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What Burned?

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

With 1,179,480 acres consumed by the Caldor and Dixie fires and all national forests closed in California through Sept. 17, you might conclude that lots of fall color was damaged. Yes and no.

El Dorado County’s Caldor fire (southwest of Lake Tahoe) burned through Grizzly Flats, along Mormon Emigrant Trail and toward Lake Tahoe, but it stopped short of the Hope Valley, sparing it. Fire maps indicate it came close to scorching Vermilion Grove (seen above) on the east shore of Caples Lake (Hwy 88), but no on-scene assessment has been received.

In Plumas County (Northern Sierra) the Dixie fire destroyed much of the forest, particularly the trees edging Hwy 89 north to Lake Almanor, along the Indian Valley and it incinerated Greenville.

The prime fall color viewing locations of Spanish Creek and Oakland Camp lie within the Dixie fire’s burn area, though no report has been received as to whether they were scorched or not, as the forest there remains closed. Indian rhubarb are a perennial riparian plant that should recover quickly.

Plumas County color spotter Jeff Luke Titcomb writes encouragingly, “As you travel to Lake Almanor you are subjected to the horrific images of fire but once there it isn’t visible anymore.Lake Almanor will continue to be a hub of tourism in the area, as Chester made it through pretty unscathed.The Eastern parts of Plumas are in pretty good condition considering all that we’ve been through.”

Black oak, CA-89, Crescent Mills (10/27/18) Jeff Luke Titcomb

Plumas County color spotter Michael Beatley reports that scenes like that above are gone. He says it’s, “Heartbreaking and heart wrenching to see so many of my favorite places gone. Rich Bar and the historic graveyard, gone. Indian Falls by the ancient maple tree I shot last year, gone. Indian Valley mountain sides blackened. Blessings are that Bucks Lake, Meadow Valley and Quincy were saved.”

While the Caldor and Dixie fires consumed vast areas of forest including several beautiful areas, numerous prime fall color viewing locations were not singed and there’s lots remaining to be enjoyed at Lake Almanor, one of California’s hidden gems.

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A Dry Spell For Mycophiles

Magpie Mushroom (1/8/21) Gabriel Leete

While most Californians are enjoying this winter’s warm, sunny days, mycophile Gabriel Leete is out wandering the woods in disappointment as he dejectedly walks past the ink caps of Coprinopsis picacea, commonly called the Magpie Mushroom in Anderson. Normally, a wet winter causes all sorts of mushrooms to push up. So far, it’s been “fairly slow.”

Few mushrooms at lower elevations have appeared, and at higher elevations, freezing temperatures have retarded their development.

Redlead Roundhead (1/8/21) Gabriel Leete

In his wanderings, Gabriel found a large colony of Leratiomyces ceres commonly known as the Redlead Roundhead pushing up from shredded bark.

Parasola conopilus (1/8/21) Gabriel Leete

Gabriel sent images of Parasola conopilus (formerly called Psathyrella conopilus) and made the point that they soon will be known as Parasola conopilea.

It seems the mushroom was misidentified as a Psathyrella species, when under the microscope mycologists found it to be a Parasola. Then, an error in Latin agreement got the second half of its name corrected from conopilus to conopilea.

That seems too great an amount of attention and revelation for so common a brown mushroom. Parasola conopilea number from the hundreds to the thousands when they are flourishing. Unfortunately, such scenes are infrequent in this dry winter. 


Honey and Jelly

Honey and Jelly are being found in the Shasta Cascade.

You might consider that statement to be odd for a site that specializes in fall color, but the honey and jelly being described here are fungi. Late rain has caused the late appearances of honey and jelly fungi, and Redding color spotter Gabriel Leete found them at Anderson River Park on a Sunday mushroom hunt.

As December rains arrive, more fungi will appear. Gabriel estimates that “Blewits, Coprinopsis and other ink caps, late fall oyster, Bolbitius, and more will be popping very soon.”

Honey and jelly mushrooms are edible, though because many types of mushrooms look alike, CaliforniaFallColor.com cautions not to eat foraged mushrooms unless a mushroom expert certifies they are absolutely safe to eat, as several types of poisonous mushrooms exist in California.

Clinical toxicologist, Rose Ann Gould Soloway, RN, BSN, MSEd, DABAT emerita advises, “If you think that someone has eaten a wild mushroom, call Poison Control right away at 1-800-222-1222. Poison specialists will tell you exactly what to do.”

In 2018, I wrote, “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” while hunting for mushrooms. 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 mushrooms often do.”

  • Mushrooms, Northern California – Near Peak (50-75%) GO NOW!
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Still Life

White alder, smooth whiteleaf manzanita, Upper Sacramento River, Conant (12/3/20) Philip Reedy

After these images arrived from the Upper Sacramento River, photographed by Philip Reedy, I accused him of transforming himself from a magazine cover photographer to a gallery photographer.

Oregon ash, Upper Sacramento River, Conant (12/3/20) Philip Reedy

Phil was out on one of his many trips scouting locations and photographing possible covers for fly fishing magazines.

White alder, Upper Sacramento River, Conant (12/3/20) Philip Reedy

Yet, he spent a few moments away from the river to notice these images of autumn waning.

Phil wrote, “I started at Sims Flat for the nice view of Mt Shasta, then on the Castella so see what remained of the colors along the river.  From there I hit Conant and there were a lot of gorgeous leaves along the railroad tracks.  The leaves were all on the ground at the Castle Crags picnic area, but they were fringed with frost and quite lovely.  

“Scott Embrey and I made the drive down to Ash Camp just below the dam on Lake McCloud.  I went mainly went to work on fly fishing pictures, but there were bright orange leaves on the ground everywhere.  This looks like it could be excellent in October, next year.”

The area is definitely past peak. Though, as is obvious from Phil’s photographs, even after the forest has dropped nearly all its leaves, there is still life to be found.

For those who must know, the uppermost photograph was taken by a Nikon D850, 1/40 sec at f16, ISO 200, 24-70mm f2.8 lens at 50mm.

  • Upper Sacramento River – Past Peak, You Missed It.
  • McCloud River – Past Peak, You Missed It.

All The Leaves Are Brown

Mule deer (11/29/20) Robert Kermen

Even a four-point buck can’t find fall color to use as cover in the Shasta Cascade. As, to quote a song I heard somewhere, “All the leaves are brown.”

Robert Kermen headed north for Thanksgiving Day, sending back these images of the vestiges of fall color in northeast California.

  • Shasta Cascade – Past Peak, You Missed It.

Warp Speed Toward Winter

Midway Rd, Durham (11/22/20) Robert Kermen

As Thanksgiving Day approaches, it feels – at times – that we’re heading at warp speed toward winter. Fortunately, my day is filled with reminders that autumn is still here.

Robert Kermen sends several from his home near Chico where fall leaves have not yet been replaced by holiday lights. And, Blanca Walker adds a lane from Bidwell Park that rivals any city street’s holiday decor.

  • Chico (197′) – Peak (75-100%) GO NOW!

Salvation Along The Trinity

Trinity River, CA-299 (11/17/20) Gabriel Leete

Just when all hope of seeing fall color appeared to have washed away, following this week’s rain, Shasta Cascade color spotter Gabriel Leete found salvation along the Trinity River.

He was driving on State Route 299, which runs from Redding to the coast, when storm clouds lifted to reveal vibrant fall color amidst wispy tendrels of moisture. Then a brilliant sunset closed the day as he crossed Oregon Mountain Summit (2,910′).

Trinity River, CA-299 (11/17/20) Gabriel Leete
Sunset, Oregon Mountain, CA-299 (11/17/20) Gabriel Leete
  • Trinity River, Salyer (620′) – Peak to Past Peak, GO NOW, You almost missed it.

A Picnic of Color

California black oak, Gregory Creek Campground, Shasta Trinity National Forest (11/12/20) Shyann Shackleford

Weekend rain probably left these California black oak (Quercus kellogii) alone to peak among the picnic tables at the Gregory Creek Campground in Shasta Trinity National Forest.

Kevin Turner reports the oak there are framing the campground with a mix of still-green to past peak color.

  • Gregory Creek Campground, Shasta Trinity National Forest (1,100′) – Peak to Past Peak, GO NOW, You Almost Missed It.

Past Peak Beauty

Even when a tree or shrub is past peak, there’s beauty to be appreciated.

With the onset of winter, Lassen Volcanic National Park Guide Shanda Ochs closed up the Loomis Museum near Manzanita Lake and relocated to her winter station in the Kohm-Yah-Mah-Nee Visitor Center at the southwest entrance to the national park.

On arrival, she found Past Peak color adding reddish contrast to the saffron-stained Sulphur Works and splashed across rocky slopes leading toward Mt. Conrad.

The ruddy branches of mountain alder (Alnus incana ssp. tenuifolia) and rusty-brown leaves of mountain mule ears (Wyethia mollis) and arrow leaved balsam root (Balsamorhiza sagittata) brighten scenes, just waiting to be covered with snow, that Shanda says will arrive today.

The plants she noticed will remain dormant through winter, blanketed with white as snowshoers and cross country skiers explore the park and Shanda counts the days until the snow melts and alder are again covered in purple blooms and mule ear and balsam root decorate the mountainsides with yellow blossoms.

Only ten days earlier, fall color peaked at Manzanita Lake, as Shanda winterized the museum. There, black cottonwood were reflecting their gold upon the lake and a bald eagle overlooked the iridescent scene.

Today, Manzanita Lake is past peak and the eagle has it to itself.

  • Lassen Volcanic National Park (7,000′) – Past Peak, You Missed It.


How Big is Big?

Bigleaf maple, Castle Crags (11/10/20) Philip Reedy

California, Alaska and Texas had an ongoing dispute about which was the largest. California claimed the most people, Alaska the most territory and Texas, the biggest egos. Texas won.

Well, when it comes to trees, California wins. Not only does it have the biggest trees (Most massive – Sequoiadendron gigantea and tallest – Sequoia sempervirens), but we also have the biggest maple leaves.

On a trip up I-5 today, Philip Reedy headed to Sims Bridge to get shots of fishing on the Upper Sacramento River with snow-capped Mt. Shasta in the background. On the way, he stopped at Castle Crags picnic area where “it was raining bigleaf maple leaves.”

He described them as big as dinner plates. To prove it, he took this picture. However, when he got home, Phil discovered he was wrong.

12″ bigleaf maple leaf, Castle Crags (11/10/20) Philip Reedy

Bigleaf maple leaves are bigger than dinner plates. Twelve inches to be exact. His dinner plates measure eleven inches.

Reedy’s first stop this morning was Castella, which he describes as, “best photographed in the early morning.  The freezing temps over the weekend had been hard on the Indian Rhubarb, but they still provided some color, and thee were beautiful red, orange, and yellow leaves in the background across the river.  Light clouds above Castle Crags made for excellent photo opportunities as well.

Phil continued to Castle Crags where he found the bigleaf maple shower. “There is a spring at the picnic area, so perhaps there is something in the water.  I may have to try some,” he considered, though I’ll warn him not to drink too much. He’s about the right height, right now.

Mt Shasta (11/10/20) Philip Reedy

After framing Mt Shasta with orange leaves at the Mt. Shasta Resort’s golf course, he headed back down to Conant to an area “where the ground was totally covered in maple leaves, with nice views of Castle Crags in the distance.” He advises there’s color, but it’s disappearing fast.  

Fly fishing, Upper Sacramento River, Conant (11/10/20) Philip Reedy

At Sims, he worked on fly fishing photos from the bridge, with his subject positioning himself to fish, “just as there was a break in the clouds.”

Fly fishing, Upper Sacramento River, Sims Bridge (11/10/20) Philip Reedy

He was enthusiastic about getting the casting shot he’d envisioned last week, and found some unexpected scenes that made for one last set of fall color pictures from the area. 

Footbridge, Upper Sacramento River (11/10/20) Philip Reedy

Phil notes that “the bigleaf maple are shedding leaves rapidly and the Indian Rhubarb are dying back from freezing temps. All that’s left are the black oaks from Dunsmuir to Yreka that still look great,” even though their leaves are no where as big as dinner plates.

  • Castle Crags (1,800′) – Peak to Past Peak, GO NOW You Almost Missed It.
  • Conant (1,890′) – Peak to Past Peak, GO NOW You Almost Missed It.
  • Castella (1,900′) – Peak to Past Peak, GO NOW You Almost Missed It.
  • Mossbrae Falls (2,529′) – Peak to Past Peak, GO NOW You Almost Missed It.
  • Dunsmuir (2,290′) – Peak to Past Peak, GO NOW You Almost Missed It.