Final Hope

Today, Philip Reedy visited the Hope Valley one final time. He timed his visit as snow had just fallen and glazed the landscape. Though, the dusting did not suppress the valley’s iridescent beauty. It accented it.

This autumn, the Hope Valley was challenged by suffocating smoke and singed at its edges by the Caldor Fire. It exited the ordeal as a survivor. And in its final moment, the Hope Valley exhibited luster and grace.

Red Lake Creek Cabin, Hope Valley (10/18/21) Philip Reedy
  • Hope Valley (7,300′) – Past Peak, You Missed It.

Drought + Smoke + Cold Snap = Strange

Wylder Hope Valley Resort (10/15/21) Steve Arita

When it comes adding up this strange autumn, consider the sum of drought, smoke and a recent cold snap.

Steve Arita was looking for a way to explain why fall color has been so cattywampus. Following a weekend trip into the Sierra, he said, “I was expecting most areas to be at peak, and while that is the case, it seemed there still are many areas interspersed with lime green with bright colors.”

His conclusion? “This has been a strange year for fall colors.”

Lake Tahoe (10/15/21) Steve Arita

At Lake Tahoe, Steve stayed mostly along the west shore. Good idea. There’s not much on the east side near Marlette Lake, and only occasional bright splashes of color elsewhere around the lake. Martis Creek is Past Peak and the Kokanee salmon aren’t spawning.

Why? Add Drought.

It was announced this past week that the Lake has reached its natural rim (6,223′) and is no longer spilling water into the Truckee River. Tahoe is full when the water level is 6,229′, meaning that at the natural rim, the lake has lost six feet of depth across its surface of 191 square miles. That’s 1,146 square miles of water, a foot deep.

What color is found at Tahoe lacks luster and is seen only along creek drainages, Spring Ave. and the bike path.

Steve continued from Lake Tahoe south along CA-89 through the east end of the Hope Valley (passing beautiful color at the Wylder Resort, now at peak), through across the highway, opposite Wylder, the groves are on their way out and will be gone with the next storm.

As for the drive through Markleeville and over Monitor Pass to US 395, Arita said he doesn’t recall ever seeing so many trees showing bright fall colors through Woodfords Canyon, along Markleeville Creek and the East Fork of the Carson River, but as he crossed Monitor Pass, the aspen were Past Peak.

Most of the Hope Valley’s groves – above Wylder toward Carson Pass (CA-88) are now Past Peak. An exception is the groves behind Red Lake Creek Cabin, which have enough Patchy aspen within them, to sustain the show for another few days. Considering that snow will fall all week, the effect of snow on peak fall color should be beautiful.

The first trees to drop their leaves in the Hope Valley were quaking aspen whose leaves – two weeks before – were then edged with or entirely brown.

Why? Add Smoke.

Intense heat and toxic gasses from September’s Caldor fire damaged many, but not all, aspen leaves in the Hope Valley.

By afternoon, Steve had reached the Twin Lakes, southwest of Bridgeport. If you’ve never driven the Eastern Sierra, you’re probably unaware (as I was the first time I traveled the road), that old west ranch life still survives in California. Hundreds of cattle graze across Bridgeport’s miles-wide valley. To the west, snow-flecked sawtooth peaks overlooking these high plains. Mechanized cattle drives transport the cattle to Bridgeport in springtime; by now, they’ve been chauffeured south to their winter grounds. At Twin Lakes, he found aspen reflecting lime-colored, yellow and orange leaves upon indigo waters, ending his first day on the east side.

June Lake (10/16/21) Steve Arita

Saturday morning began early at Silver Lake where a turn of weather from constant cold to temperate days and cold nights allowed Patchy trees to develop vibrant color within the past week. Still, there were remnants of a freezing rain from last Spring with black spot algae on some. Others were dull and mottled.

Why? Add a cold snap.

Vibrant fall color is developed on clear, sunny days with freezing nights. This past week, it stayed cold day and night, dulling the color on leaves, many of which dropped, leaving leaves that hadn’t yet turned.

Gull Lake (10/16/21) Steve Arita

Along Gull and June Lakes, Steve found yellow intermixed with lime-green leaves. That’s good news, as – conditions permitting – the show will continue to improve as green turns to yellow and yellow turns to orange or red. It was even further along at Silver Lake and along Rush Creek where the colors were a lot brighter and further developed, but still carrying yellow-lime leaves.

However, get there now, as predicted snow – while beautiful right after it drops – can ruin what show remains.

In all, Arita found these forests to be beautiful and visited by crowds at “full throttle.” That adds up to peak color in these locations for a few more days.

  • Lake Tahoe (6,223′) – Patchy (10 – 50%)
  • Hope Valley (7,300′) – Peak to Past Peak, GO NOW!, You Almost Missed It.
  • Twin Lakes (7,000′) – Near Peak (50 – 75%), Go Now.
  • June Lakes Loop (Patchy to Near Peak (10 – 75%), Go Now.

A Weekend of Hope

Red Lake Creek Cabin, Hope Valley (10/12/21) Clayton Peoples

The wind, snow and persistent freezing temperatures that affected areas of the High Sierra this past week somewhat spared the Hope Valley (CA-88), providing one refuge of peak color in the Northern Sierra.

Clayton Peoples found, as reported yesterday, that while the cold snap had dulled color in several places, enough Patchy trees were in the Hope Valley that there’s still plenty of Near Peak and Peak color to to avoid destruction.

High winds did strip many groves of their leaves, but enough remain to continue to put on a bright show, as seen in Clayton’s images.

He suspects, “Hope Valley will still be gorgeous this weekend — but also that all the snow seen on Tuesday will have melted off by then. But there’s only one way for people to find out … GO NOW!”

  • Hope Valley (7,300′) – Peak (75 – 100%) GO NOW!

If you include visiting Lake Tahoe on a trip to the Hope Valley, you’ll be disappointed. South Lake Tahoe is still largely Patchy and no Kokanee are running at Taylor Creek. Give it a week for the trees and until it rains for the salmon to spawn.

A stop by the Taylor Creek Visitor Center, operated by the USDA Forest Service was equally depressing. The facility does not appear to have been maintained since it was opened, seemingly decades ago. It was once a modern, attractive building (no doubt a point of pride for the Forest Service), but is today a deteriorating, embarrassing example of failed government planning, funding and neglect.

Restrooms are locked shut (porta potties are provided instead); black plastic trash bags wrap water fountains that no longer work; once-colorful interpretive signs are so faded as to be unreadable as is the center’s welcome sign. When installed, the sign had a USFS logo and the words “Taylor Creek Visitor Center”, now it’s hard to make out what the remaining letters once said. Yesterday, a steady stream of visitors walked to the shuttered derelict, shrugged, then left bewildered, as dejected forest service workers shuffled past like chastised zombies.

No doubt, someone in the Forest Service will read this, eventually. When they do, rather than repair and reopen the center, someone will decide to throw in the towel. A worker will be sent out to Taylor Creek to padlock the gate to the visitor center parking lot, and elsewhere in government another billion dollars will be spent building a bullet train between two farm towns that don’t want it and won’t use it.

As for U.S. 50, it’s disheartening. The Caldor fire crossed the highway at several points between elevation 5,000′ and Echo Summit (7,382′). The forest leading up to the summit and bit beyond it varies from black sticks, to dead trees with brown needles, to green trees, though no fall color is visible. Delays occur along sections of the highway where it is reduced to one lane. The sign to Sierra at Tahoe has been painted over in Navy blue and season pass holders are being given the option for a refund or to keep their pass and ski this winter (should lifts open) and also the following winter.

I’ve heard from ski writers (I used to be one) that the ski lift’s cables were so stretched by the fire’s heat that they will need to be replaced and considering the supply chain difficulties occurring presently, it will likely be a long time before they can be remade and restrung. Further, though the fire spared the ski area’s day lodge, it wiped out the equipment shed, destroying the area’s fleet of snow grooming cats. However, I’m more optimistic that the can-do executives at Sierra at Tahoe will get their ski area up and running long before the incompetent bureaucrats in the Forest Service reopen the rest rooms at Taylor Creek.

  • Lake Tahoe (6,225′) – Patchy (10 – 50%)
  • Taylor Creek – Kokanee salmon are not yet spawning
  • US 50 (5,000 to 7,382′) – Past Peak, You Missed It.

Pronghorn Rut

Pronghorn Antelope, Sierra Valley (9/20/21) Michael Beatley

Pronghorn antelope are in rut in the Northern Sierra.

Plumas County color spotter Michael Beatley snapped this pronghorn off CA-70 east of Beckwourth near Sugarloaf Mountain where a herd of some 30 antelope play on the range at Sierra Valley, and the skies are not cloudy all day.

Karen Mihaylo of animals.mom.com writes, “Mating season for pronghorn antelopes lasts from September through October. Early cold weather means an early rut. Bucks separate from the other males in August, and begin hanging around the does. Male pronghorns grunt and snort, pushing and fighting other bucks to gain the females’ attention.”


Never Say Die

Emerald Bay, Lake Tahoe (11/11/20) Clayton Peoples

Lake Tahoe received three to four inches over the weekend, but – as Clayton Peoples reports – “the southwest portion, including Emerald Bay, got more because a band of “lake-effect snow.”

Curiosity motivated him to see if the leaves he’d photographed two weeks ago had held during/after the snow. His visit last evening shows they’re still glowing bright red and orange. Yes, nearly Past Peak, but perhaps with a few more days of color to enjoy.

Clayton describes this end of autumn, early start of winter as a “clash of seasons,” with foliage still hanging on and snow on the ground. We call it, beautiful.

  • Emerald Bay, Lake Tahoe (6,225′) – Peak to Past Peak, GO NOW You Almost Missed It.


Michelle and Ron Pontoni’s Sunday morning walk was an exercise in slipping and sliding around South Lake Tahoe.

They set out in an exhilarating search of fall color, that had survived six inches of overnight snow, to find the color beautifully contrasting with snow-blown pines.

Although it never rose above 26 degrees (F) yesterday morning, the snow won’t last long and neither will the fall color. It is past peak at Lake Tahoe.

Still, dazzling patches of orange and red now stand out among its evergreens. You gotta shoot quickly, though, as not only will the color drop soon, as Michelle explains, so have the temperatures and it doesn’t take long for camera batteries to freeze on chilly Lake Tahoe mornings.


A Dusting

Lake Tahoe (11/7/20) Michelle Pontoni

Californians woke up to a dusting of snow at Lake Tahoe and at Bucks Lake in the northern Sierra.

Michelle Pontoni said there was too little snow to make it a walk along the Lam Watah Nature Trail (6,225′) worthwhile. So she stayed snug inside, despite having comfy though frosty seating outside.

Michael Beatley said one to two inches stuck at 4,000′. He found some color remaining at Buck’s Lake and on the Bucks-Oroville Rd.. Some aspen are still showing off, though most are naked. Elsewhere, bigleaf maple and dogwood combine their peak with a dusting on the road from Bucks to Quincy.


Emerald Bay

Emerald Bay, Lake Tahoe (11/3/20) Clayton Peoples

OK, I was wrong. Dead wrong. Lake Tahoe wasn’t past peak. Only where I was, was past peak.

More evidence of my fallibility arrived today with these images taken by Clayton Peoples who writes Emerald Bay was just starting when he reported about Taylor Creek a couple of weeks ago. It now is at Peak.

This is another area of Tahoe that might be beautiful once snow drops on Friday. So, put on your list of must-visits: Lam Watah Nature Trail (Stateline), and if there isn’t a snow closure on CA-89, the Eagle Lake Trail and Emerald Bay overlook. All might have a combination of snow and fall color on Friday or Saturday morning.

  • Emerald Bay, Lake Tahoe (6,500′) – Peak (75-100%) GO NOW!
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Pot o’ Gold at Eagle Lake

Surprise, surprise. Just when you think an area is done, someone sends along two reports in a week to prove you wrong.

I’d given up on Lake Tahoe last week, after I’d been there two weeks in a row and seen it decline, but Michelle and Ron Pontoni are explorers.

On a late afternoon hike yesterday up the Eagle Lake Trail above Emerald Bay, to their surprise, bits of color shone along the steep, rocky trail. The largest patch, Michelle writes, “is just below the Upper Eagle Falls Bridge and in the last bit of late afternoon sun, it glowed brightly.

Eagle Lake Trail (11/2/20) Michelle Pontoni

“The climb to the lake is only a mile, but it took us over an hour as we stopped to admire the last few aspens of fall, as the sun dipped below the high rocky crags.  It got dimmer and dimmer but the color is still worth the hike, with glimpses of Emerald Bay and the eastern Lake Tahoe shore behind us.

“Then, as we topped the last crest and chose the fork to Eagle Lake, a final ray of sun burst through between the western crags to illuminate a brilliant orange Past Peak color patch. Just as we were leaving the lake, the breezes picked up and showered us with the reminder that these leaves will not make it to the weekend.”

If you can get there before Friday, do so. Also visit the Lam Watah Nature Trail in Stateline, for the last of Peak fall color at Lake Tahoe.

Ample parking is found off highway 89 on the Emerald Lake Rd. Currently, there’s no parking fee.

  • Eagle Lake Trail (6,600′) – Peak to Past Peak, GO NOW, You Almost Missed It.
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Citrus Salad

Lam Watah Historic Trail, Stateline, NV (11/1/20) Michelle Pontoni

“It is not too late to see the citrus salad colors we love so much near the southern shore of Lake Tahoe. GO NOW!.” Michelle Pontoni writes.

After this site had written off Lake Tahoe as Past Peak, Michelle send this report. She and Ron spent late Sunday afternoon on bikes, “enjoying some of the final color on the Lam Watah Historic Trail off Kahle Road (Stateline, NV).  We found flaming orange aspen tops with yet a bit of lime and lemon nearer the ground.  Most of the foliage is still hanging on in one of the groves.  This is an easy trail for visitors and families with dogs, too.”

On this recommendation, CaliforniaFallColor.com is declaring the Lam Watah Nature Trail the Bike of the Week.

She warns, however, the next few days are likely the last chance to see such beauty at Tahoe, as “a cold, windy weekend is approaching, with possibly a hint of snow coming Friday evening, so Saturday could be an opportunity to see fall and winter overlap.”

That is an excellent point. Snow on fall color is gorgeous. If you’ve ever hoped to catch such a scene, head to Lake Tahoe to be there Saturday morning.

You’ll find this grove by driving east on US 50 into Nevada from South Lake Tahoe a mile to Kahle Road. Turn left into the parking lot.

Lovin’ Lam Watah, Stateline (11/1/20) Michelle Pontoni

Be there just as the snow storm ends and clouds break to get the best photos of snow and aspen color, then send them to us to share with those who’ll be kicking themselves for having stayed warm and cozy inside. 

  • Lam Watah Historic Trail, Stateline, NV (6,275′) – Peak (75-100%) GO NOW!