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Peak on the Wing

White pelicans, Lake Hemet (11/18/18) Alena Nicholas

Sometimes you don’t need fall color to find Peak.

Alena Nicholas found it Sunday at Lake Hemet in the San Jacinto Mountains, south of Idyllwild.

“Great cloud formations and active wildlife made up for “peak color,” she wrote. “As usual, there where plenty of guests fishing and camping at Lake Hemet,” and, as seen in these photos, several of them flew in for the weekend. (click to enlarge photos)

Bald eagle, Lake Hemet (11/18/18) Alena Nicholas

A photogenic flock of visiting white pelicans and resident pair of bald eagles have become local celebrities.

Lake Hemet’s human visitors rent 12′ motorboats, 22′ pontoon boats and kayaks at the marina or launch their own craft, to get closer to the birds. The pontoon boats are the most stable platform for capturing wildlife photography and the have the room to allow use of a tripod, which improves image sharpness.

The best way to approach is slowly and not closer than the point at which the birds notice or indicate concern about your presence. Otherwise, you’ll interrupt their natural behaviors and they will fly to another less-busy location. Too much of that and they’ll find another lake.

These wild birds perceive humans as a threat. So, a telephoto lens is needed to get closeup photographs.

Lake Hemet (11/18/18) Alena Nicholas

Dramatic cloud formations made colorful reflections on the lake. Along the shore, spots of Past Peak color could be seen. Nicholas estimates the remaining color should last through the Thanksgiving Day weekend, providing one more location to celebrate Orange Friday (the day following Thanksgiving Day to photograph fall color). 

  • Idlyllwild (5,413′) – Past Peak, YOU MISSED IT.
  • Lake Hemet (4,340′) – Peak to Past Peak, YOU ALMOST MISSED IT.
Black oak, Idyllwild (11/18/18) Alena Nicholas
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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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Sespe Success Story

The Sespe Wilderness covers a huge area (291,700-acres) in the eastern Topatopa Mountains and southern Sierra Pelona within Los Padres National Forest in Southern California’s Ventura County.

The terrain is mostly chapparal with oak woodland and riparian habitats along Sespe Creek. Predominant fall color plants include landmark Frémont cottonwood, rubber rabbitbrush, willow and other shrubs.

Most importantly, the Sespe Wilderness, established by President George Bush in 1992, expanded wilderness areas needed to protect the California Condor which in 1987 had become extinct in the wild.

Since then, through extensive preservation efforts and the establishment of protective areas like the Sespe Wilderness, California’s condor population has risen to 100 and now numbers 446 worldwide, including 276 in the wild.

In 2015, more condors were born in the wild than died, evidence that the condors are recovering from the threat of extinction, though the specie is still listed as critically endangered by the International Union for Conservation of Nature.

Though the condors are on the wing back to recovery, color spotter Lance Pifer didn’t mention seeing any during his weekend hike along Piedras Blanca Trail into the Sespe Wilderness.

He did, however, return with photographs of Near Peak cottonwood and brush along Sespe Creek. The trail is a moderately hiked 2.3 out and back trail, rated as good for all levels. Dogs on leash are permitted. 

  • Piedras Blanca Trail, Sespe Wilderness (6,000′) – Near Peak (50-75%) GO NOW!
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Frost on the Pumpkin at Jenks Lake and Oak Glen

Jenks Lake, San Bernardino Mountains (10/7/18) Trent Vierra

Frost is beginning to appear on the pumpkins and snow on Southern California peaks, color spotter Trent Vierra reports.

With daytime temperatures in the 50s, Trent was in an autumn mood when he traveled out to Jenks Lake. There, the black oaks were a mix of “different shades of orange and russet” reflected in the still waters of the lake. Even the willows along the shore “had a little color to them” and “big leaf maples … were speckled with bright yellow leaves.”

But, the capper was a dusting of snow on the mountain tops behind Jenks Lake and cold, crisp air which made the scene feel all the more autumn-like.

At Oak Glen, autumn is Just Starting with sycamore, oak, and cottonwood beginning to show some yellow on them. 

  • Jenks Lake (6,739′) – Patchy (10-50%)
  • Oak Glen (4,734′) – Just Starting (0-10%)
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Mulholland Miracle

California sycamore, Mulholland Highway, Santa Monica Mountains (10/6/18) Peter Asco

California sycamore, Mulholland Highway, Santa Monica Mountains (10/6/18) Peter Asco

California sycamore, Mulholland Highway, Santa Monica Mountains (10/6/18) Peter Asco

“Following the black walnut’s fall wake up call, come the majestic sycamore … showcasing colors rarely seen in So Cal native flora,” Peter Asco reported.

As Peter scouted Mulholland Highway, in Santa Monica Mountains National Recreation Area, on a “perfect, partially cloudy day” this past weekend, he “came upon a scenery alien to our landscape, a grove of imposing 100 foot high sycamore.”

They were, “… no longer displaying their usual drab mud-brown seasonal shift, but dressed instead in orange, yellow, green, and red, definitely a miracle!”

“The native California sycamore (Platanus racemosais a true beauty at maturity.

Along the coast the gnarled, twisted, flaking trunks of ancient California sycamore are often distorted into Seussian shapes. I like to think they were what inspired Southern California’s Dr. Seuss to draw trees that way. Certainly, they are one of the most sculpturally fascinating trees in a state full of them.

Not all California sycamore bend and twist in this way, though all are beautiful and Peter scores a First Report for his photographs of Near Peak California sycamore along the Mulholland Highway.

Will miracles never cease. 

Mulholland Highway, Santa Monica Mountains NRA, Malibu – Near Peak (50-75%) GO NOW!

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Aspen Grove Trail Recovers

Fish Creek, Aspen Grove Trail, Sand to Snow Nat’l Monument (10/5/18) Alena Nicholas

Aspen Grove Trail, Sand to Snow Nat’l Monument (10/5/18) Alena Nicholas

Aspen Grove Trail, Sand to Snow Nat’l Monument (10/5/18) Alena Nicholas

Fish Creek, Aspen Grove Trail, Sand to Snow Nat’l Monument (10/5/18) Alena Nicholas

Aspen Grove Trail, Sand to Snow Nat’l Monument (10/5/18) Alena Nicholas

Aspen Grove Trail, Sand to Snow Nat’l Monument (10/5/18) Alena Nicholas

Fish Creek, Aspen Grove Trail, Sand to Snow Nat’l Monument (10/5/18) Alena Nicholas

Fish Creek, Aspen Grove Trail, Sand to Snow Nat’l Monument (10/5/18) Alena Nicholas

Steve Alarid’s prediction, stated three years ago,  that “Aspen are going to dominate this area for the next 50 years,” appears to be happening along Big Bear’s famous Aspen Grove Trail in the San Gorgonio Wilderness.

The USDA Forest Service representative was commenting following the 2015 Summer’s Lake Fire that incinerated parts of San Bernardino National Forest. Coniferous trees had then been turned into leaning, blackend staffs and calf-deep ash, but unseen beneath the gray surface aspen survived.

Scott Eliason, Mountaintop Ranger District Botanist said, “as would be expected of aspen, which are known to recover well following fire,” those in this grove, which became part of the Sand to Snow National Monument designated by President Obama in 2016, “re-sprouted vigorously and have grown rapidly since the fire.”

“Aspen don’t do well in shade,” Eliason continued, “So the grove is actually in better shape now than before the fire when there were a few large white fir and other conifers shading parts of the grove.”

San Bernardino Mountains color spotter Alena Nicholas hiked to the grove on Friday, reporting that densely packed young aspen have pushed up in a reinvigorated stand along a 300-foot section of Fish Creek. Living aspen are now up to ten feet tall and as short as three feet.

Nicholas said the bare, blackened trunks of cremated conifers and the ghostly white skeletons of aspen provide a gothic visage and a surrealistic contrast to the vibrant green, lime, yellow and orange aspen.

Through this scene, the fresh waters of Fish Creek spill and twist, feeding shoreline grasses and willows that boast peak golden color. Alena described it as “uniquely beautiful … with old and new blending as one.”

Presently, Aspen Grove Trail can be reached only by hikers, as hazardous tree removal continues along the Forest Road.

To get to the grove, exit CA-38 at Coon Creek Campground onto Forest Road 1N02. Continue on 1N02 to Heart Bar Campground. Near there, the Forest Road is gated and the only way to continue beyond the gate is to hike 1.4 miles uphill.

A free permit is required for all wilderness trails, and can be obtained at the Barton Flats Ranger Station on Hwy 38 six miles west from the Heart Bar Campground.

Zach Behrens, spokesperson for the USDA Forest Service, urged caution when hiking to the grove along the Forest Road. “Hikers must do so at their own risk and be watchful of logging and vehicles along the road,” he warned.

Parking for about six cars is available near the gate; the same number will be available near the grove, once the road is reopened.

No date for reopening of Forest Road 1N02 to the Aspen Grove Trail has been announced, though it will not happen until after the aspen are Past Peak, this autumn.

Presently, the grove varies from Patchy to Near Peak, depending on location. It will Peak within the coming two weeks.

Nicholas said there was plenty of color to be seen yesterday, though “a few of the trees along the creek have started to drop their leaves” due to recent winds. Black oak not destroyed by the fire are also beginning to show orange color.

If Steve Alarid’s prediction continues to hold, we’ve got another 47 years to see aspen as the dominant tree in this part of San Bernardino National Forest. 

Aspen Grove Trail, Sand to Snow National Monument, Big Bear (7,150′) – Patchy to Near Peak (10-75%) GO NOW!
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Parade of Roses and Autumn

Tournament of Roses, Pasadena (1/1/18) Frank McDonough

Tournament of Roses, Pasadena (1/1/18) Frank McDonough

Each New Year’s Day, the world marvels at the amazing floral floats made for the Tournament of Roses in Pasadena.

What often isn’t seen in the worldwide coverage of the parade is the lingering fall color to be seen along the streets of Pasadena.

Los Angeles County color spotter Frank McDonough captured some of it and shares it with us.

Pasadena – Peak to Past Peak – You Almost Missed It.

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Three Season Peak

Hahamonga Watershed Park, Pasadena (12/21/17) Naresh Satyan

It’s now official. California’s fall color has now appeared in three seasons in 2017: summer, autumn and winter.

Color spotter Naresh Satyan did not let the first day of winter deter him from sending this shot of peak color seen this morning among willows in Pasadena’s Hahamongna Watershed Park in Pasadena, where river bed is still dressed in various stages of fall, er, um, well winter color.

He reports, “Unfortunately wind has been stripping leaves fairly quickly, but it still looks like Fall down here!”

Pasadena – Peak to Past Peak – You Almost Missed It.

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Condor Country – Los Padres Nat’l Forest

Piru Creek Crossing, Los Padres National Forest (10/21/17) Naresh Satyan

Black oak, Los Padres National Forest (10/21/17) Naresh Satyan

Black oak are about to peak in the Los Padres National Forest (north of the San Fernando Valley in Ventura County), Naresh Satyan reports.

His party spent a few days hiking Alamo Mountain (Gold Hill Rd. southwest of Gorman, off I-5, via Hungry Valley SVRA) to find blooming rabbitbrush painting lower elevations of the SVRA.

Naresh wrote that continuing along Gold Hill Rd., “a nice patch of color is seen at the Piru creek crossing. Higher up, between 5000′ and 7000′, black oaks are at peak amidst a mixed-pine forest.”

Now, that’s the quick guide. However, Naresh wrote that, for the most part, “one has to go looking for color,” as the black oaks are not seen in all locations.

Piru Creek, Los Padres National Forest (10/21/17) Naresh Satyan

However, he did see rattlesnakes, condors (the area borders the Sespe Condor Sanctuary – a 53,000-acre wildlife refuge in the Topatopa Mountains, in northeastern Ventura County), peregrine falcons, lots of hawks, quail, and smaller birds.

Unseen, but evident from their scat and tracks were “deer, bear, and mountain lions.” Naresh concluded they were likely hidden from view due to it being hunting season.

A word of caution: When fall color spotting in areas where hunting is common, avoid wearing camouflage clothing. Instead, a blaze orange item or bright clothing is advised (humans see it, but hunted animals do not).

Alamo Mountain (7,380′), Los Padres National Forest – Near Peak (50-75%) GO NOW!

Piru Creek, Los Padres National Forest (10/21/17) Naresh Satyan

Black oak, Los Padres National Forest (10/21/17) Naresh Satyan

Black oak, mixed pine forest, Los Padres National Forest (10/23/17) Naresh Satyan

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Rim of the World: Visit the Lakes, Trails

Grass Valley Lake (10/21/17) Alena Nicholas

Alena Nicholas spent Saturday exploring the lakes and trails that spur off from the Rim of the World Scenic Byway in the San Bernardino Mountains.

Lake Arrowhead (10/21/17) Alena Nicholas

Lake Gregory 10/21/17) Alena Nicholas

Black oak at Lake Arrowhead, Grass Valley Lake, Lake Gregory and nearby areas are at full peak speckling the forest with bold splashes of orange.

The San Bernardino range’s bigleaf maple, dogwood and aspen are now past peak, though observant spotters can find “color in pockets from Lake Arrowhead down to Crestline.”

Exotic maples, sycamore and liquidambar are also providing bright color in planted neighborhoods.

Big Bear Lake has peak color among its oaks, as well. Though, the aspen and dogwood are past peak. Here are some upcoming events at Big Bear:

  • Oct. 28 – Spartan Race
  • Nov. 3 & 4 – Big Bear Comedy Festival

Elsewhere in Southern California, Ryan Lumb reported that he had anticipated seeing Peak color on Mt. San Gorgonio (11,503′), but was disappointed to find it mostly Past Peak. And, Walnut color spotter Del Hossain had a frustrating trip to the Eastern Sierra, visiting locations that had already been reported here as being Past Peak.

Advice to readers: check this site the week before you travel to see reports from places you’ll be visiting.  If the latest report for the location is peak color, by the time you travel it may be past peak. Peak color lasts only from a week to a few minutes at any given location, depending upon conditions (wind, rain, snow, overcast).

Always look at the date the photograph was taken. As, what you are seeing happened often days before. What you might see now or in a few more days will be very different than what’s shown in any photo. So, get there as fast as you can whenever we report “GO NOW!”

If there’s no report from the location you plan to visit, check locations at similar elevations near where you plan to visit. As, it’s likely the color at that latitude and elevation will similar.

Finally, if you don’t like what you’re seeing at a given location (because it’s almost Past Peak), then don’t go there. Instead, consider traveling somewhere else that’s shown nearing peak or having just peaked, as it will provide the best viewing experience.

We are grateful to Ryan and Del for their reports, as they will surely help others avoid missing the best color.

This is likely the last week of great color above 3,000′ in Southern California, as reports are now descending to locations in the valleys and basins of the southland.

Rim of the World, San Bernardino Mountains (5,174′) – Peak (75-100%) – GO NOW!

Grass Valley Lake (10/21/17) Alena Nicholas

Grass Valley Lake (10/21/17) Alena Nicholas

Grass Valley Lake (10/21/17) Alena Nicholas

Lake Arrowhead 10/21/17) Alena Nicholas

Lake Arrowhead 10/21/17) Alena Nicholas

Lake Arrowhead 10/21/17) Alena Nicholas

Lake Gregory 10/21/17) Alena Nicholas

Lake Gregory 10/21/17) Alena Nicholas

Lake Gregory 10/21/17) Alena Nicholas