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Carson Pass and Hope Valley

Red Lake Vista, CA-88 (10/7/18) John Poimiroo

Today’s Sunday drive took us across Carson Pass and into the Hope Valley to scout fall color.

Meadow, Kirkwood Inn (10/7/18) John Poimiroo

Caples Lake, CA-88 (10/7/18) John Poimiroo

Log barn, CA-88 (10/7/18) John Poimiroo

CA-88 (10/7/18) John Poimiroo

Hope Valley (10/7/18) John Poimiroo

Sorensen’s Resort, CA-88 (10/7/18) John Poimiroo

Red Lake Creek Cabin, CA-88 (10/7/18) John Poimiroo

Red Lake Creek Cabin, CA-88 (10/7/18) John Poimiroo

Willows, Woods Lake (10/7/18) John Poimiroo

As Joan and I neared the Kirkwood Lake turnoff, we were disappointed to see that winds had stripped the west slope of Carson Pass. Only the deep red and orange of meadow shrubs east of the Kirkwood Inn were still beautiful.

So, we approached Caples Lake hesitantly, finding the deeply textured vermillion aspen that Phillip Reedy had captured on 9/28 to be faded and Past Peak.

We then pulled off to explore Woods Lake, passing a few bright spots of yellow along the road to the picnic area. Woods is a picturesque subalpine lake, devoid of aspen, though chartreuse willows line its far shore. By noon, temperatures had only risen to the high 30s. So, we were glad to have brought along warm jackets, knit hats and fleece gloves, and promised ourselves to return in warmer months to kayak the lake.

Only when we reached Red Lake Vista near Carson Pass (8,652′) could full peak color be seen hundreds of feet below near the lake and extending south across the forest.

Continuing east into the heart of Hope Valley, aspen were front-lit and unexciting, but when you turned west, the backlit trees radiated vibrant yellow, while those to the north were orange, yellow and lime.

A stop at Sorensen’s found the resort bustling as usual for an autumn weekend. The waiting line for lunch was over an hour long. Visit midweek and you can get a table pretty quickly.

On both sides of the highway approaching and across from Sorensen’s, stands of aspen were irridescent yellow, as good as I’ve seen them there.

Now returning westbound through Hope Valley, the groves virtually caught fire, backlit with ten thousand points of intense yellow and orange.

Cars would stop at turnouts and unload occupants who would either hike out to the groves or stand by their cars taking cell phone pictures and selfies.

After taking a final shot at Red Lake Creek Cabin, I ran into an old friend who noticed that I seemed “to be on a mission” compared to others who were lingering to enjoy the color. He mentioned he’d missed peak in prior years, but was determined this autumn to spend the day with his wife celebrating her birthday and enjoying the Hope Valley at Peak.

He was not alone. CA-88 was bustling with leaf peepers. Annoyed motorists leaned on their horns to express frustration when they were forced to slow to avoid cars that were pulling in or out of crowded turnouts along the highway.

It made me think, was I becoming like the impatient motorists? I wasn’t honking, but I certainly wasn’t appreciating the moment.

Or was I? 

  • Kirkwood (7,690′) – Past Peak – YOU MISSED IT!
  • Caples Lake (7,800′) – Past Peak – YOU MISSED IT!
  • Woods Lake (8,200′) – Peak (75-100%) GO NOW!
  • Red Lake Vista (8,400′) – Peak (75-100%) GO NOW!
  • Red Lake (7,861′) – Peak (75-100%) GO NOW!
  • Red Lake Creek Cabin – Peak (75-100%) GO NOW!
  • Hope Valley (7,300′) – Peak (75-100%) GO NOW!
  • Sorensen’s Resort (7,000′) – Peak (75-100%) GO NOW!
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Hope Has Arrived

Above Caples Lake, CA-88 (9/28/18) Phillip Reedy

Woods Lake Road, CA-88 (9/28/18) Phillip Reedy

Red Lake, Hope Valley (9/28/18) Phillip Reedy

Red Lake Creek Cabin, Hope Valley (9/28/18) Phillip Reedy

Red Lake Creek Cabin, Hope Valley (9/28/18) Phillip Reedy

Pasture East of Blue Lakes Rd., Hope Valley (9/28/18) Phillip Reedy

The Hope Valley (CA-88) has arrived, with autumn color painting its aspen in lovely tones of vermillion, rose, orange, saffron, yellow and lime.

Phillip Reedy visited yesterday to find the area peaking overall, “especially along Red Lake Creek and near Sorensen’s Resort.  There are still groves above the West Carson and along 89 to Tahoe that are completely green.”

He estimates peak color will last through next weekend, though beyond that, no promises. Hope Valley color spotter Debbie Waldear agreed, stating that next weekend (Oct. 6-7) is a likely peak for the Hope Valley.

Though, our experience has been that the Hope Valley – due to its range of elevations – has two weeks of peak color with it lingering around Sorensen’s Resort and in Woodford’s Canyon, well after it has peaked at Red Lake Creek.

Debbie reported that the Alpine Aspen Festival will not occur this year, with local hopes that it returns next year. Despite disappointing news about the festival, she was upbeat about this being the prime week to cross Carson Pass and visit Hope Valley.

A possible mediating factor will be weather. Hurricane Rosa is on track to reach Baja California on Tuesday as a tropical depression, bringing rain to Southern California. Some of that will reach the High Sierra though is not expected to be severe.

The best days to visit Hope Valley in the coming week appear to be Sunday (tomorrow), Monday, Friday and Saturday (Oct. 6), with rain and snow Tues. through Thurs.

Should snow dust the High Sierra, photographs of the Hope Valley and Eastern Sierra could be mind-bogglingly beautiful. 

Hope Valley (7,300′) – Near Peak (50-75%) GO NOW!

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Carson Pass to Monitor Pass by Drone

Aerial color spotter Titus Davis flew his Phantom 4 Pro drone at points between Carson and Monitor Passes (CA-88 and CA-89) to create this video.

Here’s a rundown of where he flew:

  • :00 – Silver Lake Latitude: 38°39’54.90″N  Longitude: 120° 7’13.94″W
  • :52 – East Fork Carson River  38°40’33.38″N  119°44’12.25″W
  • 1:37 – Hope Valley Latitude: 38°44’58.72″N Longitude: 119°56’11.51″W
  • 3:34 – Monitor Pass Latitude: 38°40’30.87″N  Longitude: 119°37’21.42″W

The drone provides perspectives not seen previously. Titus’ video of Silver Lake has the best closeup view we’ve seen of the copses of color on the far side of the lake, as they’re difficult to photograph other than from the water.

Similarly, while the color along the E. Fork of the Carson River can be seen from Hwys 4 and 89, only part of it is visible. Whereas the drone gives us a bird’s-eye view of the color.

The same is true of the breadth of color atop Monitor Pass, which is not really realized until seen higher than the trees, as shown by the drone.

 

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Past Peak Can Still Be Beautiful

Sorensens Cabin, Hope Valley (10/14/17) Brian Patterson

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Past Peak color can still be beautiful, as seen in Brian Patterson’s photograph of Sorensens Cabin.

Hope Valley – Past Peak – You Missed It.

Red Lake is Green, Lime, Yellow and Orange

Fly fishing near Red Lake (9/30/16) Philip Reedy

Fly fishing near Red Lake (9/30/16) Philip Reedy

Color spotter Phillip Reedy visited Red Lake along Carson Pass, east of Kirkwood, and found the aspen peaking with a kaleidoscope of green, lime, yellow and orange to be seen.

There’s so much color yet to develop, that Philip forecasts, Hwy 88 should have a rolling peaks for the next couple of weeks (conditions permitting).

Red Lake (9/30/16) Philip Reedy

Red Lake (9/30/16) Philip Reedy

Red Lake (9/30/16) Philip Reedy

Red Lake (9/30/16) Philip Reedy

Red Lake (9/30/16) Philip Reedy

Red Lake (9/30/16) Philip Reedy

Red Lake (9/30/16) Philip Reedy

Red Lake (9/30/16) Philip Reedy

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Weather To Go or Not

Mark Finan and Eileen Javora, KCRA-TV3

Mark Finan and Eileen Javora, KCRA-TV3

Two of my favorite meteorologists to watch are Mark Finan and Eileen Javora of KCRA-TV3 (NBC) in Sacramento. They aren’t just spot-on accurate meteorologists, they’re fans of fall color, too.

I suppose that comes with the job. As, how would you otherwise immerse yourself in analyzing the weather and predicting it, without also becoming fascinated by the turn of seasons?

Mark moved from meteorologist to color spotter this past weekend, driving a long loop in search of inspiration (and there is much of it along this drive), east from Sacramento over Carson and Monitor passes, then south along the Eastern Sierra Scenic Byway over Conway Summit and past Mono Lake, June Lake and Mammoth Lakes, to Convict Lake and back… all to see what’s developing.

Like others who have visited the area, he notes that most of the well-known fall color locations along the route remain mostly green or lime (Caples Lake, CA-88; Monitor Pass, CA-89; June Lake and Convict Lake), though promising yellow is emerging at the highest elevations: (above Mono Lake and on individual trees at June Lake).

For those judging whether to head to the east side or not, it is still a bit early, though emerging color can be seen and it will continue to improve through the last two weeks of September, particularly at the highest elevations.

How’s that for a forecast?

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There’s Still Hope

Cabin, Hope Valley (10/10/15)  Elliot McGucken

Cabin, Hope Valley (10/10/15) Elliot McGucken

Even when you think the color has peaked, when most of the trees have lost their color, a photographer like Elliot McGucken sends an image that teaches you, again, that there’s still hope.

Such is the case with this image of a cabin in the Hope Valley, near Sorensen’s Resort (Hwy 88). Though it does not have the spectacular splash of yellow many fall color photographers would want for their ultimate image of autumn in the High Sierra, it is layered with emotion and texture.

This photograph is near perfection, even though the forest was far from it.

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Still Hope, Though Mostly Past Peak

Sorensen's Resort (10/4/15) John Poimiroo

Sorensen’s Resort (10/4/15) John Poimiroo

Last year, to the day, I drove the western Sierra foothills to Placerville, up Newtown Rd and Mormon Emigrant Rd. to CA-88, crossing Carson Pass and descending into the Hope Valley where it was peaking beautifully. I then returned over Luther Pass to South Lake Tahoe, then back over Echo Summit on US50. Today, I repeated the drive.

Last year, the Hope Valley was peaking.  This year, it’s beyond hope.

Carson Pass and the Hope Valley are now mostly Past Peak, though amid groves and groves of bare aspen, others are still fully green and Just Starting, while others are Patchy, and still others are Near Peak.

Caples Lake (10/4/15) John Poimiroo

Caples Lake (10/4/15) John Poimiroo

Last year, I stopped at the Caples Lake Resort to photograph a hillside of colorful aspen reflected in the lake.  This year, only the crowns of those trees carry any color.

It’s interesting that the willows that normally turn first, are now peaking while the aspen have lost their color.

Beyond Carson Pass, among landmark-sized Jeffrey pine, the ground between granite boulders is full of deep-orange ground cover.

Black Leaf Spot, Forestdale Creek Rd. (10/4/15) John Poimiroo

Black Leaf Spot, Forestdale Creek Rd. (10/4/15) John Poimiroo

Forestdale Creek Rd. (10/4/15) John Poimiroo

Forestdale Creek Rd. (10/4/15) John Poimiroo

The effect of black leaf spot fungus is evident along Forestdale Creek Road, an off-road trail near Red Lake, where many aspen still carry spotted leaves.

One of the few nice aspects of the color this year is that many of the aspen are topped with golden crowns, though they’ve lost the color below and all that remains are their buff and white colored lower branches and trunks.

The forest’s remaining color is nice to look at, though photographers will be disappointed.

At 7,400′ in elevation on the east side of Carson Pass, there are several healthy stands of green aspen that should be Near Peak in two weeks. Patchy sections in the forest will turn sooner.  Healthy, lush groves are found near streams, but not far from denuded stands of bare aspen, their stemy branches raised to heaven as if imploring the skies to let them embrace the first snowfall.

Next weekend’s best hope to see full peak in the Hope Valley will be at Sorensen’s Resort.  There, the most promising grove along Hwys 88 and 89 is a brilliant, yellow-orange stretch of Near Peak aspen (seen above) directly across the highway from the Sorensen’s Resort.

I stopped to chat briefly with resort owner John Brissenden who said several of his cabins are still available this coming weekend for those who would like to see the best fall color the Hope Valley will provide this year.  He also admitted that, though disappointing, 2015 isn’t the earliest peak that Carson Pass has experienced.  Some years ago, it went Past Peak in mid September.

As for the rest of the route:

  • The black oak and bigleaf maple along Newtown Road (Placerville) are Just Starting.
  • Vineyards in El Dorado County’s Pleasant Valley are now showing yellow highlights, though they’ve a way to go.
  • There is little to no color along Mormon Emigrant Road, though a few dogwood are showing soft pastel-orange and rose leaves.
  • South Lake Tahoe is Patchy with yellow and lime just emerging among its mostly green aspen.
  • Grasses, willows, ferns and brush provide the most color along the entire route with maroon, yellow, buff, gold, crimson and orange decorating meadows and forest floors.
Aspen, Kirkwood Lake Rd (10/5/14) John Poimiroo

Aspen, Kirkwood Lake Rd (10/5/14) John Poimiroo

Aspen, Kirkwood Lake Rd. (10/4/15) John Poimiroo

Aspen, Kirkwood Lake Rd. (10/4/15) John Poimiroo

Past Peak YOU MISSED IT! – Carson Pass.  Nearly all the aspen at the highest reaches of the pass have lost their leaves. The most profound example of the change (seen at left) is the comparison of a stand of aspen shot last year off CA-88 at the trailhead to Kirkwood Lake and the same stand shot today.

Near Peak (50-75%) GO NOW! – Hope Valley – The best stand is found directly across Hwys 88 and 89 from Sorensen’s Resort.  Room at the inn is available next weekend, if you want to see it at its best.  Unfortunately, all the aspen at and surrounding the resort have dropped their color.

Patchy (10-50%) – Lake Tahoe

Just Starting (0-10%) – US 50 – All elevations

Just Starting (0-10%) – Newtown Rd, Placerville (Gold Country)

Just Starting (0-10%) – Pleasant Valley Vineyards (Gold Country)

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The Fall That Keeps On Giving

 

Hope Valley (10/11/14) Crys Black

Hope Valley (10/11/14) Crys Black

Color spotter Crys Black drove Hwy 88 across Carson Pass, though Hope Valley, over Monitor Pass and Conway Summit before staying the night in Mammoth Lakes, sending these images.

Cry reports that the Hope Valley and Conway Summit have matured to red and orange with a little yellow.  From these photos, it looks like this was the last peak weekend for them.  Crys found Convict Lake to be at peak, same for Silver Lake (June Lake Loop) and diverted to Dunderberg Meadow Rd, which is another gem.  Enjoy.

Red Lake, Hwy 88 (10/11/14) Crys Black

Red Lake, Hwy 88 (10/11/14) Crys Black

Carson Pass (10/11/14) Crys Black

Carson Pass (10/11/14) Crys Black

Red Lake Road (10/11/14) Crys Black

Red Lake Road (10/11/14) Crys Black

Conway Summit (10/11/14) Crys Black

Conway Summit (10/11/14) Crys Black

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Carson Pass Peaking

Aspen, Kirkwood Lake Rd (10/5/14) John Poimiroo

Aspen, Kirkwood Lake Rd (10/5/14) John Poimiroo

Carson Pass, Kirkwood Lake Rd (10/5/14) John Poimiroo

Carson Pass, Kirkwood Lake Rd (10/5/14) John Poimiroo

Today, we chose to search for California’s gold and found it peaking on Carson Pass.

The pass is the high point of State Route 88.  It was named after western explorer and scout, Kit Carson, who, in January 1844, proposed that the Frémont Expedition turn west in order to resupply at Sutter’s Fort in present-day Sacramento. Local Indians warned against attempting a winter crossing, but always impulsive, John C Frémont forged on across the Sierra, reaching Sutter’s Fort in March.

Four years later, Mormon emigrants blazed a route along what they called the Carson Trail, from Sly Park,  across Carson Pass to the Carson Valley in Nevada.  The route they laid out is now called Mormon Emigrant Trail. Our drive in search of golden leaves began on Hwy 50 in Folsom, traveling east along historic gold miner routes to Sly Park where we linked up with the Mormon Emigrant Trail.

The route is getting mixed reviews.  We thought there was nice color, though Nanci Knight, a veteran color spotter didn’t see as much orange (true) as she’d seen in past years and thought the yellows to be pale, particularly continuing beyond Hope Valley to Monitor Pass (many trees there got stripped of trees by strong winds, the weekend before last).  Nanci also conjectured poetically that the drought has reduced the amount of green growing beneath pines and aspen, “leaving a pervasive dull brown tableau of lifeless, gnarly dead wood/sticks.”

Narrow Leaf Willows, (10/5/14) John Poimiroo

Willows, (10/5/14) John Poimiroo

Just Starting (0 – 10%) – Mormon Emigrant Trail – The first color seen is an orange-yellow tinge to black oak leaves at 4,200′.  At 7,500′, willows shine bright yellow, though the color spots are so few and far between that the road is hardly worth exploring for fall color, though as a road that is historic, wide, straight and untraveled, Mormon Emigrant has few peers.

GO NOW! Peak (75 – 100%) – West Slope, Carson Pass (Hwy 88) – As you near Silver Lake, stands of bright yellow aspen speckle the forest at 7,500′ elevation.  A particularly good stand of very large, old aspen flickering bright yellow is found on the north side of the highway at elevation 7,200′ at the entrance to the Kirkwood Lake Road.

Red Lake Peak Rim Trail, Kirkwood (10/5/14) Kevin Cooper

Red Lake Peak Rim Trail, Kirkwood (10/5/14) Kevin Cooper

Red Lake Peak Rim Trail, Kirkwood (10/5/14) Kevin Cooper

Red Lake Peak Rim Trail, Kirkwood (10/5/14) Kevin Cooper

GO NOW! Peak (75 – 100%) – Kirkwood Mountain Resort – This was the weekend to be hiking goat trails surrounding the Kirkwood Mountain Resort, as color spotter Kevin Cooper (Coop) did to get these shots.  The hike got Coop psyched for Kirkwood’s new guided, off-piste backcountry ski experience called Expedition Kirkwood Backcountry that will explore deep powder bowls.

Caples Lake (10/5/14) John Poimiroo

Caples Lake (10/5/14) John Poimiroo

GO NOW! Peak (75 – 100%) – Caples Lake – The east shore of Caples lake has bands of day-glo orange-red and yellow aspen.  A nice view is from the fishing access parking area on the west shore of the lake at Caples Lake Resort.

East Slope, Carson Pass (10/5/14) John Poimiroo

East Slope, Carson Pass (10/5/14) John Poimiroo

GO NOW! Peak (75 – 100%) – East Slope, Carson Pass (Hwy 88) – The upper reaches of the Hope Valley near Carson Pass are at full peak.  We diverted driving a dirt road toward Red Lake to find a boulevard of yellow, peaking aspen.

Blue Lakes Rd (10/5/14) John Poimiroo

Blue Lakes Rd (10/5/14) John Poimiroo

GO NOW! Near Peak (50 – 75%) – Hope Valley Recreation Area – Blue Lakes Road which travels through the Hope Valley Recreation Area has little color along it.  Though there are a few brilliant stands.  The best we saw was a boulevard of yellow aspen just beyond the winter road closure gates, after passing the Hope Valley Campground.

Hope Valley (10/5/14) John Poimiroo

Hope Valley (10/5/14) John Poimiroo

GO NOW! Near Peak (50 – 75%) – Hope Valley – There’s still quite a bit of green and lime, particularly on the north side of the valley, though too are wide swaths of red, orange and yellow among fir and pine forests.

GO NOW! Near Peak (50 – 75%) – Sorensen’s Resort – This popular collection of cabins set in a forest of towering aspen flickers with yellow.  Across Hwy 88, large groves of aspen are mostly yellow and orange, though some trees still have green or lime leaves in abundance.

Sorenson's Resort (10/5/14) John Poimiroo

Sorensen’s Resort (10/5/14) John Poimiroo

Patchy (10 – 50%) – Big Meadow – A little yellow is ringing Big Meadow on State Route 89, north of the Hope Valley, though it is still mostly green and lime.  The drive up 89 to the meadow from Hope Valley passes through groves of very green aspen.

Patchy (10 – 50%) – U.S. 50 – Also called the Lincoln Highway, US 50 has a few pockets of yellow aspen on the west slope of its summit at 6,400′; black oak are beginning to be edged with orange and yellow at 5,400′, black cottonwood are turning gold at 3,600′ and bigleaf maple seem almost sun burned with edging of yellow and brown at 3,300′.  US 50 is not known for its color, but get off the highway near Placerville onto Newtown Road in late October to mid November, and you’ll drive along branch-draped roads of fall color.