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Death Valley Crossing

Lone Pine (11/25/18) Crys Black

The story of the first crossing of Death Valley is an epic tale of ’49ers who attempted a late autumn trek from the Great Salt Lake to California’s gold fields by way of the “Old Spanish Trail,” which was purported to travel around the southern end of the Sierra.

By the time they neared Death Valley, they’d run out of water, abandoned their wagons, and killed their oxen and horses for sustenance. An early snow storm provided life-saving water.

Only one of the party, which had split into separate groups, died along the route, but as they made their way west over the Panamint Range, someone is said to have turned back to look upon the deep valley they’d struggled to cross and proclaimed, “Goodbye, Death Valley.”

And so, the valley was named.

Northern California color spotter Crys Black made her own Death Valley crossing over the Thanksgiving Day weekend. She wrote, “After struggling to get to the Eastern Sierra on Wednesday night, we enjoyed a lovely Thanksgiving at The Rafters in Mammoth Lakes.

“Foiled from traversing desert trails due to road closures, we went down Lower Rock Creek Rd and were stunned to see some color still hanging in that little community near the bottom that calls itself Paradise with these photos taken near the Lower Rock Creek Trail Lower Trailhead.

“Suddenly hopeful, we spent the weekend around Death Valley. Beatty, NV, home to wild donkeys, and Lone Pine were both in full and glorious peak color.

“We were terribly thankful to have been at the right places to continue to enjoy a continuing, wonderful fall color season,” Crys concluded.

We turn back and add, “Goodbye, Fall Color.” 


Road to Round Valley

Bigleaf maple, Round Valley (10/13/18) Jeff Luke Titcomb

Bigleaf maple, Round Valley (10/13/18) Jeff Luke Titcomb

Bigleaf maple, Round Valley (10/13/18) Jeff Luke Titcomb

“Road to Round Valley,” sounds like it should be a country song, doesn’t it?

In my mind, I hear the “Yodeling Blonde Bombshell” Carolina Cotton, singing about losing her first love along that road “when a black oak stole his blackened heart.”

The pain of her loss just makes me saddle sore, though having seen these oaks at peak, I understand how her cowboy’s affections could be stolen so easily.

So, when Jeff Luke Titcomb sent images taken along the “Road to Round Valley” in Plumas County, the black oak, bigleaf maple, California ash and Pacific dogwood he’d photographed had me humming a cowboy melody as Carolina might sing, complete with mournful yodel.

Pacific dogwood, Round Valley (10/13/18) Jeff Luke Titcomb

California ash, Round Valley (10/13/18) Jeff Luke Titcomb

Black oak, Round Valley (10/13/18) Jeff Luke Titcomb

Jeff writes, “The road to round valley is still waiting for the oaks to change and they still have some time to go. Dogwoods started early but slowed down when the rain came, but now the leaves are just dropping in some places most likely due to months of dry weather.”

The action appears to be among the bigleaf maple, “which are in full color.”

Perhaps in my reverie, Carolina wins her cowboy’s heart again “beneath the spreading branches of granny’s golden maple tree.” Brings a tear to your eye, doesn’t it? 

  • Round Valley (4,692′) – Patchy (10-50%) – Bigleaf maple are Near Peak, though dogwood have slowed and black oak are weeks from peak.




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


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


Bishop Creek – You Missed It.

Sabrina Lake (10/12/17) Jeff Hemming

Bishop Creek Canyon is now almost entirely Past Peak.

Aspendell, Bishop Creek Canyon (10/14/17) Adam Weist

Whenever we report that an area is Past Peak, there’ll surely be someone who will send a photograph showing we’re wrong. Yes, there is still great color to be seen up Bishop Creek. However, for the most part it has blown. Tomorrow’s predicted wind event (gusting to 30 mph over ridges) will almost certainly strip what little remains.

The featured photograph (above) was taken by Jeff Hemming a week ago (Oct. 12) at Sabrina Lake (Bishop Creek Canyon). It shows Near Peak color at an area that has peaked in September in years past. Such is this autumn. It has been topsy turvy, cattywampus, totally out of sync.

Today, Sabrina Lake is officially Past Peak, though no doubt peak color can be seen today where it was green a week ago. As seen in Suvadeep Ghosh Dastidar’s images, South Lake Rd. still has pockets of late-turning fall color, though most color spotters would classify the canyon, overall, as Past Peak.

That’s the story of this autumn… of stands of aspen changing in staggered displays according to their internal genetic clock.

So, what remains to be seen in Inyo County?

South Inyo County is at Peak or Near Peak at Big Pine Creek, the Whitney Fish Hatchery and Alabama Hills. Spectacular Peak color was seen this past week on the trail to Whitney Portal. Likely, spots of that color remain, though the big ribbon of color (search Whitney Portal to see it), is gone.

Near Peak to Peak this week will be Pine Creek Rd. and the Round Valley, north of Bishop, with an impressive, long and scenic band of lush Frémont and black cottonwood, likely California’s best groves. Eastern Sierra color spotters have ignored Pine Creek, perhaps because it has cottonwood, not aspen. They shouldn’t, as the trees are backed by a breathtaking range of peaks at the western end of the canyon. This could be a great drone shot, which we’d love to post (YouTube).

The Round Valley (north of Bishop) also has towering cottonwood, some near weathered old cabins… well worth a detour.

Eastern Sierra

Southern Inyo County

  • Whitney Portal (8,374’) – Peak to Past Peak  – You Almost Missed It.
  • Onion Valley (9,600’) – Past Peak – You Missed It.
  • Big Pine Creek (7,660’) – Peak (75-100%) GO NOW!
  • Whitney Fish Hatchery (4,000’) – Near Peak (50-75%) GO NOW!
  • Alabama Hills (4,534’) –Near Peak (50-75%) GO NOW!

Northern Inyo County

Mountain Glen, S. Fork Bishop Creek (10/16/17) Suvadeep Ghosh Dastidar

South Lake, Bishop Creek Canyon

  • Weir Pond (9,650’) – Past Peak – You Missed It.
  • Parchers Resort (9,260’) -Past Peak – You Missed It.
  • Willow Campground (9,000’) – Past Peak – You Missed It.
  • Surveyors Meadow (8,975’) -Past Peak – You Missed It.
  • Table Mountain Group Camp (8,900’) –Past Peak – You Missed It.
  • Mountain Glen -Past Peak – You Missed It.
  • Mist Falls and Groves above Bishop Creek Lodge (8,350’) -Past Peak – You Missed It.
  • Four Jeffrey (8,000’) – Peak (75-100%)  GO NOW!


S. Fork Bishop Creek (10/16/17) Suvadeep Ghosh Dastidar

Sabrina Lake, Bishop Creek Canyon

  • Lake Sabrina (9,150’) – Past Peak – You Missed It.
  • Sabrina Approach (9,100′) – Past Peak – You Missed It.
  • Sabrina Campground (9,000’) – Past Peak – You Missed It.
  • Groves above Cardinal Village (8,550’) – Past Peak – You Missed It.
  • Aspendell (8,400’) – Past Peak – You Missed It.
  • Intake II (8,000’) – Past Peak – You Missed It.
  • Big Trees Campground (7,800’) – Near Peak (50-75%)    GO NOW!


Willows, Campground,
S. Fork Bishop Creek (10/16/17) Suvadeep Ghosh Dastidar

North Lake

  • North Lake Road (9,000’) – Past Peak – You Missed It.
  • North Lake (9,255’) – Past Peak – You Missed It.
  • Upper North Lake Road (9,255’) – Past Peak – You Missed It.

Pine Creek/Round Valley

  • Pine Creek Pack Station (7,441′) – Past Peak – You Missed It.
  • Pine Creek Road (7,200′) – Near Peak (50-75%)  GO NOW!
  • Round Valley (7,000′) – Near Peak (50-75%)  GO NOW!
  • Lower Rock Creek Road (7,000′) – Near Peak (50-75%)  GO NOW!

Owens Valley/Bishop

  • Owens Valley (4,100′) – Patchy (10-50%)
  • Bishop (4,150′) – Patchy (10-50%)

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



Plumas County Fills With Color

Bigleaf maple, Plumas County (9/30/17) Jeff Luke Titcomb

Plumas County color spotter Jeff Luke Titcomb took a road trip in search of fall color.

Bigleaf maple, Plumas County (9/30/17) Jeff Luke Titcomb

Wild Locust, Plumas County (9/30/17) Jeff Luke Titcomb

Dogwood, Plumas County (9/30/17) Jeff Luke Titcomb

Plumas County, Plumas County (9/30/17) Jeff Luke Titcomb

Dogwood, Plumas County (9/30/17) Jeff Luke Titcomb

He rode along Hideaway Road and Round Valley Road to the Round Valley reservoir, then up from there to the top, and back down to Canyon Dam near Lake Almanor.

He found the Canyon Dam side not as far along with weeks to go until peak color. Though the dogwoods are coming along and bigleaf maples are half way there.

River bottoms along Wolf Creek in Greenville are full of yellows and reds beside Hideaway Road.

A tree that is often confused (wild locust) are in full yellow. Jeff reports that the higher you go in the area,  the longer it seems the color will take to peak, though the valley floor is turning fast.

Plumas County (3,500’) – Patchy (10-50%)


Just Starting – Plumas County

Dogwood, Round Valley Canyon (9/19/17) Jeff Luke Titcomb

For our first report from the Shasta Cascade, color spotter Jeff Luke Titcomb sends these snaps of dogwood and Virginia creepers beginning to show color in the Round Valley Canyon and Taylorsville areas of Plumas County.

Plumas County (3,432′) – Just Starting (0 – 10%) – Look for spots of turning color in Round Valley and near Taylorsville.

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: 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!