Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Fall Color Update

We faced rain and wind during Monday’s Fall Color Workshop, but we also found fantastic light and clouds, including a rainbow over Mono Lake. The color is changing rapidly over there. Some aspens were stripped of their leaves during Sunday and Monday’s wind storm, but others have turned from partially green to full yellow. There’s still plenty of color around the June Lake Loop and in Lundy and Lee Vining Canyons. I made this photograph near Silver Lake this morning.

Tioga Pass closed Monday and didn’t reopen until about 10 a.m. today. Driving over the pass to Yosemite Valley this afternoon I found Siesta Lake with it’s usual October ring of red blueberry bushes. I made a detour to check on the dogwoods along Highway 120 west of Crane Flat, and found that almost all turned. In some years the majority of them turn red in this area, but this year most are yellow, although I found a few vivid red specimens.

In Yosemite Valley the big-leaf maples are beautiful. Almost all have turned a rich shade of yellow. The best spots are underneath Cathedral Rocks along Southside Drive and near Curry Village, including the old Lower River Campground area.

The other deciduous trees in the Valley—cottonwoods, oaks, and dogwoods—are still partially to mostly green, except for a few strange cottonwoods that are already bare. So it looks like we’ll have two peaks for color in the Valley: one right now for the maples, and another in one or two weeks for everything else.

The waterfalls got a boost from Monday’s storm. While the flow isn’t close to spring levels, it’s high for October. Upper Yosemite Fall receives early morning sunlight this time of year, something it doesn’t get in spring, so this is a chance to get some unusual photographs of it with good light and fall color in the foreground.


  1. Hi Michael, I was planning a quick trip up to Yosemite either the 24th-27th, or 31st-3rd. As far as color goes, which do you think would be the best? This will be my first time in the park.



  2. Hi Lance - I really can't say. The 24th - 27th is probably a safer bet, as I'm sure there will be some good color then. The 31st - 3rd might turn out to be better, or the color could be mostly gone by then. It depends on how fast things change.

  3. Hi Michael, what variations of colours will there be this week, versus that of 1-2 weeks from now? I've seen photos of Yosemite filled with yellows and reds, is that something I'll only get to see in the coming weeks?

    Thanks Michael!

  4. Michael,
    Nice separation with the trunks I know that can be kind of difficult to compose sometimes. In this image it almost looks like you were able to spread them out as you pleased. If you shot any, I would love to see some of those vibrant dogwoods you mentioned. Keep the update coming!


  5. Lawrence - it will be mostly yellow this week, and mostly yellow in 1-2 weeks! The only trees that can turn red are the dogwoods. They can be red, yellow, orange, or pink depending on the individual tree and the year. I haven't seen much red this year. The dogwoods are still a week or two away from peak in Yosemite Valley, so if there's any red to be seen it will be then. The dogwoods are at peak around the 5000 to 6000 foot elevation, as in the Tuolumne Grove and along Highways 41 and 120, and there are some red ones there, but not many.

  6. Hi Bo,

    Thanks for noticing the separation! This is one of those images that practically composed itself because the trunks were so nicely arranged. I did have to stand at the edge of a creek with the tripod legs in the water to get the spacing between the middle three trunks.

    I didn't shoot the dogwoods. You can see some red ones from two years ago in my 9/30 post:

    Sadly I don't think my optimism in that post will be borne out.

  7. Hi Michael,
    I was at June Lake Loop yesterday (10/22) and that had most of the "color", however a lot of trees now have black leaves or they are bare. The temp at Silver Lake was 25F and there were frozen leaves at the shores. The areas between Silver and Grant Lake are the best. June Lake and Gull Lake have some color, but I saw black leaves mixed in. Lee Vining Canyon must have been hit by too much cold most of leaves on the trees have turned black and others have so much black leaves around them that it is impossible to keep them out of the shoot.
    There is one lonely Aspen Stand along the Tioga Pass Road that had brilliant color, but close-up also revealed damaged leaves.

    I also drove around in Yosemite Valley and have to agree with you on the maples, but from what I saw on the dogwoods they are about 50% turned. Most of them are a light yellow and only a very few are pink or red. Best places were Curry Village, Valley View, and Fern Spring area. The Oaks seem to turn fast, I seen a lot more yellow in them than 6 days ago. The leaves appear to barely hang on, a light breeze in the valley yesterday and they were dropping.


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