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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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Surrounded by Color

Mt Shasta (9/22/15) Ashlyn Hollgarth

Mt Shasta (9/22/15) Ashlyn Hollgarth

What do US Forest Service rangers do in autumn?  They surround themselves with fall color.

Mt. Shasta Ranger Station (9/22/15) Ashlyn Hollgarth

Mt. Shasta Ranger Station (9/22/15) Ashlyn Hollgarth

That’s what color spotter Ashlyn Hollgarth reports from the Mt Shasta ranger station where an exotic, eastern sugar maple is coloring up beside the station.

Just Starting (0-10%) – Mt. Shasta

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Shasta Cascade – Fire and Ice (Hike of the Week)

Knotweed, Cliff Lake, Lassen Volcanic NP (9/12/15) Shanda Ochs

Knotweed, Cliff Lake, Lassen Volcanic NP (9/12/15) Shanda Ochs

Knotweed, Cliff Lake, Lassen Volcanic NP (9/12/15) Shanda Ochs

Knotweed, Cliff Lake, Lassen Volcanic NP (9/12/15) Shanda Ochs

This past week, a dusting of snow atop Lassen Peak in Lassen Volcanic National Park closed the park road, but that was short lived, as many of these early dustups tend to be in California.

Park Guide Shanda Ochs sends the above photo of firey red knotweed, photographed of the meadow on the trail northeast of Cliff Lake in the national park on Sept. 12.  She reported, “In the past, this color typically holds for quite some time before leaves fall off. I don’t know if this will be the case this year.”

Shanda notes, “It appears that the aspen lost leaves early due to the lack of water. There was a very short period that they were in full color, but lost the leaves quickly. I don’t think we will see the fall color that is typical year after year, based on the lack of water.”

The bright color have encouraged CaliforniaFallColor.com to name the Cliff Lake trail in Lassen Volcanic National Park as our first Hike of the Week in 2015.

Alder and Willow, Manzanita Lake, Lassen Volcanic NP (9/21/15) Shanda Ochs

Alder and willow, Manzanita Lake, Lassen Volcanic NP (9/21/15) Shanda Ochs

At Manzanita Lake, the willows beside the lake have turned chartreuse and orange-yellow, though among the alder there is no “stand out color yet, and we may not see that either because of the lack of water.”  Shanda notes, “But we still have time there. ”

Bigleaf maple, Plumas County (9/20/15) Jeff Titcomb

Bigleaf maple, Plumas County (9/20/15) Jeff Titcomb

Dogwood, Plumas County (9/20/15) Jeff Titcomb

Dogwood, Plumas County (9/20/15) Jeff Titcomb

In Plumas County, color spotters Lisa May and Jeff Titcomb reports that bigleaf maple “are just barely getting into color change, but again dry weather is causing browning and falling leaves before they have the chance to change color.” Jeff predicts there will be weeks more of color in the beautiful Indian Valley. About 25% of the dogwood have begun to color their trademark rose to red tones.

Patchy (10-50%) – Lassen Volcanic National Park – Drought has shortened the show among some aspen that have begun to turn, though most of the forest has not and should turn on schedule. Lassen Volcanic NP is one location where looking down is recommended to see fall color juxtaposed to dramatic grand landscapes in the distance, as seen in Shanda’s photographs.

Patchy (10-50%) – Round Valley, Plumas County – About a quarter of the bigleaf maple at the Round Valley Reservoir near Greenville have begun to turn.  Some of the big leaves are drying quickly, once they turn. Similarly, dogwood are showing their rosy blush.