Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Plot Twist for Yosemite Photographers

Sunday’s storm added a twist to this year’s fall color story. In my post from September 30th I waxed optimistic about the how the weather conditions—a warm September followed by a cold spell at the beginning of October—might lead to great fall color like we had in 2007. But there’s cold and there’s really cold. Scientists say that the best color comes from sunny days and cool, but not freezing, nights (see Wikipedia and The Buffalo Museum of Science). Temperatures definitely dropped below freezing all over the Sierra on Sunday, as the snow level was down to 5500 feet, and probably reached freezing each subsequent morning in most places above 5000 to 6000 feet.

What usually happens when a cold and windy storm blows through (like we had Sunday) is that trees that have already turned will drop their leaves, and some leaves that are starting to turn will wither and turn brown. I expect that’s already happened to many of the high-elevation aspens in the Eastern Sierra. The good news is that most of the lower-elevation aspens, and virtually all of the deciduous trees in Yosemite, were still green, and were probably unaffected by the storm. The cold weather should start all these trees turning quickly, but during the coming week or so there might not be much color anywhere, as trees that had turned will be bare or withered, and trees that were green will need a week or two to arrive at their peak color. But I’d guess we’ll see some good color among the lower-elevation aspens on the east side in one to two weeks, in the higher-elevation dogwoods in Yosemite (Tuolumne Grove and along Highways 41 and 120) also in one or two weeks, and in Yosemite Valley in two or three weeks. Barring further storms that is.

Since I haven’t been to the east side lately, I’d love to hear from anyone who has, especially if you’ve been there since Sunday and can tell us whether the those high-elevation aspens are bare or withered. Here’s one report from Dan Mitchell that seems to confirm my speculation that some of those upper-elevation trees are past prime.


  1. I am in Bishop right now and I hope you are correct, trees at the lower elevations are green or lime green, but a few look like they are turning brown. This is between Conway Summit and Bishop Creek Canyon. I drove in just about every canyon.

  2. Just got back from surveying the colors from convict lake to Lee Vining After a week has past since I last checked, there's a lot more lime in the green now in most places, but still very green for the most part. I see one of two scenerious playing out: 1) if we get color it will likely peak next week or the following weekend, or 2) they just go brown and no color.

    I saw a lot of green leafs w/ brown/black spots on them. It's been cold here in bishop, like we skipped fall and went straight to winter! I hope we get some color below 8k on the east side.

    Either way you slice it, an odd season so far.

  3. After a week has gone by I went back to convict lake, june lake loop, and lee vining canyon. I was really surprised by how little change has taken place, color wise in all locations. There's more lime green now and a few more hints of yellow, but after a week and very cold temps I expected more color change. I did see a lot of brown leafs or green leafs w/ brown/black spots or green leafs w/ black spots which had fallen to the ground already.

    It's been very cold here in bishop, like we skipped transitional fall and went straight to winter. It was 18 degrees monday morning and low twenties yesterday and today. It was 90+ a week or so ago! :o

    I figure there's two scenerios for aspens below 8k that are likely to play out, putting my neck out there now;), 1) peak color late next week or the weekend of the 17, barring any wild windy storm of course, or 2) everything just turns a dull brown.

    I hope we get color on the east side still! Just might take a bit longer!

  4. Thanks for that report Cory. Last year was strange on the east side too - the middle and late elevations were slow to turn, then the temperatures plummeted October 9th and there was little color to be seen after that. Let's hope this year is different. I like scenario number 1, so I've got my fingers crossed.

  5. Hi Michael,
    I just got back from the Bishop Creek drainage and posted a report on my blog('re all hoping for a "second season".

  6. Not a lot of good news there. I'm definitely hoping for a "second season" too.

  7. There is hope for a 2nd season, as long as this next storm is not taking down what is left. I visited the following areas on 10/10:

    JUNE LAKE LOOP: This one has promise. The shores along June Lake have yellow Aspen, but the rim has a lot of brown leaved trees. Shooting down from the beach is most likely best. All along the loop there are more and more yellow trees vs. lime green or green. Silver Lake picnic area and around the lake are more yellow than lime green. On close-up the yellow leaves have a lot of brown spots. Between Silver Lake and Grant Lake I saw 4 different stands of Aspen in bright yellow. Aerie Crag is also yellow and lime green. Along Grant Lake are groves in orange/brown, yellow, lime green, green and bare.

    LEE VINING AREA: Looking down from Lee Vining to the creek trail (this trail starts in the town of Lee Vining), the Aspen are yellow. Just outside of town along US 395 are a couple of small groves turning yellow.

  8. Thanks for the report Inge! That sounds a little better, but as you say, we have to wait and see what happens with the coming storm.

  9. Just got back from June Lake. Here are the photos so you can see what's going on. Basically the colors of green, yellow and brown are all mixed together. I found it tough going.

  10. Thanks for the update Bob. Definitely seems like the weather is playing havoc with colors on the east side. I've heard that colors are starting to pop in Yosemite Valley, but I'll have to see for myself. I'll be up there Friday.


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