Hazy Daze

Haze envelopes Frémont cottonwood, El Dorado Hills (11/14/18) John Poimiroo

Haze and smoke from the Camp Fire (Paradise) has residents of the Sacramento Valley wearing paper masks outdoors, as health warnings discourage outdoor activity, just as fall color nears peak.

Frémont cottonwood and brush along creeks are otherwise crowned with gold and scarlet at Folsom Lake, Mormon Islands Wetlands Preserve and along the Humbug-Willow Creek Trail in Folsom and El Dorado Hills.

The Camp, Woolsey and Hill Fires have created widespread human and financial loss. The best way to help those displaced by the fires is by contributing to one of these nonprofit organizations (we’ve done so):

North Valley Community Foundation: This nonprofit in Chico is raising money to support organizations that are sheltering evacuees of the Camp Fire. These could include churches, fairgrounds and community centers, said Logan Todd, a foundation spokesman.

California Community Foundation’s Wildfire Relief Fund: For 15 years, the foundation has offered aid to those affected by wildfires. Grants have gone to rebuilding homes, providing financial and mental health assistance and helping those affected to get medical treatment.

California Fire Foundation: This organization is on the ground distributing financial assistance to people who have lost everything in the fires. Through its emergency assistance program, firefighters distribute pre-paid gift cards to help those who need to purchase necessities like food, medicine and clothing.

Caring Choices: This nonprofit, which is in Chico, Calif., has turned into a hub for organizing volunteers to help those affected by the Camp Fire. The organization has paused taking on new volunteers for the next few days but still encourages applications. Caring Choices is also seeking monetary donations for its operations.

United Way of Greater Los Angeles: This local branch of the national organization is raising money for those affected by the Woolsey and Hill Fires, specifically to help low-income residents.

United Way of Northern California: This local chapter of the national nonprofit has established a disaster relief fund to offer emergency cash and help to people who have lost their homes, according to a news release. 

  • Folsom – Peak (75-100%) GO NOW!
  • El Dorado Hills – Peak (75-100%) GO NOW!

Autumn In Your Backyard

Blue oak, Quercus douglassii, El Dorado Hills (11/10/18) John Poimiroo

Fall color has descended to California’s urban forests with Peak color appearing at elevations below 1,000′, bringing autumn to your backyard.

I captured these images during a five-minute walk of my backyard in El Dorado Hills (Sierra Foothills). 

  • Urban Forests – Near Peak to Peak (50-100%) GO NOW!
Pin oak, Quercus palustris (11/14/18) John Poimiroo
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Orchard Pickings

Apple tree, Los Rios Orchard, Oak Glen Rd. (11/11/18) Ravi Ranganathan

Visiting orchards has become a late-autumn tradition, with Californians heading to Julian for apple dumplings, to Oak Glen for cider-infused mini donuts, to San Luis Obispo for hard cider, to Sebastopol for U-pick apples, to Kelseyville in Lake County for a Pear Belle Helene (pear ice cream sundae), and to Apple Hill in Camino for apple pies.

With so many calories ahead, Southern California color spotter Ravi Ranganathan recommends walking the Oak Glen Preserve Botanical Garden in Yucaipa, soon after the trail opens at 8 a.m. It’s  got kid-friendly sections, as well as others that get your heart pumping and “beautiful fall colors along the trail.”

Of course, if that hike works up your appetite, head over to Snow Line Orchard for their delicious apple-cider-infused mini donuts and a glass of freshly pressed cider. Ravi recommends picnicking under an ancient chestnut tree beside an apple orchard. 

  • Julian – Peak (75-100%) GO NOW!
  • Oak Glen – Peak (75-100%) GO NOW!
  • San Luis Obispo – Peak (75-100%) GO NOW!
  • Sebastopol – Peak (75-100%) GO NOW!
  • Kelseyville – Peak (75-100%) GO NOW!
  • Camino – Peak (75-100%) GO NOW!
Chestnut and apple orchard, Snow Line Orchard, Oak Glen Rd (11/11/18) Ravi Ranganathan
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California Wild Grape

California wild grape, Vitis californica, Cameron Park (11/2/18) John Poimiroo

A month ago, I reported about California wild grape, Vitis californica, growing near a dry creek in Cameron Park.

Since then, its grapes have withered, though its large, kidney-shaped leaves are now displaying from muted to intensely saturated color.

A climbing vine, this one has scaled Fremont cottonwoods, several stories high.

Dr. Eva Begley, author of Falcon Guides’ Plants of Northern California writes that, “if there’s nothing to climb, it spreads across the ground, where it can provide good erosion control.”

Its grape are now shriveled, though were plump and ripe, sweet to the taste, but seedy, a month ago. More of the red color is likely to develop this month. Look for them in riparian areas and canyons. 

  • California Wild Grape, Cameron Park – Near Peak (75-100%) GO NOW!
California Wild Grape, Vitis californica, Cameron Park (11/2/18) John Poimiroo
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Kissed by Fog and Sun

Sycamore, Napa Valley (10/21/18) Darrell Sano

Napa Valley (10/21/18) Darrell Sano

Napa Valley (10/21/18) Darrell Sano

Napa Valley (10/21/18) Darrell Sano

Napa Valley (10/21/18) Darrell Sano

Anderson Valley (10/22/18) Darrell Sano

Some believe that what makes California wines so good is that they are so frequently kissed by fog and sun.

The cool Pacific and hot inland California combine to create a fog bank that hugs the coast, creeping into some valleys and never making it into others, resulting in multitudinous microclimates which explain why the same grape variety can make such different tasting wines a few miles apart.

Darrell Sano saw this on a Sunday morning road trip from Oakland to wine country.

He began in the Napa Valley (20’), gliding along the Silverado Trail. “It was crisp and cool at 45 degrees, but not clear, as the valley was shrouded in fog. The fog provided visual drama with diffused light to focus on outlines and shapes, and even so, the color was evident.”

Side roads perpendicular to Silverado Trail and CA-29, allowed him “to avoid any traffic and enjoy the peaceful morning breaking in complete silence.”

Fall color is just beginning in wine country, but there are patches of vines displaying brilliant red and yellows, but they are generally a minority. He spoke with vineyard workers who said “it’s just beginning now.”

Driving out of the microclimate that is the lower Napa Valley, near Calistoga Darrell emerged into the sun, but as he continued north, the fog returned.

From Napa, he continued on route 128 through Sonoma County’s Anderson Valley. Very little fall color has yet emerged there. Its rolling hills, scribed with vines, were muted “green, red, and yellow from the morning fog which softened contrast and revealed the structure of the terrain. Tree-lined driveways were particularly beautiful, along a boulevard of sycamore to their vanishing point. I started to wish that the sun wouldn’t burn off the fog, it was beautiful and so serene.”

In contrast to Darrell’s journey, a Saturday road trip took me to Amador County’s Shenandoah Valley (1,083’+) where fog rarely kisses its vines, though the sun gives it a big smooch. It is the area’s elevation, not fog, that cools the vines. So, unlike coastal vineyards Pinot Noir doesn’t grow well in the Sierra Foothills, though Zinfandel flourishes.

Similar to the Napa and Anderson Valleys, fall color in the Shenandoah Valley is Patchy. Some vineyards are Past Peak, though most are Just Starting to Patchy. 

Fuller Park, Napa (10/21/18) Justice Faustina


  • Napa Valley (Napa County) – Patchy (10-50%)
  • Anderson Valley (Sonoma County) – Patchy (10-50%)
  • Shenandoah Valley (Sierra Foothills) – Patchy (10-50%)
  • Pleasant Valley (Sierra Foothills) – Patchy (10-50%)

Zinfandel, Wilderotter Vineyard, Plymouth (10/21/18) John Poimiroo


Like Wine, Each Vine Has Its Time

Vines change color by grape variety. Here’s an example. The photograph of Zinfandel grape leaves, seen below, is rated as Patchy to Peak in the amount of fall color seen. Whereas, less than a mile east on the same road at C G DiArie Vineyard (video), vines vary between Peak and Past Peak. 

Zinfandel, Wilderotter Vineyard, Plymouth Amador County (10/20/18) John Poimiroo

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Last Fruit of the Season

Hawthorn, El Dorado Hills (10/18/18) John Poimiroo

Hawthorn (Crataegus), according to Celtic lore, embody contradictions.

Beautiful in springtime with their abundant white blossoms, Hawthorn produce bonny bouquets. Yet, their long, sharp thorns (a member of the rose family) and deathly smell when harvested, discouraged the Celts from picking them.

It became a bad omen to bring beautiful blooming branches of Hawthorn blossoms into a Celtic home, as when cut they smell like decaying flesh and were seen as an omen of death. The Celts believed the Hawthorn to be imbued with male energy, yet also stood as a symbol of female fertility … more duality.

In autumn, their branches hang heavy with bright red berries, attracting birds. The berries are long lasting, often into winter, are delicious fresh, dried, juiced, made into syrup, wine, jam or jelly and said to benefit the heart and circulation in reducing blood pressure and cholesterol, as they are a diuretic (consult a physician before using for this purpose).

Though, their long thorns are so discouraging, that when planted in dense rows they are used as impenetrable fences for livestock or privacy.

In our yard is this Autumn Glory variety of tree that gets taller each year (they grow to 25′). Presently, it is carrying heavy bunches of fruit upon its thorny limbs.

Its dark-green, leathery leaves are showing the earliest signs of color change, with its edges now gilded. Eventually, green leaves will turn to gold and the tree’s fresh red fruit will wither.

Hawthorn is, of course, not native to California, but like the Celts, we love its beauty and fear its thorns. 

  • Hawthorn, El Dorado Hills – Peak (75-100%) GO NOW!
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Apple Harvest

Oak Glen (10/12/18) Alena Nicholas

Oak Glen (10/12/18) Alena Nicholas

Oak Glen (10/12/18) Alena Nicholas

Oak Glen (10/12/18) Alena Nicholas

Oak Glen (10/12/18) Alena Nicholas

As American as … Apple Hill, Julian and Oak Glen.

These California apple harvest destinations are famous for their cider, pie, strudels, confections and sauce, all made of apples, of course.

Even though the apple pie was invented in England, the following prove that nothing could be truer than the expression “as American as apple pie:”

  • In El Dorado County, Apple Hill is so popular that a free shuttle bus system has been established to keep the roads in Camino from becoming gridlocked on autumn weekends;
  • Ten restaurants serve apple pie in Julian, a city of 1,500 (San Diego County) and
  • Twenty-four varieties of apples are grown and sold at Oak Glen (San Bernardino County).

That’s just the start of why autumn adventures in apple country has become such a tradition for Californians. Presently, fall color is Just Starting, though the apple harvest is happening, and Americans LOVE their apples.

San Bernardino County color spotter Alena Nicholas was there, today, and sent these images, but no apple pie. C’mon, Alena, share the love. 

  • Apple Hill, Camino (3,133′) – Just Starting (10-50%)
  • Oak Glen (4,734′) – Just Starting (10-50%)
  • Julian (4,226′) – Just Starting (10-50%)


Oak Glen (10/12/18) Alena Nicholas

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California Wild Grape

California Wild Grape, Cameron Park (10/5/18) John Poimiroo

California Wild Grape, Cameron Park (10/5/18) John Poimiroo

Fremont Cottonwood and California Wild Grape, Cameron Park (10/5/18) John Poimiroo

California Wild Grape, Cameron Park (10/5/18) John Poimiroo

California Wild Grape (Vitis californica) is a treat for fall color foragers.

It’s known to climb as high as 50′ and one specimen I found in Cameron Park easily topped that height. It had overgrown a stand of  Frémont cottonwoods, with grapes hanging in bunches like Christmas ornaments all the way to the top of the trees.

This woody vine is found growing between sea level and 4,000′, often climbing into trees, Falcon Press’ Plants of Northern California reports.

In autumn, their large grape leaves turn a vibrant yellow or deep red at peak.

Only a few leaves had yet blushed, though I plan to  return to get more pictures and purloin a basket of grapes, which have a very pleasant, mild and sweet grape flavor. 


California Wild Grape (1,198′) – Patchy (10-50%)