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Last Light

Pecan orchard, CA-20, Williams (12/4/18) Walt Gabler

The last light of fall color can still be seen in California’s orchards and woodlands.

Walt Gabler found it along CA-20 from Williams to Clear Lake, though noted “It is nearing its end.”

Black oak, CA-20, Upper Lake (12/4/18) Walt Gabler

The Lake County region (north of the Napa Valley) gets its fall color from its pear and walnut orchards, vineyards and California native trees (bigleaf maple, black oak, cottonwood).

This lovely area surrounds the largest natural freshwater lake wholly within California. It is also ancient. Samples of sedimentary levels date it as 480,000 years old.

Renowned as a bass fishing water, Clear Lake is also famed for watersports, including swimming, water skiing, wakeboarding, sailing, jet skiing and boat racing.

More recently, the area’s wineries have attracted attention.  The best-known Lake County wineries include: Guenoc, Langtry Estate Vineyards and Winery, Ployez Winery, Steele Wines, and Wildhurst Vineyards.

Christmas berry, Toyon, Colusa/Lake County Line (12/4/18) Walt Gabler

This late in autumn, snow has dusted the High Sierra and California holly (Toyon) are now dressing coastal and valley woodlands with bright red Christmas berries. 

Conway Summit, US 395 (12/3/18) Walt Gabler
  • CA-20, Williams to Upper Lake – Peak to Past Peak, You Almost Missed It.

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Gone Big in Big Pine

Frémont cottonwood, Big Pine (10/30/18) Mark Harding

Cottonwood cannot be overlooked in the Owens Valley. They’re just too big.

Color spotter Mark Harding was driving US 395 through Big Pine on Tuesday when he could hardly stop looking up, and it wasn’t the views of Mt. Whitney that caught his eye.

Frémont and black cottonwood (Populus Fremontii and Populus trichocarpa) each grow to 100 feet in height in the Eastern Sierra.

A landmark Frémont cottonwood can be as tall as an 11-story building and five feet wide at its base.

Their limbs are loaded with golden leaves at peak and, with little else as tall in the Owens Valley, elder cottonwood dominate the valley horizon.

The most pronounced difference between each genus is its leaves. Frémont cottonwood have heart-shaped leaves, while those of the black cottonwood are spear-tip shaped.

Those in Mark’s pictures are Near Peak, though cottonwood hold their leaves longer than aspen, so they will continue to stay bright for another two weeks.

Cottonwood growing nearby in the Alabama Hills have peaked in January, proving a durability that just cannot be overlooked. 

  • Big Pine (3,989′) – Near Peak (50-75%) GO NOW!

Surprising Susanville

Susanville, CA-36 (10/21/18) John Poimiroo

Susanville, CA-36 (10/21/18) John Poimiroo

We didn’t expect much as we drove toward Susanville on CA-36, this past Sunday.

Willows along the Susan River were dry and colorless, but then the hills surrounding Susanville began to light up with orange-yellow black oak sprinkled along a ridge of conifers.

Then, “Surprise, surprise,” the drive through Susanville, then south on US 395, beside Honey Lake and past Janesville and Milford, massive black oak and Fremont cottonwood popped with gorgeous color, backlit by the afternoon sun. 

  • Susanville (4,186′) – Peak (75-100%) GO NOW!

Susanville, CA-36 (10/21/18) John Poimiroo

Black oak, Milford, US-395 (10/21/18) John Poimiroo



Over The Top

Log Cabin Rd., Mono County (10/13/18) Gene Miller

Tioga Pass (CA-120E), Yosemite National Park (10/13/18) Gene Miller

June Lake Camp, June Lake Loop (10/14/18) Gene Miller

On a whim, this past weekend, color spotter Gene Miller crossed the Sierra Nevada to the East Side and found “over the top” color.

Gene is a midwest transplant who misses autumn there, though has  “come to appreciate the Fall Colors … here.”
He said that getting there, was fraught with stops along the Tioga Road (CA-120E) where the trees were “mostly ‘At Peak’ or a little ‘past peak’,” depending on elevation, though when he descended Tioga Pass to Log Cabin Road, he found it “At Peak and brilliant!”

Log Cabin Rd., Mono County (10/13/18) Gene Miller

Log Cabin Rd., Mono County (10/13/18) Gene Miller

Sherwin Creek Campground, Mono County (10/14/18) Gene Miller

Sherwin Creek Campground, Mono County (10/14/18) Gene Miller

Spent aspen, June Lake Loop (10/13/18) Gene Miller

Silver Lake, June Lake Loop (10/14/18) Gene Miller

June Lake (10/14/18) Gene Miller

Silver Lake, June Lake Loop (10/14/18) Gene Miller

June Lake Loop (10/14/18) Gene Miller

Silver Lake, June Lake Loop (10/14/18) Gene Miller

On Sunday, he was impressed by color along the June Lake Loop and at Silver Lake, but realized areas like Sherwin Creek Campground at Mammoth Lakes were Past Peak and loosing leaves. 

  • Tioga Pass (9,943′) – Past Peak, YOU MISSED IT!
  • Log Cabin Rd. (7,545′)- Peak (75-100%) GO NOW!
  • June Lake Loop(7,654′) – Peak (75-100%) GO NOW!
  • Sherwin Creek Campground, Mammoth Lakes (7,600′) – Peak to Past Peak, YOU ALMOST MISSED IT!

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Puttin’ on the Dog

Dog Valley (10/8/18) Clayton Peoples

Dog Valley is puttin’ on the dog.

Dog Valley (10/8/18) Clayton Peoples

Dog Valley (10/8/18) Clayton Peoples













Color spotter Clayton Peoples was in search of an old crystal mine in the eastern Sierra foothills (near Reno) where people can pick up crystals – as many as they can carry in a five gallon bucket (in a week) – and happened to pack along his camera.

Just asking, but how many times have any of us gone out, thinking we wouldn’t need to bring along a camera, only to find glorious color!? I sure have.
Clayton didn’t make that mistake. He recalled there were aspen along Dog Valley Rd and when he got there, they were, “sporting various shades of yellow. With numerous pines (it is in the Humboldt-Toiyabe National Forest), the forest has “a nice contrast between the yellow aspen and the dark green pines.” Ka-ching!
“Granted,” he advises, “this area is not as vibrant as many fall color hotspots elsewhere in the Sierra Nevada, but it does offer pleasant scenery and numerous stands of aspen,” and, he had his camera with him. Another First Report for Clayton Peoples.
A word of caution: Dog Valley Rd is a dirt road. So, a high-clearance four-wheel drive vehicle is recommended. For directions, CLICK HERE
  • Dog Valley (6,700′) – Patchy (10-50)
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Road Trip: The Big Loop

Dunderberg Meadow, Mono County (9/30/18) Phillip Reedy

Dunderberg Meadow, Mono County (9/30/18) Phillip Reedy

Dunderberg Meadow, Mono County (9/30/18) Phillip Reedy

Fall color junkies will go to any length to satisfy their craving for color, even if it means driving for three days straight.

Phillip Reedy proved that this past weekend when he took a road trip that we’ll call “The Big Loop.”

He began by crossing Carson Pass (CA-88), then Monitor Pass (CA-89), before heading down US 395 as far south as Bishop Creek Canyon (with numerous stops along the route).

Phil reports, “Carson Pass to Red Lake Creek is bursting with colors right now, but it ranges from all green to nearly past peak. The meadow by Red lake is just starting to turn, but heading down 88 from there to Red Lake Creek and the cabin the colors are brilliant yellow and oranges. In another week those trees will likely be losing their leaves.”

He continued, “At the Carson bridge 1/2 mile west of the 88/89 intersection the grove right above the river is looking great with green, yellow and deep reds. But just across the valley to the north, the trees are nearly all green. From the 88/89/ intersection to Sorensen’s Resort there are great colors but some groves near Sorensen’ are losing leaves fast. In another week this area will be getting bare.

West Carson River (10/2/18) Phillip Reedy

West Carson River (10/2/18) Phillip Reedy

Reedy continues that Monitor Pass has some nice yellow areas but still-green trees seem reluctant to change and estimates that in a week “this area will be looking nice.”

Mono County has been getting rave reviews so far this autumn, with Dunderberg Meadow southwest of Bridgeport “in full glory right now. Beautiful yellow, oranges and reds. Don’t wait for this one.”

North Lake, Bishop Creek Canyon (10/2/18) Phillip Reedy

North Lake, Bishop Creek Canyon (10/2/18) Phillip Reedy

North Lake, Bishop Creek Canyon (10/2/18) Phillip Reedy

Reedy was impressed by Bishop Creek Canyon, particularly South Lake, Lake Sabrina, and North Lakes as all looking great, as were the creeks near the lakes. North Lake is amazing right now. There are still some greens, but I would definitely go in the next week. Just downslope Aspendell is completely green so it will be a week or two before the colors look good there.”

Lake Sabrina (9/30/18) Mike Caffrey

North Lake (9/30/18) Mike Caffrey

Surveyor’s Meadow 10/1/18) Mike Caffrey

S. Fork Bishop Creek (10/1/18) Mike Caffrey

Mike Caffey also traveled a similar route this weekend, commenting that South Lake, Weir Pond and Parcher’s are nearly Past Peak. While there’s still color to be seen, it’ll be gone, soon. He was similarly pessimistic about how long peak would remain at North Lake and Lake Sabrina, though through the weekend it was “spectacular.”

I write this every autumn, but it never ceases to flabbergast me as to why people ask what they’ll see at North Lake in two weeks, when I’m reporting GO NOW! So, I answer, “bare branches.”

Remember, peak color lasts about two weeks. So, when you first see GO NOW! on a Near Peak destination, pack your bags. If you see it on a Peak destination, the car should be running and you should be heading out the door. If you don’t, YOU MISSED IT.

Red Lake Creek Cabin, Hope Valley (9/30/18) Mike Caffrey

Note that just because it’s Past Peak at one elevation, you haven’t missed it everywhere. If you’re truly in search of beauty, go to a lower elevation. For example, plan now to visit June Lake from Oct. 11 – 18. It should be gorgeous, then.  I can make no promises, however, how good June Lake will be on Oct. 20. 

  • Hope Valley (7,300′) – Peak (75-100%) GO NOW! – It’ll be great for maybe another week.
  • Monitor Pass (8,314′) – Near Peak (50-75%) GO NOW!
  • Dunderberg Meadows (8,609′) – Peak (75-100%) GO NOW! – This is a wow destination right now.
  • June Lake Loop (7,654′) – Just Starting to Patchy (0 – 50%) – Plan now to visit in mid October.
  • South Lake, Bishop Creek Canyon (9,768′) – Peak to Past Peak (75-100%) GO NOW or YOU MISSED IT! – There will still be great color down the canyon, but it’s almost past peak at the highest elevations.
  • Lake Sabrina, Bishop Creek Canyon (9,150′) – Peak (75-100%) GO NOW! – Are your bags packed?
  • North Lake, Bishop Creek Canyon (9,000′) – Peak (75-100%) GO NOW! – Is your motor running?

Red Lake Creek Cabin, Hope Valley (10/2/18) Phillip Reedy


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Sonora Pass Begins to Show Color

Aspen, Sonora Pass (8/31/18) Darrell Sano

Aspen, Sonora Pass (8/31/18) Darrell Sano

East Bay color spotter Darrell Sano didn’t expect to see much autumn color on a Labor Day weekend drive over Sonora Pass (CA 108).

He was out to explore hot springs and other volcanic terrain (of which there are plenty in the Eastern Sierra), when he began to notice patches of aspen turning bright yellow at 8,000′ in elevation on the pass.

He reported, “It was strange that the cluster of trees on the left side of the road already looked peaked and had lost leaves on one side, while across the road there were more, but appeared undamaged by wind. Could this be a small micro-climate area?”

Darrell said, the majority of the aspens were green, “but even so, when backlit by brilliant sunshine, the many graduated values of emerald green mixed with gold was all I needed to stir excitement and anticipation. Bring fall on!”

In the Bridgeport Valley along Twin Lakes Road, he passed this classic Western scene of horses grazing on meadow grasses that were warming from yellow to ochre. 

Meadow grasses, Twin Lakes Road, Bridgeport (8/31/18) Darrell Sano

Just Starting (0-10%) – Sonora Pass


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!

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West Walker Discovery

West Walker River (10/10/17) Mark Harding

The West Walker River is often overlooked as a fall color location. Mark Harding didn’t make that mistake.

Instead, he drove along a dirt road, 15 miles north of Bridgeport, to Obsidian Campground in the Humboldt-Toiyabe National Forest yesterday to find aspen and willows in all stages of peak, coloring the dense forest near the stream with avocado green, gold, orange and rose. And, yes, it’s a First Report for this  location on the West Walker River.

West Walker River (7,800′) – Near Peak 50-75%) GO NOW!


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Bridgeport to Coleville Show Nears End

US 395, north of Bridgeport (10/18/16) Tim Fesko

US 395, north of Bridgeport (10/18/16) Tim Fesko

From Bridgeport north to Coleville along US 395 and the eastern border of California, this autumn’s show of fall color is coming to a close, as the last of that area’s colorful show will last but another week, reports Tim Fesko of Meadowcliff Resort.

Stands of golden cottonwood and occasional aspen, can be seen huddling together along the edges of the highway, beside the Walker River and in northern California’s Antelope Valley.

US 395, Bridgeport to Coleville – Peak (75-100%) GO NOW!