In The Middle of it All

Grasses, Camp Reynolds, Angel Island SP (11/13/19) Gillian Espinosa

Angel Island is in the middle of it all.

The largest island in San Francisco Bay, Angel island isn’t thought of as having much fall color, though it is loaded with native plants, many of which are winter deciduous.

Frémont cottonwood, western sycamore, black and blue elderberry, bigleaf maple, box elder, valley oak, red and white alder, creek dogwood, Garry’s oak, bitter cherry, western chokecherry, Oregon ash, and several type of willow grow on the island. Though, grasslands are what give Angel Island its autumn glow.

For time immemorial, the island’s north and east-facing slopes were covered with oak woodland, while native grasses and north coast scrub were predominant on west and south-facing slopes. Indian use of fire, California State Parks explains, extended the island’s grassland environment, restricting forest and brush to the northeast side of the island.

Then, in the 19th century Angel Island’s flora changed when native grasses (mostly perennials) were overwhelmed by aggressive European grasses whose seeds were brought in with hay. Then, most of the first-growth oak woodland was cut down for firewood.

Today, the native trees and shrubs have recovered, though they compete with exotics brought in by 19th century settlers and the military (Angel Island was an important part of the U.S. Army’s coastal defense installations and served as the Ellis Island of the West).

Most visitors to Angel Island marvel at its impressive views of the Golden Gate, San Francisco Skyline and Marin County, though turn around and you’ll see the island itself is a colorful treasure in the middle of it all.

  • Angel Island, San Francisco Bay (0′) – Near Peak (50-75%) GO NOW!
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Always on Time

Dixiana, 1912 Shay Locomotive, Roaring Camp RR, Felton (11/9/19) Melani Clark

A good railroad always arrives and departs on time.

The same can be said of fall color at the Roaring Camp & Big Trees Narrow Gauge Railroad in Felton (Santa Cruz Mountains), where bigleaf maple, western sycamore and black oak dress its historical train depot with yellow, chartreuse, lime and orange each November.

This past Saturday, Melani Clark, superintendent of the railroad, took this image of steam rising and autumn color falling as the Dixiana stood ready for its run through the redwoods to Bear Mountain.

Autumn weather has been kind to the Santa Cruz mountains where warm, clear days have created ideal conditions to enjoy a walk through a redwood forest and train rides to the summit of Bear Mountain and down to Santa Cruz and Monterey Bay.

  • Roaring Camp Railroads (285′) – Peak (75-100%) GO NOW!


Ventana Wilderness

Ventana Wilderness (11/11/19) Leor Pantilat

The Ventana Wilderness along the Central Coast is peaking with warm orange and yellow flashes.

Color spotter Leor Pantilat found valley oak, black cottonwood, bigleaf maple and grasses to be providing the color, with Western sycamore estimated to peak later this month.

The Ventana Wilderness is known for its steep, sharply crested ridges and deep v-shaped canyons. This wild area east of the California highway 1 near Big Sur also has red and white alder and creek dogwood which are now past peak.

  • Ventana Wilderness – Peak (75-100%) GO NOW!

Above Ground

Owner’s Cottage, Empire Mine SHP, Grass Valley (11/10/19) Steve Arita

Hard rock gold miners didn’t have much opportunity to enjoy the beauty of autumn. They spent most of their day underground.

However, at Empire Mine State Historic Park in Grass Valley the gold to be found today is all above ground. Steve Arita visited this past weekend and found the mine’s surrounding forests to be at peak and beautiful.

Empire Mine was in operation for more than 100 years, starting during the 1850s. In that century, 5.8 million ounces of gold were removed, valued at $8.5 billion in today’s dollars.

The park contains many of the mine’s buildings, the owner’s home and restored gardens, as well as the entrance to 367 miles of abandoned and flooded mine shafts.

856 acres of forested backcountry and fourteen miles of trails for easy hikes, mountain biking and horseback riding can be experienced in the park.

Visitors can enter the actual shaft, but visit only 1/367th of the mine’s five square miles of underground workings, as everything deeper is under water.

So, Steve wasn’t able to bring back any golden souvenirs, other than these photographs of the park’s fall color. After all, he was keeping it all above ground.

  • Empire Mine SHP, Grass Valley (2,411′) – Peak (75-100%) GO NOW!

Danville Delights

Osage Station Park, Danville (11/11/19) Vishal Mishra

Osage Station Park in Danville was so named for the Osage orange orchard that was once tended, there.

Three of the original planted osage oranges (hedge apples) still grow in the park. Their odd, knobby, spider-repelling fruit turn fluorescent green in fall.

Though, it is the park’s grove of towering maple trees and their golden canopy that truly delights autumn visitors, as depicted by Vishal Mishra above.

  • Osage Station Park, Danville (358′) – Peak (75-100%) GO NOW!
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Orange Orange

It’s rare, extremely so, to receive a report from Orange County.

In the eleven years that CaliforniaFallColor.com has existed, Orange County has been mentioned in only three of over 1,000 fall color reports.

So, when Mark Hanning-Lee sent these snaps of Goodding’s black willow at Peters Canyon Regional Park in Orange, I did a double take.

Orange in Orange? Yes, seeing is believing. OK, it isn’t Sabrina Lake, North Lake, June Lake Loop, Plumas County, Nevada City, Napa or Yosemite Valley at peak, but it’s just as special. Perhaps more so, because of its rarity.

The OC had opened its parking lots to free parking for veterans, yesterday, and Mark took advantage of the invite to score a First Report.

Peters Canyon Regional Park encompasses 340 acres of coastal sage scrub, riparian, freshwater marsh and grassland habitats. Goodding’s black willow, Western sycamore and Fremont cottonwood line Upper Peters Canyon Reservoir and Peters Canyon Creek, which meanders through the canyon.

Among its native deciduous plants, the City of Orange can count Southern California Black Walnut, Fremont cottonwood, Western sycamore, bigleaf maple, creek dogwood, black elderberry, Goodding’s black and other varieties of willow.

Hanning-Lee’s find is unlikely to cause a rush of color spotters to Orange County, though I would welcome more reports from there. As, an Orange Orange just seems right, doesn’t it?

  • Peters Canyon Regional Park, Orange (600′) – Near Peak (50-75%) GO NOW!

Napa: Another Week of Peak

Napa Valley (11/9/19) Mike Caffey

This is probably the last week of peak fall color in the Napa Valley.

Mike Caffey was there on Saturday (Nov. 9) and captured vineyards carrying beautiful loads of orange, red and yellow leaves, as well as many others that were past peak.

Of course, vineyards turn by grape variety. My visits to Sierra Foothill vineyards this past weekend found vines similar to what Caffey discovered. Some were totally dry with russet-colored leaves, while nearby others were gloriously painted in burgundy, auburn, vermillion, gold and green.

Mike traveled the Silverado Trail and CA-29 through Napa Valley, commenting that there’s “about one more week of good color left then it will all be spent.” You can just see that in the above photograph. The valley floor is washed with deep orange, vermillion, iridescent yellow and a mix of lime and gold.

Caffey added what’s been reported so many times before this autumn, that “Everything seems delayed a bit this year compared to past years.  There are some vineyards that are nearly bare and others that are still mostly green.  So I think people can find something good up there for another week.”

Napa Valley (11/9/19) Mike Caffey

Up in the gorgeous Russian River wine country, the vineyards are now mostly bare, though those along US 101 “were still looking pretty good.” However, as soon as “you drove up into the mountain areas west of 101 all of the vines were brown,” Caffey reported.

This is it. Wherever you live, get to your local wine country this week, as it’s the last for peak. And, should you miss the show, then sit back and relax as you enjoy a glass of the product of those past peak vines.

  • Anderson Valley (269′) – Past Peak, YOU MISSED IT.
  • Ukiah (633′) – Past Peak, YOU MISSED IT.
  • Russian River (59′) – Past Peak, YOU MISSED IT.
  • Alexander Valley (105′) – Peak to Past Peak, YOU ALMOST MISSED IT.
  • Windsor (118′) – Peak to Past Peak, YOU ALMOST MISSED IT.
  • Santa Rosa (164′) – Peak to Past Peak, YOU ALMOST MISSED IT.
  • Valley of the Moon (253′) – Peak to Past Peak, YOU ALMOST MISSED IT.
  • Sonoma (85′) – Peak to Past Peak, YOU ALMOST MISSED IT.
  • Napa Valley (253′) – Peak to Past Peak, YOU ALMOST MISSED IT.

Retreat to Idyllwild

Black oak, Ernie Maxwell Trail (11/4/19) Mark Hanning-Lee

Idyllwild has long been a favorite Southern California retreat.

The San Jacinto mountain town is surrounded by scenic terrain that invites hiking, mountain biking, rock climbing and awe.

Mark Hanning-Lee hiked the Ernie Maxwell Trail and explored the area last week, showing black oak, manzanita and Frémont cottonwood at peak. By now, the areas he photographed with an iPhone X are at the end of peak with lower elevations (Lake Hemet) and northwest-facing areas now peaking.

Mark parked at the Humber Peak trailhead and walked south along the Ernie Maxwell trail. He recommends an afternoon hike, as it is lit from mid afternoon to sunset.

In town, a spindly Frémont cottonwood by the Town Crier office was still full of golden leaves. He then continued north 10 miles on State Route 243 to find Near Peak color along Stone Creek and Lake Fulmor.

  • Idyllwild (5,413′) – Peak to Past Peak, GO NOW, YOU ALMOST MISSED IT.
  • Lake Hemet (4,340′) – Peak (75-100%) GO NOW!

It’s Nuts Along The Midway

Walnut orchard, Midway Rd. (11/10/19) Robert Kermen

Walnut orchards are carrying Near Peak to Peak color along Midway Rd. between Durham and Chico.

Chinese pistache, Midway Rd. (11/10/19) Robert Kermen

For those who can get there, the coming week and a half will be beautiful in the Chico area. Best bets: Midway Rd., Chico Seed Orchard, Downtown Chico, the Esplanade (Chico’s famous boulevard), Chico State University campus and Bidwell Park drainages.

  • Chico (197′) – Near Peak to Peak (50-100%) GO NOW!

Backroad Soliloquy

Newtown Rd., Placerville (11/9/19) John Poimiroo

California’s mid-19th-century gold rush towns are links in a golden chain of backroads that wind through the fabled Mother Lode. I explored a few of them today, in search of fall color and impressions.

The byways rise, twist and drop alongside creeks and rivers that spill out of the western Sierra. The drainages are presently gilded with yellow bigleaf maple, orange black oak and golden black locust.

My Saturday drive traveled through Placerville, whose surrounding hills are dotted with deep orange black oak, then traveled south to Pleasant Valley by way of Newtown Rd. The South Fork of Weber Creek hugs Newtown Rd. and is backlit with dazzling clusters of yellow maples and orange oaks.

From the junction of Newtown Rd. west toward Diamond Springs on Pleasant Valley Rd, the twisted limbs of venerable valley and black oak overhang the road, enveloping it and creating a boulevard of deformed branches heavy with color. Large orange and yellow leaves tumble from the canopy in a gentle fall to eventually chase passing vehicles.

At Pleasant Valley’s wineries (Narrow Gate, Holly’s Hill, Sierra Vista, Miraflores and others), tasters swirl glasses of ruby Syrah and repeat a common soliloquy of how warm and dry this autumn is.

  • Newtown Rd., Placerville(2,447′) – Peak to Past Peak, GO NOW, YOU ALMOST MISSED IT.