Angling for Color

Red Lake Creek, Hope Valley (10/13/21) Philip Reedy

Philip Reedy returned to the Hope Valley to stockpile a photograph of fishing along Red Lake Creek with its famous cabin seen in the distance.

Phil reports that aspen behind Red Lake Creek Cabin have lost a few leaves, though the scene remains beautiful. Snow atop the mountain above and beyond the cabin has melted, though patches of white remain on the ground (as seen in his photos). 

On the south side of the highway at Red Lake Creek, the aspen are now definitely Past Peak, as many trees are bare.

Red Lake Creek, Hope Valley (10/13/21) Philip Reedy
  • Hope Valley (7,300′) – Peak to Past Peak, GO NOW, You Almost Missed It.
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Nature’s Black and White

On a recurring drive to Nevada, Robert Kermen witnessed what he calls the “black and white” of our natural world.

As he rode through the northern Central Valley, Bob observed that rice farmers, ” have mostly completed harvest and are in the process of ripping the rice stubble and flooding the fields to decompose rice straw. During this process, thousands of water fowl descend to feed on the loose rice left in the fields and to rest on their southern migration.”

This year, he said the first to arrive were Black Ibis and White Fronted Geese. “Thousands of them.” So many that “the edges of the flooded fields were covered with goose down blown in by the wind.”

Aspen and willow, Coldstream Valley, Truckee (10/10/21) Robert Kermen

Continuing across I-80, just outside of Truckee, Bob traveled through Coldstream Valley, a popular hiking and biking area with beautiful fall color near apartments and condominiums being built to house local workers and second home owners. Elsewhere along I-80- he found Patchy color at Rainbow Lodge and at Hirschdale Road near Truckee.

  • Northern Central Valley Wildlife Refuges – Near Peak, Go Now!
  • Coldstream Valley, Truckee – Peak (75 – 100%) GO NOW!
  • I-80 – Patchy (10 – 50%)

Tahoe City Nears Peak

Paige Meadows in Tahoe City is nearing peak, reports Austin Grove.

  • Lake Tahoe (6,225′) – Near Peak (50 – 75%) Go Now!


When Hope Arrives

Red Lake Creek Cabin, Hope Valley, CA-88 (10/8/21) Philip Reedy

When the Hope Valley arrives, as it did on Friday, it’s glorious.

Davis color spotter Philip Reedy was there. He anticipated the predicted dusting of snow and timed his visit with this site’s predictions that it would peak over the weekend, to return with glorious photographs.

Red Lake Creek Cabin, Hope Valley, CA-88 (10/8/21) Philip Reedy

Phil said he “never tires of the cabin shot.” It’s easy to see why. Though it is a couple of hundred feet from the highway, it feels remote. His composition positions trees, boulders, the creek and mountainside to accentuate the drama.

Throughout the Hope Valley, aspen are at peak or past peak. High winds will lash the Sierra on Monday, causing many of the fully peaked trees to be stripped of color. Autumn color on Patchy and Near Peak trees should survive the winds.

Aspen, Hope Valley (10/8/21) Philip Reedy
  • Hope Valley (7,300′), Peak to Past Peak, GO NOW!, You Almost Missed It.

Hope Remains

Red Lake Creek Cabin, CA-88, Hope Valley (10/2/21) John Poimiroo

The Hope Valley is Patchy, but remains “untouched” by the Caldor fire.

The obvious signs of the fire along 89 and 88, until you reach Carson Pass, are Firefighter “Thank You” signs erected by homeowners and a few CalFire staging area and motorist warning signs. At the Carson Spur Vista Point, a CalFire/USFS information station overlooks the canyon where the Caldor fire raged. Smoke from a spot fire indicates the wildfire’s dying gasp.

From Myers, across Luther Pass (CA-89), only Patchy color is seen, and not much of it.

Aspen within the Wylder Resort (formerly Sorensen’s), south of the “T” where CA-89 and CA-88 meet, are mostly green with spots of yellow. A dirt road that leads up, to the right of the resort is lined with Near Peak aspen and groves to the west of Wylder’s and across the highway are bright yellow and orange. From Wylder’s east to Woodfords along CA-89/88, the trees vary from Patchy to Just Starting.

Smoke-blackened aspen, Wylder Resort, Hope Valley (10/2/21) John Poimiroo

Brandon at Wylder’s attributes blackened leaves on several of the aspen to the toxic gasses that suffocated the area during the wildfire. There seems to be no other explanation, as there is not much black spot on the leaves. Fortunately, the damage is limited and the show in and around Wylder’s will be good for the next two weeks.

Traveling west from the “T”, the first grove seen against the hills to the south is Patchy, but those beyond the pasture, just short of Blue Lakes Rd. are Near Peak.

Where Red Lake Creek crosses CA-88, I met a rancher who was stringing yellow tape along gate entrances to warn people not to trespass upon his property. He owns 40 acres on each side of the highway including the Red Lake Creek grove and cabin. The property owner has become exasperated by the large number of people who cross his fence lines to get a better picture and wants all mention of Red Lake Creek Cabin removed from Google, here or anywhere else.

A wide turnout at Red Lake Creek provides public space to photograph the groves, CA-88, Hope Valley (10/2/21) John Poimiroo

Considering that the cabin and grove can be seen from a public highway, that’s not going to happen. However, why would anyone risk being arrested for taking a selfie near Red Lake Creek Cabin or surrounding groves? Caltrans has placed a large turnout on the highway and there’s plenty of shoulder room to take a picture of the cabin and trees on the hillside behind it without breaking the law and upsetting the rancher?

Besides, there are several other areas in the Hope Valley that are on public land whose legal accessibility allows closeup photographs of the aspen. So please, if you see someone attempting to cross a fence line, nicely inform them that they’re about to trespass on private property and direct them to public trails, as I did with two hikers who were looking for a trail through the aspen. They appreciated the guidance.

Vermilion Grove, Northeast Shore, Caples Lake (10/2/21) John Poimiroo

Beyond the groves at Red Lake Creek, there’s little to be seen, heading west, until Caples Lake where the Vermilion Grove (northeast corner of Caples Lake, seen best from the dam) is at peak.

I met Dave, a color spotter who’d stopped at a favorite grove near the highway along a dirt road that enters the Eldorado National Forest (presently closed). It was unburned though a hundred feet beyond it the forest was incinerated. We were thankful a favorite stand had survived.

Further west, Eldorado National Forest remains closed as fire crews mop up. Mormon Emigrant Trail, which crosses from CA-88 to Sly Park is closed and coursed by heavy fire equipment doing cleanup. In places, the fire crossed highway 88, but didn’t go far. The fire crews did a great job containing it from advancing south of Carson Pass and Kirkwood is untouched.

And so, Hope remains as illustrated in Erno Gyetvai’s beautiful portrayal of Red Lake Creek Cabin.

Red Lake Creek Cabin, CA-88, Hope Valley (10/1/21) Erno Gyetvai
  • Woodfords Canyon (7,000′) – Just Starting (0 – 10%)
  • Wylder Resort (7,000′) – Patchy (10 – 50%) – Some groves in the area are Near Peak, GO NOW!
  • The T, CA-88 and 89 – Patchy to Near Peak (10 – 75%) GO NOW!
  • Hope Valley – Patchy (10 – 50%)
  • Blue Lakes Rd. Pasture (7,550′) – Near Peak (50 – 75%) GO NOW!
  • Red Lake Creek Grove and Cabin – Near Peak (50 – 75%) GO NOW!
  • Vermilion Grove, Caples Lake (7,800′) – Peak (75 – 100%) GO NOW!

En Pleine Air

En Pleine Air, Martis Creek, CA-267 (10/1/21) John Poimiroo

In French, to paint outdoors is to paint “En Pleine Air.” It means in the open air (pronounced, “on plehn air”), but really what it means is to leave your studio, garage or rumpus room (do we have rumpus rooms any longer? I suppose “she sheds” and “man caves” have replaced them. We no longer rumpus together, but separately.) and paint outdoors in real time, capturing the scene as seen, not imagined.

Artistic photographers do this, of sorts. They go to a location and capture the image in real time, but later build upon the settings they made when taking the photograph and interpret the scene further in a darkroom or computer, as they imagined it or to make it a more compelling image, artistically.

Friday, I was up at Lake Tahoe and visited Martis Creek. There’s a struggling aspen grove along the creek which wanders beside CA-267 between Truckee and Brockway Summit. In the grove is a decaying cabin (what will we do when it finally collapses?), a favorite of artists, photographers and people wanting a romantic, rustic location for a family or wedding portrait.

Sure enough, while I was there others arrived to photograph it. I suppose they’d heard the grove was peaking. Besides, it was a beautiful day to be outdoors. Michelle (seen above) was painting her interpretation of the cabin, while a photographer worked through the grove.

My photographic style is photojournalistic. I look for the story within a photo, as in that of Michelle seen above and below, upper left. They each contain lots of information.

Though occasionally, because this site celebrates the artistic, another way of telling the story emerges, as seen at upper right and bottom. In these instances, information gives way to emotion (click to enlarge).

Martis Creek Cabin, CA-267 (10/1/21) John Poimiroo

Photojournalism tends to bleed the artsy-fartsy out of one’s photography. Editors want exposition, not art. CaliforniaFallColor.com appreciates both.

If you have information, send it. It feeds our body. If you have interpretation, send it too. If feeds our soul.

  • Martis Creek Cabin (7,000′) – Peak (75 – 100%) GO NOW!
  • Truckee (5, 817′) – Patchy (10 – 50%)
  • Lake Tahoe (6,225′) – Patchy (10 – 50%) – Flashes of bright yellow aspen are passed when driving around the lake, but the forest is mostly green. Willows are lime to orange in color, but not notable. Red and mountain maple are bright red and orange in Tahoe City and along the north and south shores where planted along city streets or in neighborhoods. No Kokanee salmon are running at Taylor Creek. Give Tahoe a week and a half to two weeks.
Fallen Leaf Lake, Lake Tahoe (6,377′) (9/25/21) Dan Miller

Tinting the Trees and Sunrise

A tint of yellow is seen amidst a small grove of “stunted aspen,” a quarter mile east of the ag inspection station on I-80. Northern Sierra color spotter Robert Kermen was crossing the Sierra when he was distracted by flashes of Patchy color where the Truckee River is closest to the highway (39.37969 N by 120.09906 W).

While Bob reports this grove as Near Peak, I’m rating the area as Patchy, due to general conditions along the highway, and will be up there at the end of the week to double check. If a second look at the area deserves a better rating, it’ll get it.

Sunrise, Sierra Nevada, I-80 (9/27/21) Robert Kermen

Nevertheless, Kermen said he found more color in the sunrise, which is warmly toned due to a persistent haze from California’s wildfires.

  • Ag Inspection Station, I-80, Truckee (5,000′) – Patchy (10 – 50%)

Butterscotch and Pines

Aspen, Mt. Tallac Trailhead (2/26/21) Michelle Pontoni

Color is Just Starting to develop in the aspen grove near South Lake Tahoe’s Mt. Tallac trailhead, reports SLT color spotter Michelle Pontoni.

While aspen are Just Starting, a few are showing “scrub red.” Hike two-hours up the mountain and you’re likely to both be winded and surrounded by more color, she reports.

At nearby DL Bliss State Park, there’s little color, but who cares. Jeffrey Pines are emitting their butterscotch aromas, found by smelling the resin’s scent between plates in the bark.

  • Mt. Tallac Road, South Lake Tahoe (6,300′) – Just Starting (0 – 10%)


Bob Harms, Upper Truckee Marsh (9/22/21) Michelle Pontoni

Lake Tahoe Historical Society volunteer Bob Harms hands out cards defining what being retired means. He gave one to South Lake Tahoe color spotter Michelle Pontoni this week. It reads:

  • Recreate
  • Educate
  • Travel
  • Innovate
  • Relax
  • Enjoy, and
  • Diversify

To a degree, that’s what spotting fall color is all about. Michelle didn’t find much of it on a hike through Upper Truckee Marsh in the Al Tahoe area. Most grasses were dry, the aspen were green and Lake Tahoe is as low as Michelle has ever seen it.

Though an end-of-summer/early-fall walk is always a joy, especially when the sailors are seen tacking and gybing offshore at a Wednesday night Beer Can race or when you run into a character like Bob Harms.

He’s often found at the Lake Tahoe Historical Museum (3058 Lake Tahoe Blvd) where the RETIRED snow plow operator will regale you with Tahoe stories or blast one of the 42 horns on his bicycle. Just don’t expect much fall color at the lake for another couple of weeks.

  • South Lake Tahoe (6,225′) – Just Starting (0-10%)

Life and Eternity

Morning fog and mist, Carson Pass (9/19/21) Philip Reedy

In Taoist culture, the color vermilion represents life and eternity.

Perhaps what Philip Reedy and I call Vermilion Grove, a special stand of aspen near Caples Lake along CA-88, conveyed life and eternity to the aspen of the Carson Pass and Hope Valley, as on hearing that CA-88 had reopened, Philip Reedy scouted the route and found Vermilion Grove and aspen along Hwy 88 to be untouched by the Caldor Fire which had otherwise carbonized much of the forest.

At Carson Spur, Philip saw a spot fire below Caples Lake. A bystander had called it in to CalFire, though Phil opined that the morning mist may have helped keep it in check. As he drove toward Hope Valley, he held his breath, worrying that Vermilion Grove might be destroyed and wrote, “Just 90 degrees to the left below the earthen dam on Caples Lake, trees had burned up to the road.”

Vermilion Grove, East Shore, Caples Lake (9/19/21) Philip Reedy

However, that point was the eastern boundary of the fire along CA-88. Beyond it, the forest is unchanged. Vermilion Grove stood untouched and lit as usual in the morning light. Blackened forest behind it added to the moment’s drama. Vermilion Grove had survived, is Patchy and will likely peak in the coming week and a half. One of California’s most beautifully poetic scenes survived. Credit its name.

Beyond Vermilion Grove, there was little fall color to see. The aspen are still Just Starting, though the willows are flushed with a lovely tone of orange. The same occurs in Hope Valley where Phil found the forest to mostly green with some color developing, but noted that it’s still a week to two weeks from peak. Of note, Hope Valley’s aspen are devoid of blight and healthy, which means closeup photographs will provide attractive representations of them, this autumn.

Reedy noted that he’s learned, from early trips he’s made to the Hope Valley, that aspen just west of the Blue Lakes turnoff and along the Old California Trail are among the first to change. He found this to be true again with lots of yellow trees. Another spot to find them is in the grove overlooking the West Carson River where it crosses the highway. Orange and red leaves appear along with yellow at these locations and while the groves are not yet, of themselves to be sufficiently impressive, fallen aspen leaves provide colorful still life images.

  • Vermilion Grove (7,800′) – Patchy (10 – 50%)
  • Hope Valley (7,300′) – Just Starting (0-10%)