Singed Edges of Yosemite

This past summer’s Ferguson Fire singed the edges of Yosemite National Park and consumed 96,901 acres. It also was a human tragedy, killing two and injuring 19.

Color spotter Crys Black explored a large area of the Yosemite region, this past weekend to see how the fire affected the park experience.

She began at Mammoth Pool Reservoir, south of Bass Lake. The following day, she drove north along CA-41 through the southwest park entrance, past Wawona and Glacier Point before descending into Yosemite Valley, finally leaving by the Merced River Canyon, a route that took her through the center of the Ferguson complex.

Near Bass Lake, Crys reported spotty color, “around Nelder Creek and again near Mammoth Pool Reservoir and the San Joaquin River on Minarets Rd.”

“Sunset near Whiskey Falls at Cascade Woods was something else, especially spooky with fire-ravaged trees standing sentinel.”

She past severe fire damage along CA-41, 140, and the Glacier Rd., though remarked that, “even amongst the damage, new growth has already started in most places.”

Yosemite Valley was “as breathtaking as I’ve ever seen it,” staying so long that the light was too low to photograph the Merced River Canyon on her departure along CA-140 toward Mariposa, noting that the Yosemite View Lodge was “spared, yet again.”

Though she could not photograph the canyon, Crys reported that it should “remain colorful probably for another weekend if the weather is gentle, aside from the fire areas, all the way into Mariposa.” 

  • Southwest Entrance, Yosemite National Park – Peak to Past Peak, YOU ALMOST MISSED IT. – Spots of color are all that remain between Fish Camp and Tunnel View.
  • Yosemite Valley, Yosemite National Park – Peak (75-100%) GO NOW! – Black oak and cottonwood are at peak, bigleaf maple and dogwood are Past Peak.
  • Merced River Canyon, CA-140 – Peak (75-100%) GO NOW!

Definition: Bear Dump

Bear River, CA-20 (10/26/18) Robert Kermen

dump \ transitive verb \’dəmp : to let fall in or as if in a heap or mass // bigleaf maple trees dumped their leaves in the Bear River. — Source: Merriam-Webster

Bear River, CA-20 (10/26/18) Robert Kermen

From the headline, you might have thought this article would be about bear scat, but that would  require a different definition.

Instead, color spotter Robert Kermen reports that bigleaf maple were dumping yellow and buff-colored leaves along the Sierra Discovery Trail beside the Bear River (Bowman Rd.) this past Friday.

That indicates it’s time to search for ponds, beaver dams and streams between 3,000 and 5,000′ to photograph spent leaves floating upon their dark waters. 

Here are some suggestions:

  • Fern Spring, Yosemite Valley (4,000′) – Peak (75-100%) GO NOW!
  • Bear River (4,400′), CA-20 at Bowman Rd. Peak (75-100%) GO NOW!
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First Report: Tuolumne Grove

Pacific dogwood, Tuolumne Grove of Giant Sequoia, Yosemite National Park (10/23/18) Thomas Haraikawa

Pacific dogwood, Tuolumne Grove of Giant Sequoia (10/24/18) Thomas Haraikawa

The Western Sierra follows its Eastern Sierra neighbors in peaking, because its most-profuse deciduous foliage grows at lower elevations.

Presently, Pacific dogwood, bigleaf maple, Frémont cottonwood and black oak are presenting a palette of pink, crimson, yellow, gold and orange colors in Yosemite National Park.

Yosemite Valley’s famous sugar maple peaked in mid October, though dogwood, maple, cottonwood and oak continue to carry bright color.

Favorite areas to shoot fall color in Yosemite’s fall color are: the Yosemite Chapel (mid Oct.), Fern Spring (mid to late Oct.), Bridalveil Fall, El Capitan Meadow, Lower Yosemite Falls, Yosemite Village, Photographer’s Bridge and the Valley’s other eight historic stone bridges (late Oct. to mid Nov.).

Thomas Haraikawa scores a First Report for his visit to the Tuolumne Grove of Giant Sequoia. This grove is often overlooked by Yosemite photographers who are attracted to the valley, but as Thomas’ photographs show, it has iridescent and irresistible fall color.

Located near the intersection of the Big Oak Flat and Tioga Road (CA-120), the Tuolumne Grove is now a riot of hot pink, red, orange, yellow and lime colors.

Bigleaf maple and black oak, Southside Drive, Yosemite Valley (10/24/18) Thomas Haraikawa

Late October to mid November is when the Valley’s black oaks are best. Yosemite Valley likely has the most impressive stands of black oak in California, due to their juxtaposition to such impressive granite monoliths as Half Dome, Sentinel Rock, El Capitan) and Yosemite’s many towering waterfalls which get replenished by autumn rains.

We call black oak the Halloween tree, both because it peaks near Halloween and because its black trunks and branches contrast so boldly with the tree’s fully peaked orange leaves.

Yosemite’s fall color is truly a treat to the eye. 

  • Tuolumne Grove of Giant Sequoia, Yosemite National Park (6,200′)- Peak (75-100%) GO NOW!
  • Yosemite Valley, Yosemite National Park (4,000′) – Peak (75-100%) GO NOW!

Blonds or Redheads?

Dunderberg Rd., Mono County (9/29/18) Bruce Wendler

Sagehen Summit, Mono County (9/29/18) Bruce Wendler

Virginia Lakes, Mono County (9/29/18) Bruce Wendler

Do gentlemen prefer blonds or redheads?

When it comes to deciding between red or yellow autumn leaves, it’s a toss-up.

Bruce Wendler visited Sagehen Summit, the Virginia Lakes and Dunderberg Road, finding beautiful blonds, redheads and even  trendy orange-frosted trees.

Though, he cautions, Sagehen is now almost Past Peak, the same at Virginia Lakes.  Though still peaking, go immediately or you’ll miss it.

North Lake, Bishop Creek Canyon (9/29/18) Douglas Van Kirk

North Lake, Bishop Creek Canyon (9/29/18) Douglas Van Kirk

Douglas Van Kirk found the “fiery” redheads climbing the slope beyond North Lake to be “Absolutely beautiful.” While, their blond relations at lake level were “just starting.”

North Lake appears to be about what it did last year, getting hot upstairs while still warming downstairs.

On his return (Sunday), Bruce found Tioga Pass still open (it often remains open until November) with more red to be seen along the west shore of Tenaya Lake in Yosemite National Park. 

Dunderberg Rd (7,500′) – Peak (75-100%) GO NOW!

Sagehen Summit (8,139′) – Peak (75-100%) GO NOW!

Virginia Lakes (9,770′) – Peak (75-100%) GO NOW!

North Lake, Bishop Creek Canyon – Near Peak (50-75%) GO NOW!

Tenaya Lake, Yosemite National Park (8,150′) – Peak  (75-100%) GO NOW! – Shrubs and ground covers are at peak.

North Lake (9/28/18) Larry Salmi

North Lake (9/30/18) Bruce Wendler

Tenaya Lake, Yosemite National Park (9/30/18) Bruce Wendler

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Fall Color Detectives

Poison Oak, Briones Regional Park (9/4/18) Darrell Sano

I just love “Who Done Its.” Though, in fall color’s case, it’s more “Where Is It?”

Today, I received reports from Lance Pifer and Darrell Sano who uncovered more evidence that fall is approaching.

1000 Island Lakes, Pacific Crest Trail (9/1/18) Lance Pifer

North Lake, Bishop Creek Canyon (9/1/18) Lance Pifer

Lance visited the Eastern Sierra where he found spots of fall color lighting up the Pacific Crest Trail near 1000 Island Lake and at North Lake in Bishop Creek Canyon, where aspen remain  green and lake grasses are highlighted lightly with gold.

Darrell was a road warrior, exploring far and wide. On Friday (as previously reported) he drove across Sonora Pass, returning via Tioga Pass. About three to four miles after entering Yosemite National Park’s east entrance, he stopped to investigate “a scene that looks like it was planned, meaning so perfect–layered trees, leaves from pink to golden yellow, colors receding into the background, such depth. And it’s peaceful, quiet.” He continued that this area was severely damaged by fire, with at least half of it changed.

The following day, he drove north from the Bay Area to Cloverdale, then along CA 128 to the coast. As expected, there was no color to be seen other than a little in low shrubs, though reminds us that by driving the route he was reminded about how stunning Mendocino county is.

Poison Oak, Briones Regional Park (9/4/18) Darrell Sano

On Labor Day, he stayed near home, taking “a long hike in Briones Regional Park (one of the great East Bay Regional Parks – some of the best managed and most beautiful in California), hiking nine miles while criss-crossing trails. Along his route, he passed “vile poison oak” in toxic profusion, recalling the many times he’s suffered after having been covered in its sap, but noted, “When you see beds of its brilliant red in filtered light, you know 1) don’t go in there 2) enjoy the color from a distance.”

Darrell’s detective work included observing the afternoon light which due to skies, still tinted with wildfire haze, cast a yellow ochre tint that was accented by the lower angle of sunlight, dramatizing the shadows, and noted the dryness of the landscape, observing that despite their parched appearance, thistles and grasses remained beautiful remnants of summer. 

Dry thistles and grasses, Briones Regional Park (9/4/18) Darrell Sano

Briones Regional Park (9/4/18) Darrell Sano

Just Starting (0-10%) – Tioga Pass

Just Starting (0-10%) – 1000 Islands Lake
Just Starting (0-10%) – North Lake
Just Starting (0-10%) – CA 128 (Cloverdale to the Coast)
Just Starting (0-10%) – Briones Regional Park, SF Bay Area
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Dogwood and Bigleaf Maple Paint Yosemite

Dogwood, Bigleaf Maple, Yosemite National Park (10/11/17) Michael Caffey

Splashes of bright pink and yellow are painting the hillsides of Yosemite National Park.

Siesta Lake, Yosemite National Park (10/11/17) Michael Caffey

Ranger Allen of the National Park Service public affairs office said a general estimate would be that about half the deciduous trees in Yosemite Valley are now showing color, though the famous eastern sugar maple near Yosemite Chapel is at full peak. GO NOW! as peak on this tree is very short lived. It’ll be gone next week.

Yosemite’s color comes primarily from willows (orange), dogwood (rose), bigleaf maple (yellow) and black oak (orange). The black oak are the last to change – typically around Halloween.

Colorful reflections of yellow, rose and orange can be seen in lakes and the Merced River where trees are near the water.

Caffey’s photograph of Siesta Lake is reminiscent of Ansel Adams’ photograph of the same water, taken in 1958. In both images, the fallen remains of a tree lies in the same lake. There, of course, the similarity ends, as an original gelatin silver print by Adams is sold by  The Ansel Adams Gallery for $9,500.

The best location for fall color viewing in the national park is Yosemite Valley, with favorite spots being Fern Spring (at the entrance to the Valley), riparian areas in the Valley and Superintendent’s meadow and the base of Yosemite Falls.

Yosemite National Park (4,000′) – Near Peak to Peak (50-100%) – All species except black oak are now peaking. Black oak will peak at the end of October.  GO NOW!

Caffey continued across Tioga Pass to the Eastern Sierra, reporting:

South Lake Rd. (10/12/17) Michael Caffey

Mono County

Lee Vining Canyon – Peak (75-100%) – On the drive down from Tuolumne Meadows, foliage in Lee Vining Canyon is at full peak. The aspen in this area are in the best shape of any Caffey saw, having benefitted greatly from last winter’s heavy snows.  The deer have come out of the mountains to winter at lower elevations, so look for them amid the Aspen. GO NOW!
Lundy Canyon -Peak (75-100%) – Fall color is pretty consistent; pretty much everywhere you look the Aspens have turned.  This is a must-do, now.By next weekend you’ll have missed it. GO NOW!

June Lake Loop – Peak (75-100%) – Michael has been visiting June Lake for years, but classifies it right now as the nicest “I’ve ever seen there.  It is definitely at peak so this is the best weekend to go there, but there are a few areas where Aspen are still green, so I’d say you’ll find something interesting there for another 10 days.” GO NOW!

Inyo County – Bishop Creek Canyon

North Lake – Past Peak – You Missed It.
Sabrina Lake -Past Peak – You Missed It. –  There are spots of nice color along Sabrina Approach, but in a couple of days they will all be gone.
Aspendell – Peak (75-100%) – Aspendell is the Show Stopper in Bishop Creek Canyon for the moment.  The trees have been very healthy, full of leaves and draped with color. GO NOW!

South Lake Rd., Bishop Creek Canyon (10/12/17) Michael Caffey

South Lake Road – Peak to Past Peak  – Surprisingly, there is still good color along the road to South Lake.  Parts are past peak but some other areas are still very nice.  Still worth a trip up there at least this weekend. You Almost Missed It.


Yosemite: Snow White, Fairytale Forest

Yosemite Valley (11/28/16) Tracy Zhou

Dead pines, Yosemite Valley (11/28/16) Tracy Zhou

Black oak, Yosemite Valley (11/28/16) Tracy Zhou

Black oak, Yosemite Valley (11/28/16) Tracy Zhou

Lower Yosemite Fall, Yosemite Valley (11/28/16) Tracy Zhou

Lower Yosemite Fall, Yosemite Valley (11/28/16) Tracy Zhou

Yosemite Valley (11/28/16) Tracy Zhou

Yosemite Valley (11/28/16) Tracy Zhou

Lower Yosemite Fall, Yosemite Valley (11/28/16) Tracy Zhou

Lower Yosemite Fall, Yosemite Valley (11/28/16) Tracy Zhou

Yosemite Valley (11/28/16) Tracy Zhou

Yosemite Valley (11/28/16) Tracy Zhou

Black oak, Yosemite Valley (11/28/16) Tracy Zhou

Black oak, Yosemite Valley (11/28/16) Tracy Zhou

Yosemite Valley (11/28/16) Tracy Zhou

Yosemite Valley (11/28/16) Tracy Zhou

When snow falls in Yosemite Valley when there’s still fall color on the black oak, a fairytale forest appears.

Tracy Zhou captured it yesterday, during a visit to Yosemite Valley where the past weekend’s dusting of snow contrasts beautifully with the last leaves of autumn on the valley’s black oak.

Sadly, some of the color is provided by dead pine trees (killed by bark beetles as a result of the past four years of drought) whose lifeless orange needles still hang to the branches… lovely though discouraging.

Yosemite Valley – Peak to Past Peak – YOU ALMOST MISSED IT!


Yosemite: At Peak for a Week

Lower Yosemite Fall (11/3/16) Vince Piercey

Lower Yosemite Fall (11/3/16) Vince Piercey

Bold color remains to be enjoyed in Yosemite National Park though most of the maple and dogwood have another week of peak before they’re gone, reports color spotter Son H Nguyen.

Son traveled the Wawona Road (CA-41 – south entrance) from Yosemite Valley to Glacier Point on Saturday and found the color from Tunnel View to Glacier Point to be “amazing. Golden oak dominated the mountain, dogwood and maples just turned.”

One of the most photographed fall color locations in the national park is Fern Spring.

It is passed soon after entering the floor of Yosemite Valley (by CA-120 [north entrance] or CA-140 [west entrance]) and turning onto South Side Drive.

Fern Spring is tucked away in a small turnout surrounded by bigleaf maple, black oak and dogwood.

Fern Spring, Yosemite Valley (

Fern Spring, Yosemite Valley (11/5/16) Son H Nguyen

South Side Drive, Yosemite Valley (11/5/16) Son H Nguyen

South Side Drive, Yosemite Valley (11/5/16) Son H Nguyen

Yosemite Valley (11/5/16) Son H Nguyen

Yosemite Valley (11/5/16) Son H Nguyen

Merced River (11/5/16) Son H Nguyen

Merced River (11/5/16) Son H Nguyen

Black oak, Yosemite Valley (11/5/16) Son H Nguyen

Black oak, Yosemite Valley (11/5/16) Son H Nguyen

Son found the color at Fern Spring to be past peak, though the fallen leaves floating in its dark pool and occasional pink and yellow highlights from surrounding dogwood and bigleaf maple still make it worth visiting for a few more days.

Color along the Merced River is near past peak, though glimpses of beautiful color are still hanging in there.

The best color to be found in Yosemite Valley are the black oaks near the base of Yosemite Falls that have turned bright orange.  A few have gone “straight to brown, already.”

Vince Piercey was there this past Thursday and captured some of the turning leaves beside Lower Yosemite Fall.

Yosemite National Park – Peak (75-100%) GO NOW! – Best color to be seen is among the black oak at the base of Yosemite Falls.

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Yosemite’s Black Oak Wear Their Halloween Colors

Black oak, Yosemite National Park (10/22/16)

Black oak, Yosemite National Park (10/22/16)

Black oak, Yosemite National Park (10/22/16)

Black oak, Yosemite National Park (10/22/16)

Yosemite’s famous eastern sugar maple has presented its crimson show near the Yosemite Chapel. Pacific dogwood and bigleaf maple have littered Fern Spring at the entrance to Yosemite Valley. Now, as Halloween approaches, the valley’s famous tall black oak are beginning their show.

The color will continue through mid to late November, as the black oak throughout the valley and particularly dense near Yosemite Village turn deep shades of orange.

Black oak, Yosemite Valley – Near Peak (50-75%) GO NOW!


Yosemite Valley – Full Peak

Yosemite Valley (11/4/15) David Olden

Southside Drive, Yosemite Valley (11/4/15) David Olden

David Olden found bigleaf maple at full peak in Yosemite Valley along Southside Drive. He writes, “While the valley has lots of bare trees already there are plenty of areas of color left.  I’d go now….I did.”

David didn’t mention black oaks, though they should be peaking as well near Yosemite Village and Lower Yosemite Falls.

Peak (75-100%) GO NOW! – Yosemite Valley