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Seeing Red

Crimson Knotweed, Cliff Lake, Lassen Volcanic NP (9/12/15) Shanda Ochs

One of the earliest fall colors to enjoy in California’s mountains is red.

Though if you seek it, look downward. As, the red of which I write is crawling along the ground.

In the Shasta Cascade, it is the Crimson Knotweed that carpets volcanic slopes above 7,000′ in the Northern Sierra and Southern Cascade.

Dwarf Bilberry, Cascade Lake, Hoover Wilderness (9/5/18) David Senesac

In the Sierra Nevada, Dwarf Huckleberry or Sierra Bilberry (Vaccinium nivictum) grows in subalpine fir forests and alpine fell fields usually between 8,000 and 12,000′,  John Hunter Thomas and Dennis R. Parnell write in Native Shrubs of the Sierra Nevada.

Naturalist David Senesac hiked up into the 20 Lakes Basin of the Hoover Wilderness in early September to find ruby Dwarf Bilberry (Vaccinium caespitosum), “a turf height species of the blueberry family” blushing near timberline elevations in the weeks before autumn.

This plant is often red-purple in color, but ignites when backlit with light, adding vermillion vibrance and verve to its otherwise austere environs. 

Peak (75-100%) – Bilberry and Knotweed

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Indian Rhubarb’s Showy Start

Indian Rhubarb, Big Creek, Plumas County (9/16/18) Michael Beatley

Indian Rhubarb, Darmera peltata, is a showy plant that lives along streams in the Northern Sierra.

Plumas County color spotter Michael Beatley reports the plant has started to show its iridescent colors along Big Creek, between Meadow Valley and Bucks lake, in Plumas National Forest.

Michael says Indian Rhubarb leaves this year are “huge,” and should be gorgeous in two weeks.

To find it, take Big Creek Rd towards Bucks lake. 

Just Starting (0-10%) – Indian Rhubarb, Plumas County (3,600′)

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Hope Valley Still Just Starting

Aspen, Hope Valley (9/14/18) Phillip Reedy

West Carson River, Hope Valley (9/14/18) Phillip Reedy

Aspen, West Carson River, Hope Valley (9/14/18) Phillip Reedy

Aspen in the Hope Valley (CA-88) are beginning to show their autumn colors, though peak remains two weeks away.

Phillip Reedy made his first autumn drive to the Hope Valley yesterday, finding scattered gold among drying brush and late-blooming wildflowers beside the West Carson River. 

Just Starting (0-10%) Hope Valley

Aspen, Hope Valley (9/14/18) Phillip Reedy

Aspen in distance on Hooker Lazy J Ranch, Hope Valley (9/14/18) Phillip Reedy

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Good To Go

Thumbs Up for Autumn, Rock Creek (9/13/18) Josh Wray/Mammoth Lakes Tourism

Rock Creek Lake (9/13/18) Josh Wray/Mammoth Lakes Tourism

Rock Creek (9/13/18) Josh Wray/Mammoth Lakes Tourism

Reports from the Eastern Sierra indicate that autumn color is good to go up the canyons with peak color starting to appear near 10,000′.

It happens quickly in late September, as days shorten and temperatures drop. So, be prepared for possible Near Peak at high elevations there, by the first day of autumn.

Josh Wray, of Mammoth Lakes, drove south to Rock Creek (southern Mono County) to capture what was happening up the canyon, and though it was still Just Starting for most of the canyon, more than enough Near Peak color could be seen along the Hilton Lake Trail at 10,300′.

Aspen, Silver Lake (9/3/18) Cindy Hoover

Willow, Silver Lake (8/31/18) Cindy Hoover

Color spotter Cindy Hoover explored the June/Mono Lake region of Mono County earlier in the week, reporting that Silver Lake is where early color is visible with willows full of gold and singled-out aspen branches bright yellow, while the rest of the trees remain green, but noticeably lighter than a few weeks ago.

Near Mono Lake, Cindy was wowed by a spectacular display of rabbit brush, carpeting the high plains toward a pink-orange sunset.

Krisdina Karady of Parcher’s Resort on the South Fork of Bishop Creek reported that color is still Just Starting, with some aspen branches carrying golden color, but most of the trees remain dark green to lime. A complete report is expected this coming week. 

Near Peak (50-75%) – Hilton Lakes Trail (10,300′)

Just Starting (0-10%) – Rock Creek (9,500′)

Just Starting (0-10%) – June Lake Loop (7,654′)

Just Starting (0-10%) – Mono Lake, South Tufa (6,378′)

Just Starting (0-10%) – Bishop Creek Canyon (Parcher’s Resort – 9,260′)

Rabbit Brush, Mono Lake S Tufa (9/6/18) Cindy Hoover

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Get Ready to Pack Into Mono County

Little Lakes Valley (9/8/18) Liz Grans/Mono County Tourism

Fall color scouting trips by Mono County color spotters Alicia Vennos, Liz Grans and Robert Bernstein returned with promising images of gilding beside high Eastern Sierra trails.

Vennos and Grans visited Lundy Canyon, Green Creek, the Little Lakes Valley and Rock Creek Lake, while Bernstein visited Dunderberg Meadows. Each of their trips showed that color spotters should get packing to see Mono County’s Fall Color.

When these photos were taken a few days ago, the color was just starting to appear, but within the coming week that will change as fall color transition from Just Starting, to Patchy and Near Peak at the highest elevations in the Eastern Sierra. In Mono County, expect Upper Rock Creek and Virginia Creek to show the earliest color.

Click photo to enlarge.

Just Starting (0-10%) – Mono County

Dunderberg Meadows (9/10/18) Robert Bernstein

Dunderberg Meadows (9/10/18) Robert Bernstein

Dunderberg Meadows (9/10/18) Robert Bernstein

Little Lakes Valley (9/8/18) Liz Grans/Mono County Tourism

Rock Creek Lake (9/8/18) Liz Grans/Mono County Tourism

Green Creek Trail (9/9/18) Alicia Vennos/Mono County Tourism

Green Creek Trail (9/9/18) Alicia Vennos/Mono County Tourism

Parker Lake (9/7/18) Alicia Vennos/Mono County Tourism

Parker Lake (9/7/18) Alicia Vennos/Mono County Tourism

Aspen, Parker Lake (9/7/18) Alicia Vennos/Mono County Tourism

Green Creek Trail (9/9/18) Alicia Vennos/Mono County Tourism

Lundy Canyon Trail, Mono Lake in distance (9/8/18) Alicia Vennos/Mono County Tourism

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Sierra Zinfandel Near Harvest

Zinfandel, Wilderotter Vineyard, Plymouth (9/10/18) John Poimiroo

Zinfandel, Wilderotter Vineyard, Plymouth (9/10/18) John Poimiroo

Zinfandel, Wilderotter Vineyard, Plymouth (9/10/18) John Poimiroo

Zinfandel grapes at Wilderotter Vineyard (Plymouth, Amador County) hang in heavy indigo bunches as they await being  harvested, which will likely occur late this or next week.

Some of their leaves are blushing as if in excitement of the harvest, while others are gilded with gold or dried to orange-brown.

Just Starting (0-10%) – Wilderotter Vineyard, Plymouth (Sierra Foothills AVA)

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Meadows and Shrubs Are Where It’s At

Kings Creek Meadow, Lassen VNP (9/8/18) Shanda Ochs

Rock Spiraea (creambush), Lassen Peak, Lassen VNP (9/8/18) Shanda Ochs

California’s best end-of-summer/beginning-of-autumn color is being found in high meadows and wherever colorful shrubs grow.

At Lassen Volcanic National Park in northeast California, Kings Creek Meadow at 7,500′ in elevation is in the process of transitioning from gold to brown, while at 8,200′ at the base of Lassen Peak, Rock Spiraea (Petrophytum caespitosum – creambush) is tinted with dusty rose blooms, LVNP color spotter Shanda Ochs reports. 

Peak (75-100%) – Lassen Volcanic National Park – Meadow grasses and shrubs above 7,500′ in elevation are at peak color, though deciduous trees are still green.

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It’s Beginning To Feel A Lot Like Autumn

Twin Lakes Waterfall, Mammoth Lakes Basin (9/6/18) Josh Wray

As long as we’re in the singing mood, how about turning Johnny Mathis’ classic upside down.

No, it’s not beginning to look a lot like Christmas, but it is beginning to feel a lot like Autumn, Mammoth Lakes color spotter Josh Wray reports. “It’s really starting to feel like the early days of fall in Mammoth Lakes now with summer crowds calming down and temperatures dropping at night.”

He visited the Mammoth Lakes Basin a couple of days ago, “…to see what it’s looking like up there, and it was gorgeous. There were traces of yellow aspen leaves off in the distance but nothing to report on quite yet.”

The color seen in the photo at left are grasses ringing the Twin Lakes. Otherwise, there’s little fall color yet to be seen at 8,500′ in the Eastern Sierra. 

Just Starting (0-10%) – Mammoth Lakes (8,500′)

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Fall Color Detectives

Poison Oak, Briones Regional Park (9/4/18) Darrell Sano

I just love “Who Done Its.” Though, in fall color’s case, it’s more “Where Is It?”

Today, I received reports from Lance Pifer and Darrell Sano who uncovered more evidence that fall is approaching.

1000 Island Lakes, Pacific Crest Trail (9/1/18) Lance Pifer

North Lake, Bishop Creek Canyon (9/1/18) Lance Pifer

Lance visited the Eastern Sierra where he found spots of fall color lighting up the Pacific Crest Trail near 1000 Island Lake and at North Lake in Bishop Creek Canyon, where aspen remain  green and lake grasses are highlighted lightly with gold.

Darrell was a road warrior, exploring far and wide. On Friday (as previously reported) he drove across Sonora Pass, returning via Tioga Pass. About three to four miles after entering Yosemite National Park’s east entrance, he stopped to investigate “a scene that looks like it was planned, meaning so perfect–layered trees, leaves from pink to golden yellow, colors receding into the background, such depth. And it’s peaceful, quiet.” He continued that this area was severely damaged by fire, with at least half of it changed.

The following day, he drove north from the Bay Area to Cloverdale, then along CA 128 to the coast. As expected, there was no color to be seen other than a little in low shrubs, though reminds us that by driving the route he was reminded about how stunning Mendocino county is.

Poison Oak, Briones Regional Park (9/4/18) Darrell Sano

On Labor Day, he stayed near home, taking “a long hike in Briones Regional Park (one of the great East Bay Regional Parks – some of the best managed and most beautiful in California), hiking nine miles while criss-crossing trails. Along his route, he passed “vile poison oak” in toxic profusion, recalling the many times he’s suffered after having been covered in its sap, but noted, “When you see beds of its brilliant red in filtered light, you know 1) don’t go in there 2) enjoy the color from a distance.”

Darrell’s detective work included observing the afternoon light which due to skies, still tinted with wildfire haze, cast a yellow ochre tint that was accented by the lower angle of sunlight, dramatizing the shadows, and noted the dryness of the landscape, observing that despite their parched appearance, thistles and grasses remained beautiful remnants of summer. 

Dry thistles and grasses, Briones Regional Park (9/4/18) Darrell Sano

Briones Regional Park (9/4/18) Darrell Sano

Just Starting (0-10%) – Tioga Pass

Just Starting (0-10%) – 1000 Islands Lake
Just Starting (0-10%) – North Lake
Just Starting (0-10%) – CA 128 (Cloverdale to the Coast)
Just Starting (0-10%) – Briones Regional Park, SF Bay Area
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Berry Nice

Elderberries, Lake Spaulding (9/2/18) Robert Kermen

California Ash, Lake Spaulding (9/2/18) Robert Kermen

Incense Cedar, Lake Spaulding (9/2/18) Robert Kermen

Late summer/early fall is a season of berries and pine cones.

Robert Kermen reports they are creating color spots on highway 20 near Lake Spaulding in the Sierra.

On his Labor Day Weekend drive, he spotted Elderberries, California Ash and the immature cones of incense cedar (calocedrus decurrens).

Bitter Cherry, Clair Tappaan Lodge, US 40 (9/1/18) John Poimiroo

 

Near Clair Tappaan Lodge off old US 40 (between Soda Springs and Sugar Bowl), Bitter Cherry (rosaceae) were carrying bright red berries and turning from green to gold along the trail to Summit Meadow.

This Sierra Club base camp is one of the host locations for 2 to 3-hour Art Hikes (Sept. 8/9) that include music, dance, poetry and art along the trail. Space remains available at the lodge. More info and reservations are  found at ClairTappaanLodge.com.

From Truckee Meadows to North Lake Tahoe, aspen remain dark green with no evidence of black leaf spot. 

Just Starting (0-10%) – Lake Spaulding – Berries and cones are decorating shrubs and trees.

Just Starting (0-10%) – Donner Pass (US 40) – Willows are turning yellow and carrying bright red fruit.

Just Starting (0-10%) – North Lake Tahoe/Truckee – Still green.