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Yosemite Wildflowers

Abundant displays of white and pink to rose-colored blossoms now appearing on flowering pear, plum and almond trees and shrubs in the Central Valley and Sierra Foothills have Californians anticipating the state’s ten-month wildflower season.

Newly released by Falcon Guides, Yosemite Wildflowers (written by Judy and Barry Breckling) describes more than 1,000 species to be seen in the national park during that long bloom.

My previous go-to guide for wildflower identification in Yosemite National Park and the Central Sierra was Lynn and Jim Wilson and Jeff Nicholas’ Wildflowers of Yosemite, published in 1987. Though beautifully illustrated with recommended wildflower sites and hikes, in comparison, it had just 224 color plates within it.

Yosemite Wildflowers is a more than able replacement. Its authors are well-qualified to author the guide. The Brecklings are lifelong plant enthusiasts who have lived in the Sierra not far from Yosemite for a dozen years. They lead Sierra Foothills chapter California Native Plant Society wildflower field trips and created a Yosemite wildflowers app in 2014.

The book categorizes wildflowers into six color groupings, based on the most vibrant color: white to cream; yellow, red and orange; pink, rose and magenta; blue, purple and lavendar; and green and brown flowers.

Within those sections, 895 color photographs, common names, scientific names, families, informative descriptions, flowering periods, habitats/ranges and similar plants are described.

At 26.4 ounces, Yosemite Wildflowers – though a paperback – is sufficiently heavy to give pause to a backpacker as to whether it’s too much to carry. Though, for anyone who has been frustrated with thinner guidebooks which failed to include flowers they hoped to identify in the field, it’s sure to solve that problem.

Yosemite Wildflowers is comprehensive. As an example, 24 varieties of lupine are described within it. In most field guides, only one or two examples are included.

I’ve often been asked why CaliforniaFallColor.com doesn’t do for California wildflowers what we do for autumn color. There are many reasons why we don’t.

Time is a big part of it. Elsewhere in North America, autumn is a two-week peak display. However, here peak color first appears near 10,000′, then gradually drops to sea level. That takes four months.

California’s wildflower bloom happens in reverse and over a longer period. Flip the pages of Judy and Barry Breckling’s new field guide, Yosemite Wildflowers, and it’s amazing that they finished the book only 12 years after relocating to the Sierra.

Yosemite Wildflowers (978-1-4930-4066-7, March 2020) is available on Amazon.com and in bookstores. Falcon is an imprint of Globe Pequot.


Yosemite Is Still At It

Half Dome reflection in the Merced River, Photographer’s Bridge, Yosemite Valley (11/2/19) Clayton Peoples

Yosemite National Park is a progressive peak.

It begins in the high country, with pockets of aspen and willows turning, then descends to Yosemite Valley and along the Wawona Road with bigleaf maple and dogwood providing a colorful blend of hot pink and cadmium yellow.

Then, orange black oak and golden cottonwood complete the show from the week before Halloween through the first two weeks of November.

Clayton Peoples was there yesterday (Nov. 2) to confirm that “Yosemite Valley is still sporting peak conditions.”

  • Yosemite Valley (4,000′) – Peak (75-100%) GO NOW!

Caught and Released

Native rainbow trout, Merced River, Yosemite NP (10/26/19) Lance Pifer

Color spotter Lance Pifer lost track of how many of Yosemite’s wild rainbow trout he caught and released at 25.

The best place to net native rainbows is on the Merced River, below Yosemite Valley. A spot favored by park employees is the Cascade Creek picnic area above the Arch Rock entrance station. Walk downstream from the picnic area to find holes little fished by park visitors.

Lance was fishing on the South Fork of the Merced River, four miles upstream from the Wawona Hotel and Illilouette Creek which is a tributary of the Merced.  He notes that some really big brown trout can be had on the south fork of the Merced above the main fork.  

Other non-natives in the national park, include brook, golden and Lahontan cutthroat trout, but the rainbow are the only native trout.

Lance noted how amazing Yosemite was with color peaking and temperatures in the 80s. That’s changed since he visited. Daytime temperatures are now 40 degrees cooler.

Best valley fall color is now found among the black oak at Cooks Meadow, near Yosemite Falls.

  • Yosemite Valley (4,000′) – Peak (75-100%) GO NOW!
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Yosemite Glows, Eastside Snows

Half Dome, Photographer’s Bridge, Yosemite Valley (10/26/19) Benjamin Vu

Black oak have begun to glow in Yosemite Valley, like jack o’ lanterns on All Hallows Eve.

By Halloween and into the first two weeks in November, their leaves will darken to a deep orange. Contrasted against their black trunks and branches, they are California’s Halloween tree.

Southern California color spotter Benjamin Vu captured these images at the beginning of their transition from yellow to orange. Look for the tell-tale black trunks to identify black oak (Quercus Kelloggii). Other trees in Vu’s photos are mostly cottonwood.

San Jose color spotter Son Nguyen found it perfect on Saturday, but strong winds and hail arrived on Sunday, stripping oaks of their leaves. He doubts they will last to the coming weekend.

At Fern Spring (Yosemite Valley) trees are bare at the spring, though “dogwood and maple are fantastic from the Pohono Bridge to Bridalveil Fall.”

Son was disappointed to find the bridge closed for construction with a large container on it in a way that would ruin any shot of the bridge. He estimates this area “will last another week, despite the hail.”

El Capitan Meadow was hit hard by the storm and most of the oaks “were done by Sunday afternoon.” Nguyen notes that he’s visited Yosemite Valley many times, but finds, “this is the weirdest year, ever. Usually, black oak are the last to start, but they’re pretty early this year,” though he added, “that makes the whole valley spectacular because of a different mix of colors.”

If there any black oaks remain to peak in the Valley, they likely will be found at Cooks Meadow, below Yosemite Falls, which Nguyen rates as Patchy.

Typically, Cooks Meadow’s peak continues past Halloween for a week or two, but considering the strong winds predicted this week, we will need additional reports from Yosemite spotters to say whether fall color will continue hanging on in the Valley.

Son found the go-to spot to be the Wawona Road near the south entrance of the park (CA-41 – Fishcamp), which he described as “amazing” and that “will last for a while. The dogwood is the best in this area. Strawberry Creek and Bishop Creek along the Wawona Road are also great.” 

Round Valley, US 395 (10/27/19) Benjamin Vu

Returning to So. Calif. on Sunday, Oct. 27, Benjamin Vu crossed Tioga Pass to the eastside, then drove south on US 395, finding black cottonwood and black oak at Peak near McGee Creek Canyon as a light snow swirled around his vehicle, while hail was dropping on the westside.

  • Yosemite Valley (4,000′) – Peak (75-100%) GO NOW!
  • US395 (4,100′) – Peak (75-100%) GO NOW!

Photogenic Yosemite

Tuolumne Grove of Giant Sequoia, Yosemite National Park (10/18/19) Steve Arita

It may be impossible to take a bad picture of Yosemite National Park. It’s just that beautiful.

Steve Arita visited Yosemite Valley last Friday (apologies, this site’s crash delayed posting these) and found the park peaking. Mid October to mid November is when Yosemite is best, so if you go now, even though many of the dogwood and bigleaf maple are past peak, it won’t disappoint.

This is the time for black oak to peak and when their deep orange leaves and contrasting black branches and trunks are lit the Valley scene is breathtaking.

  • Yosemite Valley, Yosemite National Park – Peak (75-100%) GO NOW!

Yosemite Autumn

El Capitan, Yosemite National Park (10/18/19) Mark Harding

Mark Harding follows up Gene Miller’s report on the Yosemite pioneer sugar maple with these images of peak native color in Yosemite Valley. More reasons to head to the mountains this weekend.

  • Yosemite Valley, Yosemite National Park (4,000′) – Peak (75-100%) GO NOW!

Yosemite Pioneer Maple

Pioneer sugar maple, Yosemite Valley (10/15/19) Gene Miller

Color spotter Gene Miller was in Yosemite Valley on Tuesday, reporting that the fall color was “absolutely beautiful.”

He sends an image of a sugar maple that 19th-century settlers planted near the Yosemite Chapel. Of course, an exotic tree could not be planted in a national park today, but there were no such rules nor the same definition of what a national park represents, in the late 1800s.

Today, efforts are made to remove invasive plants (all exotic imports), though, fortunately, the sugar maple is protected because of its connection to the cultural history of the national park.

It peaks for a very short time, so getting there NOW is essential.

Other foliage that changes color in the national park include: Pacific dogwood, bigleaf maple, willows and black oak. The dogwood, maple and willows are turning now.

Fern Spring, Yosemite Valley (File Photo) © 2006 John Poimiroo

Favorite photo locations include seeing : brightly yellow fallen bigleaf maple leaves at Fern Spring at the entrance to the Valley (CA-140); vibrant orange black oak below Yosemite Falls and beside Yosemite’s meadows; and pink Pacific dogwood along the Merced River.

Yosemite’s black oak are the finest fall display of the specie in California. Black oak will be at their best in late October to mid November.

  • Pioneer sugar maple, Yosemite Valley (4,000′) – Peak (75-100%) GO NOW!


Singed Edges of Yosemite

This past summer’s Ferguson Fire singed the edges of Yosemite National Park and consumed 96,901 acres. It also was a human tragedy, killing two and injuring 19.

Color spotter Crys Black explored a large area of the Yosemite region, this past weekend to see how the fire affected the park experience.

She began at Mammoth Pool Reservoir, south of Bass Lake. The following day, she drove north along CA-41 through the southwest park entrance, past Wawona and Glacier Point before descending into Yosemite Valley, finally leaving by the Merced River Canyon, a route that took her through the center of the Ferguson complex.

Near Bass Lake, Crys reported spotty color, “around Nelder Creek and again near Mammoth Pool Reservoir and the San Joaquin River on Minarets Rd.”

“Sunset near Whiskey Falls at Cascade Woods was something else, especially spooky with fire-ravaged trees standing sentinel.”

She past severe fire damage along CA-41, 140, and the Glacier Rd., though remarked that, “even amongst the damage, new growth has already started in most places.”

Yosemite Valley was “as breathtaking as I’ve ever seen it,” staying so long that the light was too low to photograph the Merced River Canyon on her departure along CA-140 toward Mariposa, noting that the Yosemite View Lodge was “spared, yet again.”

Though she could not photograph the canyon, Crys reported that it should “remain colorful probably for another weekend if the weather is gentle, aside from the fire areas, all the way into Mariposa.” 

  • Southwest Entrance, Yosemite National Park – Peak to Past Peak, YOU ALMOST MISSED IT. – Spots of color are all that remain between Fish Camp and Tunnel View.
  • Yosemite Valley, Yosemite National Park – Peak (75-100%) GO NOW! – Black oak and cottonwood are at peak, bigleaf maple and dogwood are Past Peak.
  • Merced River Canyon, CA-140 – Peak (75-100%) GO NOW!
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First Report: Tuolumne Grove

Pacific dogwood, Tuolumne Grove of Giant Sequoia, Yosemite National Park (10/23/18) Thomas Haraikawa

Pacific dogwood, Tuolumne Grove of Giant Sequoia (10/24/18) Thomas Haraikawa

The Western Sierra follows its Eastern Sierra neighbors in peaking, because its most-profuse deciduous foliage grows at lower elevations.

Presently, Pacific dogwood, bigleaf maple, Frémont cottonwood and black oak are presenting a palette of pink, crimson, yellow, gold and orange colors in Yosemite National Park.

Yosemite Valley’s famous sugar maple peaked in mid October, though dogwood, maple, cottonwood and oak continue to carry bright color.

Favorite areas to shoot fall color in Yosemite’s fall color are: the Yosemite Chapel (mid Oct.), Fern Spring (mid to late Oct.), Bridalveil Fall, El Capitan Meadow, Lower Yosemite Falls, Yosemite Village, Photographer’s Bridge and the Valley’s other eight historic stone bridges (late Oct. to mid Nov.).

Thomas Haraikawa scores a First Report for his visit to the Tuolumne Grove of Giant Sequoia. This grove is often overlooked by Yosemite photographers who are attracted to the valley, but as Thomas’ photographs show, it has iridescent and irresistible fall color.

Located near the intersection of the Big Oak Flat and Tioga Road (CA-120), the Tuolumne Grove is now a riot of hot pink, red, orange, yellow and lime colors.

Bigleaf maple and black oak, Southside Drive, Yosemite Valley (10/24/18) Thomas Haraikawa

Late October to mid November is when the Valley’s black oaks are best. Yosemite Valley likely has the most impressive stands of black oak in California, due to their juxtaposition to such impressive granite monoliths as Half Dome, Sentinel Rock, El Capitan) and Yosemite’s many towering waterfalls which get replenished by autumn rains.

We call black oak the Halloween tree, both because it peaks near Halloween and because its black trunks and branches contrast so boldly with the tree’s fully peaked orange leaves.

Yosemite’s fall color is truly a treat to the eye. 

  • Tuolumne Grove of Giant Sequoia, Yosemite National Park (6,200′)- Peak (75-100%) GO NOW!
  • Yosemite Valley, Yosemite National Park (4,000′) – Peak (75-100%) GO NOW!