Hope Springs Eternal

Early changing leaves in the Hope Valley (9/13/19) Philip Reedy

364 days ago, Philip Reedy visited the Hope Valley. He returned to the day that he last visited on Friday, reporting he “was hoping to see a similar beginning to fall colors.  I saw almost no aspen changing yet, where last year there were a few trees in full color.”

Green Aspen, Hope Valley (9/13/19) Philip Reedy

He estimates the start there is lagging by about a week from what he saw last year. Though, “on the plus side, trees look very healthy, vibrant with green leaves.”

Philip plans to return every Friday for the next four weeks, to compare the two years that he’s been reporting from Hope Valley.

On this trip, he began above the West Carson River, then worked Red Lake Creek for an article he’s writing for Southwest Fly Fishing, finding aspen he hadn’t seen before, though nary a spot of yellow.

Brook trout, Red Lake Creek, Hope Valley (9/13/19) Philip Reedy

Beaver have done their best to gnaw away the aspen near the creek and though there were lots of Brook trout. The trout were small and soon released for another angler to get once they’ve grown. Reedy described the Brookies as the most colorful aspect of late summer in the Hope Valley and shrugs, “so perhaps this can count as fall color.”

Hope Valley (7,300′) – Just Starting (0-10%)

How to Submit Photographs and Reports

Bigleaf Maple, Spanish Creek (10/14/17) Michael Beatley

Over 100 volunteer “color spotters” (our term for contributors) submit photographs and reports to CaliforniaFallColor.com each autumn. To be one of them is easy.

Email photos and reports, within a week of when you visit an area, to [email protected].

Reports and photos received more than a few days later are often superseded by submissions for the same location (particularly popular locations) that were received earlier that week. We do not publish undated photographs and rarely post photos older than a week.*

Please edit and send only your best photographs as .jpg files, eliminating duplicates. We rarely publish more than ten photographs for one location by a single photographer in a given week.

Photos can be sent as an attachment to your email or linked to a photo sharing app, such as Google Drive or Dropbox.

Submitted photos should identify (within the email by file name):

  • The photographer’s first and last name,
  • date each photo was taken and
  • the location where each photo was taken.

CaliforniaFallColor.com is unable to compensate photographers for use of their images, though we attempt to always credit the photographer for his/her work.

In addition to bragging rights, many contributors have had their photographs republished leading to broader recognition/exposure, enhanced resumes/reputation, paid compensation from media and/or retail sales, not to mention bragging rights.

Each Thursday from the first day of Autumn through the Thursday prior to Thanksgiving Day, we send to leading California print and broadcast media for republication or broadcast (with selected photographers’ permission) a selection of photos deemed by CaliforniaFallColor.com to be the Best of the Week.

This selection represents both the highest quality of fall color photos take in the previous week and the most representative of the extent of fall color being seen across California.

Photographs and reports from lesser-known or photographed areas have an advantage in being included, because of our interest in showing the breadth of autumn color being seen across California.

Only photographs sized to at least 300 dpi and larger than 1,000 kb are eligible to be considered in the Best of the Week selection. **

Quality camera phones (Apple, Samsung, Google) take pictures of sufficiently high resolution for images posted on this site, though digital SLR cameras take the best photos for republication. Set your DSLR to Fine, .jpg.

Submitted reports should identify:

  • % of color change for the location being reported (e.g., North Lake, Bishop Creek Canyon) – not for a specific tree or shrub (expressed as: Just Starting, 0-10%; Patchy, 10-50%; Near Peak, 50-75%; Peak, 75-100%;  or Past Peak),
  • the name of the location, roads (e.g., take Rock Creek Rd. east from US 395),
  • date visited and
  • any helpful information (e.g., “The trail is steep for the first 500′. but then levels out for the two mile hike to the lake. A grove of peaking aspen is found at the western side the lake trail.”).

If you know the foliage seen in the photo (particularly if it is unusual or wouldn’t be evident to us), please describe it (e.g., quaking aspen, bigleaf maple, black oak, silver willow, etc.). If you do not know the plant, we will attempt to identify it.

We will make every effort to publish your report, particularly if it is from an unusual or lightly reported destination.

When multiple photographs are received from heavily visited locations, we are able only to publish the first received, the best or the most unusual report. Occasionally, we will post a portfolio of historic photos, but often only when fresh images have not been received. Photos may be cropped or adjusted for best presentation.

CaliforniaFallColor.com’s style is vivid and photojournalistic. Images that tell a story or that show human activity in relation to autumn are best.

Reports and photos can also be posted on CaliforniaFallColor’s Facebook, Twitter and Instagram pages. Though, emailing photos and reports to [email protected] is the best way to get them on this site, and the only way to get them considered as among the Best of the Week.

Thank you and happy wandering! 

* Historic photos, like Michael Beatley’s shot of Spanish Creek (seen above), are published – on occasion – days or even years after they were taken, but only to illustrate an article that is not time-sensitive. Fall color reports only use photos taken during the previous week, in order to present what can be seen at that location.

**A high resolution photo is one that is 300 dpi (dots per inch). A photograph of 1 megabyte or larger is usually large enough to be considered to be high resolution. Please don’t hesitate sending a photograph just because it isn’t 300 dpi. Pictures taken by camera phones often get included in our reports. Small (72 dpi) images – the common setting for websites and devices – are too small for reproduction in print media.


Whoomp, There It Is!

The first leaf of autumn, Mono County (9/10/19) Jeff Simpson

Whoomp, there it is! The first leaf of autumn has been posted officially by Mono County color spotter Jeff Simpson.

Jeff said it was 24 degrees Fahrenheit in Bridgeport (the county seat) yesterday morning, causing him to leave the office and tour Rock Creek, Sagehen Summit and the Virginia Lakes in search of fall color.

He found mostly green to lime-colored coverage, though a few bright spots of yellow and orange aspen and golden willows were seen on his brief tour.

Jeff estimates that substantive change will appear near 10,000 feet near Rock Creek Lake in the coming week with areas between 9,000 and 10,400′ in elevation as the first to be worthy of “filling the card.”

Now, how does this compare to previous years?

At this time last year we were reporting about the same amount of color change … very little.

We had received reports of willows, ferns and shrubs turning golden, similar to what we reported last week. As, ground covers are the first to change their autumn colors.

So far, this autumn seems to be right on schedule, but then California is – if anything – consistent about its display of fall color. Here’s what Jeff found:

Virginia Lakes (9,819’) – Just Starting (0-10%) A few leaves have begun to turn yellow. It’s still very early with almost foliage dressed in green or lime.

Sagehen Summit (8,139’) – Just Starting (0-10%) Saghehen is still mostly green and lime. This location is often one of the first to reach full peak in Mono County. Jeff is predicting Near Peak and a GO NOW! designation within 7-10 days. 

Rock Creek Road (9,600’) – Just Starting (0-10%) Some yellow leaves are present around the lake level and in the upper elevations of Little Lakes Valley. Mostly green and lime green with another 5-7 days away from any real change.

At lower elevations in the Sierra, little to no fall color is yet visible. Color spotter Sylvia Wright drove Hwys 89, 88, 50 and 49 on a loop between Tahoe City and Auburn, finding zero color, “except for the bright new umbrellas at the Kirkwood Inn.”


Blight at Martis Creek

Martis Creek Cabin (9/4/19) John Poimiroo

Passing Martis Creek Meadow (CA 267 between Northstar and Brockway Summit) on the Labor Day weekend, quaking aspen along the edges of the grove appeared to be approaching peak.

However, on closer inspection, these aspen are blighted. The yellow and orange seen above is not fall color change. It’s aspen blight.

Aspen blight, Martis Creek Meadow (9/4/19) John Poimiroo

There are numerous types of blight that affect aspen. The most common is Marsonnina blight, which appears as black dots on leaves, eventually speckling them and ruining their autumn show.

In Martis Creek’s case, the trees surrounding the grove have brown tinting along their edges, but those nearest the oft-photographed Martis Creek Cabin off CA-267 show no signs of blight.

The blight is most akin to Ink Spot disease, though only a few of the leaves exhibit the tell-tale march of overlapping drips of blight which give the disease the name, “ink spot.” By this time in summer, the spotted sections have dropped out of the leaves and become holes as seen on the center-most, upper leaf in the closeup photo.

Groves in the meadow to the east of the cabin have been badly affected with numerous trees now brown or having dropped their leaves. Overall, the blight has ruined about a third of all leaves in this popularly photographed grove.

That is not to say that you should skip visiting Martis Creek Cabin this autumn. The blighted trees have their own stressed beauty and once the unaffected green aspen leaves begin to turn, the contrast of colors is likely to be beautiful.

No where else at Tahoe did I find the same condition, and I was not able to visit the Hope Valley on this North Tahoe sojurn. So, the condition may be localized.

As to their longterm impact, such blights are often a year-to-year situation resulting from how wet the area was in late spring or whether the area experienced drought, anything that might encourage fungal growth or stress the trees.

A gardener could do some things at the appearance of aspen blight to mitigate the disease, but as these trees are in a forest, the discoloration is a natural aspect of nature’s painting.

Martis Creek Meadow (6,500’), Just Starting (0-10%) – A third of the trees are blighted, have turned brown or dropped leaves. Willows near the creek are glowing yellow-orange and near peak. As yet, no significant color change can be seen in the Sierra, though occasional spots of yellow color are beginning to appear.

Coastal Color

California poppies, Central Coast, Coastal Highway (4/27/19) Mark Harding

Wildflowers are blooming along the Pacific Coast Highway (CA-1) between Cambria, north to Big Sur.

Color spotter Mark Harding drove Hwy 1 over the weekend, returning with these images of wildflowers and wildlife.


Making Mushroom Merry

Stereum hirsutum, Anderson River Park, Anderson (12/21/18) Gabriel Leete

As the last days of 2018 are waning, mushroom hunters are making merry where winter rains have fallen.

Shasta Cascade color spotter Gabriel Leete found these fungi while foraging along the Sacramento River in Redding at the McConnell Arboretum and Gardens and in Anderson at the Anderson River Park.


Winter Happens Here Too

Red Lake Creek, Hope Valley (11/30/18) Philip Reedy

Autumn ended yesterday.

Weeks ago, on the last day of November, Philip Reedy was traveling through the Hope Valley when he stopped to capture these wintry images of “everyone’s favorite cabin in the snow.”

We delayed posting his pictures until today, as they embody the transition from warm fall to cold winter colors, showing aspen bereft of their autumn gold, now encased in white.

Dude, winter happens here too. 

Red Lake Creek, Hope Valley (11/30/18) Philip Reedy
  • California Fall Color – Past Peak, You Missed It.
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Stocking Stuffer

Plants of Northern California, Falcon Guides

Earlier this autumn, I had the opportunity to speak with Dr. Eva Begley, author of Falcon Guides’ Plants of Northern California about California Fall Color. That interview follows.

On this the final day of autumn in 2018, what better gifts to recommend to fans of fall color, than guides that help identify plants?

Several are available on Amazon.com, most of which can be delivered within a day or two … plenty of time to stuff a stocking with one.

Here’s a short list of recommendations:

  • Plants of Northern California, Dr. Eva Begley, Falcon Guides
  • National Audubon Society Field Guide to North American Trees, Western Edition, Elbert L. Little, Knopf
  • Sierra Nevada Tree Identifier, Jim Paruk, Yosemite Conservancy
  • Laws Field Guide to the Sierra Nevada, John Muir Laws, California Academy of Sciences
  • The Sibley Guide to Trees, David Allen Sibley, Flexibound
  • National Audubon Society Field Guide to California, Peter Alden & Fred Heath, Knopf
  • National Audubon Society Field Guide to Mushrooms, Chanticleer Press
  • Southern California Nature Guide, Erin McCloskey, Lone Pine Press (Kids)
  • Northern California Nature Guide, Erin McCloskey, Lone Pine Press (Kids)
  • Sierra Nevada Wildflowers, Karen Wiese, Falcon Guides

Dr. Eva Begley: California Fall Color

Q. “What makes California’s native plants unique in the world?

A. While I can’t speak to the world as a whole, California’s vast variety of geologies, topographies and climate encourage the growth of diverse species. Similar diversity is seen in India where zones vary from tropical to the Himalaya, and in South America, from sea level to the Andes. Quite exceptional geological substrates have developed in these places where soil derived from varied rocks combine with climate and topography to encourage a variety of growth. As an undergraduate student, I planned to do a study in Illinois, pairing north and south slopes, but was told, “Don’t bother. You won’t find  much variation.” Here, on the other hand, there’s endless variety. Our mountains and  canyons show completely different vegetation even though they may be near one another. Chapparral can grow to the south, redwoods to the north.

Q. Autumn is often overlooked by Californians. Why do you believe we’ve ignored autumn?

A. I moved here from Southern Illinois in 1976 to attend graduate school. For the first couple of years, I didn’t think California had noticeable seasons, because I didn’t have car. I was stuck in Davis, which is planted mostly with evergreens. So, I saw only green during autumn.

It took a couple of years, before I got out into the mountains and realized California does have a Fall and it can be very beautiful. It’s overlooked, because it’s more nuanced and remote.

California’s calendar images of autumn aren’t even remotely like those in New England. Aspen in the Eastern Sierra are more subtle and hidden in subalpine valleys that relatively few Californians visit in autumn.

Q. What should Californians know about our autumn?

A. There is so much happening during autumn throughout California that is overlooked. Autumn happens not just in the mountains. California has beautiful urban forests full of fall color.

People tend to focus on the trees, but in doing so miss the understory plants, where much of our color is layered with beauty. It presents a really nice show. You won’t see Sugar Maple here, with its flamboyant display, but equally alluring are plants like poison oak that, despite its notoriety, has really pretty colors: soft yellow, pink to a pretty ripe red.

Our bracken fern are gorgeous in autumn … big, massive, abundant, carpeting conifer forests with bright yellow leaves that literally fill the forest with a golden glow.

Bitter Dogbane is very common in the High Sierra above 7,000 feet at Tahoe in the Desolation Wilderness; it’s seen north to Southern Oregon. It exhibits a bright, clear yellow in Fall and spreads across big patches that put on a really nice show. I’ve found it in the Carson pass area, south toward Winnemucca Lake, along trails and at Red Top Lake. My advice is to get off the beaten path and discover autumn wonders in unexpected places.

Corn Lily is one of my favorites. In some years, when the summer is dry they wither, but in wet years their leaves turn bright yellow. You’ll find subtle shadows in their leaves. They’re just gorgeous. Patches of corn lilies are just spectacular and are at peak from late August to September.

Q. How can Californians broaden their autumn experience?

A. Look down, not just up. You’ll discover mushrooms, fruit and berries. Sometimes you’ll find conspicuous, fascinating fruit, brown, not gaudy, but with amazing shapes.

Know when and where to find remarkable plants. Common madia is a California native that blooms well into Fall through early October, but to see it, you need to be out early. By 10 a.m. its delicate fringed petals start curling up. It’s really pretty and  truly intriguing.

Q. What impacts are affecting California native species?

A. There are so many impacts: habitat loss, introduction of new species, hybridization. And, sadly, it’s all bad news.

Highway construction and maintenance has been the biggest concern. Caltrans, has had a policy of actually refusing to stockpile native soil when doing widening. The Department of Water Resources uses the exact opposite policy, conserving the top 6 inches and stockpiling it.

It’s important to save and reuse native soils rather than bring in sterile ones, because native soil is full of native seeds, rhyzomes and herbaceous perennials.

California’s objective should be to save as many native plants as possible. In some areas, Caltrans has contributed to the extinction of native plant groups. They completely covered a patch of wild irises near Foresthill with a highway project that scalped the hillside. Today, there are no more irises there.

Along highway 70 between Sacramento and Marysville, a big area along the road, near a drainage canal, was once solid blue with Brodiaea laxa. No longer.

What is happening is that environmental reviews are being done with categorical exemptions/exclusions that don’t go out for public review. That’s because project geologists are under time pressure to inspect the sites, but they’re not doing the inspections during the right season to see what native plants are there. They’re rushed, do cursory review and projects get written and approved. No one was there the previous spring to see that the area was full of rare native plants.

In one case, native plants grew so densely that the site might have been a Native-American garden where native people once cultivated plants used for food. The bulbs produced solid masses of flowers. Caltrans went through one of the bogs and wiped out what was left.

Years ago at the Spenceville Wildlife Area in the Yuba Highlands, a rancher who looked at an Environmental Impact Report was horrified by a huge development planned in several phases including highways. Consultants who did the plant surveys visited in October and November and didn’t find anything of interest. Once a project is that far along there’s not much anyone can do other than notify the Native Plant Society.

Complicating this is that we need to pay greater attention to which species are the most obnoxious and invasive and avoid them. French broom is horribly invasive. Above Auburn, there’s way too much French and Spanish broom. That’s because little attention was given to what types of weeds might be in generic wildflower seed mixes used by the highway department.

Highway planners and developers think they’re doing something nice by choosing bright colors to be seeded along our highways, disregarding what might be native or invasive to an area. Further, they’ll claim to use native seed, when they’re not. There are some good, some well intentions, but also some lazy and incompetent ones. We need more informed and caring practices when grading and replanting wild lands.

In Placerville, a riparian landscape project, specified coastal red alder, instead of  native white alder (Alnus rhombifolia). I was horrified. Highway and city landscape departments need to be aware of the differences between native and non-native plants so that they don’t plant invasive ones that wipe out native trees, flowers and shrubs.

California is so isolated by mountains and deserts and our climate is so inviting to growth, that native plants are at risk of easily being overwhelmed by invasive exotic species. Government agencies and developments should give preference to native plants for restoration projects.

There are many things Californians can do in their own lives to protect native plants, too. When hiking: stay on established trails; don’t trample vegetation; do not pick plants unless you have a need for them and never pick more than you need. Learn more about identifying native plants and trees. Stay on top of private and governmental development in your area, participate in review processes and encourage protection and cultivation of native species. 

Eva Begley holds a Ph.D. in botany from the University of California at Davis. She has had a long career in research, teaching, landscape architecture and environmental planning and lives in Sacramento, California.

See you next autumn, dude.
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Big Tujunga is the Big Kahuna

Cottonwood, Big Tujunga Creek, Sunland-Tujunga (12/15/18) Ken Lock

The Big Kahuna for fall color in Southern California’s mountains this past weekend was Big Tujunga Creek near Sunland-Tujunga where Ken Lock captured cottonwood still carrying gold.

Yes Gidget, it’s past peak. Though, spots of peak color can still be found here and there in Los Angeles’ San Gabriel Mountains. 

Cottonwood, Big Tujunga Creek, Sunland-Tujunga (12/15/18) Ken Lock
  • Big Tujunga Creek, Sunland-Tujunga, Los Angeles – Past Peak, You Missed It.
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Spoiler Alert

A colorful ending, LA County Arboretum (12/18/18) Frank McDonough

LA is the last place to give away an ending. As residents of the world capital of movie making, Angelenos will tell you to go see it, but will never say how it turns out.

That’s why we were a little surprised when Frank McDonough of the Los Angeles County Arboretum and Botanic Garden in Arcadia sent these scenes from the closing moments of autumn at The Arboretum.

As colorful endings go, the finale at the LA County Arboretum and Botanic Gardens is as memorable as any we’ve seen, but please don’t say we gave away the ending. 

  • LA County Arboretum and Botanic Garden, Arcadia – Peak to Past Peak, You Almost Missed It.