lakes. Driving, hiking, camping and fishing are not allowed in closed national forests; that includes fall color viewing.

The Yosemite back country will have areas of peak, though that requires hiking at elevation, to see it. A little color should also be visible along the Tioga Road, above 9,000′. However, Yosemite National Park is closed at least through Sept. 25, due to heavy smoke.

Updates are posted on CaliforniaFallColor.com as received and at these sites:

Quaking Aspen, Virginia Lakes (9/22/20) Jeff Simpson | Mono County Tourism

NOW OPEN for fall color viewing in Mono County are: Virginia Lakes, Conway Summit, Green Creek, Summers Meadows, Twin Lakes Bridgeport, Sonora Pass, Lobdell Lake Road, West Walker River, Monitor Pass and the towns of Walker, Coleville and Topaz. 

Most of these locations are Just Starting, especially along US 395. Patchy conditions are found at Monitor Pass, Sonora Pass and Dunderberg Meadows Rd.

Virginia Lakes is Peak of the Week with most of its trees at lake level and along upper sections of the Virginia Lakes Road full of gold.

Fall Color Driving Tour of the Week begins on the Virginia Lakes Road, then diverts to the Green Creek Loop via Dunderberg Meadows Road. 

Here’s a rundown of fall color conditions, from north to south along US 395 in Mono County.

WALKER / COLEVILLE / TOPAZ

  • Monitor Pass (8,314′) – Patchy (10-50%) – Monitor Pass is a late peak among Sierra passes. Right now, it’s closer to 10% than 50%.  
  • West Walker River, Walker, Coleville and Topaz (5,200′) – Just Starting (0-10%)
  • Sonora Pass (9,623′) – Patchy (10-50%) – Mostly green with some areas of yellow.

BRIDGEPORT / VIRGINIA LAKES

  • Twin Lakes (7,000′) – INYO NF CLOSED
  • Virginia Lakes (9,819’) – Near Peak (50-75%) Go Now! – Aspen are gilding the lakeshore, upper Virginia Lakes Rd. and Virginia Lakes Resort. It remains green at lower elevations.
  • Dunderberg Meadows Road – Near Peak (50-75%) Go Now! – From the Virginia Lakes Rd. drive on Dunderberg Meadows Rd. toward Green Creek. The Virginia Lakes to Green Creek Loop via Dunderberg Meadows Road is Drive of the Week
  • Conway Summit (8,143) – Just Starting (0-10%) One good patch of yellow trees way up on the hill but mostly green/lime green everywhere else.
  • Summers Meadow (7,200′) Just Starting (0-10%) – Just starting in the highest of elevations.

LEE VINING 

  • Tioga Pass (9,943′) – YOSEMITE NP CLOSED
  • Lee Vining Canyon (6,781′) – INYO NF CLOSED
  • Lundy Lake & Canyon (7,858′) – INYO NF CLOSED

BENTON & 120 EAST 

  • Sagehen Summit (8,139’) – INYO NF CLOSED

JUNE LAKE LOOP

  • June Lake Loop/Hwy 158 (7,654′) – INYO NF CLOSED

MAMMOTH LAKES

  • Mammoth Lakes Basin (8,996′) – INYO NF CLOSED

CROWLEY LAKE/McGEE CREEK/CONVICT LAKE

  • McGee Creek Canyon (8,600’) – INYO NF CLOSED
  • Around Crowley community (6,781′) – INYO NF CLOSED
  • Convict Lake (7850′) – INYO NF CLOSED

ROCK CREEK CANYON

  • Rock Creek Road (9,600’) – INYO NF CLOSED

Conditions and closures are as of Sept. 23, 2020.

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Odd Beginnings

Lake Sabrina Sunrise (9/22/20) Gary Young

It’s the first day of autumn. Fall color is nearing peak in the Eastern Sierra, but until an hour ago, we’d received no reports. Odd.

Actually, not so odd when you consider that all eight national forests south of the mid-Sierra, where much of the early color appears, remain closed.

Then, I spoke with a Bishop-area local who’d been in Bishop Creek Canyon this past Saturday. He said the aspen vary from 10 to 20% of peak, with Lake Sabrina Near Peak at about 70%.

The local said visiting the canyon was a surreal experience. The Owens Valley has become a catch-basin for haze from fires elsewhere in California, but at Lake Sabrina, North Lake and South Lake, the air is much clearer, and wildlife (bear, birds) were out in force. There was so much wildlife out and about that the local became uncomfortable hearing their calls and movement so close by.

On his two trips through the canyon, motor traffic was not being stopped though he saw two anglers (fishing in Bishop Creek) being visited fairly quickly by fish and game wardens; they soon left.

Considering that Inyo National Forest is closed, those intending to see or photograph fall color are advised to wait until the forest reopens – not expected to reopen until Oct. 1 – as you may be detained or fined for entering a closed forest. Driving, hiking, camping and fishing are not allowed in closed national forests. That includes fall color viewing.

Elsewhere along US 395, north of Conway Summit, the Humboldt-Toiyabe National Forest is open.

Virginia Lakes Rd (9/22/20) Jeff Simpson | Mono County Tourism

Virginia Lakes is Near Peak, but unlike Lake Sabrina, it can be visited. Lower elevations in the forest (Summers Meadow, Lobdell Lake Rd.) are Just Starting.

  • Bishop Creek Canyon – Just Starting (0-10%) to Near Peak (50-75%) – INYO NF CLOSED
  • Virginia Lakes (9,819′) – Near Peak (50-75%) GO NOW!
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Mountain Manners

Manner #2 – Why was this left behind? (© A O | Dreamstime)

“Like all parents,” Mono County Tourism tells us, “Mother Nature Loves good manners!  Everyone knows the Golden Rule “Take only photos; leave only footprints” but here are a few other Mountain Manners etiquette tips to help protect the Eastern Sierra (and for that matter, all wild places):

MANNER #1: Follow the Beaten Path
Straying from designated paths can cause harmful erosion, and damage fragile plants, so we ask you to take the road most traveled. (with apologies to Robert Frost).

MANNER #2: Scoop the Poop
Your #2 is becoming our #1 issue. If it’s your pet’s, please bag it and take it out to a trash can! If it’s your own, bury it in a cat-hole at least 6-8 inches deep or better yet, pack it out.

MANNER #3: Gather up Garbage
Even if it’s not yours, please pack out litter! Nothing makes Mother Nature happier. Remember, food scraps are litter, too. Even if food is considered “biodegradable,” no one wants to see your orange peels lying around – and human food is unhealthy for wildlife. 

MANNER #4: Don’t Feed The Bears
Or deer, birds, chipmunks, etc. Please keep yourself – and your food – out of the reach of wildlife. Store all food in bear boxes or bear-proof containers, NOT in your vehicle. 

MANNER #5: Remove Fishing Line and Hooks
Fishing hooks and tangled line are dangerous to wild animals, birds, fish, pets and kids. Please remove this litter from water and shoreline and pack it out.

MANNER #6: Keep Invasive Species Out
Take all steps to keep invasive species from spreading and destroying out lakes, streams, rivers and meadows. 

MANNER #7: Don’t Pick The Flowers!
It’s no easy task to blossom and survive in challenging alpine conditions – wildflowers work hard to grow! Please don’t disturb or remove plants, rocks or artifacts. Their home is right where you found them. Always stay on trail and never destroy or walk on vegetation.

MANNER #8: Social Media Do’s and Don’ts
Keep wild places wild and don’t geo-tag your Instagram Photo! Special places can be destroyed by Insta-fame. Remember that people may want to get the same photo as you – be sure your pics are taken from a safe place and do not show a dangerous activity or one that could disturb wildlife or fragile landscapes. Selfie accidents are a thing – watch your footing! 

Mountain Manners was provided to us by Mono County Tourism. We would add:

  • To Manner #2, TP should always be carried out, never buried.
  • To Manner #3, taking garbage with you is important not just in the backcountry, but the front country, as well. Never leave bagged trash beside a trash can, as wild animals will soon spread it throughout the neighborhood, creating an unsightly mess and resentment among locals toward visitors to their area.
  • To Manner #4, feeding wild animals, on purpose or inadvertently, teaches them to see people as food sources, which can lead to the animals being euthanized.
  • To Manner #6: Clean the soles of footwear before heading back to the wild. This lessens the transfer of invasive seeds or diseases. Clean, drain and dry boats fully before launching elsewhere.
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Onion Valley Was A Peeling

Quaking Aspen, Onion Valley Campground (9/7/20) Mohammad Delwar

Onion Valley in Inyo National Forest was appealing over the Labor Day Weekend when Mohammad Delwar visited.

Though, smoke from the Creek Fire – as seen in his photographs – was then beginning to suffocate the Eastern Sierra. The Inyo National Forest is now closed to public use. That limits public access throughout the Eastern Sierra.

Mammoth Lakes reports the following activities are now prohibited:

  • Camping in all public and private campgrounds as well as dispersed camping areas
  • Water activities (fishing, boating, kayaking, etc.)
  • Hiking and backpacking
  • Biking, including Mammoth Mountain Bike Park
  • Use of developed day-use areas, including picnic areas and beaches
  • Use of off-highway vehicles
  • Use of any ignition source (campfires, fire pits, stoves, etc.)

These closures are in effect until further notice in order to prioritize the safety of visitors, locals and fire personnel. Updates on reopening the forest will be posted when available. Here’s what the U.S. Forest Service is reporting.

Elsewhere, Cathy Kennedy found aspen just beginning to change at Packer Lake near Sierra City in the Northern Sierra (CA-49).

  • Onion Valley, Inyo National Forest – Just Starting (10%)
  • Packer Lake, Sierra City – Just Starting (10%)

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Yosemite Glows, Eastside Snows

Half Dome, Photographer’s Bridge, Yosemite Valley (10/26/19) Benjamin Vu

Black oak have begun to glow in Yosemite Valley, like jack o’ lanterns on All Hallows Eve.

By Halloween and into the first two weeks in November, their leaves will darken to a deep orange. Contrasted against their black trunks and branches, they are California’s Halloween tree.

Southern California color spotter Benjamin Vu captured these images at the beginning of their transition from yellow to orange. Look for the tell-tale black trunks to identify black oak (Quercus Kelloggii). Other trees in Vu’s photos are mostly cottonwood.

San Jose color spotter Son Nguyen found it perfect on Saturday, but strong winds and hail arrived on Sunday, stripping oaks of their leaves. He doubts they will last to the coming weekend.

At Fern Spring (Yosemite Valley) trees are bare at the spring, though “dogwood and maple are fantastic from the Pohono Bridge to Bridalveil Fall.”

Son was disappointed to find the bridge closed for construction with a large container on it in a way that would ruin any shot of the bridge. He estimates this area “will last another week, despite the hail.”

El Capitan Meadow was hit hard by the storm and most of the oaks “were done by Sunday afternoon.” Nguyen notes that he’s visited Yosemite Valley many times, but finds, “this is the weirdest year, ever. Usually, black oak are the last to start, but they’re pretty early this year,” though he added, “that makes the whole valley spectacular because of a different mix of colors.”

If there any black oaks remain to peak in the Valley, they likely will be found at Cooks Meadow, below Yosemite Falls, which Nguyen rates as Patchy.

Typically, Cooks Meadow’s peak continues past Halloween for a week or two, but considering the strong winds predicted this week, we will need additional reports from Yosemite spotters to say whether fall color will continue hanging on in the Valley.

Son found the go-to spot to be the Wawona Road near the south entrance of the park (CA-41 – Fishcamp), which he described as “amazing” and that “will last for a while. The dogwood is the best in this area. Strawberry Creek and Bishop Creek along the Wawona Road are also great.” 

Round Valley, US 395 (10/27/19) Benjamin Vu

Returning to So. Calif. on Sunday, Oct. 27, Benjamin Vu crossed Tioga Pass to the eastside, then drove south on US 395, finding black cottonwood and black oak at Peak near McGee Creek Canyon as a light snow swirled around his vehicle, while hail was dropping on the westside.

  • Yosemite Valley (4,000′) – Peak (75-100%) GO NOW!
  • US395 (4,100′) – Peak (75-100%) GO NOW!
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Last Call: Mono County

Twin Lakes, Bridgeport (10/23/19) Jeff Simpson

This is it. The last peak aspen can still be seen in a few locations throughout beautiful Mono County.

Mono County color spotter Jeff Simpson sent these dazzling photos of color around the edges of Twin Lakes near Bridgeport (there’s another “Twin Lakes” in the Mammoth Lakes Basin that is now Past Peak).

Mono County has shown spectacular color this autumn, but not in the places most fall foliage fans have come to expect the best color in the Eastern Sierra, namely the June Lake Loop, its necklace of gorgeous lakes and the inviting town of June Lakes.

Instead, the Sweetwater Mountains popped up as a great place for fall color, as did Mill Canyon and the Molybdenite Trail. Say, “Whaaat!?”

Yup. This autumn, you based in Mammoth Lakes or June Lakes, but then ventured to new places where it was peaking. Sure, there was lots of beautiful color still to be found in go-to places like Lundy Canyon, Rock Creek Canyon and Sagehen Summit, but this was the autumn to get to know all of Mono County. We hope you took that opportunity, as many of our readers did.

So, where can peak color still be found? Head to the Antelope Valley (the towns of Walker, Coleville and Topaz) to see some of California’s tallest cottonwood crested yellow, or to Lee Vining Canyon for towering aspen still carrying bright leaves, to the community of Crowley where people live among the aspen and cottonwood or to Tom’s Place to watch yellow leaves fluttering outside the window as you eat a slice of one of their famous pies.

A little peak to past peak color can also be found at Twin Lakes (see above), in places along the June Lake Loop, at the Convict Lake Campground (a good place to camp amidst the last fall color).

Most of all, enjoy the last weekend of peak fall color in Mono County as thereafter, YOU MISSED IT.

  • Mono County – Peak to Past Peak, GO NOW, YOU ALMOST MISSED IT.
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Bishop Creek Was Waxing Gibbous

Time exposure, North Lake, N Fork Bishop Creek (10/19/19) Roger Zhang

I wish we could say that Bishop Creek is “waxing” (getting bigger), but only the gibbous (oddly shaped) moon over it was last weekend.

This photograph is of the waxing gibbous moon, shot by Roger Zhang before North Lake turned Past Peak.

Roger writes that he enjoys “gibbous and full moon photography … how bright moonlight gently and naturally lights up and enriches the colors of the landscape.”

A useful aid to shooting moonlit photography is the app “Sky Guide.”

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Cat’s Meow

Juan rides a kitty box to North Lake (10/14/19) Jun Hong

Do not leave your cat at home when traveling to see California Fall Color.

Juan appreciates the fall color at North Lake (10/14/19) Jun Hong

That’s the advice of Jun Hong who took his kitty, Juan, to North Lake this past week. Clearly, Juan appreciates beauty.

Juan and Jun at North Lake (10/14/19) Jun Hong
  • North Lake, N Fork Bishop Creek Canyon – Peak to Past Peak, GO NOW, YOU ALMOST MISSED IT!