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Behind The Rainbow

Rainbow Lodge, I-80 (10/10/20) Robert Kermen

Motorists on Interstate 80 speed past the Rainbow Lodge. I sure have, but I won’t now that Robert Kermen has revealed what’s behind the rainbow.

Quaking aspen vary from Patchy to Near Peak with lots of green and lime. On these beautiful fall days a stop at Rainbow Lodge provides a moment to enjoy the color and a break from driving the interstate.

  • Rainbow Lodge, I-80 (5,800′) – Patchy to Near Peak (10-75%) Go Now!
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Reflections of Hope

Red Barn, CA-88 (10/11/20) Laxman Murugesh

This past weekend proved to be a good one to visit the Hope Valley, and it’s gonna stay good – unless there’s an unfortunate change in weather – for another two weeks.

On Sunday, as I pulled up across from Caples Lake Dam, Laxman Murugesh introduced himself. He’d been out, as recommended, and the beam across his face told what he’d found … almost as good as these pictures.

Red Lake Creek Cabin (10/10/20) Elliot McGucken

Elliot McGucken visited Hope Valley the previous day. Broken clouds moved across the sky, scouring away the haze and dropping shadows upon the landscape.

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It’s a Dog’s Life

Buddy and his chauffeur, Red Lake Rd. (10/11/20) John Poimiroo

While I was scouting for color along Red Lake Rd. (CA-88) this morning, Buddy and his chauffeur motored by. They were doing the same.

I learned that Buddy, a shaggy haired mutt, has over 50,000 TikTok fans. He added one more this morning. Any dog that gets chauffeured to see fall color deserves to be given a bone.

Buddy passes by on Red Lake Rd. (10/11/20) John Poimiroo

Highway 88 (Kit Carson Pass) is a mix of Patchy, Near Peak and Peak color. I’ll just describe the route between Caples Lake and Woodford’s Canyon as beautiful, and it’s likely to stay that way for a couple more weeks.

Vermillion Grove, Caples Lake (10/11/20) John Poimiroo

Vermillion grove at Caples Lake was a surprise. Usually it peaks and is gone within a few day, but it’s been at peak for over a week. I give it only a few more days at most, as yellow stands below it, along Caples Lake, are grabbing attention from it.

Red Barn, CA-88 (10/11/20) John Poimiroo

Aspen surrounding the red barn, just east of the road to Woods Lake are peaking, as are those at the Woods Lake Corral along the road.

Red Lake Creek Cabin, CA-88 (10/11/20) John Poimiroo

As seen above, the hillside beyond Red Lake Creek Cabin varies from Just Starting to peak, which means there’ll be good color there (conditions permitting) for another two weeks.

However, the aspen along Red Lake Creek on the opposite (south) side of Highway 88 are fully peaked and heavy with gloriously golden and orange leaves.

The same can be said of the groves in the heart of Hope Valley, between Blue Lakes Rd and CA-89. A few spots show mixed color, though most are Near Peak.

From the intersection of CA-88 and 89 east past the Wylder Resort and Campground, Woodfords Canyon is flush with orange and gold color, with occasional drips of red.

Markleeville’s California cottonwood are Near Peak and hugging the county seat of tiny Alpine County with their golden boughs.

I continued my scouting trip, stopping along the East Carson River to find it lined with fly fishermen and colorful willow, alder and cottonwood, all Near Peak.

On the climb to Monitor Pass (CA-89), I passed a burned area on the far slope overlooking Heenan Lake Wildlife Area. Throughout the blackened landscape, bright yellow and orange aspen pushed up amidst the skeletons of scorched pine and fir.

Monitor Pass, CA-89 (10/11/20) John Poimiroo

Atop Monitor Pass, aspen vary from Near to Past Peak. To the east, beyond the pass, they’ve peaked. Atop the pass itself, scrub aspen are peaking, and on the climb east toward the pass, they’re nearing peak.

As opposed to the “Oh, Wow!” of Carson Pass, Monitor Pass inspires more of a “Hmmm. I wonder why,” response.

  • Silver Lake, CA-88 (7,300′) – Just Starting (0 – 10%)
  • Caples Lake, CA-88 (7,800′) – Near Peak to Peak (75-100′) GO NOW!
  • Woods Lake Rd., CA-88 (8,200′) – Near Peak (50-75%) Go Now!
  • Forestdale Creek Rd, CA-88 (7,543′) – Near Peak (50-75%) Go Now!
  • Red Lake Creek Cabin, CA-88 (7,550′) – Near Peak (50-75%) Go Now!
  • Red Lake Creek, CA-88 (7,550′) – Peak (75-100%) GO NOW!
  • Blue Lakes Rd Pasture, CA-88 (7,550′) – Peak (75-100%) GO NOW!
  • Hope Valley, CA-88 (7,300′) – Near Peak (50-75%) Go Now!
  • Wylder Hope Valley Resort [Sorensen’s] (7,000′) – Peak (75-100%) GO NOW!
  • Groves Surrounding Wylder Hope Valley Resort, CA-88/89 (7,000′) – Peak (75-100%) GO NOW!
  • Woodfords Canyon (7,000′), CA-88/89 – Peak (75-100%) GO NOW!
  • Markleeville (5,531′) – Patchy (10-50%)
  • East Walker River (5,000′) – Patchy (10-50%)
  • Heenan Lake Wildlife Area (7,000′) – Peak (75-100%) GO NOW!
  • Monitor Pass (8,314′) – Near Peak to Peak (50-100%) GO NOW!
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Yosemite in Black and White

Tioga Pass, Yosemite National Park (10/5/20) Julie Kirby

Above is what it feels like when engulfed by wildfire smoke … a colorful landscape becomes black and white.

That was Julie Kirby’s impression during her visit to Yosemite on Monday (reservations required to cross Tioga Pass).

Julie visited the Valley and found it choking with haze. Dogwood, bigleaf maple and black oak are Just Starting.

  • Yosemite Valley (4,000′) – Just Starting (0-10%)
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Hope Valley Comparison

Philip Reedy’s text that he was in the Hope Valley arrived as I was on the road to South Lake Tahoe, yesterday morning.

I’d be returning that afternoon and wanted to see the valley, but also wanted to compare the lovely morning light he was reporting to what I might find when I returned that afternoon.

The above shows two images of Red Lake Creek Cabin, the first taken by Phil at 8:48 a.m., the second by me at 3:28 p.m. We stood at the same location at a turnout beside CA-88, using a pine to obscure a cabin with a blue roof at left. Aside from the exposure differences (Phil’s – 1/20 @ f16 – ISO 64 | John’s – 1/250 @ f.8 – ISO 250) and that I was handholding my shot in order to move along more quickly, the environmental differences are striking (click to enlarge).

Phil had the advantage of soft morning light (not the golden hour, but still sweet) and a clearer, more textured sky, while the light was more muted in my frame and haze is more evident. Haze lingers over the area. It is from fires elsewhere, though it diminishes the scene’s beauty nonetheless.

Also affecting the color is the staggered way groves are turning in the Hope Valley. Some are green, while others are tinged with yellow and still others are at full peak, while others have dropped their leaves. There is an element of beauty in this, though it can also be discouraging, as there’s no clear peak to the color. So, treat it as peaking and GO NOW!

On my morning drive east up the American River Canyon (US 50), I noticed that from 3,500 to 4,000′ bigleaf maple have browned quickly. They are edged with russet. I had to look twice. “Are those Western sycamore?” I thought to myself. “No, they’re bigleafs!”

Something unusual is happening. Perhaps it’s the environmental stress of so much bad air or perhaps it’s the lack of water (it hasn’t rained in months) or perhaps it’s disease. So many questions, so few answers.

Later, in the Hope Valley, aspen displayed varying amounts of ink spots on them. Some, just a touch, others fully black. There isn’t enough of this to ruin the scene, but it’s noticeable and short of perfection.

Red and orange colors the aspen more strongly this year than has been seen in the past. That makes for beautiful images, as seen in those taken this past week at North Lake (Bishop Creek Canyon), but it also can create a sameness that is overpowering.

Combined with haze, the orange struggles to reflect sunlight as intensely as yellow does. So, unless the sun is unobstructed, its rays don’t bring out the deeper color as strongly. Sunday is predicted to be the first unclouded day we’ve had in some time. So, the Hope Valley is likely gonna be at its best for this autumn.

To illustrate the photo location (on the dam) of what I’m calling “Vermillion Grove” (because it is a distinctive swath of vermillion above Caples Lake), I took these two images, the first at 70 mm (cropped), the second at 42 mm.

Vermillion grove only appears at the beginning of peak, then its redheads drop their tresses and disappear into the pine forest surrounding them. That’s when the blonder aspen, below, attract attention.

Seen here is more of what Reedy captured on his morning visit to the Hope Valley. See you there, Sunday morning.

  • Hope Valley – Near Peak to Peak (50-100%) GO NOW!
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Shimmering Happiness

Lake Tahoe color spotter Michelle Pontoni has really set out to find Tahoe’s hidden gems. So far, Michelle has submitted three reports, two more and she qualifies as a CaliforniaFallColor.com “photojournalist.”

Describing her joy at discovering the search for fall color, Michelle writes, “Finding the yellows feels like finding shimmering bits of happy sunshine, even in the small patches.”

At peak, Tahoe has lots of fall color, but it’s tucked in the forest, between fir, pine and rarely clustered near ponds and streams, as they’re so spread out.

She ventured to the north end of the lake to find color peeking (not peaking – it’s still Patchy) between the outline of Lake Tahoe on a granite sculpture at North Tahoe Beach.

The sculpture is a 3-D representation of Lake Tahoe with Tahoe’s alpine horizon seen through it. To the side, a lake-shaped slab is engraved with Mark Twain’s famous “Roughing It” quote, “…at last the Lake burst upon us—a noble sheet of blue water lifted six thousand three hundred feet above the level of the sea, and walled in by a rim of snow-clad mountain peaks that towered aloft full three thousand feet higher still! … As it lay there with the shadows of the mountains brilliantly photographed upon its still surface I thought it must surely be the fairest picture the whole earth affords.”.  

Seen through the granite sculpture is a bit of Mt. Rose.

Presently, the color is Patchy, but then at 6,237′ in elevation, Tahoe will not peak for another two weeks. However, peak is occurring in the Hope Valley, just to the north, as seen in Michelle’s snap of the Wylder Hope Valley Resort.

  • North Lake Tahoe (6,237′) – Patchy (10-50%)
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Carson Pass Colors Up

Aspen, East Shore, Caples Lake (10/5/20) Philip Reedy


There’s a grove of vermillion aspen that pokes its head above the pine and fir on the east shore of Caples Lake.

The stand is best photographed across the lake near the Caples Lake Resort, as Philip Reedy did this week. He was on his favorite patrol, driving CA-88 across the pass and down to the Hope Valley.

Only about 25% of the trees have turned, he reports, and this grove is at peak and could be gone by now. It does that.

When we post GO NOW!, the photos seen are at least a day old and a lot can happen in a day. It’s best to use the site as a planning tool and schedule your trip to an area as soon as you see it is nearing the high end of Patchy, do not wait to see photos of an area at peak, as when you get there, the area will be on the backside of the peak.

What’s unusual about the above grove is that it is consistently red, year in, year out. Yellow aspen are nearby, but it always appears as if painted by a Renaissance master in candlelight.

Further along Hwy 88 are two other favorite spots, the red barn and Red Lake Creek Cabin, both are hugely popular photo locations. You can find them by looking for the bright yellow porcelain “Take Picture Here” logos embedded on the right of way by Caltrans (being facetious).

No, there are no porcelain “Take Picture Here” landmarks mounted to the pavement, because they aren’t needed. There’s usually a car or two stopped near these locations during autumn which is a sure give-away that maybe you oughta stop, too.

Don’t dis yourself, if you’ve missed stopping. I’ve passed them once or twice until realizing, “Wait! That could make a good picture!”

Reedy writes, “The meadow by the red barn … is still mostly green, but there are a lot of aspen surrounding that meadow, so it should be great in a week or two.”

At Red Lake Creek Cabin, “quite a few trees have turned, but many are still green.  At peak, both sides of the highway are bright yellow, but … the north side is still mostly green.  By Red Lake Creek, it was all green nine days ago, but is now in full color.”

Red Lake Creek Cabin, CA-88 (10/5/20) Philip Reedy
Red Lake Creek Cabin, CA-88 (10/5/20) Philip Reedy

Around the cabin, the trees “have begun to change nicely, perhaps 50%.  I suspect that it will be in full glory in a week or so,” Phil added (By the way, Phil’s photo of CA-88 and the Red Lake Creek Cabin, seen above, is the most creative and informative view of the cabin, I’ve seen, and I’ve seen a lot of them.).

If you’ve not been able to find the cabin previously, look closely at the photo (click on it to enlarge) and you’ll see that the cabin is partially obscured by small trees, though there’s a turnout to allow for parking there. Also, refer to the California Fall Color Map (at right) to find its exact location.

The pasture at the junction of Hwy 88 and Blue Lakes Rd “continues to shine.  There are a lot of trees in full color, many still green, and some already bare.  Most of the trees in the ‘front row’ are in full color right now, so this is the time to see that area.”

West Carson River, Wylder Hope Valley Resort, CA-88/89 (10/5/20) Philip Reedy

From the intersection of CA-88 and CA-89, past the recently renamed Wylder Hope Valley Resort (formerly Sorensen’s) the groves vary from Patchy surrounding the resort to full color beyond it.

Showers are expected Sat., Oct 10. It’ll be partly cloudy Fri., Oct 9 and sunny on Sun., Oct. 11. Color photography will probably be best on Sunday, though windows of broken clouds and dramatic skies could occur on Friday and Saturday.

The rain will strip many fully peaked leaves from their branches, but enough will remain to keep the Carson Pass and Hope Valley colorful through the following week.

  • Shot Rock, CA-88 (7,600′) – Patchy (10-50%)
  • Silver Lake, CA-88 (7,300′) – Just Starting (0 – 10%)
  • Thunder Mountain Trailhead, CA-88 (8,000′) – Patchy (10-50%)
  • Kirkwood Lake, CA-88 ((7,660′) – Patchy (10-50%)
  • Caples Lake, CA-88 (7,800′) – Patchy (10-50%) to vermillion grove at Peak (75-100′)
  • Woods Creek Trail, CA-88 (8,200′) – Near Peak (50-75%) Go Now!
  • Forestdale Creek Rd, CA-88 (7,543′) – Patchy (10-50%)
  • Red Lake Creek Cabin, CA-88 (7,550′) – Patchy (10-50%) to Near Peak (50-75%) Go Now!
  • Blue Lakes Rd Pasture, CA-88 (7,550′) – Near Peak (50-75%) Go Now!
  • Hope Valley, CA-88 (7,300′) – Patchy (10-50%)
  • Wylders Hope Valley Resort [Sorensen’s] (7,000′) – Patchy (10-50%)
  • Groves Surrounding Wylder Hope Valley Resort, CA-88/89 (7,000′) – Near Peak (50-75%) Go Now!
  • Woodford’s Canyon (7,000′), CA-88/89 – Patchy (10-50%) to Near Peak (50-75%) Go Now!

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Paige Meadows

Paige Meadows, Tahoe City (10/4/20) Austin Grove

Austin Grove posts a first report for Paige Meadows in Tahoe City whose aspen are Patchy. Dogtrekker.com lists Paige Meadows as a dog-friendly trail.

  • Paige Meadows, Tahoe City – Patchy (10-50%)
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Waving Hello at Spooner

It almost seems like the Quaking Aspen in Michelle Pontoni’s video are waving hello. If they are, they’re doing so from Nevada’s Spooner Backcountry State Park near Marlette Lake (NV-28 and US 50).

Perhaps that’s why we love aspen so dearly. They greet us. What other tree does that?

Michelle reports that despite all the waving, very few of the aspen have lost leaves. She rates the state park as Patchy, though “there’s plenty of color and shimmer to make it worth the trip, and plenty of lime still waiting to turn.

Her images were taken from North Canyon Rd and the Marlette Lake Trail, not far from the parking area. Along the way to Spencer’s Cabin, she passed families, young couples, bicycles, strollers, and seniors out for a stroll, just missing a mama bear and her cub near the trail.

Michelle predicts that the coming weekend should be near peak (Spooner Backcountry is nearly a thousand feet higher than Lake Tahoe and fairly even with the Hope Valley). So, adding Nevada’s Spooner Backcountry State Park at South Lake Tahoe to a trip through the Hope Valley (CA-88) would package sightseeing and easy recreation.

The forests near lake level at Tahoe usually peak from mid to late October, so the Tahoe area will remain good for two more weeks, at least.

  • Spooner Backcountry State Park, Stateline, NV (7,150′) – Patchy (10-50%)
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Music From Martis Meadow

Martis Creek Meadow (10/1/20) Tania Junes

The music of Martis Meadow rustles in autumn. It’s muffled in winter, gurgling in springtime and etched by passing vehicles in summer. It’s the rustling I like best.

Tania Junes was there yesterday, to listen to the rustling and send back these images.

Martis Creek Meadow (10/1/20) Tania Junes
  • Martis Creek Meadow (5,925′) – Patchy (10-50%)