Sierra Fall Colors – Mammoth to Tahoe

Picture: Aspen leaves in early Fall, Lundy Canyon, Eastern Sierra, California

Image: Aspen leaves in early Fall, Lundy Canyon, Eastern Sierra, California

I’ve spent the last week cruising through the Eastern Sierra, venturing between Mammoth Lakes and South Lake Tahoe while working on my current book project. I thought I would share my observations for the status of the current fall foliage conditions in this area.

On September 29th, I drove over Tioga Pass Road to find a few small yellow aspens in the area below Ellery Lake. But my first real observation of what conditions would be like occurred a few moments later as I drove past the area at the base of Lee Vining Canyon, where the aspen trees were still 100% green. Driving S. On Hwy. 395 toward Mammoth Lakes I could see only a couple of very small isolated patches of rich yellow aspens high on the slopes of Mount Gibbs and nearer Parker Peak.

I spent a couple days in the Mammoth Lakes area, including a drive through Agnew Meadows and Devils Postpile National Monument. Throughout the area, my best guess would be that a mere 10% of aspens had turned light yellow, and none had turned a rich golden, orange, or red color. The same conditions were also prevalent at Convict Lake, with the exception that along the far western shore perhaps 15 to 20% of the trees were currently in the light yellow stage.

In the following days I drove up through Lundy Canyon and up to Virginia Lakes. Lundy Canyon was still mostly green near the lake with some aspens turning light yellow in the area leading up to the Lundy Canyon trailhead. The first, and only place that I saw any real significant color throughout the entire region was along the base of Dunderberg Peak, and the Dunderberg Meadow Road. At the Virginian Lakes, there was minimal color, but you could feel the full force of the Sierra winds that had been buffering the region with gusts as high as 35 mph. In the Dunderberg Meadows area, the aspens in this were probably 3 30 to 40% of changing, with the majority being light yellow. There were a couple patches that had turned a golden orange, and two isolated spots where the leaves had made it as far as red.

And route over Sonora Pass, driving up the east side found that practically none of the aspens had turned yet, and were nearly 100% still green. If any place in the region I thought would have some good color display other than the Thunderbird meadow, I thought for sure it would be over Monitor Pass. I was wrong. Approximately 20% of the aspens right at Monitor Pass had changed and were bright yellow. The remainder were all green or just starting to show signs of turning.

On Monday evening I arrived in South Lake Tahoe after traversing Carson Pass, where there was also very minimal color in the area just below the west side of the pass. The one regular variant throughout the whole region however was the willow, most of which were yellow and golden, and made for beautiful accents along streams, rivers, and lakeshores.

Then the storm rolled in. It is an unseasonably early winter storm out of Alaska that now three days later has dumped more than a foot of snow across the high peaks.

I’ve been asked by several people how I think the current weather will affect the fall foliage.

Over the next week it is supposed to get warmer, meaning closer to seasonal norms. I believe that the fall foliage season in the north central Sierra will be salvaged given that the amount of trees that were still green would probably survive, and be kick started into changing color by the current cold-weather temperatures. Unfortunately I think the wind rain and snow may hasten the demise of the leaves that had already started to turn, causing them to quickly turn brown and drop at the
the inclement weather or wind.

For now that’s all the news that’s fit to report, and I return you to your regularly scheduled programming.

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2 Comments on “Sierra Fall Colors – Mammoth to Tahoe”

  1. Richard Wong Says:

    Sounds like an unusual season Gary. We just had an all-day storm pass through here and I’m guessing is headed that way.

  2. David Leland Hyde Says:

    I love this leaf close-up. Great color mix.

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