Peak Flows Into Owens Valley Softly, Like a Poet’s Verse

Old and Young Cottonwood, Owens Valley (10/22/18) Gigi de Jong

Pine Creek Canyon, Inyo County (10/22/18) Gigi de Jong

Pine Creek Canyon, Inyo County (10/22/18) Gigi de Jong

Pine Creek Pass Trailhead, Inyo County (10/22/18) Gigi de Jong

Cottonwood, Owens Valley (10/22/18) Gigi de Jong

“Peak fall color is tumbling down the mountains and spreading out across the Owens Valley,” Bishop color spotter Gigi de Jong describes poetically.

Bishop Canyon is now drained of its Peak color, which she says “seems to be flowing into
the lower creeks and canyons.”

California’s largest and finest display of peaking black cottonwood are at peak in Pine Creek Canyon, “with a beautiful display of yellow and umber … alongside the creek.”

While higher up the steep-sided canyon, Gigi writes, “Small knots of young aspen … are holding onto their color as tightly as they’re holding onto the mountainside.

As the canyon opens up to the valley below, cottonwoods cluster in groups and stand in
lines like partygoers dressed in their golden finery at an Autumn Harvest Ball.

Across the Owens Valley, Gigi continues, “Every open field, where water courses along canals or spreads out in marshy tracts, hosts these radiant trees. Every neighborhood street is glowing with color. They all seem adamant to outshine one another.

“On the east side of Bishop, in the wide-open spaces near the Owens River, are where the larger groups congregate. These groves are wild and wonderful and really show the passage time.

‘Younger trees stand shoulder to shoulder with mature trees, showing off their strength and
resilience. The big, old trunks that have lost their limbs and their shimmering coats, still play a part in the cycle of life out here.

‘There are signs and sounds of life everywhere. There are deer in the canyon and birds in the
trees,” she concluded that when you stand quietly, you can “feel the energy of life as is shifts from one season to the next.” 

  • Bishop Creek Canyon – Past Peak, YOU MISSED IT!
  • Pine Creek Canyon – Peak (75-100%) GO NOW!
  • Owens Valley – Near Peak (50-75%) GO NOW!
  • Bishop – Near Peak (50-75%) GO NOW!


Mule Deer, Pine Creek Canyon, Inyo County (10/22/18) Gigi de Jong

Red-tailed Hawk, Owens Valley (10/22/18) Gigi de Jong

Red-tailed Hawk, Owens Valley (10/22/18) Gigi de Jong

Owens Valley, Inyo County (10/22/18) Gigi de Jong

Bishop, Inyo County (10/22/18) Gigi de Jong



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Mount Up and Ride

Lower Rock Creek Trail (10/13/18) Gigi de Jong

Lower Rock Creek Trail (10/13/18) Gigi de Jong

Lower Rock Creek Trail (10/13/18) Gigi de Jong

Lower Rock Creek Trail (10/13/18) Gigi de Jong

“Mount up and ride,” encourages Bishop Area color spotter Gigi de Jong who describes the Lower Rock Creek Trail (at the top of Round Valley, north of Bishop – First Report) as the gold standard for mountain biking in the Eastern Sierra.

“This trail earns ‘gold’ for its superior ride, and fall is its ‘golden season’ due to mild days and the trail’s splendid color,” she explains.

Aspen near the top of the trail are just beginning to yellow. Parts of the trail appear luminous. Gigi writes, “The last rays of the setting sun drop like liquid gold through the canopy, leaving traces of iridescent color on the ripples of Rock Creek. Willow and birch stand out in hues of deep gold and burnt orange.”

Bishop Creek Canyon is now done peaking. Though the lowest sections of the canyon remain at peak, none of them compare to the spectacular scenes witnessed for the past three weeks, higher up. Now, the show in Inyo County is dropping to the lower canyons and valleys.

Bishop Country Club (10/15/18) Gigi de Jong

In the Owens Valley, a surprising place to be wowed by autumn is the Bishop Country Club (First Report) where, Gigi continues, “where the luscious green of the fairways meets the lustrous yellow of the trees. Soon the beautiful grounds of the country club will blend with the last colors of summer in a riotous collision with autumn. Then,” she exudes, “if we’re lucky, a blanket of white will soften everything into the monochromatic colors of winter. Get ready for the most beautiful round of golf, ah … apologies, gold – anywhere!”



Owens Valley (10/15/18) Gigi de Jong

Owens Valley (10/15/18) Gigi de Jong

Other Owen’s Valley developing areas include Buckley Ponds, Rawson Ponds and canals where landmark cottonwoods grow along their edges, adorned with yellow crowns.

“They are majestic and tower over the valley’s lowland landscape,” Gigi adds, “Also, abandoned grain silos rise like ghosts from a forgotten era, standing sentinel over fields of pure sunshine. California grasses mixed with still-blossoming yellow rabbitbrush and cottonwoods cloaked in gold are filled with the sounds of migrating songbirds and bees.” 

Owens Valley (10/15/18) Gigi de Jong

Owens Valley/Round Valley/Pine Creek

  • Lower Rock Creek Rd – Patchy (10-50%)
  • Round Valley – Patchy (10-50%)
  • Pine Creek Canyon – Near Peak (50-75%) GO NOW!
  • Bishop Country Club – Just Starting (0-10%)
  • Owens Valley – Just Starting (0-10%)
  • Big Pine Creek – Near Peak (50-75%) GO NOW!
  • Mt. Whitney Portal – Peak (75-100%) GO NOW!

Chocolate Lakes Trail, Inyo County (10/13/18) Kirsten Liske

Bishop Creek Canyon

S. Fork Bishop Creek

  • South Lake – Past Peak, YOU MISSED IT!
  • Weir Pond – Past Peak, YOU MISSED IT!
  • Parcher’s Resort – Past Peak, YOU MISSED IT!
  • Willow Camp – Past Peak, YOU MISSED IT!
  • Surveyor’s Meadow – Past Peak, YOU MISSED IT!
  • Table Mountain Group Camp – Past Peak, YOU MISSED IT!
  • Stiny Loop/Mt Glen Camp – Past Peak, YOU MISSED IT!
  • Mist Falls – Peak (75-100%) GO NOW!
  • Four Jeffrey Camp – Peak (75-100%) GO NOW!

M. Fork Bishop Creek

  • Sabrina Lake – Past Peak, YOU MISSED IT!
  • Sabrina Approach – Past Peak, YOU MISSED IT!
  • Sabrina Campground – Past Peak, YOU MISSED IT!
  • Groves Above Cardinal Village – Past Peak, YOU MISSED IT!
  • Aspendell – Peak to Past Peak – GO NOW, YOU ALMOST MISSED IT!
  • Intake II – – Peak (75-100%) GO NOW!
  • Big Trees Camp – Near Peak (50-75%) GO NOW!

N. Fork Bishop Creek

  • North Lake – Past Peak, YOU MISSED IT!
  • North Lake Rd. – – Past Peak, YOU MISSED IT!




Cadmium Yellow Canyon

Rabbitbrush, Pine Creek Canyon (10/7/18) Gigi de Jong

Pine Creek Canyon (10/7/18) Gigi de Jong

“Pine Creek Canyon” would be more accurately described, were it renamed “Cadmium Yellow Canyon,” during autumn.

The combination of crystal-clear air, blue skies, bright sunlight and blooming rabbitbrush (Chrysothamnus nauseosus), golden grasses and emerging yellow-leaved black cottonwood (Populus balsamifera) make it appear as if cadmium sulfide was sprinkled across the canyon.

The cottonwood are well short of nearing peak, though once they do, Pine Creek Canyon has the greatest show of peaking cottonwood in California.

This is a must-see destination at peak, for those who stop visiting Bishop Canyon after it has peaked. 

Pine Creek Canyon (7,400′) – Patchy (10-50%)

Millpond, Pine Creek Canyon (10/7/18) Gigi de Jong

Pine Creek Trail, Pine Creek Canyon (10/7/18) Gigi de Jong


Owens Valley Still Crackling

Cottonwood, Owens Valley (11/10/17) Walt Gabler

Rabbitbrush, Owens Valley (11/10/17) Walt Gabler

The Owens Valley, from Bishop south, continues to carry crackling bright orange and yellow color, with cottonwood and rabbitbrush still at peak.

Mendocino County color spotter Walt Gabler passed through the Owens Valley on a trip down US 395 to the Imperial Valley.

He recommends the route as more scenic and satisfying than I-5 or CA-99, despite the added time, when driving to southeastern California.

Color spotter Clayton Peoples adds his endorsement of Walt’s report, stating he was traveling the eastside and “took a quick detour to the Alabama Hills (Whitney Portal Road just west of Lone Pine) and was not disappointed.”

The trees are still peaking along Lone Pine Creek, which weaves its way through the Alabama Hills. He sent his photo of his favorite cottonwood, “one that stands as a lone sentinel above the boulders near the painted rock.” Presently, it is “bursting with yellow.”

Cottonwood, Alabama Hills, Inyo County (11/10/17) Clayton Peoples

A bonus of visiting the Alabama Hills right now, Clayton writes, “is that one can include the highest peaks of the Sierra Nevada–including the tallest, Mt. Whitney–in fall foliage photos.”

Owens Valley – Peak (75-100%) GO NOW!


California’s Best Show of Peaking Cottonwood

Round Valley (10/21/17) Michael Morris

Black cottonwood and Frémont cottonwood growing across the Round Valley northwest of Bishop are now peaking, reports Michael Morris.

Lee Foster and I visited this area a month ago and reported then that it would be spectacular at peak. Morris’ photographs confirm that prediction. This, quite likely, is the best show of peaking cottonwood in California.

If you’re in Bishop this week, we recommend that you set aside a little time to drive Pine Creek Rd. from Round Valley up into Pine Creek Canyon to see a mind-boggling ribbon of orange and gold cottonwood at peak beside Pine Creek.

Big Pine, US 395 (10/22/17) Michael Morris

Big Pine, south of Bishop is also at peak with cottonwood brightening the northern Owens Valley.

The show should continue to improve over this and next week in Big Pine, Bishop, at Buckley Ponds, in Round Valley and up Pine Creek Canyon.

In southern Inyo County, color spotter Mark Harding found Whitney Portal to be Past Peak with color now down to the campground, six miles west of Lone Pine.

Round Valley (4,692′) – Peak (75-100%) GO NOW!

Big Pine (3,989′) – Peak (75-100%) GO NOW!

Whitney Portal – Past Peak – You Missed It.

Whitney Portal Rd., Campground (10/22/17) Mark Harding


Lime, Yellow, Orange and Gone

Table Mountain Group Camp, S. Fork Bishop Creek (10/3/17) John Poimiroo

Bishop Creek Canyon is a mix of every level of peak, from Just Starting, to Patchy, to Near Peak, to Peak, to Past Peak, some occurring at the same location.

North Lake is a puzzle. It’s lime, yellow, orange and gone, all at the same place.

Peak color is near the lake with green aspen far above. We rate it Near Peak, though it’s peaking in areas, nowhere close in others and past peak, too.

Sabrina is topsy turvey. The higher you go, the less consistent the color is. Intake II (at the lowest elevation) is Near Peak, while Sabrina Approach (higher up) is Patchy.

Aspen at the center of the Groves Above Cardinal Village were past peak and surrounded by a ring of patchy, though mostly green aspen. Aspendell has hardly any color, though that’s not unusual. It’s often the last to peak.

We were there to sort it out and ran into dozens of color spotters and photographers who were shrugging their shoulders in confusion. Seeing me trying to find some color along a stream at Sabrina Approach, one photographer turned and said, “I did the same thing, and came to the same conclusion… not yet there. Still, I’m glad to be here.”

Those of us who were there this week, were certainly glad to be in Bishop Creek Canyon searching for fall color, as there were moments of breathtaking wonder.

Travel writer/photographer Lee Foster and I found it in a dazzling display along the South Lake Road. From Parchers down to the Mist Falls at Mountain Glen the hillsides are lit with pink, orange, yellow and lime aspen.

While several of South Lake’s groves could technically be rated as “Patchy,” Oh!, how beautiful they are in the midday sun. No one photographing them was disappointed. That’s why it gets rated as peaking. GO NOW!

Southern Inyo County

  • Whitney Portal (8,374’) – Patchy (10 – 50%)
  • Onion Valley (9,600’) – Near Peak (50-75%) GO NOW!
  • Big Pine Creek (7,660’) – Patchy (10 – 50%)
  • Mt. Whitney Fish Hatchery (4,000’) – Just Starting (0-10%)
  • Alabama Hills (4,534’) – Just Starting (0-10%)

South Lake

  • Weir Pond (9,650’) – Peak (75-100%) GO NOW!
  • Parchers Resort(9,260′) – Peak (75-100%) GO NOW!
  • Willow Campground (9,000’) – Peak (75-100%) GO NOW!
  • Table Mountain Group Camp (8,900’) – Peak (75-100%) GO NOW!
  • Surveyors Meadow (8,975’) – Peak (75-100%) GO NOW!
  • Mountain Glen (8,500′) – Near Peak (50-75%) GO NOW!
  • Mist Falls and the groves above Bishop Creek Lodge (8,350’) – Near Peak (50-75%) GO NOW!
  • Four Jeffrey Campground (8,000’) – Patchy (10 – 50%)

Sabrina Lake

  • Lake Sabrina (9,150′) – Patchy (10 – 50%) to Peak (75-100%)
  • Sabrina Approach (9,050′) – Patchy (10-50%)
  • Sabrina Campground (9,000’) – Patchy (10 – 50%)
  • Groves above Cardinal Village (8,550’) – Patchy (10 – 50%) 
  • Aspendell (8,400’) – Just Starting (0 – 10%)
  • Intake II (8,000’) – Near Peak (50-75%) GO NOW!
  • Big Trees Campground (7,800’) – Just Starting (0 – 10%)

North Lake 

  • North Lake Road – Peak (75-100%) GO NOW!
  • North Lake (9,255’) – Near Peak (50-75%) GO NOW!
  • Upper North Lake Road – Near Peak (50-75%) GO NOW!

Round Valley/Pine Creek

  • Pine Creek Pack Station – Peak GO NOW! – A small grove of aspen is at peak near the trailhead and pack station.
  • Pine Creek Rd. – Patchy (10-50%) – The black and Frémont cottonwood along Pine Creek will be gorgeous when they peak.
  • Round Valley – Patchy (10-50%) – Landmark black cottonwood grow throughout the Round Valley, often near old weathered cabins. They are now crowned with yellow and will be beautiful at peak.
  • Lower Rock Creek Rd. – Patchy (10-50%)

Owens Valley/Bishop

  • Owens Valley – Just Starting (0-10%)
  • Bishop – Just Starting (0-10%)

Here’s a fun gallery of snaps taken at various unidentified Bishop Creek Canyon locations.

Bishop Creek Canyon (10/6/17) Dandy Candywolf

Bishop Creek Canyon (10/6/17) Dandy Candywolf

Bishop Creek Canyon (10/6/17) Dandy Candywolf

Bishop Creek Canyon (10/6/17) Dandy Candywolf

Bishop Creek Canyon (10/6/17) Dandy Candywolf

Bishop Creek Canyon (10/6/17) Dandy Candywolf

Bishop Creek Canyon (10/6/17) Dandy Candywolf


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Here’s What’s Happening Around California

Quaking aspen, Hope Valley (9/15/17) Phillip Reedy

With just four days to go before the Autumnal Equinox, anxious readers have been asking, “What’s happening!?” So, we reached out to our network of color spotters and received these reports.

Bishop Creek Canyon – Just Starting to Patchy – Jared Smith of the Parcher’s Resort says it’s been “very odd weather wise” all summer. He said unseasonably warm August temperatures have delayed the emergence of fall color high up in Bishop Creek Canyon, west of Bishop (Inyo County). However, Jared says, “there’s been a marked difference in the past four days, since we began waking up to frost on the ground.” Still, the aspen are “super spotty,” though changing rapidly. Jared plans to provide a more extended report this week. So, stay tuned.

For those of you who’ve never had the delight of staying at Parcher’s, it’s at 9,200′ in elevation and surrounded by great fly fishing and aspen forests. The resort has so few cabins that it’s often difficult getting one, but here’s an insider tip… reserve a cabin there anytime after Mule Days (a Bishop tradition over the Memorial Day Weekend) during the first two weeks of June and you’ll be treated to a beautiful, uncrowded time of year. The fishing is out of this world, as is the welcome by Parcher’s knowledgeable staff. And, you’ll be able to see the aspen dressed in their freshest green.

Quaking Aspen, Hope Valley (9/15/17) Phillip Reedy

Hope Valley – Just Starting – Phillip Reedy found these jewels carried downstream in the Hope Valley. Phil cautions that it’s still to early to see much color, but if you’ll be there, look down to find colorful harbingers of what’s coming.

North Coast – Just Starting – Max Forster reports that bigleaf maple are beginning their show of gold and bright yellow along spots along the Redwood Highway (US 101).

Mendocino County – Just Starting – Koleen Hamblin reports that autumn marks the arrival of Mendocino County’s coveted candy cap, chanterelle, porcini and hedgehog mushrooms. Mendocino County is a hotspot of mushroom hunting with 3,000 varieties sprouting there, 500 of which are edible. CLICK HERE for a link to fungi foraging sites, tours, walks, rides, botanical gardens and cooking classes… all happening in Mendocino County during autumn. This is such a fun fall outing, that we plan a followup report on it.

Colorado – Patchy – North Coast color spotter Walt Gabler said a mid September drive through Colorado found lots of patchy yellow in the aspen. What’s happening in the Rockies is what should be happening in the Sierra, were it not for the hot August we experienced.

Lassen Volcanic National Park – Just Starting – Darrell Sano found lots of still-green aspen along the road to Butte Lake inside Lassen Volcanic National Park. The same was happening in Chico and along state highways 36, 44, 89, 128, 299, as he criss-crossed northern California.

Weaverville – Just Starting – Darrell reports that this scenic and historic town survived this past summer’s wildfires, though stretches of twisted metal and the burnt out remains of homes and cars left by the fire provide a surrealistic landscape through which to pass. Weaverville’s bigleaf maple and black oak are still standing by the Trinity River, so the color should be dramatic against the ashen landscape.

Lake/Napa/Sonoma Vineyards – Just Starting – Darrell tasted a little wine country, returning via Clear Lake to Pope Valley, seeing the lushly green vines along highway 29 and the Silverado Trail loaded with fruit.

Berkeley Hills – Just Starting to Patchy – The exotics are speckled with saturated eye candy in the Berkeley Hills says SF Bay Area color spotter Darrell Sano. He sends these shots taken while wandering the Berkeley Hills, yesterday.  Now, that’s a happy wanderer.

Berkeley Hills (9/17/17) Darrell Sano

Berkeley Hills (9/17/17) Darrell Sano

Sunflower Helianthus SP, Berkeley Hills (9/17/17) Darrell Sano










Luculia Gratissima, Berkeley Hills (9/17/17) Darrell Sano

Dogwood, Berkeley Hills (9/17/17) Darrell Sano

Japanese Maple, UC Berkeley campus (9/17/17) Darrell Sano

Greater Bishop Area

Hot rod, hot color, hot photo at Bishop Creek (10/2/16) Daniel Stas

In the second of our new series of driving tours, here are recommended drives near Bishop. Again, these are based on historic peak.

Bishop Creek CanyonPeak Color: from the last week of Sept. to the first week of Oct., though areas of peak color can be enjoyed from mid Sept. to mid Oct. From downtown Bishop (US 395), take W. Line St. (CA 168) toward the Sierra Nevada. Bishop Creek Canyon has three main fall color areas: South Lake, North Lake and Sabrina Lake.  For your safety, please pull off to the side of the road and park at lots, campgrounds and turnouts. Foliage: Quaking aspen, willows.

  • South Lake – South Lake Road is 15 miles west of Bishop on CA 168. Turn left onto S. Lake Rd and continue 6 mi. to South Lake. Prime locations, by descending color,  include: South Lake, Weir Pond, Parchers Camp, Willow, Table Mtn. , Surveyor’s Meadow, Stiny Loop/Mt. Glen,  Mist Falls, Four Jeffries and Big Trees.
  • North Lake –  North Lake Rd. is 2.8 mi past S. Lake Rd. on CA 168. Turn right onto N. Lake Rd. and continue 2 mi to North Lake. As you approach North Lake, you will pass through a boulevard of aspen, that at peak is breathtaking. Prime locations, by descending color, include: Upper North Lake, North Lake, North Lake Rd.,
  • Lake Sabrina – Continue 4 miles past S. Lake Rd. on CA 168 to Lake Sabrina. Prime locations, by descending color, include: Upper Sabrina, Lake Sabrina, Sabrina Campground, Groves Above Cardinal Village, Aspendell and Intake II.

Round Valley to Pine Creek – Peak Color: early October. Take US 395 north from Bishop to Pine Creek Rd. at Mesa. Travel west through Round Valley, passing cadmium yellow rabbitbrush. Golden cottonwood glow along Pine Creek. Continue up Pine Creek Canyon to groves of aspen growing beside Gable and Pine creeks.

Buckley Ponds and Rawson Ponds, BishopPeak Color: Mid Oct. to early Nov. Take E. Line St./Polenta Rd. east toward Airport Rd., then south to Shober Ln, then east to the Buckley ponds. Clusters of landmark cottonwoods and colorful grasses grow along the edges of the ponds. The Rawson Ponds are near the Owens River between E. Line and Warm Springs Rd.

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Bishop: Look East to See the Sunset

Videographer Skandar Reid shows how to watch sunsets in the Eastern Sierra… turn toward the east.

That’s because sunset light bends through the atmosphere at high elevations to create a phenomenon called alpenglow that colors high peaks to the east.

That happens in Bishop where sunsets beyond the Sierra illuminate the eastern White Mountains with their alpenglow.  So, at sunset in the Eastern Sierra, look east.

The reverse happens at sunrise… look west.

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Bishop: Eastern Sierra Prize

Bishop (11/2/16) William Croce

Bishop (11/2/16) William Croce

Bishop (11/2/16) William Croce

Bishop (11/2/16) William Croce

Bishop (11/2/16) William Croce

Bishop (11/2/16) William Croce

Bishop (11/2/16) William Croce

Bishop (11/2/16) William Croce

Bishop (11/2/16) William Croce

Bishop (11/2/16) William Croce

William Croce calls Bishop, the Round Valley and US Hwy 6, a “Nice consolation prize for those of us who missed the good stuff in the high country.”

Indeed it is.  Too many color spotters give up on Bishop once the aspen have peaked up Bishop Creek Canyon, but they’re missing out on the beauty that William found… tall Frémont cottonwood carrying loads of yellow, gold and lime color in Bishop and along US 6, past Laws.

Bishop color spotter Gigi deJong reported today that there’s “a mix of color, ranging from light yellow, to burnt orange, to a few small patches of crimson & red,” in and around Bishop with “a lovely line of trees glowing gold bordering Bishop Middle School at W. Line & Home Streets.”

That hardly resembles a consolation prize, and neither do William Croce’s photographs.

Bishop – Peak (75-100%) GO NOW!