Mapping Fall Color

California Fall Color Map (10/3/18)

There is no machine-driven method of automatically mapping fall color across California. The California Fall Color Map (at right on Navigation bar) is updated manually when reports are received, verified and time allows.

Once weekly (or immediately if a significant change is confirmed), reports are consolidated and the map is updated by changing a location’s leaf color. A report in one area can trigger changes to surrounding areas at the same elevation.

The map is a visual guide to how autumn color is changing, though it may not be precise for a given day or time, because conditions may have changed there since the map was last updated.

Above, you see the map as updated today (click to enlarge). Those areas with Just Starting color are either in that range or an update has not been received to change a leaf’s color.

Bishop Creek Canyon (10/3/18)

Bishop Creek Canyon (at left) is one area that gets lots of reports, so its map is precise to a few hundred feet, when updated. The accuracy of the map depends on reports from people across California.

When an area is transitioning from Peak to Past Peak, we are cautious to not declare an area as Past Peak until most of the color has fallen, as there’s still beauty to be seen. This is a subjective decision, but one that over time has proven to be prudent.

However, please note that once a brown Past Peak leaf has been placed in a given area, other peaking locations near the same elevation are likely to become Past Peak momentarily. So, haste is needed to see peak color there.

Dated photographs confirm reports. So, if you’d like to contribute to the map, include a photo and date of when the color was seen and email your report to editor@californiafallcolor.com

We received word this week that, in response to California Fall Color’s concern the fall color map posted at Weather.com showed too few regions to be helpful, The Weather Channel is doubling the number of regions shown on its map.

Data on The Weather Channel map is supplied by hundreds of stringers throughout the United States. Similar to the California Fall Color Map, The Weather Channel map is updated weekly, as reports are received.

Through these tools, color spotters, photographers and leaf peepers gain a clearer understanding of where it’s peaking locally and nationally. 

Why Don’t Evergreens Lose Their Leaves?

Coastal Redwood, El Dorado Hills (9/7/17) John Poimiroo

Actually, they do.  It just doesn’t happen all at once.

Evergreen trees have both broad leafs and needles. Madrone, magnolia and photinia are examples of broadleaved evergreens, while pine, fir, cedar, spruce, and redwood have needled leaves.

Evergreen needles can last anywhere from a year to 20 years, but eventually they are replaced by new leaves. When that happens, the old needles turn color and drop, but not all together and not as dramatically as deciduous trees (e.g., maple, oak, dogwood, alder, birch).

The reason needles are green is that they are full of chlorophyll which photosynthesizes sunlight into food for the tree. It also reflects green light waves, making the needles look green.

Needles, just like deciduous leaves, contain carotenoid and anthocyanin pigments. You just don’t see them until the green chlorophyll stops being produced. Once that happens, hidden carotenoids (yellow, orange and brown) emerge, as is seen in the above photograph.

Additionally, red, blue and purple Anthocyanins – produced in autumn from the combination of bright light and and excess sugars in the leaf cells – also emerge once the chlorophyll subsides. Yes, even evergreen leaves change color… eventually.

In snowy regions, evergreen trees are able to carry snow because: the waxy coating on needles, along with their narrow shape, allows them to retain water better by keeping it from freezing inside (which would otherwise destroy the leaf), needles prevent snow from weighing down and breaking branches, and needles are able to sustain the production (though slowed) of chlorophyll through winter. Whereas, broadleaved deciduous trees would be damaged if they kept producing chlorophyll and didn’t drop their leaves.

Evergreen trees do lose their leaves and the leaves do change color. It just isn’t as spectacular. 

Why Do Leaves Change Color?

Chlorophyll Molecule (Wikipedia)

Leaves on deciduous trees change color in autumn from green to various hues of lime, yellow, gold, orange, red and brown because of a combination of shorter days and colder temperatures.

Throughout spring and summer, green chlorophyll (which allows trees to absorb sunlight and produce nutrients) is made and replaced constantly. However, as days grow shorter, “cells near the juncture of the leaf and stem divide rapidly but do not expand,” reports Accuweather.com. “This action of the cells form a layer called the abscission layer. The abscission layer then blocks the transportation of materials from the leaf to the branch and from the roots to the leaves. As Chlorophyll is blocked from the leaves, it disappears completely from them.”

That’s when vivid yellow xanthophylls, orange carotenoids and red and purple anthocyanins emerge.

Orange is found in leaves with lots of beta-carotene, a compound that absorbs blue and green light and reflects yellow and red light, giving the leaves their orange color.

Yellow comes from Xanthophylls and Flavonols that reflect yellow light. Xanthophylls are compounds and Flavonols are proteins.  They’re what give egg yolks their color.

Though always present in the leaves, Carotenoids and Xanthophylls are not visible until Chlorophyll production slows.

Red comes from the Anthocyanin compound. It protects the leaf in autumn, prolonging its life. Anthocyanins are pigments manufactured from the sugars trapped in the leaf, giving term to the expression that the leaves are sugaring up.

The best fall color occurs when days are warm and nights are clear and cold. California’s cloudless skies and extreme range of elevations (sea level to 14,000′) provide ideal conditions for the development of consistently vivid fall color, as seen in these reports. 

Why Do Trees Lose Their Leaves?

Snowcreek (11/2/15) Alicia Vennos

It’s survival not just of the fittest, but of the wisest.

Deciduous trees drop their leaves in order to survive.  As days grow shorter and colder, deciduous trees shut down veins and capillaries (that carry water and nutrients) with a barrier of cells that form at the leaf’s stem.

Called “abscission” cells, the barrier prevents the leaf from being nourished. Eventually, like scissors, the abscission cells close the connection between leaf and branch and the leaf falls.

Had the leaves remained on branches, the leaves would have continued to drink and, once temperatures drop to freezing, the water in the tree’s veins would freeze, killing the tree.

Further, with leaves fallen, bare branches are able to carry what little snow collects on them, protecting them from being broken under the weight of the snow. So, by cutting off their food supply (leaves), deciduous trees survive winter.

The fallen leaves continue to benefit the tree through winter, spring and summer by creating a humus on the forest floor that insulates roots from winter cold and summer heat, collects dew and rainfall, and decomposes to enrich the soil and nurture life.

It’s a cycle of survival, planned wisely. 

How to Submit Reports and Photos

Bigleaf Maple, Spanish Creek (10/14/17) Michael Beatley

Over 100 volunteer “color spotters” (our term for contributors) submit photographs and reports to CaliforniaFallColor.com each autumn.

To be one of them is very easy. Email photos within a few days of when they were taken* to editor@californiafallcolor.com. Include the photographer’s name, date the photo was taken and the location where the photo was taken.

We are unable to compensate photographers for use of their images, but always credit the photographer for his/her work. Many contributors have had their photographs republished leading to broader recognition/exposure, enhanced resumes/reputation, paid compensation and/or retail sales, not to mention bragging rights.

Photos should be high resolution**, particularly if you’d like them considered as one of the best photos of the week. The week’s best photos are (with photographer’s permission) sent to major broadcast and print media; they won’t accept any photo less than 300 dpi in size.

Reports should include: % of color change for the location being reported (e.g., North Lake, Bishop Creek Canyon) – not for a specific tree or shrub (Just Starting, 0-10%; Patchy, 10-50%; Near Peak, 50-75%; Peak, 75-100%;  or Past Peak), the name of the location, roads (e.g., take Rock Creek Rd. east from US 395), date visited and any helpful information (e.g., “The trail is steep for the first 500′. but then levels out for the two mile hike to the lake. A grove of peaking aspen is found at the western side the lake trail.”).

If you know the foliage seen in the photo (particularly if it is unusual or wouldn’t be evident to us), please describe it (e.g., bigleaf maple, black oak, silver willow, etc.).

We will make every effort to publish your report, particularly if it is from an unusual or lightly reported destination. When multiple photographs are received from heavily visited locations, we are able only to publish the first received, the best or the most unusual. Occasionally, we will post a portfolio of historic photos, but often only when fresh images have not been received. Photos may be cropped or adjusted for best presentation.

CaliforniaFallColor.com’s style is vivid and photojournalistic. Images that tell a story or that show human activity in relation to autumn are regaled.

Reports and photos can also be posted on CaliforniaFallColor’s Facebook, Twitter and Instagram pages. Though, emailing photos and reports is the best way to get them on this site, and the only way to get them considered as among the Best of the Week.

Thank you and happy wandering! 

* Historic photos, like Michael Beatley’s shot of Spanish Creek (seen above), are published – on occasion – days or even years after they were taken, but only to illustrate an article that is not time-sensitive. Fall color reports only use photos taken during the previous week, in order to present what can be seen at that location.

**A high resolution photo is one that is 300 dpi (dots per inch). A photograph of 1 megabyte or larger is usually large enough to be considered to be high resolution. Please don’t hesitate sending a photograph just because it isn’t 300 dpi. Pictures taken with mobile devices often get included in our reports, when the device has been set to shoot a large picture. 72 dpi images (set for websites and devices) are too small for reproduction in print media.

Back in the Saddle Again

Jennifer Roeser rides her mule, Pearl, in McGee Creek (9/28/15) Alicia Vennos/Mono County Tourism

A Fatal Error to our “theme” caused this site to crash for a couple of days, but we worked on it and found the glitch. Thanks for being patient with us. We’re back in the saddle again, as Gene Autry would sing …

I`m back in the saddle again
Out where a friend is a friend
Where the longhorn cattle feed
On the lowly gypsum weed
Back in the saddle again

Ridin` the range once more
Totin` my old .44
Where you sleep out every night
And the only law is right
Back in the saddle again

Whoopi-ty-aye-oh
Rockin` to and fro
back in the saddle again
Whoopi-ty-aye-yay
I go my way
Back in the saddle again 

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California Fall Color Is Named Best Internet Site

Fallen Apples, Apple Hill (10/12/17) John Poimiroo

CaliforniaFallColor.com was awarded Best Outdoor Internet Site in the recent Outdoor Writers Association of California 2017 Craft Awards.

A photo of fallen apples shot at Apple Hill in Camino was also awarded a First Prize for Best Outdoor Feature Photograph and CaliforniaFallColor.com took Second Place honors as the Best Outdoor Medium in California.

Every contributor and reader shares in these honors by helping to make the site what it is. 

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Looking Back at 2013, 2014, 2015 and 2016

Tomorrow, we post our annual Thanksgiving Day message and video review of 2017.

It will be our fifth annual “California Fall Color Looks Back” video. As, although CaliforniaFallColor.com went live in 2009, it wasn’t until 2013 that we began posting video reviews.

In advance of seeing “California Fall Color Looks Back at 2017,” we thought you might like to see those from years past.

Ron Tyler created each video. Ron is head of the Tyler Marketing Group, an El Dorado Hills-based marketing communications consultancy with expertise in social media, product marketing and video.

Each of the photographs selected for these videos is representative of what happened that autumn, the extent and diversity of fall color then seen across the state, and some of the finest photographs taken that year.

2016

2015

2014

2013

 

 

Back in the Saddle Again

Jennifer Roeser rides her mule, Pearl, in McGee Creek (9/28/15) Alicia Vennos/Mono County Tourism

After 36 frustrating hours, CaliforniaFallColor.com is back in the saddle again.

This website crashed after too many backups filled the server and overloaded it. That required the host to remove the backups (a slow process) in order to provide room on the server so that the site can function properly.

I cannot thank our loyal readers enough for expressing concern and attempting to reach me, and I apologize if going dark disrupted your travel planning.

The server crashed Wednesday night as I was attempting to post photographs from a scouting trip through the Hope Valley, Monitor Pass, US 395, Bishop, Bishop Creek Canyon, Pine Creek, Round Valley, Rock Creek, McGee Creek, Convict Lake, Mammoth Lakes, June Lake loop, Sagehen Meadows and Conway Summit.

During that sojourn, I took many photos (produced a few videos) and was sent many others by contributors, which I’m just now receiving (the server crashed my email account, as well). I plan to post them today and over the weekend.

In the meantime buckaroos, saddle up for some great fall color. As, Peak has arrived in the Eastern Sierra.

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Foster Travel on California Fall Color

Foster Travel

Travel writer/photographer Lee Foster and I will be heading Outside on the Eastside starting on Monday to photograph and record fall color.

Lee has published many books on California and holds the distinction as the first travel writer to fully embrace and be truly successful in online publishing. Recently, he posted this article on California Fall Color.

Our route will take US 50 east to Placerville, then south along Mormon Emigrant Trail to CA 88, then east again across Carson Pass through the Hope Valley, turning south through Markleeville and over Monitor Pass to US 395.

From there, we’ll travel south, checking Eastern Sierra canyons for color, arriving at North Lake in Bishop Creek Canyon for the sunset.

I’ve been asked where the locations identified on this site are located, since many are not identified on Google or Apple maps. That is why I’ve placed a custom map on this website. You’ll find it in the column to the right, just below the weather forecast.

 

California Fall Color Map

The California Fall Color Map identifies precisely where fall color has been seen and to what stage the color has progressed. However, the updating of the leafs is done manually as new reports arrive, and I am sometimes delayed from posting updates. So, the map is only as current as time permits to post updates.

Still, if you’re reading this site and go to the map, you can find locations about which we’ve reported on this site.

To use it, click on the brackets at upper right. The map will open in a new window. Then search for the location you want to visit or click on a leaf. Expand the view to make clicking on leaves easier. You may have to click “View in Google Maps,” for a closeup view of nearby roads.

Good hunting.