Eastern Sierra

October 8-10 and 27-30, 2015

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My wife and I took a break and drove to Eastern Sierra from 10/8-10/10/2015 (I later returned Oct 27-30) to check out fall foliage. Difficulties in booking hotels caused us to stay in June Lake and Bridgeport - a bit further from the actions than we'd like. However, staying in Bridgeport gave us the chance to visit Bodie again and to drive back over the Sonora Pass - a big surprise for foliage and scenery as I'll cover later. Below is a brief report of what we experienced in hope it'd help those who may travel to the region in the coming days or weeks. In a nutshell, colors seemed both later and the quality of colors in comparing to past-years visits, potentially due to the drought. There should be areas with good colors in the next few weeks barring drastic changes in weather. Depending on photographic subject preferences and choice of more intimate compositions, there should be ample destinations through the third week of October 2015, and potentially to the end of the month.

Here are my opinions of places we drove by or hiked, complemented with pictures in many cases so folks can make their own conclusion as to whether it’s near peak, or when it might reach that stage. I deliberately took several pictures for informational purposes to help others (hint: they may not be very artistic).

1. Tioga Road in the park: The couple of aspen stands were changing from yellow to golden. Some lime green. The weekend of 10/17 should still be okay.

2. Poole Power Plant Road: Exceptionally green compared to years I visited. There was hardly any color changes as we drove by. This place probably won’t reach peak colors for another 2 weeks. I wonder if the hot weather we experienced lately had an effect. Around the same time in 2005, aspen trees along this road were at their prime colors. But to be fair, aspens were blazing near the end of October 2010 as well.

3. June Lake Loop: Overall on the early side of colors although there were some sections with good colors during our visit. Folks should find good colors in different areas on this loop during the next few weeks. At Grant Lake, the water level was quite low, and there was practically no colors to speak of. If I recall correctly, most of the trees along the shore were barren. There were liming trees in stands on the hills. Rush Creek area has nice aspen lining the road and the creek. Colors are changing but still early. The mountainside is also on the early phase of changing colors. Silver Lake was nice with golden cottonwoods along the bank with good reflection. Gull Lake had some colors intermingling with conifers. For comparison, here were pictures taken around the same time in 2005.

4. Rock Creek: Rock Creek was near peak when I was there. There was some construction going on, causing delays due to pilot car protocols. The road construction crew told me they expected to wrap up their work this week, so next weekend should be okay. I did not find as many interesting photographic subjects for me though. Perhaps by getting some advices from others, I might have better luck. We did not hike the trail per the advice of a hiker who told us there was little colors beyond what we would find along the lake and the road. I suspect colors will be fading in another week or so.


5. McGee Creek: Mostly still early, but there were patches of barren trees. Due to the delays at Rock Creek, we arrived at McGee Creek trail too late for a full hike. We had to settle with photographing at the first section of the trail.


6. Parker Lake: Generally still early. But the view of the mountains reflecting over still lake water and the yellow trees and pines along the bank made it a wonderful destination. I was there early morning, and thought it was the best time (comparing with pictures from a fellow photographer who showed me his that were taken later in the day). The roughly 2-mile hike was worth it.

7. Lundy Canyon: Strange is the best way to describe it. This year, colors are not consistent in the canyon. Aspen trees along the road leading to Lundy Lake were lime green for the most part, whereas those on the lakeshore near the campground were barren or in bad shape. The water level was quite low as well. Again, it’s possible the drought had some impact. Trees along the Lundy Canyon trail were close to peak, although there were barren spots as well. Trees around beaver ponds at the higher elevation were in bad shape. In 2005, we found great colors around the lake.

8. Conway Summit: patches of barren trees, several still lime green.

9. Twin Lakes: Cottonwoods are at peak colors, but aspens still generally early. Early morning is best to catch the Sawtooth mountains reflection on the lake.

10. Highway 108: By chance since we stayed at Bridgeport, I took this road back. This turned out the best colors for this trip. Leavitt trail offered vibrant colors in a picturesque meadow setting with mountain backdrop. Thanks to the sun angle highlighting aspen colors against the darker canyon background, there were nice photo opportunities to catch high contrast images. Beyond the foliage, sceneries along Sonora Pass road were beautiful, rivaling Tioga Road in Yosemite. I plan to go back for more in-depth explorations. The road was steep and winding. Therefore, good experience driving mountain road is necessary. This road was so exceptional to me that I plan to go back to explore further in depth.

In coming days and time permitting, I'll add more pictures to this mix..

Second trip to Eastern Sierra 10/27-30 - visiting Poole Power Plant Road, Manzanar, Alabama Hills among others.

Helpful resources

I ordered the California’s Fall Colors book by Dan Mitchell, but it arrived after our departure due to poor planning on my part. I’m sure it’ll give me good tips for coming trips. Anyhow, I got a current fall colors report in Mono County from Lisa, the nice and helpful owner of the June Lake Motel. I wish I had it prior to departure to plan my itineraries better. The link is http://www.monocounty.org/fall-colors/. The coverage is pretty comprehensive and clear. Pictures are also included. I find the information mostly accurate, if a bit overly optimistic and eager. Some foliage I found at their Go-Now places have not reached full potential. Regardless, for those who have few clues of what’s going on, this report is a great starting point for Eastern Sierra.