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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!

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.

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!
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Bishop Bows In Beautifully

Bishop (10/16/19) Gigi de Jong

As yet this autumn, Bishop Creek Canyon hasn’t yet reported one Past Peak, and yet now the town of Bishop bows in with Peak color.

In other words, it is peaking from 9,100′ down to 4,100′. That’s 5,000′ of PEAK along Bishop Creek!

We’ve never seen a fall like 2019.

Bishop color spotter toured the Buckley and Rawson Ponds, canals and neighborhoods that are presently filled with gorgeous peak orange and yellow cottonwood. Mariusz Jeglinski was equally dazzled by the peak color seen in the Owens Valley.

Sit back and enjoy the most amazing spectacle Inyo County has yet witnessed.

  • Inyo County (4,150′ to 9,500′) – Peak (75-100%) GO NOW!

Peak Drops below 7,000′

Anglers at Gull Lake, June Lake Loop (10/8/19) Jeff Simpson

Peak fall color has dropped to 7,000′ in Mono County (Eastern Sierra).

This is the last weekend to see lush color along the June Lake Loop. There, CA-268 passes through boulevards of aspen, though the trees have thinned and most groves lack luster.

I winced at reading one color spotter’s description of what happened as “one of the most underwhelming displays in recent memory. Locals with decades experience were saying it was the unseasonably hard freeze and then strong winds that severely damaged this year’s fall color.”

Some of the leaves around Twin Lakes near Bridgeport were reported as appearing as if they were “freeze dried.” At McGee Canyon, a reliable spotter reported the wonderful groves of cottonwood as “decimated” with virtually all the color on the cottonwoods affected.

Of course, it truly is anyone’s guess as to why this happened.

Too many spotters have submitted dismal reports and lackluster photos to believe otherwise. Having said that, beautiful photographs are still being taken as evidenced by Kent Gordon’s, Jeff Simpson’s, Pete Axcell’s, Greg Berndt‘s and Leor Pantilat’s photos, posted here.

Silver Lake, June Lake Loop (10/15/19) Jeff Simpson

One of the contributors to this situation was aspen blight. Silver Lake, which is a favorite place to photograph fall color, lost leaves on many of its groves that ring the lake, due to the fungus.

When it comes to fall color, Mono County sets a high bar for itself. In the past decade, we’ve seen year after year of dazzling displays. So, one disappointing year is to be expected. This is that year.

Lundy Lake (10/13/19) Greg Berndt

If you’re heading up in the coming week, don’t be disheartened or change plans. For the best color, head to Mill Canyon near Walker and Lundy Lake. And, for the best time, head to June Lake which will host its annual fall festival this weekend.

Thereafter, peaking will be black cottonwood at Crowley Lake and in the Antelope Valley. Presently, they are Patchy (lime green and yellow).

Here’s what Mono County Tourism is reporting:

  • Rock Creek Lake (9,600’) – Past Peak, YOU MISSED IT!
  • Lower Rock Creek Rd. (7,087′) – Peak (75-100%) GO NOW! – Bursting with color along the lower sections of the road. 
  • Crowley Community (6,781’) – Patchy (10-50%) – Color up the hill behind the community, but mixed in town. Hilton Creek is gorgeous.
  • McGee Creek Canyon (8,600’) – Peak (75-100%) GO NOW! – Still beautiful.
  • Convict Lake (7850′) – Peak (75-100%) GO NOW! – A wonderful hike is the Convict Lake Trail which is level and rounds the lake. You pass through aspen groves in many parts of the trail. Some sections are past peak, but you’ll also pass through Peaking and Patchy groves, all with wonderful views.
  • Mammoth Lakes (7,881′) – Peak (75-100%) GO NOW!
  • June Lake Loop/Hwy 158 (7,654′) – Peak (75-100%) GO NOW! – The June Lake Loop has struggled this year, due to aspen blight which affected a large number of stands. However, this is the weekend to visit the Loop. There is a lovely mix of thinned and lush groves, many laden with golden-orange leaves. Parker bench, Gull Lake and areas just south of Grant Lake are amazing, and Leaves In The Loop is happening this weekend. 
  • Tioga Pass (9,943′) – Past Peak, YOU MISSED IT!
  • Lee Vining Canyon (6,781′) – Peak (75-100%) GO NOW! – Peak aspen are throughout the canyon and in the campground.
  • Lundy Lake & Canyon (7,858′) – Peak (75-100%) GO NOW! – Photographs submitted of Lundy Canyon this past week have been stunning. The colors are now moving down the canyon, though they should be perfect around the lake and in the campground.
  • Conway Summit (8,143’) Peak (75-100%) GO NOW! – Conway Summit took its time to peak this year, but it’s now at peak with a mix of lush gold, buff, orange and a few lime trees, with some thinning.
  • Twin Lakes (7,000’) – Near Peak (50-75%) GO NOW! – Nice bright orange colors in sections while others will still take another week.
  • Upper Summers Meadow (10,300’) – Past Peak, YOU MISSED IT!
  • Lower Summers Meadow (6,834′) – Peak (75-100%) GO NOW!
  • Lobdell Lake Road (8,600′) – Past Peak, YOU MISSED IT!
  • Sonora Pass (9,623′) – Peak (75-100%) GO NOW! – Great color near the Leavitt Pack Station and at the top of the pass.
  • Walker Canyon, Walker, Coleville and Topaz (5,200′) – Peak (75-100%) GO NOW! – The West Walker River is at full peak, while Antelope Valley cottonwoods are Just Starting. Brilliant yellow color is seen up Mill Canyon Road, near Walker.
  • Molybdenite Creek Trail (7,865’) – Past Peak, YOU MISSED IT!
  • Sweetwater Mountains (5,000 to 11,654’) – Past Peak, YOU MISSED IT!
  • Monitor Pass (8,314′) – Peak (75-100%) GO NOW! – Monitor Pass’ Peak is getting aged. There were lots of trees carrying orange and yellow leaves as of this report, but any wind up there will strip them.

Last Call: Parchers Resort

North Lake Rd., N Fork Bishop Creek (10/16/19) Jared Smith

Of all the years that CaliforniaFallColor.com has reported fall color from the Bishop Creek Canyon, 2019 sets a record for lasting to mid October with NO Past Peak areas.

Today’s is the fifth weekly report of autumn from Jared Smith of Parchers Resort. It is his last for this season. However, that does not mean color is past peak in Bishop Creek Canyon. It isn’t.

Bishop Creek Canyon (10/13/19) Pete Axcell

We estimate a week to two more of peak fall color up Bishop Creek, conditions permitting.

CaliforniaFallColor.com will continue to post reports and photographs from Bishop Creek, as received. We encourage all color spotters who visit the canyon to send reports and photos to editor@californiafallcolor.com.

To this master hospitalitarian and fall color expert, we extend best wishes to Jared for a winter on a beach somewhere, with a cold one in hand and a beautiful sunset lighting the horizon.

Here are Jared’s last words on this durable autumn, “What a wonderful stroke of luck we’ve had with the weather this year! The early cold snap at the end of September and the wind that came with it, only dulled the earliest of the fall color and the last couple windy days haven’t done much damage leaving the majority of the aspen and willow leaves to sit in glowing splendor about as long as one could hope.

“Rarely are we taking pictures of vistas with this much fall color this late into October. Many areas have groves which have already peaked and are losing leaves but wherever the early color fades, more yellow and occasional orange or red seems to fill our views to take it’s place.

“It is still absolutely spectacular out there right now and we’re in the zone where both the upper and mid elevations of the canyon are bursting with color.

For those who can get up to Parchers before it closes this coming weekend, there are still three cabins and two RV sites unsold (2-night minimum). Call 760-873-4177 to book a cabin.

Bishop Creek Canyon Summaries

  • Above 8,500′ – Peak (75%-100%) GO NOW! – Bishop Creek Canyon is still extremely impressive in the higher reaches of the canyon. Table Mountain Camp and Surveyor’s Meadow were at their best last week, but there is still so much color along the road and canyon walls that the canyon can still be considered very much at Peak. Some high points are the road between Parchers & South Lake, the east facing canyon walls near Willow camp, Sabrina and the North Lake Road. 
  • Below 8,500′ – Patchy (10-50%) – Pretty much the whole drive up from the South Lake turnoff up South Lake Road or Hwy 168 towards Sabrina is at Peak. Some areas are still too green to be peak, but enough peak color dominates in the 8,000′ to 8,500′ elevation that now is about as good as it gets for this zone. The falls, Mt. Glen campground, Cardinal Village & pond and Bishop Park group campground just below Aspendell are looking exquisite. 
Mist Falls, S Fork Bishop Creek (10/16/19) Jared Smith

South Fork Bishop Creek

  • Weir Pond (9,650′) – Peak (75%-100%) GO NOW! – The canyon wall to the west is mostly naked, but the foliage surrounding the pond is a show stopper, especially in the morning hours or mid day.
  • Parchers Resort (9,260′) – Peak (75%-100%) GO NOW! – The hillsides all around the resort are epic. Rosy orange hues and plenty of yellow. 
  • Willow Campground (9,000′) – Peak (75%-100%) GO NOW! – Some of the aspen lining the road are past peak, but the canyon walls beyond the campground and the large trees lining the So. Fork of Bishop Creek are amazing. Some really nice orange hues can be seen from here.
  • Surveyors Meadow (8,975′) – Peak (75%-100%) GO NOW! – Another area that was probably better last week, but there is a lot of peak color to see.
  • Table Mountain Camp (8,900′) – Peak (75%-100%) GO NOW! – Some of the aspen are now naked here, but there’s enough color to make it worth a stop.
  • Mist Falls and the groves above Bishop Creek Lodge (8,350′) – Peak (75-100%) GO NOW! – The aspen surrounding the waterfall are at the pinnacle of their fall color brilliance. 
  • Four Jeffries (8,000′) –– Peak (75%-100%) GO NOW! – Lots of color variance here…gold, yellow, orange, red, green and brown.
  • Big Trees Campground and Forks Campground (7,800′) – Near Peak (50-75%) GO NOW! – Lots of trees turning here but the color is a little bronzey for my taste. It will be interesting to see if we get any intense yellow from here this year.
Cardinal Pond, M Fork Bishop Creek (10/16/19) Jared Smith

Middle Fork Bishop Creek

  • Lake Sabrina (9,150′) – Peak (75%-100%) GO NOW! – The color is really lasting at Sabrina this year. Simply stunning.
  • Sabrina Campground to Sabrina Dam (9,000′) – Peak (75%-100%) GO NOW! – Brilliant gold and yellow all the way from the North Lake turnoff to Sabrina. The area by the entrance of Sabrina campground was earlier to peak and first to fade, but everywhere else is loaded with color.
  • Groves above Cardinal Village (8,550′) – Peak (75%-100%) GO NOW! – The scrub aspen are mostly toast, but the more mature aspen along the middle fork of Bishop Creek are amazing right now.
  • Aspendell (8,400′) – Near Peak (50-75%) GO NOW! – This was tough to grade because the aspen in the neighborhood along hwy 168 aren’t all that special, but  the groves just below at Bishop Park Group Camp are amazing, as is the color at the south end of Aspendell near Cardinal Village Resort
North Lake, N Fork Bishop Creek (10/16/19) Jared Smith

North Fork Bishop Creek

  • North Lake (9,255′) – Peak (75%-100%) GO NOW! – One shoreline is pretty devoid of color, but the more popular views looking up canyon from the outlet are still in the peak zone. The quaint dirt road, one of my favorite spots in the canyon because the light is basically dummy proof, is peaking and provides the post card photo op everyone wants to get.

Bustin’ Out at June Lakes

Doe at June Lake, June Lake Loop (10/14/19) Dakota Snider

Mixed reports have been arriving about the fall color at June Lakes. Some have said it’s “stripped” and Past Peak, while others say that June has just begun.

Dakota Snider of Mammoth Lakes took these photos within the past few days. They show lots of color still remaining at June Lake, and also Mammoth Lakes, which we’d previously been told was Past Peak.

Jeff Simpson said he’d just driven the loop and admits, “There are some groves past peak but great elsewhere” adding that it’s “Thining around Silver Lake.”

Over the decade I’ve been doing this, I find that peak is often a judgment from the eye of the beholder.

What I might think is Near Peak with a few blight-damaged groves, another will only see as wholly stripped, ignoring the leaves that are yet to turn. Then, I might see a grove at the end of peak as Past Peak, while there still are lots of beautiful photographs to be taken of it.

Certainly, June Lake is not as good this year as photos from past years show, but it’s still plenty beautiful and at Peak.

  • Lower Rock Creek Rd. (7,087′) – Peak (75-100%) GO NOW!
  • McGee Creek Canyon (8,600′) – Peak (75-100%) GO NOW!
  • Mammoth Lakes (7,881′) – Peak (75-100%) GO NOW!

Last Call: North Lake

North Lake in Bishop Creek Canyon is about to close it out.

Chien-Chang Kyle Chen was there on Saturday and sent these images of last call color.

The orange along the road remains good, but the aspen on the far side of the lake have dropped lots of leaves. A little breeze and it could all fly away.

  • North Lake, Bishop Creek Canyon (9,225′) – Peak to Past Peak, YOU ALMOST MISSED IT!

Waiting for the Moment

North Lake, N Fork Bishop Creek (10/10/19) Philip Reedy

Philip Reedy sent this image of photographers standing along the east shore of North Lake waiting for sunrise.

It pays to be up early, not just to wait for the moment when a scene is lit perfectly, but also to have your choice of locations to photograph it.

Elliot McGucken said that on the day he took the photo of North Lake with clouds in a blue sky (posted here, Oct. 11), there were a lot of photogs there in the morning, but no clouds in the sky.

However, he didn’t give up. He returned that afternoon to find that clouds had formed. It so happened that he had the shore nearly to himself. The sunrise photographers that had lined North Lake, like those above, hadn’t returned.

Great photographs need not be taken exclusively during the golden hour. Photographers who take them often arrive early and stay late, as things happen not just during the golden moment, but often earlier or later. 

I remember one freezing night at Tunnel View in Yosemite Valley, when I stood with other photographers, including many locals. After the sun had set, most of the photographers left, but we locals hung on for what developed to be one of the most incredible evenings ever.

The overcast, which had smothered the light broke open at just the right moment allowing pink, orange, purple and red light to turn the night sky into a fabulous, unforgettable painting. 

On another bone-aching night at North Lake, I heard other photographers say “That’s enough,” and leave. But, given what I learned from sticking it out in Yosemite, I didn’t.

You only learn what you missed, when other photographers, who’d seen you there before you bailed, say, “Wasn’t that fantastic, last night?”

After hearing that a couple of times, you learn never to arrive late, leave early or stop waiting for the moment.