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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.

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Last Light

Pecan orchard, CA-20, Williams (12/4/18) Walt Gabler

The last light of fall color can still be seen in California’s orchards and woodlands.

Walt Gabler found it along CA-20 from Williams to Clear Lake, though noted “It is nearing its end.”

Black oak, CA-20, Upper Lake (12/4/18) Walt Gabler

The Lake County region (north of the Napa Valley) gets its fall color from its pear and walnut orchards, vineyards and California native trees (bigleaf maple, black oak, cottonwood).

This lovely area surrounds the largest natural freshwater lake wholly within California. It is also ancient. Samples of sedimentary levels date it as 480,000 years old.

Renowned as a bass fishing water, Clear Lake is also famed for watersports, including swimming, water skiing, wakeboarding, sailing, jet skiing and boat racing.

More recently, the area’s wineries have attracted attention.  The best-known Lake County wineries include: Guenoc, Langtry Estate Vineyards and Winery, Ployez Winery, Steele Wines, and Wildhurst Vineyards.

Christmas berry, Toyon, Colusa/Lake County Line (12/4/18) Walt Gabler

This late in autumn, snow has dusted the High Sierra and California holly (Toyon) are now dressing coastal and valley woodlands with bright red Christmas berries. 

Conway Summit, US 395 (12/3/18) Walt Gabler
  • CA-20, Williams to Upper Lake – Peak to Past Peak, You Almost Missed It.


Happy Emoji, Sad Emoji

Gravenstein Hwy, CA-116, Molino (11/24/18) Todd Backman

Scenes such as this taken by Todd Backman along the Gravenstein Highway (CA-116) were seen in Sonoma County this weekend (happy emoji).

Todd drove from the coast, through Guerneville to Sebastopol and along the Russian river, seeing bright color as above, but cautions that rain and wind is stripping the color (sad emoji). 

  • Sonoma County – Peak to Past Peak, YOU ALMOST MISSED IT.

November Peak

Trentadue Winery, Geyserville (11/12/18) David Sharp

North Sonoma County vines are “making their fall color move,” reports Sonoma County color spotter David Sharp.

He observes that most of the grape vines between Windsor and Cloverdale peak from early to late November, continuing, “In west Sonoma County, where most of the Pinot Noir and Chardonnay grow, most of the vines have gone past peak and are losing their leaves.”

Whereas, vines in northern Sonoma County ripen later and their fall colors are “just coming on and should be colorful through Thanksgiving.” 

  • Northern Sonoma County – Peak (75-100%) GO NOW!
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Orchard Pickings

Apple tree, Los Rios Orchard, Oak Glen Rd. (11/11/18) Ravi Ranganathan

Visiting orchards has become a late-autumn tradition, with Californians heading to Julian for apple dumplings, to Oak Glen for cider-infused mini donuts, to San Luis Obispo for hard cider, to Sebastopol for U-pick apples, to Kelseyville in Lake County for a Pear Belle Helene (pear ice cream sundae), and to Apple Hill in Camino for apple pies.

With so many calories ahead, Southern California color spotter Ravi Ranganathan recommends walking the Oak Glen Preserve Botanical Garden in Yucaipa, soon after the trail opens at 8 a.m. It’s  got kid-friendly sections, as well as others that get your heart pumping and “beautiful fall colors along the trail.”

Of course, if that hike works up your appetite, head over to Snow Line Orchard for their delicious apple-cider-infused mini donuts and a glass of freshly pressed cider. Ravi recommends picnicking under an ancient chestnut tree beside an apple orchard. 

  • Julian – Peak (75-100%) GO NOW!
  • Oak Glen – Peak (75-100%) GO NOW!
  • San Luis Obispo – Peak (75-100%) GO NOW!
  • Sebastopol – Peak (75-100%) GO NOW!
  • Kelseyville – Peak (75-100%) GO NOW!
  • Camino – Peak (75-100%) GO NOW!
Chestnut and apple orchard, Snow Line Orchard, Oak Glen Rd (11/11/18) Ravi Ranganathan
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Fun with Fungi

Sulphur Tufts, Hypholoma fasciculare, Trinidad (11/3/18) Gabriel Leete

Late October/early November are usually mushroom months, but with little rain so far in autumn, we’ve not yet seen much fungi photography.

To the rescue comes Shasta Cascade color spotter Gabriel Leete who drove to find a store of spore-born fungi in Shasta Cascade and North Coast forests.

Gabriel became fascinated with mushrooms when he was 19 (he’s now 46). So, he really knows the fungi he photographs. Leete wrote that he became interested in them when trying to find a certain fungi, then realized it had “deadly look alikes.”

So, he focused on learning how to identify mushrooms which led to exploring what edible fungi he might “take home for dinner.”

A word of caution: many California mushrooms are poisonous. Only if you are expert like Gabriel, should you attempt to dine on them. Not taking such a precaution could have you pushing up daisies.

Leete’s fascination with fungi made him serious not just about identifying fungi, but growing them, and eventually, mushroom microscopy. 

To tune his ability to identify one mushroom from another, he’s joined groups of expert mushroom hunters. They are so knowledgeable, that he’s learned a lot from them.

Mushrooms are both good for the environment and, if edible, good for you (full of nutrients and medicinal qualities).

MushroomShack.com reports that “mushrooms play an important role in the environment, breaking down logs, leaves, stems, and other organic matter in the forest to recycle essential nutrients. Many are vital to the growth and survival of trees. They form a symbiotic (mutually beneficial) relationship, with the trees giving mushrooms glucose and mushrooms providing trees with essential minerals.

“Not all mushrooms grow on wood, though. Some grow from the ground, feeding on humus and organic materials in the soil.”

Pacific banana slug, Ariolimax californicus, devouring a Russula atroviolacea, Trinidad (11/3/18) Gabriel Leete

Friends, following is more fun-filled, factual fungi filler:

  • (Above) Sulphur Tufts are mildly poisonous and prolific, found throughout California. When fresh, the clustered caps are bright yellow to greenish-yellow, as are the gills and stem, though cap colors vary widely.
  • Russula atroviolacea, a type of fungi known for its bright color (Russula means red) is seen being devoured by a Pacific banana slug, Ariolimax californicus. Banana slugs are the mascot of the University of California, Santa Cruz (The university’s chancellor had chosen the Sea Lions, but the student body persisted in supporting the lowly mollusk as the school’s mascot. It has since been judged, on numerous occasions, as the nation’s best college mascot). Though banana slugs were a food source for North Coast Yurok Indians, their slime deadens tastebuds. Celebrated on a UCSC t-shirt, Sammy the Slug is identified by its motto, “No Known Predators.” Wikipedia advises, “Even when fed corn meal to purge them or soaked in vinegar to remove slime, the slugs’ flavor is not always well regarded.” Gabriel says their acrid flavor “gets worse the more you taste.” I guess the t-shirt got it right. 
  • (Below) Bracket Fungus, Ganoderma applanatum, also called shelf fungus is called “the artist’s fungus” due to its white to gray pore surface and brown bruising. It retains the brown bruising for years when picked and brought indoors.
  • Amanita muscria, var. guessowii buttons grow to be spectacular mushrooms, but are unigue and beautiful as buttons, as well. The Amanita muscaria are typically red with white dots on the cap and have been placed on many stamps, postcards, in books and cartoons. They vary from scarlet to yellow and are lethally poisonous. Look, don’t touch.
  • Postia ptychogaster, commonly known as the powder puff bracket, is a species of fungus in the family Fomitopsidaceae. The fungus resembles a powdery cushion that fruits on stumps and logs of rotting conifer wood.
  • The King Bolete, Boletus edulis is a world traveler, called the Cep in France and Steinpilz in Germany. This is a well-known, large mushroom favored for use in cooking pots by mushroom hunters. This example was small, young with a greasy/tacky, bald brown cap and a meaty swollen stem with fine reticulation (netting). The pore surface is usually white, with tightly spaced or “stuffed” pores, becoming more and more visible as it ages.
  • Stropharia ambigua are fairly large and at first bright yellow, fading with age. They become semi-slimy and adorned with drooping white veils. They are both beautiful and prolific … so much so that they’ve been called weeds due to how many grow along the coast.
  • Peppery Bolete, Chalciporus piperatus, are not something to eat, “losing their peppery flavor when cooked, and with so many other edible mushrooms growing in the same habitat, why bother?” Gabriel advises. 

Redwood Highway

Avenue of the Giants, Miranda (11/6/18) Max Forster

Fall color is fleeting along the Redwood Highway, where color appears by specie of deciduous plant.

Presently, it’s almost Past Peak in Del Norte and northern Humboldt Counties, though, North Coast color spotter Max Forster reports, “you will find groves where individual bigleaf maple and patches of vine maple are still on full display.”

What affects the fall color is the proximity deciduous plants have to the redwoods. He observes, “Maple that catch more sun throughout the day peak earlier, while those that have survived primarily under the redwood canopy can peak much later in the season.

Deciduous plants to be seen along the Redwood Highway include: Bigleaf maple (yellow), Red alder (yellow), Gray Alder (yellow), Mountain alder (yellow), Bitter cherry (red/orange), Vine maple (chartreuse), Black cottonwood (gold), Oregon crab apple (orange/red) and Western poison oak (crimson). These often appear as glimpses of bright splashes of color within the evergreen redwood forest. rather than as bold swaths.

Patches of color are now being seen on the Howland Hill Road in Jedediah Smith Redwoods State Park, along the Newton P Drury Scenic Parkway in Prairie Creek Redwoods State Park and at Lost Man Creek in Redwood National Park.

One of the beautiful colors of the North Coast is brilliantly crimson Western poison oak, Toxicodendron diversilobum. Max says the poison oak is just beginning to peak and finds that similar to bigleaf maple, those “under the redwoods have another week or so” until peak. 

  • Del Norte County – Peak to Past Peak, YOU ALMOST MISSED IT.
  • Redwood National Park, Orick – Peak to Past Peak, YOU ALMOST MISSED IT.
  • Avenue of the Giants – Peak (75-100%) GO NOW!
  • Humboldt Redwoods State Park – Peak (75-100%) GO NOW!
High Rock Overlook, Eel River, Humboldt Redwoods State Park (11/6/18) Max Forster

Avenue of the Giants

Avenue of the Giants (US 101) was in full color between Fortuna and Ukiah, as north coast color spotter Walt Gabler drove south, yesterday.

Eel River, Shively (11/3/18) Walt Gabler

He found black oak at full peak north of Weott and along the Eel River, though was disappointed with color south of Garberville, finding the Van Duzen river east of Carlotta to be disappointing.

Van Duzen River, Carlotta (11/3/18) Walt Gabler

At his family’s homestead in the backwoods of Humboldt County, God’s rays through the fog of a North Coast sunrise illuminated the life-giving mist that sustains the redwood forest. 

Knack Creek sunrise, Humboldt County (11/3/18) Walt Gabler
  • Avenue of the Giants, Humboldt County (1,516′) – Peak (75-100%) GO NOW!


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Kissed by Fog and Sun

Sycamore, Napa Valley (10/21/18) Darrell Sano

Napa Valley (10/21/18) Darrell Sano

Napa Valley (10/21/18) Darrell Sano

Napa Valley (10/21/18) Darrell Sano

Napa Valley (10/21/18) Darrell Sano

Anderson Valley (10/22/18) Darrell Sano

Some believe that what makes California wines so good is that they are so frequently kissed by fog and sun.

The cool Pacific and hot inland California combine to create a fog bank that hugs the coast, creeping into some valleys and never making it into others, resulting in multitudinous microclimates which explain why the same grape variety can make such different tasting wines a few miles apart.

Darrell Sano saw this on a Sunday morning road trip from Oakland to wine country.

He began in the Napa Valley (20’), gliding along the Silverado Trail. “It was crisp and cool at 45 degrees, but not clear, as the valley was shrouded in fog. The fog provided visual drama with diffused light to focus on outlines and shapes, and even so, the color was evident.”

Side roads perpendicular to Silverado Trail and CA-29, allowed him “to avoid any traffic and enjoy the peaceful morning breaking in complete silence.”

Fall color is just beginning in wine country, but there are patches of vines displaying brilliant red and yellows, but they are generally a minority. He spoke with vineyard workers who said “it’s just beginning now.”

Driving out of the microclimate that is the lower Napa Valley, near Calistoga Darrell emerged into the sun, but as he continued north, the fog returned.

From Napa, he continued on route 128 through Sonoma County’s Anderson Valley. Very little fall color has yet emerged there. Its rolling hills, scribed with vines, were muted “green, red, and yellow from the morning fog which softened contrast and revealed the structure of the terrain. Tree-lined driveways were particularly beautiful, along a boulevard of sycamore to their vanishing point. I started to wish that the sun wouldn’t burn off the fog, it was beautiful and so serene.”

In contrast to Darrell’s journey, a Saturday road trip took me to Amador County’s Shenandoah Valley (1,083’+) where fog rarely kisses its vines, though the sun gives it a big smooch. It is the area’s elevation, not fog, that cools the vines. So, unlike coastal vineyards Pinot Noir doesn’t grow well in the Sierra Foothills, though Zinfandel flourishes.

Similar to the Napa and Anderson Valleys, fall color in the Shenandoah Valley is Patchy. Some vineyards are Past Peak, though most are Just Starting to Patchy. 

Fuller Park, Napa (10/21/18) Justice Faustina


  • Napa Valley (Napa County) – Patchy (10-50%)
  • Anderson Valley (Sonoma County) – Patchy (10-50%)
  • Shenandoah Valley (Sierra Foothills) – Patchy (10-50%)
  • Pleasant Valley (Sierra Foothills) – Patchy (10-50%)

Zinfandel, Wilderotter Vineyard, Plymouth (10/21/18) John Poimiroo


Pinot Noir in the Anderson Valley

Pinot Noir, Anderson Valley (9/28/18) Todd Backman

Pinot Noir is one of those “cool” grapes … not just because it’s a popular wine right now, but because it prefers cooler growing areas.

That’s why it does so well in Oregon’s Willamette Valley and California’s Anderson Valley, near the coast.

Todd Backman stopped at Handley Cellars in Philo (Anderson Valley) yesterday and found pinot noir vines carrying heavy clusters of dark grapes soon to be pressed to make Handley’s “flagship” wine. 

Anderson Valley – Patchy (10-50%)