Fall Arrives Officially

The first day of autumn finally arrived officially yesterday, although color has been showing in California for the past couple of weeks.  In the past week, there’s been a big change in color at high elevations.  Here’s what’s showing, right now:


0-15% – CA-32.  The drive from Chico east to Chester along CA-32 has several nice locations to spot fall color once you near Deer Creek, though it’s still a couple of weeks away from breaking.  Big leaf maple (acer macrophyllum) and alder (alnus oregona) are just beginning to show yellow at about the 4,400′ elevation.  Between Deer Creek and the intersection with CA-36, a few of the big, fan-shaped leaves of Indian Rhubarb (darmera peltata) are beginning to blaze in red along Deer Creek.  While CA-32 is still two to three weeks away from full color, though some pockets of bright colors can be found if you’re attentive and willing to walk from a turnout.

0-15% – Lake Almanor.  Among the deciduous trees, deep green is coloring to a yellow green, as chlorophyll production appears to be declining.  Fall color is still two weeks away.

0-15% – CA-89.  Between Lake Almanor and Greenville on CA-89, look to the ground and along streams for the best color.  Alder and some western dogwood (cornus nuttallii) are beginning to show yellow and pink-orange, while the poison oak is transitioning from pink to orange to brilliant red.  Again, this show is still re two weeks from full color.  Amateur botanist Joe Willis of Quincy reports that bitter cherry “is turning red along 89 from Keddie to Greenville.  Good examples are found overlooking Spanish Creek near the end of the Quarry Road and at the Taylorsville “T”. Scarlet honeysuckle provides a nice splash of late blooming color near the Plumas Charter School.

0-15% – Quincy.  There are several showy red displays of Virginia creeper around Quincy.  Several nice maples are turning red across from Moon’s in town, while some of the best color to be seen in Quincy now are the berries of the mountain ash and blue elderberry.  Most of the big leaf maple in Quincy is turning brown, though Willis predicts some will turn yellow.  The black oak are still a ways from showing color.  These tall trees with outstretched black branches become decorated in orange to red color, providing the classic Halloween coloration.  A service berry along the railroad tracks near Crescent Mills has begun to turn and in a week or two should be bright red.  The lower canyon by Cherokee Saturday has impressive displays of bright red poison oak, set against, still-green broadleaf trees.

0-15% – CA-70.  The Feather River Canyon (CA-70) is showing very little color.  The best is just west of Twain, though that’s just a hint of what’s to come.


Jared Smith of the Parcher’s Resort at South Lake remarks he’s amazed at how fast the colors are turning in the canyon, “as in just a week some areas that were completely green are now nearing their peak. Of course, there is still a lot of green out there so if the weather cooperates we’ve got at least another week or two of exceptional fall color.”

50-75% – South Lake (9,768’) –  Jared says the aspen at South Lake are turning very quickly but there is still a ways to go for some of the larger groves around the lake. The view is stunning but it should get better over the course of the next week if the wind stays down.

Weir Pond (9/21/09)

Weir Pond (9/21/09)

75 – 100% – Weir Pond (9,592’) – Color is “really beginning to pop at Weir Pond, possibly the most popular spot on the South Fork Bishop Creek to take photos. Last week the yellow had started up the mountain to the west but this week just about the entire grove is bright yellow and the lower aspens among the pines right by the water are lit up as well. The aspens on the east shore aren’t going yet so we still have some more color to look forward to here but it sure is looking great right now.”

North Lake (9/22/09)

North Lake (9/22/09)

50-75% – North Lake (9,255’)  – Jared Smith remarks, “Wow – what a difference a week makes! When I went up to North Lake today I was absolutely shocked by the transformation at North Lake. Red and orange are really making a showing above the lake. The aspens around the shoreline are a bit behind which makes for a great contrast in color between the lower and higher aspens. It’s anyone’s guess how long the color will stay here but it certainly is moving quickly. The road at North Lake is still very green so I would have to guess that we’ve got some time left before shooting the road will be at its best. Although I estimate this area at 50-75% of full color, it’s definitely on the higher end of that range.”

Lake Sabrina (9/22/09)

Lake Sabrina (9/22/09)

50-75% – Lake Sabrina (9,150’) – Again, Jared describes Lake Sabrina as “simply breathtaking right now as the yellows, oranges and even some reds are starting to show in a big way. The lake water level is also such that in the mid morning sunshine the water glows a brilliant shade of blue. The lake surface is often glass in the early mornings which, according to Rick Apted of Lake Sabrina Boat Landing, gives photographers a great chance of catching reflections of the aspens off the water. Weather permitting; it’s going to get even better in the coming week or so.”

Lake Sabrina Camp (9/22/09)

Lake Sabrina Camp (9/22/09)

30-50% – Sabrina Camp Groves (9,000’) – “There are a few separate groupings of aspen around Sabrina Campground,” says Jared, “The grove just before the campground is now near peaking on both sides of the road….beautiful stuff! The majority of the trees at the campground itself however are still green so this location will be good for a while if the weather holds out.”

15-30% – Lake Sabrina Approach (9,100’)

30- 50% – Willow Camp (9,065’) – “Willow Camp is starting to look like it’s on the verge of exploding into color,” Jared reports.  The aspens along the road and around the camp itself are showing yellow but none of those trees are really popping yet. Just past the campground on the right however it’s looking awesome. The trees just below the beaver dam by the Tyee Lakes Trailhead are looking pretty bright as well. The hillsides in between Willow and Parchers are looking pretty impressive right now but the best is yet to come.

Comparison photos of Willow Camp show how color has changed in this area in just one week.  The first, taken on Sept. 16 shows very little color change, while the second shows the sudden appearance of yellow leading right up into the High Sierra.”

75-100% – Table Mountain Group Campground (8,845’) – Areas above and below the campground “are starting to really light up with yellow and some orange.. There is still a fair amount of green but it is disappearing fast. This area is turning as fast any anywhere in the canyon so look for it to peak very soon,” Jared reports.

0-15% – Mist Falls on South Fork Bishop Creek – “Mist Falls is still very green with only a few trees showing yellow.  Cross your fingers for continued dry and calm weather to allow the color to develop, here,” says Jared.

Photo Credit: Jared Smith, copyright 2009

Eastern Sierra reporting early Yellow, Orange and Red

South Lake with view of Hurd Peak

South Lake with view of Hurd Peak

0 – 15% — South Lake in Inyo County at 9,768 ft. is one of the first areas of California to show fall color.  Jared Smith of Parchers Resort and South Lake Landing is one of our most reliable and consistent color spotters.  He provides the first report of the season that while South Lake is still a few weeks from peak, it is beginning to show yellow.  Most of the color is accessible by boat towards the back end of the lake, still there is come excellent color there, right now.

0 – 15% — One of the most popular spots for photographers in the canyon is Weir Pond at 9,592 ft. in elevation.  A large grove of quaking aspen on the west wall of the canyon is beginning to turn yellow.  There is still plenty of green, but this spot is a bit ahead of the rest of the canyon.

Poplars - North Lake Road

Poplars - North Lake Road

0 – 15% — North Lake at 9,255 ft. has little showing as yet.  The dark greens, Jared Smith reports, have turned to light green, but there isn’t much yellow to be found near the poplar road, or in the large groves that line the west shore.  The best color to be found is on the drive approaching North Lake above Cardinal Mine.  However, color changes fast in the Eastern Sierra so it could break big in the next ten days, depending on conditions.

0 – 15% — Lake Sabrina at 9,150 ft is looking the best of all these reports, with quite a bit of yellow showing.  The back of the lake is still nearly all green with the exception of a little patch in the back right corner of the lake that is bright red.  Jared says, “things are moving along nicely, but we’re still a ways from the best stuff.”

Sabrina Campground - CA-168

Sabrina Campground - CA-168

0 – 15% — At Sabrina Camp (9,000 ft), a few separate groupings of aspen in the campground are already showing.  Yellows, oranges and reds are visible in the grove.  The majority of aspen along the creek and campground are still very green and a ways from peak.  Aside from the one grove, the show is still very low at present.

0 – 15% — Willow Camp (9,065 ft) is beginning to look very nice in some places, but it still has a way to go before peak.  The hillside above Willow Campground, but below Parchers Resort, is the furthest along and is showing quite a bit of yellow.  This area seems to be progressing faster than other areas.

Table Mountain Group Campground

Table Mountain Group Campground

15 – 30% Table Mountain Group Campground (8,845 ft) is really begin to light up with color, according to Jared Smith.  There is a lot of green, so overall the color is low, but it’s already photo worthy in quite a few areas.  This area is turning so fast, it could peak as early as next week (weather dependent).

0 – 15% — Mist Falls (South Fork Bishop Creek) is always a late bloomer and presently is “as green as green can be.”  Won’t peak for at least two more weeks.

0-15% — The Sherwin Mountains overlooking the Snowcreek Golf Course in Mammoth Lakes are flickering with spots of yellow according to color spotter Sarah McCahill of the Mono County Tourism Commission.  Give it a week or two and you’ll have added reason to explain why you missed the putt.

California Fall Color also recommends visiting Carol Leigh’s superb blog for photographers (see links).  On Carol’s Fall Color in California page, Kahlee Brighton wrote about the Eastern Sierra, “…more color is appearing at higher elevations. Willows and smaller aspens are turning gold around Mosquito Flat above Rock Creek Lake. Aspens north of Lee Vining are also lightening in color. Rabbit Brush is in peak bloom in various locations, adding its golden beauty to the overall sense of impending Autumn. Things are still pretty green overall, but no question, Fall is in the air throughout the Eastern Sierra. With respect to Southern California, I’m so surprised to see more trees turning yellow. This morning, I noticed liquidambar with touches of gold — even orange and red — in several areas. Ivy and a few other noted autumnal delights were also changing. This is VERY early for Southern California.”

Kahlee Brighton brings together beautiful pictures of fall color in the Eastern Sierra at http://www.flickr.com/photos/kahlee/3819123586/ and Greg Boyer waxes poetic about shooting great photographs in California at http://www.onehorsestudio.com/weblog/.

Photo Credit: Jared Smith

First Signs – Look to the Drainages

The first signs of fall color change in California are being seen along drainages where brush and grasses are glowing with internal fire.  Near Marshall Gold Discovery State Park in Coloma (California Gold Country), it was appropriate this past weekend that early gold was being discovered along stream beds.

Labor Day Report

Fall color is not yet showing at California high elevations along I-8 and CA-89 in the High Sierra.  From Truckee north to Portola on CA-89 and CA-49, the only color seen over the Labor Day weekend were grasses beside streams and creeks.  At this point, color should begin to show in mid September.  The earliest to show will be quaking aspen (populus tremuloides), some living as high in elevation as 10,000 ft.