Pear Perfect in Healdsburg

Flowering pear, Healdsburg (12/7/19) Anson Davalos

Soon after non-Indians settled the Healdsburg area in the late 1850s, they found that anything grows in Sonoma County’s fertile soil.

Grapes, lumber and hops were Healdsburg’s biggest cash crops until The Volstead Act (Prohibition) eliminated commercial wine and beer making in 1919. Vineyards were then uprooted and replaced with orchards.

To replace the grapes and hops, French plums were planted in such abundance surrounding Healdsburg that the town became known as “the buckle of the prune belt.”

Plums became a huge profit crop, as prunes (dried plums) were a fruit that could be transported and had shelf life in an age when refrigeration wasn’t common.

Kelseyville, in neighboring Lake County, had a similar history, though its vineyards were replaced with pear orchards whose fruit was canned and also exported, earning Kelseyville the sobriquet, “pear capital of the world.”

Both towns began replacing orchards with vineyards, starting in the 1980s, as wine consumption increased and consumption of dried and canned fruit declined.

Colorful remnants of the region’s orchard days remain in downtown Healdsburg where pear trees (the flowering variety) line its streets. Color spotter Anson Davalos found them at peak this past weekend.

We know of no plums growing in Kelseyville, though pears remain an important product, especially when combined with wine, as noted in this Sunset magazine article.

  • Healdsburg, Sonoma County (105′) – Peak (75-100%) GO NOW! – Pears

Napa: Another Week of Peak

Napa Valley (11/9/19) Mike Caffey

This is probably the last week of peak fall color in the Napa Valley.

Mike Caffey was there on Saturday (Nov. 9) and captured vineyards carrying beautiful loads of orange, red and yellow leaves, as well as many others that were past peak.

Of course, vineyards turn by grape variety. My visits to Sierra Foothill vineyards this past weekend found vines similar to what Caffey discovered. Some were totally dry with russet-colored leaves, while nearby others were gloriously painted in burgundy, auburn, vermillion, gold and green.

Mike traveled the Silverado Trail and CA-29 through Napa Valley, commenting that there’s “about one more week of good color left then it will all be spent.” You can just see that in the above photograph. The valley floor is washed with deep orange, vermillion, iridescent yellow and a mix of lime and gold.

Caffey added what’s been reported so many times before this autumn, that “Everything seems delayed a bit this year compared to past years.  There are some vineyards that are nearly bare and others that are still mostly green.  So I think people can find something good up there for another week.”

Napa Valley (11/9/19) Mike Caffey

Up in the gorgeous Russian River wine country, the vineyards are now mostly bare, though those along US 101 “were still looking pretty good.” However, as soon as “you drove up into the mountain areas west of 101 all of the vines were brown,” Caffey reported.

This is it. Wherever you live, get to your local wine country this week, as it’s the last for peak. And, should you miss the show, then sit back and relax as you enjoy a glass of the product of those past peak vines.

  • Anderson Valley (269′) – Past Peak, YOU MISSED IT.
  • Ukiah (633′) – Past Peak, YOU MISSED IT.
  • Russian River (59′) – Past Peak, YOU MISSED IT.
  • Alexander Valley (105′) – Peak to Past Peak, YOU ALMOST MISSED IT.
  • Windsor (118′) – Peak to Past Peak, YOU ALMOST MISSED IT.
  • Santa Rosa (164′) – Peak to Past Peak, YOU ALMOST MISSED IT.
  • Valley of the Moon (253′) – Peak to Past Peak, YOU ALMOST MISSED IT.
  • Sonoma (85′) – Peak to Past Peak, YOU ALMOST MISSED IT.
  • Napa Valley (253′) – Peak to Past Peak, YOU ALMOST MISSED IT.
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Napa’s Vintage

Clear blue skies and vintage autumn color are being seen throughout the Napa Valley, making it Peak of the Week.

Gone are the hazy days delivered by October’s Kincade Fire, as wine country has been transformed back into a beautiful drive, bike ride or stroll.

Charles Hooker of Napa was out for a bike ride today and passed by the boulevard of Gingko trees leading to the Far Niente Winery in Oakville, sending back these camera phone snaps of that gorgeous road.

Thanks for sharing, Charles, it gives me one more reason to go wine tasting and return to the beauty of the Napa Valley.

  • Napa Valley (20′) – Peak (75-100%) GO NOW!

North Coast Color

Vine maple, Prairie Creek Redwoods SP (10/22/19) Max Forster

The North Coast is peaking, from Del Norte County south to Mendocino County with bigleaf maple, vine maple and poison oak painting the redwood forests in yellow, gold and crimson.

North Coast color spotter Max Forster sends this beautifully detailed report of where to see the best of it:

Prairie Creek Redwoods State Park (75%-100%) GO NOW! – Bigleaf maple are at peak and most of the vine maple are quickly approaching peak, as well.  Many fine bigleaf maple can be seen from the roadside of Drury Parkway, particularly around the Big Tree area.  Though, you can find pockets of color along the entire 9 mile drive.  While the drive is great, visitors who are able to walk a few miles of the Prairie Creek Trail will be treated to the best show.  

Redwood National Park – Patchy to Peak (10-100%) GO NOW! – There’s considerable variance in the park between the Lost Man Creek vs. Redwood Creek.  Bigleaf maple along Lost Man Creek, specifically near Little Lost Man Creek, are at peak, with some are already past.  While most the bigleaf along the Redwood Creek Trail are just starting to turn.

Jedidiah Smith Redwoods State Park Near Peak to Peak (50%-100%) GO NOW! – Much of the bigleaf maple along Mill Creek are approaching or are at peak.  Poison oak is at peak.  Great examples of the creeping vine climbing up redwood trees can be found along the northern section of Howland Hill Road.  Other ground cover species are a bit further behind and will likely begin peaking next week.  JSRSP has a prolific amount of ground cover vegetation and there are large sections of the the forest can be found carpeted in gold when you time your visit right in the autumn.  Potential visitors should note that Howland Hill Road will be closed until Friday evening.

South Fork Smith River – Peak (75%-100%) GO NOW! – Pockets of golden bigleaf can be found along the entire 14 mile drive on South Fork Road from the town of Hiouchi to Big Flat Campground at the confluence of the South Fork Smith River and Hurdygurdy Creek.  Visitors can also find Dogwood approaching peak sprinkled throughout the forest the further east you travel along the South Fork Road and along French Hill Road.


Hopland Starts To Hop

Mendocino County color spotter Walt Gabler found white grape vines near Hopland and Ukiah showing Patchy to Near Peak color, last week.

  • Mendocino County white grape vines – Patchy to Near Peak (10-75%) GO NOW!


Harvest Ends, Color Begins

Durell Vineyard / Three Sticks Winery, Sonoma (10/12/19) Risa Wyatt

“Grape harvest is mostly done—but fall color is just beginning in Sonoma Wine Country,” reports Sonoma County color spotter Risa Wyatt.

“The PG&E power outage that pulled the plug on nearly 800,000 customers in Northern California in early October—including the state’s esteemed wineries—didn’t stop the 2019 grape harvest. Wineries and hard-working crews resorted to Plan B, using generators and nitty-gritty hand labor to bring in the crop. The pick should finish well before Halloween,” she reports.

“Meanwhile, the vines are just coloring up for their big fall foliage flaunt,” Lisa concludes.

California’s vines peak by variety at Durell Vineyard in Sonoma County, Pinot Noir, Syrah and Chardonnay vines will be peaking across the vineyards’ 610 acres of undulating hillsides.

  • Durell Vineyard / Three Sticks Winery, Sonoma, CA – Patchy (10-50%)

Power Out, Campus Closed, Fall Color Continues

PG&E’s power shutdown has closed businesses and institutions across Northern California, but it hasn’t stopped fall color.

Michelle Pontoni walked a deserted campus at Humboldt State University to find the wind that had shut down Northern California’s energy generators was also generating “delightful leaf showers.”

Maples that hadn’t dropped leaves were glowing with a “brilliant lime,” while others were “full green with tips just beginning to turn.”

She’s hopeful that Humboldt County, at the northernmost end of the storm, will be one of the first counties to have its power restored. 

So, what to do with the extra time not spent in class or the library? Out enjoying fall color which hasn’t been turned off.

  • Humboldt State University, Arcata – Peak (75-100%) GO NOW!
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Humboldt State Changes Colors

Humboldt State University’s school colors are green and gold, Michelle Pontoni tells us, but in autumn the Arcata campus looks more like USC with all the red and gold.

Near the University Police building, one of the tallest evergreens on campus towers over maples that hang with golden leaves. The change has happened so rapidly, that Michelle expects returning students to be surprised by the color change when they resume class today.

She writes, “One vibrant red maple stands among others still green lining both sides of Harpst Street outside the College Creek dorms, with a quarter moon hovering low in the southern sky.”

Usually, the busy intersection of Harpst and B streets resounds with hundreds of students passing each hour, but all that could be heard this past weekend was the “tiny rustle of leaves and just a whisper of wind near empty tables outside ivy-covered Harry Griffith Hall. There, the ivy seems almost animated, crawling up the wall in varying shades of green to red.  Nearby, hydrangeas in blue, pink, and white join the spectacle.  While, beyond lively crimson maple leaves are glimpsed between the greens and golds.

Pontoni recommends walking the Humboldt State campus in Arcata to appreciate the show, though the school is nicknamed Hills and Stairs University (HSU) for all the ascents and descents that students make during their matriculation.

One thing’s certain, color awaits around every building and up every staircase at HSU, and Michelle Pontoni scores a First Report for her colorful description of autumn in Arcata.

  • Humboldt State University, Arcata – Peak (75-100%) GO NOW!

Rut Returns to the Redwoods

Roosevelt Elk bugling, Elk Meadow Cabins, Orick (10/4/19) Justin Legge

The elk rut has returned to Redwood National and State Parks. Rut is the annual mating ritual of Roosevelt Elk, North America’s largest breed of elk.

The elk rut is one of California’s most dramatic fall wildlife displays, as massive bull elk challenge one another for the right to mate with herds of female elk cows. Young suitors playfight one another while bloody battles occur between the existing bull of a herd and his rivals.

It’s elk-styled Match.com, but with bugling, violent challenges and fights to exhaustion, as the ladies watch indifferently from afar.

To stay amidst the rut, book one of the Elk Meadow Cabins, north of Orick (US 101). There are limited services in Orick, but Trinidad – a short drive south – has restaurants and stores.

Six of the cabins have three bedrooms and two baths, one has two bedrooms and bath. All come with kitchens and living space and rent from $169 to $255 during rut season ending on Oct. 31. More about the cabins is found at elkmeadowcabins.com.

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Walking Right Past Them

Amanita Muscaria, Patrick’s Point State Park, Trinidad (12/9/18) Gabriel Leete

If you’re not attentive, it’s easy to walk right past mushrooms.

However, as Gabriel Leete shows in this collection, when you do, you’re missing a beautiful aspect of late fall color, as their color and form are endlessly fascinating. 

Gabriel works at the California Welcome Center in Anderson (I-5, south of Redding). Just north of the Welcome Center is Anderson River Park where Gabriel often looks down to find mushrooms, though Gabriel also treks to the North Coast to discover them pushing up through the detritus.

Mushrooms appear on forest floors, soon after it rains. They grow quickly because rather than use cell division, as animals and most plants do, they employ cell enlargement, allowing mushrooms to grow as rapidly as they can take in water.

Within hours, a mushroom can grow from something the size of a pinhead to the Cortinarius that Gabriel is holding below.

Gabriel Leete admires a variety of Cortinarius, Patrick Point State Park, Trinidad (12/9/18) Self-portrait

Gabriel has been hunting mushrooms for nearly two decades and knows his fungi. He’s the first to say, that one person’s edible chanterelle might, upon closer inspection, be a poisonous variety of Cortinarius. So, expertise and caution are required when adding wild mushrooms to your diet.

However, he also believes mushrooms have gotten a bad rap. They’re full of B vitamins, gmushrooms.com writes, “especially niacin and riboflavin, and rank the highest among vegetables for protein content. But because they are low in fat and calories, Western nutritionists mistakenly considered them of no food value (a fresh pound has only about 125 calories). Yet in dried form, mushrooms have almost as much protein as veal and a significant amount of complex carbohydrates called polysaccharides. Shiitake mushrooms are among the most delicious & very nutritious.”

Because they grow from decaying matter, they’re all somewhat disgusting, but also things of beauty. And, of course, they can be deadly.

In 2012, The London Telegraph reported that 18 Italian mushroom hunters, “died in just a 10-day period. Many of them had forgone proper footwear, clothing and equipment and died after steep falls down Alpine slopes.” One of them was a 65-year-old woman who fell 40 feet to her death near the Swiss border.

My sordid attempt at humor aside, while there is the hazard of hunting them on wet, slippery slopes, there is also the possibility of eating a poisonous variety. Of one thing is certain, there’s no sitting on a fence when judging a mushroom, even though they often do. 

Here are some of the beauties and beasts, Gabriel has found on recent walks through the woods.