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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!
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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.
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Ripe as an Apple

Bargain apples, Boa Vista, Apple Hill (11/8/19) John Poimiroo

Apple Hill is as ripe for fall color as its apples are for picking.

A visit to Camino in El Dorado County was stuffed full of tasty images, as delicious as one of their apple pies or wines.

Boeger Winery, Apple Hill, Camino (11/8/19) John Poimiroo
Boeger Winery, Apple Hill, Camino (11/8/19) John Poimiroo
  • Apple Hill, Camino ( ) – Peak to Past Peak, GO NOW, YOU ALMOST MISSED IT.
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Dried Grapes

California wild grape, Vitis californica, were at peak a year ago this week. So, as I passed through Cameron Park, I stopped, expecting to find them full of color.

They were, but not as I’d have preferred to see them.

So, I continued east on US 50, the Lincoln Highway (America’s first transcontinental highway) to Placerville, the El Dorado county seat.

As I climbed the west slope of the Sierra toward Placerville, clumps of orange black oak and golden Fremont cottonwood glowed from surrounding woods.

Placerville is at peak with the oaks particularly good in the midday sun.

  • Placerville (1,867′) – Peak (75-100%) GO NOW!
  • California Wild Grape, Cameron Park (1,198′) – Past Peak, YOU MISSED IT.
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Sacramento Valley Still Patchy, but Approaching Peak

Mormon Island Wetlands Reserve, Folsom (10/26/19) John Poimiroo

Fremont cottonwood at the Mormon Island Wetlands Reserve in Folsom and in open space wetlands are crested with gold, as peak approaches.

Chinese pistache, El Dorado Hills (10/26/19) John Poimiroo

This area has peaked, traditionally, in mid November, though the color is already beautiful.

Wetland areas of Folsom’s Humbug-Willow Creek Trail are full of ruby foliage, and streets throughout the area are lined with iridescent exotic Chinese pistache.

  • Folsom (220′) – Patchy to Near Peak (10-75%) GO NOW!
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All-American Apple Harvest

Apple tree, Apple Pantry Farm, Apple Hill, Camino (10/20/19) Ravi Ranganathan

As American as Apple Pie. Apples are part of our DNA. It’s no wonder, then, that so many apple growing areas attract lots of people during apple harvest.

That happens in Camino (El Dorado County) when, in 1964, farmers recognized that their apple farms could not survive selling apples in competition with other growers.

So, they copied a marketing program started in Southern California’s Oak Glen to attract apple tourists for harvest. It worked.

The Apple Hill Growers Association started with 16 growers and now has 55 ranchers, including Christmas tree growers, wineries, vineyards, a B&B and a spa.

What happens on Apple Hill is a lot of traditional orchard tending for eight months of the year, and an apple-centric part festival, part fair for the remaining four.

Each ranch has a different theme. All sell some form of apple product (candied apples, baked apple pastries, preserves, cider, etc.), fruits, nuts, honey or vegetables. Many sell unique gifts (bird houses, handcarved signs, windmills, dolls, soaps, hay and train rides and cosmetics.

What ties the farms and ranches together is an old-fashioned good time.

Ravi Ranganathan visited with his family to send these glimpses of Apple Hill.

  • Apple Hill, Camino (3,133′) – Near Peak (50-75%) GO NOW!
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Nevada City Peaks In Time For Victorian Fall Colors Tour

On Saturday (Oct. 26), Nevada City will host its annual Victorian Fall Colors Tour. The tour includes stops at 15 locations where peak fall color promises to be seen.

Robert Kemen and Ravi Ranganathan visited Nevada City this past week and captured some of what’s in store.

  • Nevada City (2,477′) – Peak (75-100%) GO NOW!
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Donner Pass Summits Out

Snow Sheds, Donner Pass (10/19/19) Robert Kermen

Donner Pass has summited out for peak fall color.

Robert Kermen traveled the route from east to west on Friday. I did the same from west to east, Saturday morning.

Robert found peak color from the Coldstream Valley to Donner Lake. Aspen beside railroad snow sheds are brightly yellow, as well as cottonwood near China Cove on Donner Lake.

Black cottonwood, Cisco Grove, S Yuba River, I-80 (10/19/19) Robert Kermen

Beyond that, you drive in and out of pockets of color in areas where the South Yuba River is near the highway, such as Cisco Grove. Peaking groves are mostly of black cottonwood, as the aspen are Peak to Past Peak in most areas. Below 5,000′ bright glimpses of yellow bigleaf maple peek through the evergreens.

Take a break from highway driving and you’ll find beautiful scenes, such as the one Robert photographed of black cottonwood at Cisco Grove.

Kermen was dazzled by the color along CA-20 from I-80 to Nevada City. Presently, the most vibrant peak is being seen below 4,000′ and is descending rapidly, as noted by our previous report about Nevada City (2,477′).

The most prominent color he found was along the “dogwood belt,” near Lake Spaulding where hundreds of dogwood are peaking. This part of Hwy 20 is spectacular now and in May when the dogwood are bright green with new leaves and decorated with their white bracts (flowers).

  • Donner Pass (7,057′) – Peak to Past Peak, GO NOW, YOU ALMOST MISSED IT.
  • Lake Spaulding (5,014′) – Peak (75-100%) GO NOW!
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Nevada City Color Tour

St. Canice Catholic Church, Nevada City (10/19/19) Ravi Ranganathan

Nevada City has a self-guided tour of the Gold Rush town on its Chamber of Commerce website. The tour includes 15 stops, many of which are gracious Victorian homes, churches and public buildings.

Ravi Ranganathan took the tour on Saturday and sends this painter’s palette of Gold Country color.

Prominent locations include the Nevada City Chamber and government office buildings and locations on Spring, Broad and Cottage Streets. Trees are mostly exotic maple, birch and elm, with native cottonwood and Pacific dogwood, as well.

All photos credit: Ravi Ranganathan; click to enlarge.

  • Nevada City (2,477′) – Peak (75-100%) GO NOW!
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Over the Hump

Monitor Pass (10/7/19) Ryan Boyd

Color spotter Ryan Boyd went over the hump twice, today, crossing both Monitor (CA-89) and Ebbets (CA-4) Passes.

He found them both Near Peak and because they are known for short displays, our advice is to GO NOW!

Monitor Pass is the quickest route from Carson Pass (CA-88), through Markleeville to the Eastern Sierra, while Ebbets Pass is a lightly traveled route through the Central Sierra leading from the Mother Lode mining towns of Angel’s Camp, Murphys and Arnold.

Ebbets Pass (10/7/19) Ryan Boyd

Ryan had been in Mono County photographing Summers Meadow and Lobdell Lake, which he described as Near Peak, but with unturned green areas.

  • Lobdell Lake (9,200′) – Near Peak (50-75%) GO NOW!
  • Summers Meadow (7,200′) – Near Peak (50-75%) GO NOW!
  • Monitor Pass (8,314′) – Near Peak (50-75%) GO NOW!
  • Ebbets Pass (8,730′) – Near Peak (50-75%) GO NOW!