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Earth Day Wildflowers

Winter Mustard (file photo) Bob McClenahan, Visit Napa Valley

It was a beautiful Earth Day weekend to be out enjoying California’s spring wildflowers.

California poppies and California lilac (file photo) Bob McClenahan, Visit Napa Valley

In the vineyards of Napa and Sonoma counties, the last of late winter’s yellow mustard blossoms have given way to populations of poppies, lupine and all varieties of colorful wildflowers, between the vines, along their edges, beside roadways and on open land.

The colorful springtime display, particularly showy in areas where last fall’s wildfires opened overgrown woodlands to wildflowers, has been nourished by the nutrients left behind by the fires. This will be one of the best years to see big displays of wildflowers because of last fall’s wildfires.

Western Wildflower  lists 17 trails in Napa County to hike for dazzling displays of flora. One of California’s best areas is the Missimer Wildflower Preserve, a protected native grassland. Across its acres of open meadows grow several species listed by the California Native Plant Society as endangered, including the narrow-leaved daisy, Napa western flax, Colusa lavia and yellow Mariposa lily, Calochortus luteus.

Sonoma County Tourism lists 10 Great Wildflower Walks with a colorful array of orange poppies, deep blue iris (now in bloom), purple lupine, white woodland stars, yellow columbine, pink shooting stars, golden fairy lanterns, red larkspur and lavendar clarkia (June) splashed throughout Sonoma County.

California poppies, Gwinllan Vineyards (5/22/18) John Poimiroo

In Sierra Nevada foothills, orange, red and golden California poppies are at their most glorious anywhere grassy slopes face the southern sky. The South Fork of the Merced River, from Mariposa to Yosemite National Park along CA-140 is considered to have one of the best shows, though the upper areas of the Merced River Canyon peaked in mid March.

HIKE OF THE WEEK – The 6.5-mile Hite Cove Trail, leading from Savage’s Trading Post (midway between Mariposa and Yosemite) is spectacular right now with profuse displays of wildflowers growing beside the trail.

If you plan to hike this famed wildflower trail, start early and carry a large bottle of water – you’ll need all of it. The trail is moderate to strenuous, though it has a bonus if you make it to the end… an abandoned mine.

Sierra foothills are carpeted with wildflowers (5/22/18) John Poimiroo

When you capture great images of California’s wildflowers, send them to us and we’ll post them here.



Fall Color Begins in Spring

Eastern redbud, El Dorado Hills (3/29/18) John Poimiroo

Many deciduous trees are budding out with blossoms and new foliage, providing for a fresh and colorful spring show.

This Eastern redbud tree (exotic) in our side yard is now flocked with magenta blooms, while Western redbud shrubs in Sierra foothill canyons are carrying rose  blossoms.

Although this website is  dedicated to fall color, what happens in autumn begins in spring.

So, if you see similarly bright spring foliage, email images to us and we’ll publish them here. [email protected]



Wine and Fall Color Pairing

Helwig Winery (11/12/17) Darrell Sano

Iron Hub Winery, Shenandoah Valley (11/12/17) Darrell Sano

Bella Piazza Winery, Shenandoah Valley  (11/12/17) Darrell Sano

Unless you’re a club member of one of California’s largest wineries, the welcome is often less than enthusiastic.

Not so in the Sierra Foothills. The wineries there are so lightly visited that the welcome is genuine and warm, and the tasting is often free.

Their hospitality, some extraordinarily exceptional wines and lovely fall color from late-October to mid-November

Counoise, Holly’s Hill (11/12/17) John Poimiroo

Maple, Holly’s Hill (11/12/17) John Poimiroo

make them a great choice.

Today, East Bay color spotter Darrell Sano and I visited the Sierra Foothill AVA, independently. He toured Shenandoah Valley vineyards in Amador County while I stopped in El Dorado County’s Pleasant Valley.

There, Holly’s Hill was holding a wine and cheese pairing, with cheese from an artisan cheese shop in nearby Placerville, which used to be called “Hangtown” for all the hangings that occurred there (the El Dorado County seat) in the late 1800s. Today, all that hangs there are sausages in the cheese shop.

Newtown Rd., Placerville (11/12/17) John Poimiroo

Bigleaf maple (11/12/17) John Poimiroo

At this time of year, Newtown Road, between Placerville and Pleasant Valley, is over hanging with bright yellow  bigleaf maple and orange black oak.

It’s the kind of scenic route that Darrell searches for among “the lofty hills and gentle curves in this somewhat hidden area” of California.


Shenandoah Vineyards (11/12/17) Darrell Sano

Turley Vineyards (11/12/17) Darrell Sano

Despite a late start from Oakland, he found “the morning light was still something to behold, illuminating the hills, intensifying the color.”

That’s why John Muir preferred to call the Sierra Nevada “the range of light.”

Darrell says that one thing he finds wonderful about fall is that “The quality of light at 1 p.m. is like 7 p.m. in summer… intensifying clarity and structure.”

He adds that though the Sierra foothills are peaking, its wine tasting “is never past peak.”

What Darrell enjoys most about tasting in Amador and El Dorado Counties are their  “bucolic hills, traffic-less roads, and no limos!”

You’re not likely to encounter backups as people pose for pictures beside their cars or with their girlfriends. You’ll have the road mostly to yourself, except for an occasional rancher, local or fellow oenophile.

As you motor, craggy Sierra peaks spray-painted white with fresh snow are glimpsed to the east, while the western horizon undulates with layers of purple foothills, scored by rows of vines.

It amazes me how many of California’s most famous labels grow zinfandel, syrah, mourvedre, grenache and viognier in the Sierra. It’s not something they brag about doing – “We grow our grapes in the Sierra!” – but they do.

Fiddletown (11/12/17) Darrell Sano

Farnham House hidden by fall color (11/12/17) Darrell Sano

Then, you sweep past workers picking olives, apples or pears. Harvest is still coming in, even if the grapes have long-since been picked. Darrell stopped and spent a moment talking to the olive harvesters and “relished the moment.”

In places you’ll find fall color surrounding 1855 Victorian structures, like the Farnham House in Fiddletown.

Soon after gold was found nearby, it got so busy that six stage coaches would stop there, each day.

“Today, Darrell was one of the few who stopped during his trip to pair fall color with wine tasting.

Sierra Foothills – Peak (75-100%) GO NOW!


Gold Country Just Starting

Mormon Island Wetlands, Folsom (10/25/15) John Poimiroo

Mormon Island Wetlands, Folsom (10/25/15) John Poimiroo

A Sunday drive confirmed today that the Gold Country is just starting.

Narrow Gate Vineyards, Pleasant Valley (10/25/15) John Poimiroo

Narrow Gate Vineyards, Pleasant Valley (10/25/15) John Poimiroo

Apple Hill, Pleasant Valley, Newtown Road (Placerville) and Mormon Island Wetland (Folsom) are showing hints of gold, but not enough to push any of these areas to Patchy.

Pleasant Valley and Apple Hill showed the most color with wild cucumber in patchy change from green to chartreuse and vineyards beginning to turn.

A cresting of yellow atop cottonwood at Mormon Island Wetlands in Folsom expands each week, though is still just starting.

Just Starting (0-10%) – Gold Country


How Do It Know!?

Blue oak leaves, El Dorado Hills (11/13/13) John Poimiroo

Blue oak leaves, El Dorado Hills (11/13/13) John Poimiroo

“How do it know!?” is the silly punchline of the old joke about the guy, who claims the Thermos to be the world’s greatest invention, after his friends have named the printing press, airplane and computer as their choices.  He reasons, “In summer, it keeps a drink cold and in winter, it keeps a drink hot.  How do it know!?”

Yesterday, I had the same sort of experience upon seeing blue oak in the Sierra foothills suddenly dump piles of leaves.  It wasn’t a particularly breezy day, though it was overcast.  Then, a day-long shower of dry, buff, oak leaves littered the ground around my house to be raked, swept or blown into piles.

Blue oaks, El Dorado Hills (11/13/13) John Poimiroo

Blue oaks, El Dorado Hills (11/13/13) John Poimiroo

The same thing scene is occurring across California as trees shed their leaves.  Some species of oaks provide spectacular shows of color… the black oak  – growing between 4,000′ and 5,000′ in elevation – is one of them.  Though others, like the blue oak, will exhibit the slightest hint of orange color, as they change quickly from blue-green to dry-brown. That’s happening now in the Sierra foothills.

How do it know!?

GO NOW! – 75 – 100% – Sierra foothills (1,000′)

A Cornucopia of Color

75-100% – Urban Forests – Urban areas throughout California are glowing colorfully in time for Thanksgiving Day.  Mild weather has contributed to keeping leaves and berries on the trees.  The colorful show has now descended among exotic trees to below 1,000 ft in elevation with Chinese pistache showing flame red, crabapples yellow to orange-red, Sycamores varying from chartreuse to burnt sienna, and plums radiating burgundy red.  Look for the color to continue through Thanksgiving week in the Sierra Foothills, Sacramento, Fresno and San Francisco Bay Area.