Wishing it would Rain…

Sacramento-based travel writer Barbara Steinberg comments to us this past week…

“I must say this really has been the most colorful Sacramento autumn I can recall. I guess the lack of rain and storms has kept the leaves on the trees…downtown Sacramento, Midtown, and surrounding neighborhoods are just beautiful. And a recent visit to Fairfield and Suisun Valley was much the same. The walnuts are green and yellow…vineyards are still showing their colors and clusters of grapes.  Still…I do wish it would rain.”

Seasons Change from Fall Color to Holiday Sparkle

Gum and Mulberry trees, Lakeport (11/24/09)

Gum and Mulberry trees, Lakeport (11/24/09)

Although autumn doesn’t end until December 21, Thanksgiving Day always seems to be the last day of the year in  which Californians are in an autumn state of mind.  After that, a blizzard of holiday sales make falling prices overwhelm falling leaves.

While there’s still lots of color to be enjoyed, most Californians shift their search from looking for fall color to searching for colorful Christmas lights and Christmas trees.

However, just because the holiday season is upon us does not mean that Mother Nature has given up her beautiful show of autumn color.  California’s urban landscape flickers with auburn, orange, crimson and yellow within its parks and along its boulevards.  Because California’s weather has been mostly mild and clear this fall, 2009 will be remembered as one of the best for beautiful and long-lasting displays of fall color.

This is the last planned California Fall Color report of the season.  Our thanks are expressed to the many color spotters across The Golden State who emailed photographs and reports.

Clear Lake, Lakeport (11/24/09)

Clear Lake, Lakeport (11/24/09)

75-100% — Lake County. Terre Logsdon reports that “While the harvest of pears, walnuts, and wine grapes has ended for the year, large swaths of color throughout the county remain to be enjoyed as the many oak varieties – black, blue, valley, and Oregon – are at 75% of peak and turning a muted gold to vibrant orange against a backdrop of evergreen pines. Sweet gums are a riot of color in the town of Lakeport, at their peak of color ranging from gold to deep burgundy. Flowering mulberries are nearing their peak ranging from canary yellow to bright green.

Lakeport Dickens Faire (stock photo)

Dickens Christmas Market, Lakeport (stock photo)

An annual Dickens’ Christmas Market occurs Nov. 28 in Lakeport.  This annual Christmas event transforms Lakeport into an old English village, complete with costume-clad characters, food booths, and entertainment, as well as an all-day Christmas Market from 10 a.m. to 7 p.m. Lighted parade begins at 6 p.m. and Christmas tree lighting follows at 6:30 p.m. on Main Street. CLICK HERE for more about this event or call (707) 263-5092.

75-100% — Onyx. Color spotter Danna Stroud of Mammoth Lakes reports that lovely gold colors clusters of trees in the Southern Sierra along CA-178 west of CA-14 and east of Lake Isabella.  Danna oversees the Mammoth Lakes Visitors Bureau which will soon open one of the three new California Welcome Centers recently approved for designation by the California Travel & Tourism Commission.  The new Welcome Centers are located in Mammoth Lakes, El Dorado Hills and Vista and should open in early 2010.  When these state-sanctioned visitor information centers open, the number of California Welcome Centers will increase to 17.  California Welcome Centers bring together visitor information from across California and are great places to get maps and guidance on visiting California.

75-100% — San Francisco Bay Area. Color is at or past peak around San Francisco, providing lots of nostalgic autumn color in the Bay Area for the Thanksgiving Day weekend.  If you’re in The City this weekend, head to Yerba Buena Gardens and Golden Gate Park for the most diverse show of color.  Cindy Hu reports that russet and gold have “been supplanted by LEDs in many corners of The City.  Market Street is adorned with illuminated snowflakes and the palm trees in Union Square have been encircled with white lights.”  She recommends checking out these “bright spots:” Embarcadero Center, Pier 39, Ghirardelli Square, Union Square, Huntington Park, Castro and 18th Streets, Union Street, Golden Gate Park, The Presidio and Fisherman’s Wharf.  CLICK HERE for more details.

Beautiful color may also be found down the Peninsula in Burlingame, Menlo-Atherton, Palo Alto and Los Altos; in the East Bay communities of Danville, Moraga and Walnut Creek; and in the north bay cities of San Rafael and Novato.

75-100% — Sacramento. This Central Valley city is known as being second only to Paris in the number of trees, per capita.  Sacramento has so many trees that special rules govern when and where you can park, so that leaves can be cleared during autumn.  The best displays of fall color are found downtown, surrounding the State Capitol, in the Fabulous Forties (avenues numbered in the 40s) and surrounding Land Park, south of US 50 and downtown.

Past Peak — Plumas County. Color spotter Suzi Brakken reports that the Plumas and Lassen National Forest offices are now selling Christmas tree cutting permits for $10.  All you need is a saw, dry boots and snow clothes. Keep in mind that snow is plentiful in the higher elevations, especially where the favorite Silvertips are found. The permits for Plumas National Forest are also available at many local businesses, including at the Plumas County Visitors Center at the Quincy airport, a half mile west of Quincy on CA-70.  Maps of approved cutting areas come with permits, which are on sale through Dec. 24.

On the Thanksgiving weekend, holiday light parades will be held in Chester and Taylorsville, and merchant open houses with refreshments and tree-lightings will be held in small towns throughout Plumas County this weekend and next. For more information, CLICK HERE.

Past Peak — Gold Country. Color has now descended below 1,000′ in the gold country with little left to change among the oaks and maples.

Happy Thanksgiving, everyone!  See you next fall!

Gold Country, So. Cal. Show Their Gold

Holly Hill Vineyard (11/16/09)

Holly's Hill Vineyard, El Dorado County (11/15/09)

75-100% — Newton and Snow Roads (2,000′). Black Oaks and bigleaf maple are fully orange and yellow from U.S. 50 south of Placerville on Newton Road to the Pleasant Valley, indicative of similar color to be found throughout the Sierra foothills.

We drove to Holly’s Hill Vineyards in the El Dorado AVA, to find the vineyards to be at peak with orange to red across the rolling hills, as these snaps from an iPhone attest.

75-100% — Southern California. Jimbo comments from Southern California that there’s still lots of color to be found in the mountains.  He writes, “The black oaks have turned around places like Crestline, Idyllwild and Palomar Mountain.”

Holly's Hill Vineyard, El Dorado County (11/16/09)

Holly's Hill Vineyard, El Dorado County (11/15/09)

Thanks to readers, like Jimbo, I’m able to cover all of the state.  Do email me if you’ve got a report.  Photos are great.  Give me your full name and I’ll make sure you get credited.  These reports will continue through Thanksgiving Day.

Photo Credit: © 2009, John Poimiroo

Color, Color Everywhere

Chinese Pistache (11/11/09

Chinese Pistache (11/11/09

Fall color has now dropped in elevation to sea level.  Exotic trees are showing first, as can be seen in these photos of Chinese Pistache (pistacia chinensis) and Eastern Redbud (Cercis canadensis) photographed at 800′ in El Dorado Hills.

Redbud (11/11/09)

Eastern Redbud (11/11/09)

Native trees from sea level to 1,000′ still have two weeks to go before peak, but the exotics are providing a dazzling show of yellow, orange, red, lime, burgundy and brown.

Planned communities, where landscaped boulevards cluster tree species are literally glowing.  Chinese pistache, liquidambar, redbud, red oak, ornamental pear, persimmon, crape myrtle, maidenhair and birch are turning quickly and shedding leaves with each storm.

Parks and arboreta will deliver good fall color viewing through November.  A map to where fall color can be found within the San Francisco Botanical Garden is included in the preceding blog.

Japanese Maple, Taylorsville (11/12/09)

Japanese Maple, Taylorsville (11/12/09)

50-100% — Urban Landscape (0 – 1000′).  It is difficult to express a precise percent of change for so vast a territory as is California, though exotic foliage (that not native to California) is at or nearing peak across the state, as seen in this photograph of a Japanese maple sent to us by Richard McCutcheon from Taylorsville (southeast of Lake Almanor).  Native trees below 1,000′ are anywhere from 15% to 75%, again according to species and micro-climate.  Fall color viewing continues across California, though the brightest displays are now within the exotic landscapes of the state’s cities and towns.

Photo Credit: © 2009, John Poimiroo

Japanese Maple: © 2009, Richard McCutcheon

Disappointing Down South

There’s a seven-letter reason people enjoy living in Los Angeles so much… weather.  For most of the year, it’s hard to beat LA’s consistently mild and clement weather.  Fall and winter are easily handled, unless you come unprepared.  I met one such person at LAX before my return flight, yesterday.  She was a Kentucky horsewoman who’d come out west for the Breeder’s Cup held at Santa Anita Race Track.  She’d visited the year previously and recalled how balmy it had been.  This year, however, she shivered through several days of racing, and was looking forward to flying back to a warmer Kentucky.  I had flown south from Sacramento to enjoy UCLA defeat Washington at the Rose Bowl.  In previous years, watching college football in Pasadena meant wearing a t-shirt and sun screen.  Not so this weekend.  A chill settled across the greater Los Angeles basin, giving Southern California a bit of autumnal bite to its air, particularly at night.  Too bad there wasn’t much fall color to go with the crisp, sweater-weather temps.

0-15% — Los Angeles.  The fall color in the City of Los Angeles – what there is of it – is disappointing right now.  Just about all the trees to be seen in greater Los Angeles were planted, and those exotic species were showing very little color change, if any.  Some near the coast are showing dark red emerging from darker green.  And as reported previously, while the fall color in Chico was literally luminescent, in LA, it was lackluster.

Spiritual Fall Color

Frank Helmholz carving a capital at the Abbey of New Clairvaux in Vina (11/5/09)

Frank Helmholz carving a capital at the Abbey of New Clairvaux in Vina (11/5/09)

Today, I drove from Redding, south, stopping in Vina to visit the Abbey of New Clairvaux.  There, master stone mason Frank Helmholz is leading a team of the world’s best stone masons in reconstructing an 800 year old Cistercian gothic abbey’s chapter house (meeting room).

Walnut Orchard and Chapter House building (11/5/09)

Walnut Orchard and Chapter House building (11/5/09)

William Randolf Hearst saved the chapter house from sure destuction and despoilation, though ran out of funds before he could reconstruct it.  In a way, it’s fortunate that happened, as it would have been placed in one of the Hearst family’s private homes.  Now, it’s being rebuilt for everyone to enjoy.  For many years, the monks at Vina have been aided by private donations (since they live a life of poverty, hard work and prayer) in rebuilding the structure.  It’s a laborious process, but when finished, it will be the finest example of original Cistercian gothic architecture in the western hemisphere.

I caught Frank Helmholz as his crew were finishing up work on the central support columns that will eventually support a spectacular vaulted gothic ceiling inside the chapter house.  The structure that contains their stone work is surrounded by walnut groves, prune orchards and vineyards, where the monks often toil.  Here’s a report what you’ll see if you drive along CA-99 north of Sacramento to Vina.

Walnut Orchard and Vineyards, Abbey of New Clairvaux (11/5/09)

Walnut Orchard and Vineyards, Abbey of New Clairvaux (11/5/09)

30-50% — CA-99.  From Yuba City north to Vina, prune and walnut orchards similar orchards have turned bright yellow-orange, tinged with bronze.  Other orchards along the route remain green, though with an early hint of color.

75-100% — Chico.  This college town (Chico State University) has perhaps California’s prettiest autumnal urban forest.  The trees are nearing peak and Chico is darn near phosphorescent right now with vibrant orange-red, yellow-orange, pink, lime-yellow, garnet, and cadmium yellow colors.  If you’ve never been to Chico, it’s well worth the drive, particularly for the next week or two, when the town is litterally aflame with fall color.  If you go, include lunch at the Sierra Nevada Brewery.  Whether or not you enjoy beer, the restaurant is superb.  Chico has lots of arts galleries.  One of my favorite is Orient & Flume Art Glass at 2161 Park Ave.  A guide to local art galleries is available at most of the galleries.  Bidwell Park encompasses over 3,600 acres, making it one of the largest municipal parks in the nation.  The Bidwell Mansion preserves the home of one of California’s most acclaimed pioneers, and the town has several museums, including the National Yo-Yo Museum.

Photo Credit: © 2009, John Poimiroo

The Higher You Go, The Better it Gets

Sundial Bridge (11/4/09)

Sundial Bridge (11/4/09)

While the headline to this blog is no longer true of the Sierra Nevada, when it comes to driving north along I-5, the higher you go, the better the fall color gets.  Yesterday, I drove north from Sacramento to Redding.  The orchards of the northern Central Valley still have a ways to go, though riparian areas are near to past peak with lovely color to be found among the cattails.  The City of Redding is aglow with beautiful fall color (much of it exotic).

0-15% — I-5 (100′).  Walnut and almond orchards north of Sacramento along I-5 indicate they are turning with some light green to hints of warmer colors to come, yet still not showing much color.  Cattails north of Willow at Walker Creek are brightly colored with shades of gold, orange, bronze and lime green.  Purple to burgundy stems and branches are found among leafless brush along creeks.  The most color to be found in the Sacramento River Valley are in the cottonwoods and prune orchards which have tgurned 50% yellow-orange with some bronze to auburn edging.  A stand of Valley Oaks (among the largest of California oaks) at Road 27 are yellow-orange and near Road 16 in Orland a prune orchard is nearing peak.

50-75% — Redding.  The capital of “Upstate California” is nearing peak for its seasonal color, particularly in neighborhoods and city parks.  At Santiago Calatrava’s magnificent Sundial Bridge, native oaks and riparian trees provide some changing colors by which to frame the bridge’s impressive gnomon.  Even though the color here is not of the dramatic nature of that to be found in the Sierra, there’s still lots of color if you look for it and Sundial Bridge is worth the drive north.

Last week, I described a loop trip up I-5 to Redding, an overnight in Redding, then over CA-299 to Redwood National Park, then down US 101.  Another loop is north to Redding, then east to MacArthur-Burney Memorial Falls SP, continuing south on CA-89 through Lassen Volcanic National Park (if snows don’t close the road) into Plumas County, then back down to the Central Valley by way of CA-32 (by way of Chico) or CA-70 (Feather River Canyon).  There’s probably a week left of spotty color on either route.

Photo Credit: © 2009, John Poimiroo

Eastern Sierra — It was fun while it lasted.

Lake Sabrina (9/16/09)

Lake Sabrina (9/22/09)

Leslie Dawson, Alicia Vennos and Greg Newbry confirm that the high winds that lashed the Eastern Sierra this past week stripped most of the color from the aspen, though cottonwoods which had not yet turned are lime-green to golden and will last for a week or two more.  The aspen in Lower Rock Creek and the lower Lee Vining Canyon were spared from the strongest winds and still have yellow to orange color.  While there are occasional pockets of color in the Eastern Sierra, it is mostly past peak and this will be the last report for the Eastern Sierra.

This was one of the finest years to see fall color in the Eastern Sierra, with breathtaking displays of yellow, orange and red aspen showing in early September high up Bishop Creek (seen at left) and finishing at Halloween with pockets of aspen in sheltered canyons and cottonwoods still glowing.

75-100% – Bishop, Lower Rock Creek Canyon, Lower Lee Vining Canyon and the Antelope Valley. Still good color among the aspen in protected canyons and cottonwoods near Bishop and the Antelope Valley.

Past Peak – Everything Else. It was fun while it lasted.

Now, don’t be confused… we’re only talking about the Eastern Sierra (Mono and Inyo Counties).  Lots of color is still to be enjoyed in the Western (Yosemite Valley) and Northern Sierra (Plumas County).

Redwood Highway… Yellow in the Redwoods

Elk Meadow Cabins, Redwood Nat'l and State Parks

Elk Meadow Cabins, Redwood Nat'l and State Parks

30-50% — The Redwood Highway. Drive the Redwood Highway north of Willits to Scotia, and you’ll be treated to spots of color along the way.  Although the locations listed below are in south to north order, it’s a bit more colorful to drive north to south, as the sunlight will illuminate leaves, intensifying their color.  Here’s a suggested route that provides the most intense color:  begin in Redding and overnight there (with a visit to Sundial Bridge), then travel west on CA-299 to Arcata and up to Redwood National and State Parks.  Overnight at Elk Meadow Cabins north of Orick (with a visit to see the Roosevelt Elk and Fern Canyon), then travel south on the Redwood Highway (U.S. 101).

50-75% — Willits to Laytonville. The drive from Willits north to Laytonville is forested with orange and yellow oaks on both sides of the road, with occasional touches of lime green, mixed with firs and pines, making for a beautiful show.

50-75% — Rattlesnake Summit (1,795’). A number of alder and bigleaf maple on both sides of U.S. 101 provide a colorful show of yellow and gold past Rattlesnake Summit.

30-50% — Standish-Hickey State Recreation Area 101 (500’). Beside the Eel River, between Elfin Glen and Confusion Hill there are lots of yellow bigleaf maple in the redwood forests.

30-50% — Richardson Grove State Park. Bright yellow bigleaf maple decorate the redwood forests from Richardson Grove State Park north through The Avenue of the Giants to Scotia.  This past week’s winds did not affect those in the forest.

Roosevelt Elk Rut

Roosevelt Elk Rut

75-100% — Redwood National and State Parks. The redwood forests north of Orick along US 101 are occasionally speckled with orange-yellow bigleaf maple and alders.  Fall color is best inside the national and state parks where the combination of warm colors of the autumn leaves and kelly-green moss provide the most dramatic contrast.  Another colorful aspect of fall in California is the elk rut at Redwood National and State Parks.  These elk bulls were seen battling by outdoor photographer, Rick E. Martin at the Elk Meadow Cabins near Orick.  CLICK HERE to view a video of impressive elk rut photos taken by Rick.

Photo Credit: © 2009, Rick E. Martin

Pear Orchards Now Golden in Big Valley

50-75% — Cobb Mountain (2,800’). Along Diamond Dust Trail and Salmina Road off CA-175,  maples and dogwoods are aglow against a backdrop of forest green pines and oaks.

75-100% — Kelseyville. Strong gusty winds in the lower elevations near the Big Valley area have helped the pear trees stand out more, as the walnuts are now past peak and lost many leaves. Pear orchards are showing golden in this area that was once known as the “Pear Capital of the World.” Bring along a basket for a stop at any of several roadside stands selling Lake County Mountain Pears in the Big Valley area. Vineyards in the Red Hills AVA nearby are deepening to russet, vermillion, and mahogany.