Backroad Beauty

Drummond’s Cinquefoil (Drymocallis glandulosa), Baker Creek, Eastern Sierra (4/24/19) Gigi De Jong

The Eastern Sierra is now airbrushed with vibrant yellow, pink, blue, white, lavendar, crimson and purple wildflowers, reports Gigi De Jong from Bishop.

Gigi says most of the creeks leading out of the Sierra are feeding a flush of color along the foothills that is filling the sweet air with wild floral scents.

Flower types vary according to their proximity to the water and the soil and elevation where they’re growing, including cinquefoils, lupine, exotic bachelor’s buttons, tickseed and others.

Many are sprayed across the hillsides. The predominantly yellow flowers growing close to the ground are often obscured by sage and rabbit brush, until you get out among them.

This is a great time of year to explore by off-road vehicle or by hiking, as many dirt roads and trails travel near the drainages.

For the Jeep roads that climb into the Eastern Sierra foothills, high-clearance vehicles are often needed. CLICK HERE for a list of OHV Roads in the Inyo National Forest.


Owens Valley Coming Out

Chuckwalla (Sauromalus),Owens Valley (4/13/19) Gigi De Jong

It’s springtime in the Owens Valley and wildflowers are appearing first from the lowest elevations to the highest.

Gigi De Jong sends these images with a report that wildflowers are abloom in the southern Owens Valley and marching north.

Even the lizards are coming out.


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.