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A Fan of Folsom

Humbug-Willow Creek Trail, Folsom (11/15/20) John Poimiroo

I’m a fan of Folsom. It’s one of the best planned cities in California with many beautifully landscaped boulevards, expressways and bike and foot paths that wind throughout the town. Most scenic of them is the 32-mile Humbug-Willow Creek Trail.

This multi-use recreational trail lies within a nature corridor that spans Folsom. Its paved path is separated from traffic, providing for safe exercise with many entertaining distractions along the route. The Humbug-Willow Creek Trail bisects Folsom and is not a direct way to get from point A to point B, but it is the most scenic and has blocks of bright color.

Red Maple, Folsom (11/14/20) Barry Calfee

For commuters, Folsom has an extensive network of Class I bike lanes beside all major streets that were included in the city’s modern design, from conception. Even some historic sections of gold rush-era Folsom have added bike lanes.

And, for recreational cyclists, there’s the Johnny Cash Trail, a 6.3-mile scenic loop from historic downtown Folsom, around Folsom Prison to Folsom Dam and back across the American River by way of a scenic steel truss bridge. Major sculptures are planned to be installed along the length of this art trail.

Then, of course, there’s the American River Parkway a 32-mile, heavily-trafficked, paved multi-use trail that parallels the river from Old Sacramento to Folsom Lake. It is considered to be one of the most popularly used bike trails in America. The Lake Natoma Loop section of the trail passes numerous historic sites, a world-renown rowing area, kayak launching ramps and has great views, a nesting pair of bald eagles and varied foliage along its length.

Despite their many scenic qualities, there is not a lot of fall color along these recreational routes, though Frémont cottonwood, California grape, willows and several exotic species provide bright spots.

As for Folsom’s boulevards and neighborhoods, they are at peak with lots of vibrant trees.

  • Folsom (220′) – Peak (75-100%) GO NOW!

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Mormon Island Wetland

Frémont cottonwood, Mormon Island Wetland Preserve, Folsom (11/15/20) John Poimiroo

From Green Valley Road in Folsom, Mormon Island Wetland Preserve looks like an impenetrable tangle of shrubs and tall Frémont cottonwood. Volunteer trails cut this way and that through the bramble in no apparent order.

Mormon Island Wetlands Preserve, Folsom (11/15/20) John Poimiroo

But, leading from a parking area off Green Valley Rd., a path winds into and around the preserve, through a briar of Pacific black berry, poison oak, toyon, western redbud, coffee berry, black elderberry, California grape, and other winter deciduous plants.

Mormon Island Wetland Preserve, Folsom (11/15/20) John Poimiroo

Hot spots of electric-red, exotic Tree of Heaven have invaded the woods. They grab attention, but will eventually compete with the native plants for sustenance and provide nothing nutritious for wildlife.

Peak has arrived at Mormon Island and it will continue through Thanksgiving Day.

  • Mormon Island Wetlands Preserve, Folsom (220′) – Peak (75-100%) GO NOW!
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The Golden Chain

Liquidambar, Sutter Creek (11/8/20) Steve Arita

California’s Golden Chain is comprised of the Gold Rush-era towns that are linked together along State Route 49.

It includes such beautiful towns as Nevada City, Placerville, Sutter Creek, Jackson and Columbia. If you have never visited the Gold Country, now is the time to do so. Wear a warm sweater and be prepared to be dazzled by their autumn beauty. Good choices would be any of the above named places.

Color spotter Steve Arita wisely followed fall color down in elevation to the Sierra foothills where it is painting the golden chain crimson and gamboge. Much of the color is coming from iridescent exotics (Liquidambar and Chinese pistache), though native trees are contributing to the show.

He rates fall color at peak with enough still to turn, that peak will last a week, perhaps longer. Peak color was particularly striking near the Jackson Museum and along the main streets of Jackson and Sutter Creek.

Sutter Creek is a charming, old west town, almost entirely constructed from wood. It is unusual that it was not destroyed by fire, when many other Gold Rush towns were. So, you can see the architecture as it was, originally. The same occurs in Columbia, a state historic park.

A week ago, Arita reported that the trees were still patchy at Empire Mine State Historic Park in Grass Valley, but now the rangers there are putting on their winter jackets and readying themselves for a flush of bright color. Plan on visiting it this weekend.

  • Bear Valley, (5,000’) – Past Peak, You Missed It.
  • Sierraville, (4,957’) – Past Peak, You Missed It.
  • Downieville, (2,966’) – Peak to Past Peak, GO NOW, You Almost Missed It.
  • Nevada City, (2,477’) – Peak (75-100%) GO NOW!
  • Grass Valley, (2,411’) – Peak (75-100%) GO NOW!
  • Auburn, (1,277) – Peak (75-100%) GO NOW!
  • Placerville, (1,867’) – Peak (75-100%) GO NOW!
  • Newtown Rd, Placerville, (2,447’) – Peak to Past Peak, GO NOW, You Almost Missed It.
  • Apple Hill, Camino, (3,133’) – Peak to Past Peak, GO NOW, You Almost Missed It.
  • Cameron Park, (1,198’) – Peak (75-100%) GO NOW!
  • El Dorado Hills, (768’) – Peak (75-100%) GO NOW!
  • Mormon Island Wetlands State Park, Folsom, (377’) – Patchy (10-50%)
  • Sutter Creek, (1,188’) – Peak (75-100%) GO NOW!
  • Mokelumne Hill, (1,473’) – Peak (75-100%) GO NOW!
  • San Andreas, (1,017’) – Peak (75-100%) GO NOW!
  • Columbia, (2,139’) – Peak (75-100%) GO NOW!
  • Sonora, (1,785’) – Peak (75-100%) GO NOW!
  • Jamestown, (1,427’) – Peak (75-100%) GO NOW!
  • Coulterville, (1,699’) – Peak (75-100%) GO NOW!
  • Mariposa, (1,949’) – Peak (75-100%) GO NOW!
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Gold Country Gold

Bigleaf maple and sycamore are carrying gold in (where else?) … Gold Country. David Sharp scores a First Report for discovering gold in Arnold and Murphys.

  • Arnold (3,999′) – Peak (75-100%) GO NOW!
  • Murphys (2,172′) – Peak (75-100%) GO NOW!
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Paddlin’ Home

Mallard hen and Kokanee salmon, Taylor Creek (10/30/20) John Poimiroo

She swam purposefully up stream above a large school of spawning salmon, oblivious to them, but they not to her.

As she cruised, the school parted instinctively. It was just a duck paddling overhead, but they parted nonetheless. Then, the salmon reformed their school as soon as the duck had passed.

Kokanee salmon are bunched together below the bike path bridge over Taylor Creek along the southwest shore of Lake Tahoe, as they have been for the past two weeks. How long they’ll stay is beyond my knowledge.

As for the aspen, they’re about done at Taylor Creek and Spring Creek (just to the north).

From there along the west shore of Lake Tahoe, north to Sunnyside, there’s not much to see. Then, pockets of gold appear along the northwest and north shores of the lake to Kings Beach. Overall, Lake Tahoe is past peak.

Martis Creek Cabin on CA-267 is now past peak, with just one aspen by the cabin holding half its leaves. It’s peak to past peak from Northstar to Truckee and nothing much of note along I-80.

A colorful surprise, on the paddle home, was CA-20.

From I-80 to Bear Valley along Hwy 20 the forest glowed with near peak golden willows, rose-colored creek dogwood and occasional orange black oak. But, the best was saved for last.

As Hwy 20 descends beside the historic overland emigrant route it is greeted upon arrival in Nevada City by a brilliant, orange-red tree opposite a white steepled church. More full peak color is found throughout one of the most picturesque gold rush towns in California.

Nevada City is at peak and glorious.

Unfortunately, I’d spent most of the day working at Lake Tahoe. It was late in the day by the time I arrived, and I was only able to get off a couple of snaps and had to keep paddlin’ the rest of the way home.

Nevada City is overflowing with 1850s character and ruby, gold, yellow and orange peaking color. It is definitely the call for this weekend. If you live within reach of Nevada City, GO NOW!.

  • US-50 (3,000) – Patchy (10-50%)
  • US-50 (4,000) – Near Peak (50-75%) GO NOW!
  • CA-89, Taylor Creek – Past Peak, You Missed It.
  • CA-89, Sunnyside to Tahoe City – Peak (75-100%) GO NOW!
  • CA-28, Tahoe City to Kings Beach – Peak (75-100%) GO NOW!
  • CA-267, Martis Creek Cabin – Past Peak, You Missed It.
  • CA-267, Northstar – Peak to Past Peak, GO NOW, You Almost Missed It.
  • I-80, Truckee – Peak to Past Peak, GO NOW, You Almost Missed It.
  • I-80, Kingvale to Cisco Grove – Near Peak (50-75%) Go Now.
  • CA-20, from I-80 to Bear Valley – Near Peak (50-75%) GO NOW!
  • Nevada City ((2,477′) – Peak (75-100%) GO NOW!
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Goin’ to the Dogwoods

To see Pacific Dogwood, Cornus nuttalli, at peak, head to the western Sierra. One of the best places is among the Giant Sequoia, Sequoia Gigantea, of Calaveras Big Trees State Park in Arnold, off CA-4.

Sacramento area color spotter Barry Calfee was in the north grove of the state park this past weekend and reports that ten percent of its dogwood are blushing.

It’s still early for peak fall color at the park’s elevation, but Barry’s report provides important planning guidance for timing a visit to the Big Trees.

  • Calaveras Big Trees State Park (4,800′) – Patchy (10- 50%)
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California Poplar

Black cottonwood, Jenkinson Lake (9/25/20) John Poimiroo

California poplar, better-known as black cottonwood (Populus balsamifera spp. trichocarpa), are often confused with Frémont cottonwood (Populus fremontii spp. fremontii).

It’s easy to mistake these siblings from a distance, as their size, bark, shape and colorations are similar, but look closely at their leaves and the difference is evident.

Black cottonwood have a darker, spear-pointed leaf, while Frémont cottonwood have a lighter-green, heart-shaped leaf, similar to aspen but with a toothy edge. Black cottonwood are the only poplar with willow-like leaves, though unlike willow, which are not aromatic, California poplar emit a strong odor from their buds in springtime.

The young specimen (pictured above) stands in a parking lot near Jenkinson Lake in Sly Park (Sierra Nevada, El Dorado County – US 50). It was planted there, though black cottonwood grow naturally near water. They thrive beside rushing streams “where water, rich in oxygen,” Jim Paruk writes in Sierra Nevada Tree Identifier, “speeds their growth.”

Native to both the east and west slope of the Sierra Nevada, black cottonwood are more often found on the west slope, growing up to 6,000 feet. However, the finest example of California poplar is found along Pine Creek, north of Bishop (Inyo County), where dense groves line the creek, as they have for millennia.

Cottonwood will peak after aspen do, because California poplar grow – on average – well below the 10,000′ upper limit for aspen. Cottonwood also lack the varied red, pink, orange, yellow and lime that appear in peaking aspen. They are uniformly gold at peak and thus aren’t photographed as often, though they have poignant sculptural beauty and are more widely dispersed.

Unlike aspen (which are limited to the Eastern Sierra, San Bernardino mountains and Cascades at elevations from 6,000′ to tree line), cottonwood are found throughout California, typically below 7,000′.

Within the two varieties, black cottonwood grow to the highest elevations (some as high as 9,000′), while Frémont cottonwood aren’t usually seen above 5,000′. Elevation is a good way to tell if the cottonwood is black or Frémont, at least until you can get close enough to see its leaf.

Presently, both California poplar and Frémont cottonwood are Just Starting (0-10%), but look for them to peak beginning in two weeks and continuing into December in Southern California drainages (i.e., Big Tujunga Canyon).

  • Jenkinson Lake (3,400′) – Just Starting (0-10%)
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Early Signs

Chinese pistache, El Dorado Hills (8/15/20) John Poimiroo

Some trees are showing early signs of color change. This is normal.

Sycamore, Chinese pistache, Liquidambar have all exhibited tonal change in summer. In the Sierra foothills, Chinese pistache and sycamore are evolving from green to yellow-green foliage, as seen above.

However, many native oak – responding to record-high, late-summer temperatures, dryness and particulate dust from wildfire smoke are turning brown much earlier than in previous years.

Reports of healthy stands of quaking aspen seen in the Hope Valley and at Lake Tahoe encouraged a suvey of North Lake Tahoe and Truckee this weekend. I found the aspen at Lake Tahoe to be in general good health, though stands surrounding the derelict cabin beside Upper Martis Creek (CA-267) are in trouble.

The aspen at Upper Martis Creek cabin (a favorite spot for wedding photos, portraits and easily accessed fall color) have not been healthy for some years.

I found the small grove surrounding the cabin full of yellow-green leaves, not from early change, but from a lack of nutrients.

Other trees in the grove vary from healthy to deathlike. In some instances holes in leaves indicate that the aspen appear were attacked by insects, while paper-dry brown leaves suggest a lack of water is killing off the aspen. In support of that, the meadow surrounding the cabin is bone dry and crunches when stepped upon, not a good sign for a meadow which should be moist.

That’s unfortunate, as while this is just one small location, it is a popular one for North Tahoe visitors in search of fall color.

0-10% – Just Starting – Sierra Foothills

0-10% – Just Starting – North Lake Tahoe

0-10% – Just Starting – Upper Martis Creek Meadow

0-10% – Just Starting – Blue Oak, Sierra Foothills

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Capitol Color

Capitol Park, Sacramento (12/3/19) Steve Arita

Today was the Christmas Tree lighting ceremony at the State Capitol in Sacramento, though it wasn’t the only tree at Capitol Park that was lit up with color.

Steve Arita was there this week and sends these images of late peak color. Sacramento’s neighborhoods are now past peak, though spots of bright color – as seen in Capitol Park – can still be found in this city of trees.

  • Capitol Park, Sacramento – Peak to Past Peak, GO NOW, YOU ALMOST MISSED IT.
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Leaf Sunday

English oak, University Arboretum, CSU Sacramento (11/17/19) John Poimiroo

Everyone ought to have a leaf Sunday.

It’s a Sunday drive just to see peaking leaves. Mine was spent on a route I’ve taken many times with stops in El Dorado Hills, Folsom, Fair Oaks and Sacramento.

Brown’s Ravine, Folsom Lake SRA, El Dorado Hills (11/17/19) John Poimiroo
Mormon Island Wetlands Reserve, Folsom (11/17/19) John Poimiroo

El Dorado Hills has trees yet to turn, but more than half have dropped leaves, so it’s between peak and past peak. Fremont cottonwood and Toyon are nearing the end of their peak at Folsom Lake SRA; and landmark Fremont cottonwood at Mormon Island Wetlands are at peak and crowed with bright yellow.

Fair Oaks Park is nearing the end of peak. The approaching storm is likely to remove whatever color is still hanging, and the village’s chickens seemed to know a storm is approaching, as they were crowing anxiously.

The University Arboretum was mostly past peak, though lovers didn’t mind. They sat on benches in quiet corners of the arboretum, ignoring arguments between squirrels, as they whispered to one another and kissed.

Fabulous Forties, Sacramento (11/17/19) John Poimiroo

Along the Fabulous Forties in east Sacramento (avenues numbered in the 40s), large dumps of leaves from towering London plane trees planted near the curbs have littered the avenues. Owners of these stately homes are out each weekend, blowing, raking and sweeping the detritus into piles to be hauled away by city workers.

Holly and her daughter blow leaves into a pile (11/17/19) John Poimiroo

I happened upon Holly and her daughter who were rushing to blow a week’s fall of folioles, so that party guests would have room to park along the curb that night.

There was autumn in the air in downtown Sacramento. Couples dressed in sweatshirts and light sweaters, even though temps were in the low 70s.

The constant fall of leaves from the city’s canopy of color (see “Rollin’ Thru SacTown” posted earlier today), makes Sacramento seem like it should be colder than it is. Perhaps that will change this week, as snow in the Sierra is predicted.

William Land Park, Sacramento (11/17/19) John Poimiroo

Leaf-dressed picnics, touch football, golf and Sunday strolls were happening at William Land Park, and I closed my Leaf Sunday Drive stopping at the Freeport Bakery to purchase a couple of … what else? Leaf Cookies.

Leaf Cookies, Freeport Bakery, Sacramento (11/17/19) John Poimiroo
  • El Dorado Hills (768′) – Peak to Past Peak, GO NOW, YOU ALMOST MISSED IT.
  • Mormon Island Wetlands Reserve (372′) – Peak (75-100%) GO NOW!
  • Folsom (220′) – Peak to Past Peak, GO NOW, YOU ALMOST MISSED IT.
  • Fair Oaks (174′) – Peak (75-100%) GO NOW!
  • CSU Arboretum – Sacramento (30′) – Past Peak, YOU MISSED IT.
  • Fabulous Forties – Sacramento (30′) – Peak (75-100%) GO NOW!
  • Downtown – Sacramento (30′) – Peak (75-100%) GO NOW!
  • William Land Park – Sacramento (30′) – Peak (75-100%) GO NOW!