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Special Report: Land of 10,000 Lakes

Oberg Mountain Loop, Minnesota (9/26/18) Nick King

Oberg Mountain Loop, Minnesota (9/26/18) Nick King

Oberg Mountain Loop, Minnesota (9/26/18) Nick King

Oberg Mountain Loop, Minnesota (9/26/18) Nick King

Gooseberry Falls State Park, Minnesota (9/26/18) Nick King

Tettegouche State Park, Minnesota (9/26/18) Nick King

Oberg Mountain Loop, Minnesota (9/26/18) Nick King

Minnesota follows Alaska as the second northernmost state. It is so far north, that it’s motto is Star of the North, though most people think of it as the land of 10,000 lakes.

When Fresno color spotter Nick King, a reporter at Fox 26 KMPH, wrote saying he’d been hiking in Minnesota last week, I just had to ask, “Did you get any photographs of fall color?”

Nick’s photos establish that the land of 10,000 lakes does not disappoint when it comes to autumn color. A mix of deciduous maple (sugar, red), red twig dogwood, witch hazel, birch, poplar and smoke tree grow among coniferous pine and spruce in the state’s two main forests, the Laurentian mixed forest and Eastern broadleaf forest.

This color now carpets the undulating hills of the Sawtooth Mountains (north shore of Lake Superior) and Misquah Hills (northeast Minnesota), with a Peak blend of evergreens with red, orange, yellow and russet.

Nick wrote that he found the Oberg Mountain Loop trail to be truly spectacular. True to his training as a TV newsman, he wished he’d had a drone with him. Oberg Mountain was an easy three-mile hike on the north shore of Lake Superior, with about 500 feet of elevation gain.

This past week, he described, the treetops “started to look like lollipops, and the further inland from Lake Superior, the better. Another hiker told us that she was there just two days earlier, on Monday, and everything was basically green.”

At Gooseberry Falls State Park, also along the north shore, only a few trees were showing any color change. And, at Shovel Point at Tettegouche State Park, “the color really hadn’t made it’s way to the lake yet, but there was some signs of yellow.” He noted that as a first time visitor to Minnesota, he was impressed at how much the cliff side of the lake looked like the Northern California or Oregon coast.

Minnesota’s mountains only reach elevations of 2,266′. So, though hiking there is not likely to make you breathless, the autumn color certainly will. 

Minnesota (2,266′) – Near Peak (50-75%) GO NOW!











Note: CaliforniaFallColor.com does not make it a practice to report on areas outside California, though we have occasionally published reports from New York, Idaho, Arizona, China, and – now – Minnesota. If in your travels, you capture beautiful scenes as Nick King did, here, please send them to editor@californiafallcolor.com. As, we enjoy seeing autumn beauty everywhere.


Finding the Extraordinary

Rice winnowing, Tambo (11/22/17) Robert Kermen

Searching for fall color reveals aspects of life in California that are unexpected and extraordinary, such as this scene captured by Robert Kermen. You might expect to see winnowing by hand in Southeast Asia, but instead it happens each autumn in Tambo, near Marysville.

Kermen was traveling from Grass Valley toward Marysville on CA-20 when he detoured onto Mathews Lane to photograph raptors perched near wetlands. Nearby, at a rice milling plant, rice whose hulls were too obstinate to be winnowed is dumped into a pile. Before rains can ruin the un-winnowed rice, industrious scavengers visit the location and sift the pile for gleanings.

Until recently, Robert had never been able to get a photo of that happening, though on this occasion, he got his shot.

The search for California Fall Color is not just about landscape photography or appreciating trees. It is about finding golden jewels throughout the golden state.

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A Taste of Oak Glen

Mule deer in an apple orchard, Oak Glen (11/19/17) Alena Nicholas

Los Rios Rancho (11/19/17) Alena Nicholas

One of California’s great autumn traditions is driving to Oak Glen (San Bernardino County), Apple Hill (El Dorado County) or Julian (San Diego County) for a taste of the harvest.

Of course, no trip to these apple-growing areas is complete without buying an apple pie, apple strudel, apple dumpling, candied apple, apple cider or some other delicious apple delicacy.

Legendary Oak Glen bakers, Theresa Law of Law’s Oak Glen Coffee Shop and Steve Gillespie of Los Rios Rancho are famous for their apple pies. The following recipe incorporates the best of both.

Since food is so important to Thanksgiving Week, we provide the recipe should you want to bring a taste of California Fall Color to your Thanksgiving Day dinner. Why, even the mule deer are paying attention.

Of course, as color spotter Alena Nicholas suggests, there’s still time to get to Oak Glen, Apple Hill or Julian, should you want to buy a pie straight out of the oven and bring home the sweet smell of autumn.

Indian Corn, Oak Glen (11/19/17) Alena Nicholas

Famous Oak Glen Apple Pie


  • 9 cups peeled, cored, and thinly sliced apples such as Idared, Jonagold, Newtown Pippin, or Stayman Winesap (about 2 1/2 lb. total) Adjust sugar and lemon juice according to the sweetness of the apples you use.
  • 1/2 to 3/4 cup granulated sugar
  • 4-1/2 tablespoons cornstarch
  • 1 to 2 tablespoons lemon juice
  • 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground nutmeg
  • Pastry for a double-crust 9-inch pie
  • 1-1/3 cups apple juice
  • 1 cinnamon stick (3 in.)
  • 1 strip orange peel (1/2 by 4 in., orange part only)
  • 3/4 cup firmly packed brown sugar
  • Vanilla ice cream (optional)
  1. Mix apple slices with 1/2 cup granulated sugar, 3 tablespoons cornstarch, 1 tablespoon lemon juice, and ground cinnamon and nutmeg. Taste and, if desired, add more granulated sugar and lemon juice
  2. On a lightly floured board, roll half the pastry into a round 1/8 inch thick. Line a 9-inch pie pan with pastry. Fill with apple mixture.
  3. On a lightly floured board, roll remaining pastry into a 1/8-inch-thick round and lay over apple mixture. Fold edges of top pastry over edges of the bottom one and crimp to seal together. Cut decorative slits in top pastry and sprinkle with about 1 tablespoon granulated sugar.
  4. Bake on the lowest rack in a 375° oven until juices bubble in center of pie, 1 to 1 1/4 hours. If pastry edges brown before pie is done, drape affected areas with foil. Cool pie on a rack at least 2 hours.
  5. Meanwhile, in a 1 1/2- to 2-quart pan, combine apple juice, cinnamon stick, and orange peel. Cover and simmer over low heat for 15 minutes. Stir in brown sugar until it dissolves. Mix remaining 1 1/2 tablespoons cornstarch smoothly with 3 tablespoons water; stir into juice mixture over high heat until sauce boils. Discard cinnamon stick and orange peel.
  6. Cut warm or cool pie into wedges; top each portion with vanilla ice cream and warm or cool cinnamon sauce.

Oak Glen (11/19/17) Alena Nicholas

Oak Glen (11/19/17) Alena Nicholas

Oak Glen (11/19/17) Alena Nicholas

Oak Glen (11/19/17) Alena Nicholas

Oak Glen (11/19/17) Alena Nicholas

Oak Glen (11/19/17) Alena Nicholas

Nutritional Information Per Serving:

  • Calories: 476
  • Calories from fat: 28%
  • Protein: 3.2g
  • Fat: 15g
  • Saturated fat: 3.8g
  • Carbohydrate: 84g
  • Fiber: 3.2g
  • Sodium: 244mg

Why Don’t Evergreen Trees Lose Leaves and Change Color?

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

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

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

Evergreen trees tend to carry needles in snowy regions. A waxy coating on needles along with their narrow shape, allows them to hold water better, keeps water from freezing inside the needle (which would otherwise destroy the leaf), prevents snow from weighing down and breaking evergreen branches, and sustains 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.


Why Do Trees Lose Their Leaves?

Snowcreek (11/2/15) Alicia Vennos

It’s survival not just of the fittest, but of the wisest.

Deciduous trees drop their leaves in order to survive.  As days grow shorter and colder, deciduous trees shut down veins and capillaries (that carry water and nutrients) with a barrier of cells that form at the leaf’s stem.

Called “abscission” cells, the barrier prevents the leaf from being nourished. Eventually, like scissors, the abscission cells close the connection between leaf and branch and the leaf falls.

Had the leaves remained on branches, the leaves would have continued to drink and, once temperatures drop to freezing, the water in the tree’s veins would freeze, killing the tree.

Further, with leaves fallen, bare branches are able to carry what little snow collects on them, protecting them from being broken under the weight of the snow. So, by cutting off their food supply (leaves), deciduous trees survive winter.

The fallen leaves continue to benefit the tree through winter, spring and summer by creating a humus on the forest floor that insulates roots from winter cold and summer heat, collects dew and rainfall, and decomposes to enrich the soil and nurture life.

It’s a cycle of survival, planned wisely.

Why Do Leaves Change Color?

Chlorophyll Molecule (Wikipedia)

Leaves on deciduous trees change color in autumn from green to various hues of lime, yellow, gold, orange, red and brown because of a combination of shorter days and colder temperatures.

Throughout spring and summer, green chlorophyll (which allows trees to absorb sunlight and produce nutrients) is made and replaced constantly. However, as days grow shorter, “cells near the juncture of the leaf and stem divide rapidly but do not expand,” reports Accuweather.com, “This action of the cells form a layer called the abscission layer. The abscission layer then blocks the transportation of materials from the leaf to the branch and from the roots to the leaves. As Chlorophyll is blocked from the leaves, it disappears completely from them.”

That’s when vivid yellow xanthophylls, orange carotenoids and red and purple anthocyanins emerge.

Orange is found in leaves with lots of beta-carotene, a compound that absorbs blue and green light and reflects yellow and red light, giving the leaves their orange color.

Yellow comes from Xanthophylls and Flavonols that reflect yellow light. Xanthophylls are compounds and Flavonols are proteins.  They’re what give egg yolks their color.

Though always present in the leaves, Carotenoids and Xanthophylls are not visible until Chlorophyll production slows.

Red comes from the Anthocyanin compound. It protects the leaf in autumn, prolonging its life. Anthocyanins are pigments manufactured from the sugars trapped in the leaf, giving term to the expression that the leaves are sugaring up.

The best fall color occurs when days are warm and nights are clear and cold. California’s cloudless skies and extreme range of elevations (sea level to 14,000′) provide ideal conditions for the development of consistently vivid fall color, as seen in these reports.

Solar Eclipse – Leaves As Pinhole Lenses

The sun’s rays passed through blue oak leaves today to cast crescent images of the solar eclipse.

Today’s solar eclipse was seen by millions across America. Most looked up while wearing protective solar eclipse glasses, though many others created pinhole cameras to watch the moon block out all or part of the sun.

Another way to see the eclipse was to stand beneath trees and look down. Light passing through small openings between leaves similarly cast a crescent reflection of the sun on the ground, as seen in these photos.

Solar eclipse as sunlight passes through tree leaves.

Acorns and leaves have been falling as autumn approaches.



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New Year Surprise

Cottonwood, Whitney Portal Rd, Lone Pine (12/23/16) Clayton Peoples

My New Year resolution has been fulfilled and color spotter Clayton Peoples made it possible.

I’d resolved to post in January and accomplish the resolution today with Clayton’s report from the Alabama Hills in the Eastern Sierra, west of Lone Pine, where (just before Christmas) he was surprised to find one of his favorite cottonwoods, “still hanging on to its fall-hued, honey/gold leaves.”

Clayton had only seen the tree in summer, previously. So, he was delighted to see it in its fall coat of golden glory.

If you’re driving north on US 395 to Mammoth Mountain to carve S-turns in its powder, you’ll find it by taking a detour onto the Whitney Portal Rd.

It’s visible behind the “face” (painted rock along the Whitney Portal Rd) which locals dubbed “Brenda” before it received a KISS-themed makeover (C’mon folks, there’s no way we mortals can improve upon nature).  Mt. Whitney is seen in the background.

Now, if only losing 20 pounds were as easy.

Whitney Portal – Past Peak – YOU MISSED IT!

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Special Report: Holiday Light Festivals

Celebration Swings, Celebration Plaza, California's Great America, Santa Clara (12/3/16) John Poimiroo

Celebration Swings, Celebration Plaza, California’s Great America, Santa Clara (12/3/16) John Poimiroo

Often thought of as winter events, most holiday light festivals actually begin in autumn. They’ve become increasingly elaborate, to the point that neighborhood holiday displays and Christmas trees, parades, caroling and ice rinks in town squares now are comparatively small and quaint.

Snowflake Lake at Columbia, California's Great America, Santa Clara (12/3/16) John Poimiroo

Snowflake Lake at Columbia, California’s Great America, Santa Clara (12/3/16) John Poimiroo

Mistletones, Hometown Square, California's Great America, Santa Clara (12/3/16) John Poimiroo

Mistletones, Hometown Square, California’s Great America, Santa Clara (12/3/16) John Poimiroo

Tree Lighting Ceremony, Celebration Plaza, California's Great America, Santa Clara (12/3/16) John Poimiroo

Tree Lighting Ceremony, Celebration Plaza, California’s Great America, Santa Clara (12/3/16) John Poimiroo

This holiday season, California’s Great America in Santa Clara holds Winterfest, and Knott’s Berry Farm in Buena Park becomes Knott’s Merry Farm. Both are elaborate holiday-themed shows that cover up to two-thirds of the parks with every imaginable icon of the season.

At Great America, ice skaters swirl in front of the double-decked Carousel Columbia on Snowflake Lake. Snow machines blow flakes into the chill night air; St. Nick is there for family photos; there are live reindeer to pet; Mrs. Claus is in the kitchen preparing cookies; craftsmen create one-of-a-kind gifts; and Charlie Brown’s Tree Lot is just as imagined on TV Christmas specials.

The park is filled with thrills (10 major thrill and children’s rides areas operate) and music… not just the Christmas songs amplified through the park’s sound system, but at performances throughout California’s Great America, with a company of singers and dancers serenading a tree lighting that occurs several times nightly and in festive stage and street shows, called Cool Yule, Holly Jolly Trolly, Jingle Jazz, Mistletones and It’s Christmas Snoopy.

But then Great America and Knott’s are not alone. The Roaring Camp Railroads operates Holiday Lights Trains from the Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk on Dec. weekends and daily, Dec. 17 – 23. As the trains’ vintage railroad cars, adorned with thousands of colorful lights, roll along the streets of Victorian Santa Cruz, passengers sing holiday carols, sip hot spiced cider and listen to live music as Santa visits. A Chanukah Train leaves on Dec. 29.

The Disneyland Resort in Anaheim holds a number of holiday-themed happenings: the Christmas Fantasy Parade, World of Color, Disney !Viva Natividad!, Santa’s Holiday Visit, many holiday themed shows and (need I say?) Holiday Magic Fireworks.

At the San Diego Zoo, there’s Jungle Bells with millions of twinkling lights and carolers singing above the roars and cries of zoo animals. Even Sea World lights up at Christmas and is home to Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer, and yes, you can compete in reindeer games.

Six Flags Magic Mountain in Valencia and Discovery Kingdom in Vallejo are transformed into winter wonderlands lit with millions of lights and thrills to scare the jelly right out of Santa’s belly.

In the Central Valley, Global Winter Wonderland at Sacramento’s CalExpo and the Tulare County Fairgrounds are mind-boggling displays of fantasy lands set in lights, plus carnival rides, ice skating and parades.

So, just because little natural fall color remains on the trees (it’s transitioning from peak to past peak along the coast), animated, cheery shows of manmade color are lighting the last days of autumn to the first days of winter, across California.

Holiday Lights Festivals, Statewide – Peak (75-100%) GO NOW!



Special Report: Death of the Sierra

Dead pine at sunset, Sequoia National Park (11-12/16) Anson Davalos

Dead pine at sunset, Sequoia National Park (11-12/16) Anson Davalos


Sequoia National Park (11-12/16) Anson Davalos

Nearly 70 million trees have died in the Sierra Nevada.

29 million died last year, alone.

When the setting sun illuminates the dead trees (mostly pine), as seen in Anson Davalos’ photographs, their orange glow almost resembles fall color.

It is a false beauty. There is no attraction in what has happened to the Sierra Nevada.

The death of its pine forest has followed four years of drought and 100 years of fire suppression which, together, have resulted in an overgrown forest that competes with itself for water, making it susceptible to high temperature fires and insect infestations.

Sequoia National Park (11-12/16) Anson Davalos

Sequoia National Park (11-12/16) Anson Davalos

Sequoia National Park (11-12/16) Anson Davalos

Sequoia National Park (11-12/16) Anson Davalos

Parched pines, unable to emit sap, have been defenseless against bark beetles, and the beetles have had a feast.

The death of the forest is most evident in the southern Sierra. Though, the infestation has been advancing northward. And, foresters are unsure where or when it will stop.

The forest will restore itself in 200 years, but we don’t have that long. That’s because California depends on the Sierra Nevada watershed for 60% of its water.

Unless the forest is thinned, more trees will die and the watershed will suffer.

Restoring the watershed will require heavy investment ($500 million per year), in order to log the forest, process the timber and convert it into bioenergy (it’s basically useless as lumber).

CLICK HERE to read more about the problem and possible solutions.