Leavitt Creek Revisited

Leavitt Creek, Sonora Pass (10/24/20) Todd Backman

Leavitt Creek continues to shine. We first visited it nine days ago when Philip Reedy introduced us to its cascade.

In Todd Backman’s iPhone XR capture (above) the aspen to its right carry more peak color.

Todd writes for those who want to find the creek, it’s on the eastern side of Sonora Pass (CA-108), just above the 8,000′ sign on the south side of the road. While this location was full of peak color at 11 this morning, Backman writes the rest of the area is Past Peak.

Still, he passed “some really nice groves further east, along the West Walker River north of the 108/395 junction.

As for Monitor Pass, stick a fork in it. It’s done.

Backman continued his 108, 395, 89 loop by returning by way of Ebbet’s Pass (CA-4) which has pretty views of lush color on both sides of the East Carson River.

He bemoaned with sad-faced emojis, something I’ve often bemoaned. We color spotters have a tendency to pass the first peak we see, thinking it’s gonna get better a little further down the road.

Not so. What dazzles you is good because the light is perfect at that moment. And, it’s probably not going to get better.

When on a quest to find fall color, I’ve learned to stop as soon as there’s a safe turnout. This means traveling slightly below the speed limit and pulling over to let others pass. Then, I stop whenever I see something beautiful. Otherwise, it’s a nice, pretty drive with nothing to show.

  • Leavitt Creek, Sonora Pass (8,000′) – Peak to Past Peak – GO NOW, You Almost Missed It.

June, June, June

June Lake (10/18/20)

Poor June Lake. It’s such a spectacular fall color location … one of the most dramatic in California. Last year it never got off. This year, though the color has been good, smoke has suffocated the views and generated photographs smothered with pathos.

Aspen glow, Rush Creek, June Lake Loop (10/18/20) Adarsh Dattani

Now, it appears June Lake has peaked before the air has cleared.

The comparison between when Adarsh Dattani was there a week ago and Bruce Wendler’s iPhone XR snaps taken yesterday show the frustrating persistence of the Creek Fire’s haze and a gradual fall of leaves.

Bruce wrote that along the June Lake Loop, “leaves were dropping fast, making the creeks spinning with leaves.”

In contrast, the air is clear up Lundy Canyon and though the trees are dropping color, a lot remains to enjoy on the hike along Mill Creek.

Heading down US 395, Convict Lake is at peak, but also streaked with smoke.

And, as a sign of changing fortunes, cottonwood surrounding Bishop are now from high Patchy to Near Peak, in some places their color complements a soiled sky.

  • Lundy Canyon (7,858′) – Peak (75-100%) GO NOW!
  • June Lake Loop (7,654′) – Peak (75-100%) GO NOW!
  • Convict Lake (7,850′) – Peak (75-100%) GO NOW!
  • Bishop (4,150′) – Patchy to Near Peak (10-75%) Go Now.

Sweet Sugar Along La Porte Rd

Thompson Ranch, La Porte Rd, Plumas County (10/19/20) Jeff Luke Titcomb

Among California’s photo locations, Thompson Ranch along the La Porte Rd. in Plumas County is a recipe for perfection.

An orangey-golden sugar maple provides sweet color, while the ranch’s barn and split rail fence provides savory character.

Color spotter Jeff Luke Titcomb visited this week to capture its sugar maple at peak on his Samsung N920A.

  • Sugar maple, Thompson Ranch, La Porte Rd, Plumas County – Peak (75-100%) GO NOW!

Bigleaf Maple Country

Bigleaf maple (10/23/20) Philip Reedy

Fall color is peaking a week later than usual in bigleaf maple country.

That’s north of Lake Tahoe in the Northern Sierra, Southern Cascades, Marble Mountains and Trinity Alps.

Scott Embrey, Fishing the Box Canyon, Upper Sacramento River (10/23/20) Philip Reedy

Color spotter Philip Reedy met up with Scott Embrey in Mt. Shasta yesterday to dip their lines and check out the fall color of a small area of bigleaf maple country along the Upper Sacramento River, south of the town of Mount Shasta.

Phil reported these areas of the Upper Sac “that would normally be peaking, still have a way to go.” He estimates the color to be between 25 and 50% of peak, “especially at lower elevations near Castle Crags.”

Phil prefers long exposures, ones that turn the movement of water on streams to lacy whiteness, but he said the wind from an oncoming front was disturbing the leaves, blurring them in his shots.

He made me smile when he wrote, “That required me to me to go against every fiber of my being and actually raise my ISO above 64.” then added a disheartened emoji.

Reedy is suggesting peak color among the Indian rhubarb (Darmera) on the Upper Sac is still about a week away. “Last year, at this time, the Indian rhubarb were in full glory.”

One of his favorite hikes to Mossbrae Falls had a lot of bright, Near Peak yellow bigleaf maple.  Up by the falls he also found maples cheerily dressed in yellow. He suggests it’ll stay good for at least one more week.

Bigleaf maple along the tracks, Mossbrae Falls (10/23/20) Philip Reedy

A word of caution, however, the hike to Mossbrae Falls involves walking along active railroad tracks. The trains arrive pretty suddenly and don’t make much noise, so remain watchful when on or near the tracks and always have a place in mind to go to get out of the way of an approaching engine. They will not stop.

Indian Rhubarb, Upper Sacramento River (10/23/20) Philip Reedy

A week ago, Reedy sent an absolutely beautiful photograph of Indian rhubarb within the dark recesses of a box canyon between Cantara and Ney Springs.  The magenta Indian rhubarb from last week has faded, but plenty of green ones have yet to turn.

Upper Sacramento River (10/23/20) Philip Reedy

And, lurid bigleafs are reflecting their electric yellow leaves upon the river. Go quickly, as they’re at peak.

Upstream at Ney Springs many spots of nice color can be found, but nothing yet exceptional. Give it a week.

Box Canyon, Upper Sacramento River (10/23/20) Philip Reedy
  • Castle Crags State Park (6,500′) – Peak (75-100%) GO NOW!
  • Upper Sacramento River at Castle Crags (2,500′) Patchy (10-50%)
  • Bigleaf Maple, Upper Sacramento River – Near Peak (75-100%) GO NOW!
  • Indian Rhubarb, Upper Sacramento River – Patchy (10-50%)
  • Mossbrae Falls (2,529′) – Near Peak (75-100%) GO NOW!
  • Ney Springs Creek Trail (1,000′) – Patchy (10-50%)

Keep on Truckee

I had to see for myself. Clayton Peoples’ photos of peak color around Lake Tahoe, his shot of Kokanee spawning in Taylor Creek, the webcam images of Truckee with golden cottonwoods along the river. Seeing is believing.

So, I got on I-80 and kept on truckin’ to Truckee to find the color to be as nice as I’ve seen it there.

Martis Creek Cabin, CA-267 (10/23/20) John Poimiroo

Same for North Lake Tahoe, though Martis Creek Cabin (CA-267) near Northstar has seen better days. More than half the aspen are barren, though there’s still beauty.

Tahoe City (10/23/20) John Poimiroo

On my drive along the north then west shore, aspen are full of orange leaves. Tahoe City is ablaze with red, yellow and orange and hot spots of peak color appear anywhere there’s a drainage.

Spring Creek, CA-89 (10/23/20) John Poimiroo

It was Friday, so Tahoe was mostly lightly visited, though people congregated where coffee might be sold or there was a ready place to take a snap for social media. The Emerald Bay parking lot was full – as usual – and wherever lush stands of aspen glowed orange-yellow, crowds were attracted.

Clusters of folk took selfies in a lush grove near Spring Creek north of Taylor Creek on CA-89. Their wild poses, outstretched arms and pursed lips made me wonder if they’d traveled there to be filled with awe or play the fool. For all the selfies taken, I doubt any really saw themselves.

Kokanee, Pope Baldwin Bike Path, Taylor Creek (10/23/20) John Poimiroo

The spawning Kokanee salmon in Taylor Creek were as advertised: brilliant and numerous. The salmon are moving slowly in the creek – almost motionless, so cameras can be hand held. To reduce glare, a polarizing filter is recommended (or dehaze when processing with Adobe Lightroom).

I got there at 3 p.m., which I considered too late by a couple of hours. Midday is probably optimal, since the light comes from overhead, illuminating the stream. I found that long afternoon shadows (same in the morning) make it harder to photograph the fish. At this point in autumn the light is warm and not harsh. So, shooting midday is not the no-no it would be in July.

The only place to see the Kokanee is from the Pope Baldwin Bike Path bridge that crosses the creek. Normally, I’d suggest parking at the Taylor Creek Visitor Center, but it is closed.

Instead, there’s a turnout about 100 yards north of the creek. I parked there (parking is also available on a street across the highway from the turnout) and walked back along the bike path to the bridge.

Do not, however, venture off the bike path into closed areas near Taylor Creek or you could be fined. And, please be respectful of nearby residential areas.

In all, count Tahoe as one of the places to see or (depending on your purpose) to be seen this weekend.

  • Cisco Grove, I-80 (5,643′) – Patchy (10-50%)
  • Rainbow Lodge, I-80 (5,800′) – Near Peak (50-75%) Go Now.
  • Kingvale, I-80 (6,118′) – Near Peak (50-75%) Go Now.
  • Coldstream Valley, Truckee (5,817′) – Peak (75-100%) GO NOW!
  • Truckee (5,817′) – Peak (75-100%) GO NOW!
  • Northstar, CA-267 (6,175′) – Peak (75-100%) GO NOW!
  • Martis Creek Cabin, CA-267 (7,000′) – Peak to Past Peak, GO NOW You Almost Missed It.
  • Kings Beach, CA-28 (6,225′) – Peak (75-100%) GO NOW!
  • Tahoe City, CA (6,225′) – Peak (75-100%) GO NOW!
  • Spring Creek (6,225′) – Peak (75-100%) GO NOW!
  • Pope Baldwin Bike Path, Taylor Creek – Peak (75-100%) GO NOW!

LA’s First Peak

Black tupelo, Nyssa sylvatica, LA County Arboretum and Gardens, Arcadia (10/23/20) Frank McDonough

Los Angeles County’s first reported peak comes from the Los Angeles County Arboretum and Gardens in Arcadia where black tupelo (Nyssa sylvatica) are wearing deep orange-red leaves.

Black tupelo are found in one of the less-visited areas of the arboretum and are among the first to turn, there. McDonough notes that the area where the tupelo resides is compact, partially shaded and has plenty of water as it is near a perennial lake. McDonough reports that the lake serves to cool other nearby plants, as well.

Frank McDonough adds, “Now that weather has cooled down, what will be the next tree specie to turn?”

OK, geocachers, this specimen is found at: GPS: 34.142780°N 118.056434°W

  • LA County Arboretum and Gardens, Arcadia – Just Starting (0-10%)

More Red, More Brown

Peak fall color is moving north with more red up and more brown down.

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Webcam Colorful

Ryan Boyd scores a First Report – and he didn’t even have to leave home – for webcam screen captures he found of Truckee on Tahoetopia.com.

Clearly, folks, Truckee is peaking as these images document. Good thing I’m heading there, tomorrow.

Now, if you know of webcams in places where fall color can be seen (Lake Arrowhead, Napa Valley, Mineral King, etc.), send similar screen captures and you could score a First Report, too.

  • Truckee (5,817′) – Peak (75-100%) GO NOW!
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June Is Busting Out All Over

Conway Summit (10/19/20) Jeff Simpson | Mono County Tourism

It’s time to break out into song, ’cause June Lake is busting out, and peak color is being seen all over Mono County.

Mono County Tourism’s Jeff Simpson calls it “the week we’ve been waiting for,” and it’s easy to see why. For the next week to ten days the best color left in the Eastern Sierra is putting on a show. That’s why the June Lake Loop has been named CaliforniaFallColor.com’s Peak of the Week and Driving Tour of the Week.

As is seen in Jeff’s and Alicia Vennos’ photographs, weather and smoke vary greatly day by day, hour by hour. One moment it’s crystal clear, the next it’s congested.

Knowing when it’s best outside, is a matter of referring to tools like PurpleAir.com. This app provides an immediate color-coded view of what’s happening where you are and where you plan to go.

Despite the intermittent haze, the entire front country of the Eastern Sierra is open to fall color viewing. It is only wilderness areas in the backcountry of Inyo National Forest that remain closed.

All locations pictured here can be visited, and as is evident – they’re beautiful right now.

Unfortunately, not everyone visiting the outdoors this year has done so responsibly. Yesterday, I posted that Taylor Creek at Lake Tahoe had to be closed because people were jumping fences and trampling the forest in order to take selfies of bear feeding on spawning salmon.

The many fall color spotters I’ve met are responsible and careful about protecting the places we visit. So, we can help keep the forests open for fall color and wildlife viewing by packing out any litter that’s been left behind and encourage others to do the same.

It’s all about practicing Mountain Manners, as they say in Mono County.

Monitor Pass, CA-89 (10/16/20) Jeff Simpson

Walker / Coleville / Topaz

  • Monitor Pass (8,314′) – Peak to Past Peak, GO NOW, You Almost Missed It. – We’ve had Monitor Pass at Peak to Past Peak for a week. It won’t last much longer.
  • West Walker River, Walker, Coleville and Topaz (5,200′) – Near Peak (50-75%) Go Now. – The Antelope Valley should peak within the week. Towering cottonwood rain bright golden leaves on US 395 that swirl as vehicles pass.

Sonora Pass / Lobdell Lake Rd.

  • Sonora Pass (9,623′) – Peak to Past Peak, GO NOW, You Almost Missed It. – The top of the pass is past peak, but Leavitt Meadows is still gorgeous.
  • Lobdell Lake Rd (9,274′) – Peak to Past Peak – GO NOW, You Almost Missed It. – Most of Lobdell Lake Rd. is now past peak, though those groves that were green when the rest of the road was peaking are now lovely. This is the place to go to be at one with nature and feel what it must have been like for Mark Twain to travel similar dirt roads through the aspen.

Bridgeport / Virginia Lakes

  • Twin Lakes (7,000′) – Near Peak (50-75%) Go Now. – It’ll just get better each day over the coming week as Peak arrives.
  • Virginia Lakes (9,819’) – Past Peak – You Missed It.
  • Conway Summit (8,143) – Peak (75-100%) GO NOW! – Rolling layers of color, lush trees and a horizon that rises to alpine splendor. A broad vista hardly gets better that at Conway Summit, right now. Be cautious when stopping along US 395 to view the color. Find a wide area along the turnout and be cautious before exiting your vehicle. The trees can lose leaves, but we don’t want to lose you.
  • Summers Meadow (7,200′) – Peak (75-100%) GO NOW! – Cascading layers of brilliant color are dressing the rolling hillsides of Summer’s Meadow.

Lee Vining

  • Lee Vining Canyon (6,781′) – Peak (75-100%) GO NOW! –  As we reported four days ago, Lee Vining Canyon has powered up. Its forest has red, gold, yellow, lime, orange. Drink it all in.
  • Lundy Lake & Canyon (7,858′) – Peak (75-100%) GO NOW! – If you didn’t hike Lundy Canyon last week, this is the last week to see it it its best. There’s probably a week to ten days of additional peak color there, but don’t delay.

June Lake Loop

  • June Lake Loop/Hwy 158 (7,654′) – Peak (75-100%) GO NOW! – “
    June Lake Loop is California Fall Color’s Peak of the Week. As the song goes, “June is busting out all over!” It’s just “spectacular” throughout the the June Lake Loop (CA-158). All its classic viewing spots will be perfect for the next week to ten days. GO NOW!

Mammoth Lakes

  • Mammoth Lakes Basin (8,996′) Peak to Past Peak, GO NOW, You Almost Missed It. – The Mammoth Lakes Basin is past peak, though beautiful color lights up the town of Mammoth Lakes along Snow Creek.

Crowley Lake/ McGee Creek Canyon / Convict Lake

  • McGee Creek Canyon (8,600’) – Peak (75-100%) GO NOW! – Everything up McGee Creek is now at peak, including the campground and pack station. A walk along the creek is a delightful fall color experience.
  • Around Crowley community (6,781′) – Near Peak (50-75%) Go Now. – Every fall color viewing location in Mono County is now peaking. Crowley still has a little green, but now more color than not is showing. It’ll stay good for two solid weeks. So if your travels don’t get you to the Eastern Sierra until November, you’ll still find scattered peak color here.
  • Convict Lake (7850′) – Peak (75-100%) GO NOW! – Convict Lake has just edged past 75%, so it’s got a solid week to ten days of glorious color ringing it.

Rock Creek Canyon

  • Rock Creek Rd (9,600′) – Peak to Past Peak – GO NOW, You Almost Missed It. – The upper section of Rock Creek Rd. is past peak, though from midway down to Tom’s Cabin is where you’ll find the best color.
  • Lower Rock Creek Rd. (7,087′) – Near Peak (50-75%) Go Now.
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It’s Cooking at Cook’s

Sunrise, Cook’s Meadow, Yosemite NP (10/20/20) Elliot McGucken

Cook’s Meadow in Yosemite Valley was once trampled by hotel-owner John J. Cook’s cattle (1881-87). Today, only bear, deer, coyote and an occasional bobcat might be seen there. The cattle left in the 1920s.

Elliot McGucken was there yesterday to catch the sunrise and be greeted by an American black bear. A wisp of smoke from the Creek Fire (to the south) is evident in his pictures, and the sun’s rays glowed golden as they passed through it.

Black oak, Cook’s Meadow and Half Dome, Yosemite Valley (10/20/20) Elliot McGucken

Bear are common valley residents and more of them have been seen foraging the valley in the months since Covid-19 pandemic restrictions first reduced park visitation.

The 2.25-mile hike through Sentinel and Cook’s meadows is one of the most popular in the national park. Wooden boardwalks float over the meadows to contain foot traffic and keep the boggy meadows from being compacted.

The route includes breathtaking views of Yosemite Falls, Sentinel Rock and Half Dome. In the coming weeks, black oak and California cottonwood will turn orange and yellow. Some sign of the change is seen in Cook’s meadow’s signature black oak seen above.

Sentinel Rock, Bigleaf maple, Pacific dogwood, Yosemite Valley (10/20/20) Elliot McGucken

Yellow bigleaf maple and rosy Pacific dogwood remain at peak in the valley, though most are now Past Peak. Fern Spring at the entrance to Yosemite Valley is Past Peak, though yellow and orange-red leaves in its dark waters will continue to be photographed ’til the end of October.

El Capitan and the Merced River, Gates of the Valley, Yosemite NP (10/20/20) Elliot McGucken

Admission to Yosemite Valley is available to those with day-use, in-park lodging and camping reservations and for wilderness or Half Dome permits. The requirement to obtain a day-use reservation will end on Nov. 1. Passage through the national park over the Tioga Road (continuation of CA-120) requires a reservation.

  • Fern Spring, Yosemite Valley (4,000′) – Peak to Past Peak, GO NOW, You Almost Missed It.
  • Pioneer Sugar Maple, Yosemite Chapel (4,000′) – Past Peak, You Missed It.
  • Cook’s and Sentinel Meadows, Yosemite Valley (4,000′) – Peak (75-100%) GO NOW! – Yosemite’s black oak will continue to improve though mid November.