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Secret Sedona

Oak Creek Canyon, Sedona, AZ (11/1/21) Mark Harding

A lot of the superlatives said about Sedona, Arizona begin with “S” … secret, spiritual, spicy, sacred, starry and that’s just for “starters.”

So, when color spotter Mark Harding said he’d just returned from there and wondered if we would post them, our reply was, “Send them.”

We’re glad he did.

Oak Creek Canyon, Sedona, AZ (11/1/21) Mark Harding

Oak Creek Canyon, Sedona, AZ (11/1/21) Mark Harding

Oak Creek Canyon, Sedona, AZ (11/1/21) Mark Harding









Sedona isn’t what you imagine when Arizona comes to mind. It’s high desert with pine forests, canyons, red rock, water and wonder.

  • Oak Creek Canyon, Sedona, AZ (4,350′) – Peak to Past Peak, GO NOW, You Almost Missed It.


Colorful Colorado

Colorful Colorado, Owl Creek Pass (10/21) Elliot McGucken

There are 41 entry points to the state of Colorado, each of them is marked with a sign reading, “Welcome to Colorful Colorado.”

The signs were first created in 1950. Then in 1989 the state tourism office and Colorado Department of Transportation held a contest to redesign the sign.

A colorful sign including a Rockies-themed skyline was chosen without the motto, but the public missed the saying. So, the original signs were reinstalled.

Today, as old-fashioned as they may be, the Welcome to Colorful Colorado signs have become a fixture and apt description of what a traveler is about to see. Colorado is colorful, particularly in autumn.

Color spotters Elliot McGucken and Philip Reedy visited Colorado this past month and sent these colorful impressions of their visits.

Red Mountain, SR 135, Gunnison, CO (10/3/21) Philip Reedy
Fishing the East River, Gothic, CO (10/3/21) Philip Reedy

Reedy had always wanted to see Colorado in autumn, so when he finished his visit to the Black Hills, he drove to Gunnison, Colorado and began looking for fall color, bemoaning, “Unfortunately, there is no “coloradofallcolor.com” website to provide guidance, so I did a lot of googling and Crested Butte seemed to be a favorite spot. We were not disappointed.”

A week previously, Steve Arita had missed peak there, but Reedy was there at the right moment with “mountainsides covered with aspens ranging from bare trees to yellow to orange to green. There are various dirt roads leading out of the town and up into the mountains, so we just picked a likely looking one and headed out.”

As for McGucken, his vibrant images tell of the breadth and power of the Rocky Mountains and their beauty when dressed in autumn colors. I couldn’t help not including one of his from Utah, as well.

Cabin, SR 135, Gunnison, CO (10/3/21) Philip Reedy

And Reedy, well he can’t resist photographing a rancher’s cabin. This one’s along the Gunnison River on the road to Crested Butte.

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Boyd Bicycles Boise

Elm, Boise (9/28/21) Ryan Boyd

That’s Ryan Boyd’s son bicycling Boise where elm are lighting up Idaho’s capital city with gorgeous peak autumn color. What could be better than the Boyd boy on a bike in Boise? Not much, actually, cause he rides his bike well, the color is beautiful and alliteration is fun.

Ryan is a regular contributor to California Fall Color, often concentrating on urban forests and the beauty they bring to communities. He asked whether we’d like to see autumn in Idaho, even though it was from Boise instead of one of the state’s great national forests or parks. Sure ‘nough. Bring it on.

Of note, Idaho’s rabbitbrush looks a lot healthier than ours. Sierra rabbitbrush seems to be living through a difficult autumn.

  • Boise (2,730′) – Peak (75 – 100%) GO NOW!

Orange and Black Hills

Spearfish Falls at Dawn, Black Hills, SD (9/27/21) Philip Reedy

South Dakota’s Black Hills are most famous as the home of four American presidents: George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, Theodore Roosevelt and Abraham Lincoln.

They are, of course, the four faces on Mt. Rushmore which is located in the Black Hills. But, if Philip Reedy has any influence, the Black Hills will also be famous for being orange.

Fall colors peak very predictably during the last week of September each year, Reedy wrote when he sent these photos, adding that “The Spearfish Visitors Bureau publishes a weekly color update, but nothing as complete as CaliforniaFallColor.com. They reported the color at 95% of peak on September 28 and I think these pictures will confirm that.

Spearfish Canyon, Black Hills, SD (9/30/21) Philip Reedy

“While most of the best colors are found along the 14-mile drive through Spearfish Canyon from the town of Spearfish in the north to Savoy in the south, great color can be found throughout the area, particularly along the many streams that flow from the hills such as Rapid Creek and Box Elder Creek. Between Savoy and Rapid City there are many beautiful aspen groves lining the pastures.

“There are roads weaving throughout the hills, and sometimes the best views are found by just cruising down a random byway. 

“One of the great things about the area is the lack of tourists in autumn.  There are no large cities close to the Black Hills, and after Labor Day, the throngs heading down I-90 toward Yellowstone have gone back home, leaving the area uncrowded,” Reedy reported.

Phil was there on assignment for American Fly Fishing and his photos of himself fishing attest to the beauty of the scene and his mastery of remotely shot self-portraits in a natural setting.

Nemo General Store Residents (10/1/21) Philip Reedy

At the Nemo General Store on the edge of the Paradise Valley dates back to the 1800s. Californian William Randolph Hearst, Jr once owned land nearby and logged it for his Homestead Mine in the 1870s. The store’s present owner is a cat lover and dozens of them are found lounging everywhere around the property, providing Reedy with an affluence of feline subjects for his fall photography.


Glory, Glory Colorado

Gunsight Bridge, CO (9/21/21) Steve Arita

Autumnal change appears to be a week late, just about everywhere.

Gothic, CO (9/21/21) Steve Arita

Steve Arita spent three days in Crested Butte, Colorado this week and hoped to find Kebler Pass in full Glory. “Unfortunately, that was not the case,” Steve reported.

Uh, really Steve!? Colorado looks about as good as anything we’ve seen so far, this autumn.

Steve wrote that the only significant color to be seen was near the town of Gothic, six miles north of Crested Butte near a town called Gunsight.

Don’t you love names like that? Crested Butte, Gunsight, Gothic.

  • Crested Butte, CO (8,909′) – Patchy (10 – 50%)

The University of Colorado’s original Fight Song was to the tune of the Battle Hymn of the Republic. It went …

Colorado’s Varsity comes a marching on the field,

Colorado’s Varsity comes a marching on the field,

Colorado’s Varsity comes a marching on the field,

Colorado’s Bound to win!

Glory, Glory Colorado,

Glory, Glory Colorado,

Glory, Glory Colorado,

Hurrah to the Silver and Gold!

It takes a CU alumnus to know this or care. Go Buffs!

The Bighorns

The Bighorn Mountains, WY (9/26/21) Philip Reedy

Wyoming’s Bighorn Mountains are sacred land to the Crow people who have lived there for millennia. It’s easy to see why they so loved and worshiped this land.

In autumn, ancient aspen carry heavy loads of red, orange and golden leaves, as captured by Philip Reedy on a recent visit to Wyoming. He photographed these during his route north from Evanston to the Tetons, passing through Bridger-Teton NF and in the Bighorn mountains just west of Buffalo, WY. 

Between Evanston and Jackson, mountainsides were covered with aspen and crimson mountain maple.  Inside Grand Teton National Park, golden cottonwood populated the valley while cadmium yellow aspen clung to the mountainsides.

Snake River, Morning (9/25/21) Philip Reedy
Bison, Grand Teton NP (9/24/21) Philip Reedy

Inyo NF to Reopen

Lake Sabrina, M Fork Bishop Creek (10/7/19) Anirudh Natekar

The USDA Forest Service reports that the Inyo National Forest will reopen on Thurs., Sept. 16. The forest had been scheduled to remain closed until Sept. 18 for public and firefighter safety and to concentrate USFS staff on fighting wildfires.

So, what does this mean for fall color viewing? Considering that Patchy color was reported at Virginia Lakes (9,819′) this past week and that Lake Sabrina is at 9,150′, it’s likely that Patchy color is appearing at the highest locations in Bishop Creek Canyon.

Stage II fire restrictions are still in place on the Inyo, meaning that no campfires are permitted, even in developed recreation sites. Visitors with a valid California Campfire permit may use a portable stove or lantern using gas, jellied petroleum, or pressurized liquid fuel. 

Additionally, wilderness permits will not be issued for areas where closures are in effect. Travelers are cautioned by the USDA Forest Service to know before they go where forests are closed, have un-contained or active fires or unhealthy air quality.

Some Forest Service lands will remain closed under local closure orders, such as areas of the Eldorado National Forest. As previously reported, the Humboldt-Toiyabe National Forest (northern Mono County) remains open.

In Southern California, Los Padres, Angeles, San Bernardino and Cleveland National Forests remain closed until Sept. 22, due to local weather and fire factors and the strain that opening them would place on firefighting resources.

At this point, more than 7,404 wildfires have burned over 2.25 million acres across California. The USDA Forest Service reports that its forests in Northern California are at Preparedness Level 5 and those in Southern California are at PL-4.

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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.


Forest Closures

To better provide public and firefighter safety, due to extreme fire conditions throughout California and strained firefighting resources throughout the country, the USDA Forest Service Pacific Southwest Region is announcing a TEMPORARY CLOSURE of all National Forests in the Region.

This closure will be effective at August 31, 2021 at 11:59 p.m. through September 17, 2021 at 11:59 p.m.

North of Conway Summit, the Humboldt-Toiyabe National Forest is open. Just Starting color (yellow and lime) is seen at the Virginia Lakes in Mono County. Air quality is rated at 38 as of today.


Why Don’t Evergreens Lose Their Leaves?

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Coastal Redwood, El Dorado Hills (9/7/17) John Poimiroo

Actually, they do.  It just doesn’t happen all at once, with few exceptions.

Evergreen trees have both broad leafs and needles. Madrone, magnolia and photinia are examples of broadleaved evergreens, while pine, fir, cedar, spruce, and redwood have needled leaves.

Evergreen needles can last anywhere from a year to 20 years, but eventually they are replaced by new leaves. When that happens, the old needles turn color and drop, but not all together and not as dramatically as deciduous trees (e.g., maple, oak, dogwood, alder, birch).

The reason needles are green is that they are full of chlorophyll which photosynthesizes sunlight into food for the tree. It also reflects green light waves, making the needles look green.

Needles, just like deciduous leaves, contain carotenoid and anthocyanin pigments. You just don’t see them until the green chlorophyll stops being produced. Once that happens, hidden carotenoids (yellow, orange and brown) emerge, as is seen in the above photograph.

Additionally, red, blue and purple Anthocyanins – produced in autumn from the combination of bright light and and excess sugars in the leaf cells – also emerge once the chlorophyll subsides.

Yes, even evergreen leaves change color… eventually.

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Fremont cottonwood and coastal redwood, Davis (9/16/20) Phillip Reedy

Evergreens that drop leaves at one time include the: Conifers Larch, Bald Cyprus and Dawn Redwood.

In snowy regions, evergreen trees are able to carry snow because the waxy coating on needles, along with their narrow shape, allows them to retain water better by keeping it from freezing inside (which would otherwise destroy the leaf).

Needles also prevent snow from weighing down and breaking branches. Finally, needles allow an evergreen tree to sustain the production (though slowed) of chlorophyll through winter. Whereas, broadleaved deciduous trees would be damaged if they kept producing chlorophyll and didn’t drop their leaves.

Evergreen trees do lose their leaves and the leaves do change color. It just isn’t as spectacular. 

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