88 is Nearing 50

Quaking Aspen, Wylder Hope Valley Resort (9/26/20) Philip Reedy

Highway 88 is still Patchy but approaching 50% of peak color, as seen in Philip Reedy’s photos of color along the Carson Pass.

The route was busy with traffic this weekend because US 50 (a few miles north) was closed due to road construction. So, 88 was the only semi-direct route to South Lake Tahoe.

Reedy noted very few “leaf peepers” among those travelers and that little fall color has yet developed from Silver Lake to Carson Pass. He reported, “the stretch from Red Lake down to the iconic cabin is starting to show some color, but is still just beginning.  Those who love to photograph the cabin in all of its autumn glory, should probably wait a week.”

We are more conservative. From Reedy’s photo of the cabin, we estimate it will take 1.5 to two weeks to reach peak, there. As, from the pictures of the cabin he took, there is very little color yet beginning to appear; it’s still in the 0 – 10% range. 

Across the road there is still no color along Red Lake Creek, but the trees are still beautiful, and in a week or two will be glorious,” Reedy estimates. These trees usually produce a variety of colors, from yellow to orange to crimson which can be impressive at peak.

“From Blue Lakes Road, east on 88, there is a decent amount of color for the first mile or so, probably in the 10-50% range. The pasture north of the junction of Blue Lakes Rd and CA-88 continues to increase in intensity, but it’s a scattered show with trees losing leaves, to bright yellow, to green.  All the color is in the trees near the pasture, while the groves up the mountainside are still completely green.” Reedy reports.

The best displays of fall color in the Hope Valley are seen from the intersection of state highways 88 and 89 east to the Wylder Hope Valley Resort, especially on the south side of the highway.  Reedy said the resort itself is still mainly green. Beyond that, there’s little color to be seen all the way to Markleeville.

Phil Reedy was recently honored by the Outdoor Writers Association of California for contributing photography to the award-winning article, Siskiyou Sonata, published on this site, last year.

  • Carson Pass, CA-88E (8,652′) – Patchy (10-50%)
  • CA-88E (7,800′) – Patchy (10-50%)
  • CA-88E (7,550′ – 7,000′) – Patchy to Near Peak (10 – 75%) Go Now!
  • CA-88E (Below 7,000′) – Patchy (10-50%)

Hope Arrives

Quaking Aspen, Hope Valley (9/23/20) Philip Reedy

There are moments when an image arrives that changes perspective. One of those moments occurred Wednesday, when Philip Reedy sent this picture of an aspen leaf from the Hope Valley.

The leaf embodies the transition from summer to fall in an unexpected way.

Aspen leaves are not just yellow. California’s are yellow, gamboge, lurid, limey, orange, pink, crimson and, well, then there’s this leaf with all of them put together.

It’s one of the leaves Phil found in the Hope Valley on his travels along Hwy 88 on Wednesday. (Click to enlarge photographs)

Heading east on Hwy 88, at the Caples Lake Resort, Phil stopped to check on the status of the aspen grove, two miles past Silver Lake, that is often dazzling in its display of deep reds and oranges. He noted that “the grove usually turns later, and this year is no exception, as it is completely green.”

Similar greenness continued along 88 over Carson Pass and down to Red Lake, as was the stretch of aspen from Red Lake to Red Lake Creek Cabin. “Ditto for the aspen around the cabin and across the road along the creek,” Phil described though he “detected a bit of lime color around the cabin, so I imagine in a week it will begin coloring up.” This area usually peaks during the first full week of October, and it appears to be on track to do so this year. 

From the cabin, down Hwy 88 to Blue Lakes Road, Reedy reports “little color.”  However, the pasture north of the highway has many lush, healthy aspen loaded with Near Peak color.

The scene is a mix of fully turned to completely green trees. If photographing this area, most of the land is public, though there are some private (fenced) areas. The hike to the best of the trees is easy and flat. Reedy took a series looking back through the trees at the pasture.

Reedy then continued east on Hwy-88/89 to the recently renamed and remodeled Wylder Hope Valley (formerly Sorensen’s) Resort where he was surprised to see a lot of color. Many of the trees surrounding the resort have fully turned, though there’s still a week of peak color to be enjoyed.

Because of its extreme range of elevations, California is one of the few fall color destinations in North America where wildflowers appear concurrently with fall color. Reedy’s photographs show that contradiction blooming near the Wylder resort.

Although it is in the Patchy range (Phil rates as 10 – 25%), the area surrounding the Wylder Resort as Near Peak and “should be even better in another week.” By then, he says, “perhaps the cabins will have some color around it, as well.”

  • Caples Lake (7,800′) – Just Starting (0-10%)
  • Carson Pass (8,652′) – Just Starting (0-10%)
  • Red Lake (7,861′)- Just Starting (0-10%)
  • Red Lake Creek Cabin (7,550′) – Just Starting (0-10%)
  • Blue Lakes Rd (7,550′) – Just Starting (0-10%)
  • Hope Valley (7,300′) – Just Starting (0-10%)
  • Wylder Hope Valley Resort (7,000′) – Patchy (10-50%) – Groves near the resort vary from Near Peak to Just Starting.

Martis Mystery

There’s a mystery occurring along Martis Creek (CA-267) between Kings Beach and Truckee.

Aspen that populate the meadow, near the remnants of an old cabin, are deceivingly orange. From a distance, they appear to be peaking, but they’re not. They’re diseased.

This meadow is visited often, mostly because of the cabin. It’s a popular place for portraiture (weddings, graduations) due to the distressed character of the cabin. The turnout is so popular that its once-small parking lot has been expanded to park several motor vehicles.

In autumn, particularly on early October weekends, the lot is filled with cars; a parade of people stroll out to the cabin or one of the groves to stand amidst the aspen as they rustle in the breeze.

Reno color spotter Clayton Peoples was there yesterday and drew the same conclusion I had a couple of weeks earlier when I visited. Martis Creek Meadow is Just Starting, but its leaves are frosted a dull orange by the leaf rust called Melampsora medusae.

Mystery Solved: Melampsora russ afflicts aspen, poplar, cottonwood, willow and several specie of pine. Orange, powdery pistules on the backside of the leaf cause the coloration which is an infection resulting from continuous moisture being on the leaf for a period of from two to 24 hours, the US Forest Service explains. Sadly, considering its popularity, this grove has been tormented by afflictions.

Despite the Halloween-colored contagion, Clayton remains optimistic and adds, “not all is lost: many leaves look quite healthy and are likely to turn in the next week or two.”

He estimates peak is still two weeks off at this location, but considering the pandemic and national forest closures occurring south of Sonora Pass, this location does offer the promise of color at North Lake Tahoe and a reason, he writes, to “get out on a crisp clear morning and walk among the trees,” reminding us all that despite our troubles, “many things are proceeding in their normal course despite the things going on in the world around us.”

  • Martis Creek Meadow (CA-267) – Just Starting (0-10%)
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Fremont cottonwood and pepper berries, Davis (9/16/20) Philip Reedy

This week, Philip Reedy, Michelle Pontoni and I separately explored the noxious outdoors before the thermal inversion lifted. At the time, an oppressively dense haze from numerous California wildfires hung over California, keeping the Sun’s rays from brightening the landscape.

Instead, it draped a lackluster pall across the scene.

In Davis, Reedy found fallen Fremont cottonwood leaves resting among pepper berries and upon redwood branches, quiet beauty in an otherwise moribund atmosphere.

Pontoni found a more encouraging scene as she biked south a quarter mile on the Lake Tahoe Boulevard Bike Path from the corner of Lake Tahoe Blvd and Viking Road in South Lake Tahoe. Tiny Quaking Aspen, pushing up from the forest floor, were beginning to change color. Bikers, walkers, and strollers along the path were bombarded by Sugar Pine cones as afternoon winds picked up. She warned, “Wear a helmet!”

At Fallen Leaf lake, Pontoni reported seeing only one aspen full of yellow – all others were still “fully green.” Elsewhere, meadow brush were showing signs of change, painting the landscape with blended tones of lime-green, yellow, orange and russet.

In Tahoe City, red maple lifted their desiccated branches as if pleading for the subalpine lake’s normally clear skies to dissipate the gasses. As I passed Agate Bay, one could see only a hundred yards out into the brown-grey haze. Beyond it, there was only mystery and memories of Tahoe’s beauty.

I drove past Martis Creek’s derelict cabin on CA-267, its aspen enveloped in a foul air that both dulled and warmed their color, a mix of green, to lime, to pastel yellow, to sickly orange. Should it be photographed? Yes, but the scene was then too depressing to stop, unsaddle, gear up and take a photograph that would only leave me saddened.

This morning, I replied to a comment from travelgal485 which opined that perhaps this wasn’t the year to see California’s fall color. Having just experienced the suffocating, disheartening search for something bright and colorful, I was of a mind to agree, but recalled the lessons many years observing autumn have taught.

I answered, “Right now, it’s not the best time, but give it a day and it could be one of the most unbelievably beautiful years, ever. The reason it’s so disappointing, for the moment, are: forest closures (due to smoke and to allow USFS staff to focus on firefighting) and haze. However, both those conditions will change. Yesterday was the first clear day in a month in the Sacramento Valley, with an actual sunset seen along the Coast Range. If I’ve learned anything in more than 40 years writing about California’s fall color it’s what Heraclitus of Ephesus wrote 2,520 years ago, “the only constant is change.”

  • Davis – Just Starting (0 – 10%)
  • South Lake Tahoe / Fallen Leaf Lake – Just Starting (0 – 10%)
  • Tahoe City / Agate Bay / Martis Creek / Truckee – Just Starting (0 – 10%)
Flowering Pear and ornamental debris, Davis (9/16/20) Philip Reedy
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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


Out Coloring The Kayaks

Kayaks and Fall Color, Tahoe City, Lake Tahoe (10/23/19) Dan Mata

When fall color out colors the kayaks in Tahoe City, it’s a sure sign the kayaks should be put away for winter.

Dan Mata found signs of winter’s approach throughout his visit to the lake of the sky.

Horse meadow, Fallen Leaf Lake, South Lake Tahoe (10/23/19) Dan Mata

Even the horses near Fallen Leaf Lake seemed to be waiting for a ride out of the Tahoe basin to their winter pasture.

  • Lake Tahoe (6,225′) – Peak to Past Peak, GO NOW, YOU ALMOST MISSED IT.

Sierra Discovery Trail

Bigleaf maple, Bear River Falls, Sierra Discovery Trail, Tahoe Nat’l Forest (10/19/19) Ravi Ranganathan

A number of trails travel through fall color in the Tahoe National Forest, between Yuba Gap and Nevada City along CA-20.

One of the nicest is the Sierra Discovery Trail. It travels an easy .9-mile loop that is full of fall color. Also, an interesting trail is the Independence Trail, which winds along boardwalks through a forest of bigleaf maple and black oak.

Ravi Ranganathan hiked both trails this past weekend and recommends hiking the Sierra Discovery Trail clockwise, as you will pass Bear River Falls soon after crossing the Bear River Bridge.

Emigrant Gap, CA-20 (10/19/19) Ravi Ranganathan
  • Sierra Discovery Trail (5,190′) – 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!

Lake Tahoe

Emerald Bay, Lake Tahoe (10/18/19) Clayton Peoples

It’s peak at scenic Lake Tahoe with colorful aspen, black oak and bigleaf maple lighting the forest and bear fishing for spawning lake salmon.

Clayton Peoples followed CA-89 along the west shore to CA-88, finding spots of bright color speckled throughout the forest along the west shore. Looking down upon Emerald Bay the color could be seen peeking between pine, cedar and fir.

American black bear fishing for salmon, Taylor Creek, Lake Tahoe (10/18/19) Clayton Peoples

An American black bear fished for Kokanee salmon at Taylor Creek. Autumn is one of the sure ways of seeing one of California’s 30,000 to 40,000 bears, as they often visit the creeks that spill into Lake Tahoe as they fish during the autumn salmon and steelhead runs.

The most beautiful stands of Tahoe color are seen Tallac and Taylor Creek along the southwest end of the lake.

  • Lake Tahoe (6,225′) – Peak (75-100%) GO NOW!

Eternal Hope

Hope Valley (10/18/19) Philip Reedy

It never gets tedious writing headlines for a post from the Hope Valley, as visiting it is always more interesting.

Davis color spotter Philip Reedy was there on Friday, and true to his promise to track the progression of fall color in that beautiful corner of Alpine County.

Phil’s report arrived Friday night, but by the time it arrived, I’d edited and posted seven reports and would be driving to Plumas County early the following morning, so couldn’t attend to it until today. Apologies for the late delivery of his analysis.

Phil noted that “While some areas have lost leaves there are plenty that still look amazing.  I would encourage anyone who enjoys that area to go IMMEDIATELY. As, in another week there won’t be a lot left to see.”

So, if you were looking for something to do on a beautiful fall day. Head to the Hope Valley, NOW. 

East of Silver Lake, Sunrise, CA-88 (10/18/19) Philip Reedy

You’ll find “nice color between Silver Lake and Kirkwood and even better color from Caples Lake to Carson Pass.”

“Woods Lake Road looks great right now.  Heading down from Carson Pass along Red Lake there is great color, especially right at the east end of the lake where the red barn sits next to a meadow facing a large number of peaking aspens.  Forest Service road 31013 that heads south from there has beautiful color right now.”

Red Lake Creek Cabin, Hope Valley (10/18/19) Philip Reedy

“Heading east toward the Red Lake Creek cabin the trees look very nice along the highway.  The cabin is looking excellent now as the groves on the mountainside above the cabin have peaked this week.  I noticed the same thing from the cabin all the way through Hope Valley. Groves on the higher mountain slopes that were green a week ago are now yellow and orange, while the trees below still have most of their color.” 

Hope Valley (10/18/19) Philip Reedy

Unfortunately, across the road from the cabin along the creek, the trees that were at peak last week are mostly bare.  Some of the trees near the ranch just east of Blue Lakes Road have lost leaves but large numbers are in full glory.  A hike north through those trees is just beautiful.

Trees to the north along CA 89 toward Tahoe are a mix of yellow and green.  These always seem to be the last trees to change.

Clayton Peoples also visited on Oct. 18, and said wind damage had stripped a lot of trees.

  • Hope Valley(7,300′) – Peak to Past Peak GO NOW, YOU ALMOST MISSED IT – Hurry, as winds are predicted in days to come.