Sunday, October 18, 2009

Fall Color Lazarus

After the last storm, many people reported finding little fall color on the east side of the Sierras. Aspens that had already turned yellow were stripped bare by the wind, and the remainder were still green. I was worried that there wouldn’t be anything to photograph during my fall color workshop on Monday.

But those green trees seem to have changed color quickly. I drove over Tioga Pass from Yosemite Valley yesterday afternoon, and breathed a sigh of relief when I caught my first glimpse of Lee Vining Canyon: all yellow. I’d say 80 percent of the trees had turned, and the remainder were yellow-green and should change completely soon.

I found a similar story around the June Lake loop, where about 60 to 70 percent of the aspens had completely turned, and the rest were on their way. I made the accompanying photograph in one of my favorite groves there. Both Lee Vining Canyon and the June Lake Loop were beautiful, and are likely to become even more photogenic in the next few days. I’ll be scouting some other locations today, and I expect to find similar conditions among the lower-elevation aspens. Nancy Boman at Murphey’s Motel in Lee Vining (a photographer’s favorite) told me that the color had arrived just within the last few days, which seems to fit the other reports I’ve heard.

On Friday I was in Yosemite Valley for a private workshop. The most striking change was the amount of water in Yosemite Falls and the Merced River. We had nice morning light on the upper fall and photographed reflections in the river. There was also some mist in the meadows. The water level will drop rapidly during the next week, as there’s not much of a snow pack to feed it, and the mist will also probably dissipate as the meadows dry out, but it might last a few more days.

Fall color in the Valley is developing rapidly. The sugar maple near the chapel is gorgeous, and the native big-leaf maples are about 80 percent turned. The cottonwoods are about halfway there. The dogwoods and oaks are just getting started, but it seems like things are moving quickly, so next weekend might be close to peak. Barring storms, the following weekend (two weeks from now) should also be good.

A minor weather system is expected Monday, and temperatures will drop early next week, so that could change the outlook. But fall-color gloom has turned to hope in just a few days.


  1. Wasn't it beautiful! My first time going here was last Saturday and I loved it too. I was there the same time you made this wonderful image. -Thought you looked familiar from seeing your blog and I don't know if you remember but I was the guy running around in the grove trying not to get in your way. I posted a couple images from the grove as well and invite you to take a look, anyway great work Michael and hope that helmet worked out for you ha!.


  2. looks like the color came through after all. I spent yesterday afternoon in Lee Vining and today at convict lake/mammoth. Huge difference since last weekend. Very windy today at convict though.

  3. Well Bo, I guess that's the price of fame, being recognized everywhere you go. :) I had no idea you read my blog, but it's good to make the connection. Looks like you made some nice images that day. If the helmet doesn't fit my wife maybe it will fit you or Sara!

    Cory it's been really windy up here in Lee Vining since yesterday afternoon, and showers are expected later today.

  4. Based on this blog entry I wanted to drive over to see the colors one last time this year. Can you let us know how the colors are after all that wind, rain/snow. I was hoping for a day trip to June Lake and Lee Vining Canyon on Wednesday. BTW - Tioga Pass was closed due to snow at 12:50PM today.
    Thank you Inge

  5. Hi Inge - yes, I know about Tioga Pass, as I'm stuck over here in Lee Vining! We've had lots of wind here the last two days, and scattered showers. One group of trees along Parker Creek went from yellow to bare in the last two days, but otherwise most of the leaves seem pretty intact. I didn't go to Lundy Canyon today, but June Lake Loop and Lee Vining Canyon were still very nice. Some of the trees that were yellow-green two days ago were pure yellow-gold today.

  6. Stuck over in Lee Vining!? Sounds like deja vu! Looks like the fall colors and weather changes are treating you well! Keep sharing the images and reports. I was over in Bishop at the beginning of October surrounded by green trees (ok, we found a little color!) Tioga and Sonora pass were closed that weekend as well. No fun! Keep shooting! John

  7. Hi John - yes, stuck again! We're staying here tonight anyway, but it's puzzling that the pass isn't open. They didn't get that much snow. Anyway I will definitely keep shooting.

  8. Hi Michael, there'll be a meteor shower tonight, so you might want to plan for that too! I'll be going to Yosemite this weekend, and Lee Vining/Mono Lake/June Lake Loop too; I hope the meteor showers would still be easily seen by then.

    Have fun!

  9. Thanks for the comments Lawrence - I'm not sure about the meteor shower, but there should still be plenty of fall color, both in Yosemite and the Lee Vining area. Have fun!


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