Category: Locations

Post Trip Report: Hope Valley Fall Colors 2012-Oct-05

Hope Valley, CA

In the one and only trip out for the Fall Colors in the Eastern Sierras (specifically Hope Valley), I spent a little bit of time to experiment with what the people in the know call Light Impressions.  It gives a photograph the appearance of an Impressionist painting.  Maybe mine is a crude example, but it was definitely fun to try.

As for the trip itself, I sent off a quick summary to Carol Leigh at CalPhoto, but will also post it here.  I estimate Hope Valley as a whole will be in “peak” in 2 weeks (10/19 weekend).  The areas right around Sorensen’s will be peak a little sooner.

Update 10/19: As I had mentioned previously, I was estimating the 10/19 weekend to be the peak color time for Hope Valley, minus Sorensen’s which should be past peak now.  Dave Henry from the Sacramento Bee published an article overnight (HERE) confirming this is the week to hit Hope Valley this year.  If you figure the incoming storm set to arrive by Tuesday (10/23), the leaves will be down by then.  So if you are thinking of going, do it this weekend!!

The weather in Northern California has cooler considerably since Thursday (10/4) and looks to remain that way for the next 10 days.  Daytime highs in the 60’s with overnight lows into the 20’s.  Thunderstorms are forecast for Tuesday and Wednesday next week.

(As of 10/5) Starting from west to east along Hwy 88:

  • Woods Lake Road (right past Caples Lake) – everything you need to see is within the first 1/4 mile, mostly around the old cow corrals
  • Carson Pass/Red Lake heading east – 10-15%, lots of green occasional stands of yellow
  • Iconic cabin – 10-15%, barely any color, but in case you’re wondering, cabin is for sale!
  • Area around the 2nd unmarked, unused Emigrant Road, midway between Blue Lakes and 89 Junction – 50%, yellows
  • Hope Valley pre-campground (northside) at the corrals (couple of heavy machinery parked nearby right now, easy to spot) – 50%, good variation of color, walk across the meadow to the trees, everyone else does.
  • Hope Valley campground (northside) – 25-30%, 2 specific stands that require driving into the campground – 1st stand yellow, green, 2nd stand yellow, green, some orange
  • Sorensen’s – 50-60% yellows
  • Sorensen’s Fire Trail – 75%, yellows, some trees past peak, not worth walking beyond the stream (4th turn?)
  • West Fork Carson River, heading downhill – 10-15% scattered throughout

Along Hwy 89 to Tahoe:

  • Luther Pass – 20%, all along the road
  • Christmas Valley – 10-15%, interspersed among homes

As is always the case, check out these sites for the latest on the rest of the Eastern Sierra, where many locations are coming into peak as I type:

Unless you live up in the Eastern Sierras or have the ability to drive to the area every few days, your best bet is to visit the following sites for the latest color information:

EXIF data: Nikon D7000, center weighted metering mode, 130mm, ISO 200, 30 sec, f/9

Aspens, Colors, Light Impression.  Hope Valley, California. October 05, 2012. © Copyright Steven Tze – all rights reserved.

Eastern Sierra Fall Colors – 2011 Oct 22 Weekend Outlook

Sorensen's Resort

Aspens, Pines, Sorensen’s.  Sorensen’s Resort, Hope Valley, California. September 29, 2010. © Copyright 2010 Steven Tze – all rights reserved.

UPDATE 10/23: The forecast for Kirkwood (Hope Valley) for Tuesday, October 25th is now calling for AM Rain/Snow.  This means there is a good chance the leaves may drop or turn brown by Wednesday.  So much for my idea of being lazy on Sunday and taking a day off midweek to photograph Hope Valley, I’ve got to go now (Sunday).

Yes, it’s Saturday night and I really should have put this post out on Friday at the latest.  In reading the SacBee’s Fall Color article it sounds like the best places for fall color this weekend are the areas around June Lake Loop, Lee Vining (LV Canyon, Lundy Canyon), Conway Summit, and the arrival of color at Hope Valley along Hwy 88 near Kirkwood on the western slopes of the Sierra.

In summary from the SacBee article, the peak for the northern Hwy 395 Eastern Sierras is either here or will be peak by the middle of next week.  So the time to go is now!

The weather forecast will be mostly sunny for the next 5 days so we’ll all be lucky to catch a few clouds here and there.  With that in mind, avoid the midday sun and shoot either in the mornings or afternoons for better (i.e. less harsh) light.  Shaded creeks will provide some great compositions of both the aspens and water.

The photograph here is from Sorensen’s Resort in Hope Valley from 2010.  If I do make it to the area tomorrow (Sunday), I’ll post a trip report and pictures by Sunday or Monday.  Good luck!

EXIF data: Nikon D50, patterned metering mode, 34mm, ISO 200, 1/60 sec, f/11

Post Trip Report: Eastern Sierra Fall Colors 2011-Oct-13 & 14

Destination: June Lake Loop, Rock Creek Area, Aspendell, North Lake, Conway Summit

I’m reposting some of the report from two nights ago now that I’ve had the chance to process some photographs.  Information from a brief look at the June Lake Loop from about 1/2 mile in from Hwy 395 and our stop at Conway Summit on the way home are included with this update.

Anyhow, my parents love the fall colors but really haven’t had a chance to see a full blown one up close and in person.  So I offered to take them out on a two day outing to the Eastern Sierras to not only see the fall foliage, but also Mono Lake.


Rock Creek, Big Meadow 2011-Oct-13
Rock Creek, Big Meadow 2011-Oct-13

Rock Creek:  I had high hopes for Rock Creek as it hasn’t been mentioned much in any reports online and it’s next up from the Bishop Creek Area going from south to north.  Reality set in when I saw brown and blown down leaves from Rock Creek Lake and above from the snow storm last week.  The campgrounds below the lake are much more promising.  The colors on the north side of the road have turned earlier than the south side of the road, where many of the trees are still green or barely yellow.  Noteworthy is Big Meadow campground where it is at least 50% yellow with patches of orange.  The campgrounds immediately up the road from Big Meadow are also worth stopping for.  I would guess this area of Rock Creek will be in full color by early next week.  And then there’s the green tree mostly on the south side of road in the Big Meadows area.  Those are at least a couple of weeks off.

Aspendell 2011-Oct-13

Aspendell:  Really impressive colors here.  The area from Aspendell to the turnoff for North Lake is really coming into color, averaging 75% yellows.  The best show is a grove of beautiful yellow aspens just down the hill from the last houses in town.  The grove is to the south/right as you are going down the hill and pass the last house.  Brilliant yellow.  Generally the best color is from Intake 2 and up to the town of Aspendell itself.  This area will remain great for at least the middle of next week.

North Lake 2011-Oct-13
North Lake Tree Tunnel 2011-Oct-13
North Lake Tree Tunnel 2011-Oct-13
North Lake Tree Tunnel 2011-Oct-13
North Lake 2011-Oct-13
Below Lake Sabrina 2011-Oct-13

North Lake:  Some parts of the tree tunnel area has turn brown or dropped due to the storm, but there were quite a few trees that were green two weeks ago and now they have turned a brilliant yellow.  It’s a little difficult to isolate out certain areas that are now brown or barren, but the tree tunnel is at close to 100% or past peak now.  The grove of aspens on the “far” side of the lake (northwest) is at 75% with large swaths of yellow and orange.

June Lake Loop 2011-Oct-13

June Lake Loop: We only drove into the north side of the June Lake Loop for a mile, up to the point a dirt road splits off and seems to lead to a swath of aspen trees in the hills.  The colors looks to be 50% in with yellows and a touch of orange here and there.

Conway Summit:  A definite surprise of color here.  The colors are in various stages of coming in and about 75% have turned or started turning.  There are beautiful layers of colors throughout the summit and plenty of photogs and casual observers stopped in the two main turnouts on Hwy 395.  But remember, those are the only and usually not the best locations to shoot from.  Depending on the stage of color and time of the day, the best locations may actually be elsewhere.  While it’s not entirely safe to park on the shoulder on the highway and shoot from the safe side of the guardrail, it’s perfectly acceptable and I and other people have done that.  At least on this day, the Sheriff’s and Highway Patrol drove by without asking any of us to move our vehicles.  Conway Summit should be in peak by next weekend.

Conway Summit 2011-Oct-14
Conway Summit 2011-Oct-14
Conway Summit 2011-Oct-14
All photos.  © Copyright Steven Tze – all rights reserved.

Trip Report: Eastern Sierra Fall Colors 2011-Oct-13

Note – A update to this post with photographs and additional location is in my follow-up post: HERE

Destination: Rock Creek Area, Aspendale, North Lake

I’m updating from my hotel/condo for the night in Mammoth, a little annoyed that Auld Dubliner is closed for remodeling.  If an establishment notes that their Guinness on tap is adjusted precisely for its high altitude, I want to try it.  But alas, I was denied!

Anyhow, my parents love the fall colors but really haven’t had a chance to see a full blown one up close and in person.  So I offered to take them out on a two day outing to the Eastern Sierras to not only see the fall foliage, but also Mono Lake.

No photos updates until late Friday or Saturday.  Sorry.  My netbook can’t handle my RAW images so I wouldn’t even think about processing them via Lightroom.

Rock Creek:  I had high hopes for Rock Creek as it hasn’t been mentioned much in any reports online and it’s next up from the Bishop Creek Area going from south to north.  Reality set in when I saw brown and blown down leaves from Rock Creek Lake and above from the snow storm last week.  The campgrounds below the lake are much more promising.  The colors on the north side of the road have turned earlier than the south side of the road, where many of the trees are still green or barely yellow.  Noteworthy is Big Meadow campground where it is at least 50% yellow with patches of orange.  The campgrounds immediately up the road from Big Meadow are also worth stopping for.  I would guess this area of Rock Creek will be in full color by early next week.  And then there’s the green tree mostly on the south side of road in the Big Meadows area.  Those are at least a couple of weeks off.

Aspendell:  Really impressive colors here.  At least 75% yellows.  The area from Aspendell to the turnoff for North Lake is really coming into color, averaging 75% yellows.  The best show is a grove of beautiful yellow aspens just down the hill from the last houses in town.  The grove is to the south/right as you are going down the hill and pass the last house.  Brilliant yellow.

North Lake:  Some parts of the tree tunnel area has turn brown or dropped due to the storm, but there were quite a few trees that were green two weeks ago and now they have turned a brilliant yellow.  It’s a little difficult to isolate out certain areas that are now brown or barren, but the tree tunnel is at close to 100% or past peak now.  The grove of aspens on the “far” side of the lake (northwest) is at 75% with large swaths of yellow and orange.

Ok, I’ll post some images, but it’s of the previously uploaded sandwich from Erick Schat’s famous Bakkery in Bishop, CA.  I had another Mule Kick sandwich and it was good.  We also stopped by Mountain Light Gallery for some inspiration.
Erick Schat Bakkery, Logo
Mule Kick Sandwich

All photos.  © Copyright Steven Tze – all rights reserved.

Eastern Sierra Fall Colors 2011 – Weather Forecast – Oct 06

Updated: Thursday, Oct 06, 2011 12:15am

Tioga Pass Road, aka Highway 120  through Yosemite is currently closed due to snow.  The best estimate for reopening is probably for this weekend.

Despite some heavy winds and an abundance of rain, most areas along Hwy 395 only received light amounts of snow that did not accumulate on the roads according to National Weather Service reports. The only location that has significant amount of snow is Rock Creek Lakes at the 9700′ elevation, north of Bishop. All reports are from Wednesday midday:

CA – 4 MILES SOUTH-SOUTHEAST OF CROWLEY LAKE – STORM TOTAL OF 1.40 INCHES OF WATER EQUIVALENT WITH 1 INCH OF SNOW STICKING ONLY TO GRASS NOTHING ON PAVEMENT.

CA – 11 MILES WEST-NORTHWEST OF OWENS VALLEY RAW – ROCK CREEK LAKES RESORT STAFF REPORTED A FOOT OF SNOW HAD ALREADY FALLEN AT 9700 FEET.

CA – LEE VINING – STORM TOTAL OF 1.07 INCHES RAIN WITH A TRACE OF SNOWFALL.

Thursday remains the only day in the near term to have any forecast of rain or snow.  This is good news as the good color is still around the Bishop Creek area lakes. Perhaps we can get a report over the next few days on how the leaves have held up through this first winter-like storm of the season.  Areas north of Bishop should still be significantly green and held up well through this storm.  

After Thursday, the remainder of this week and the all of next week (Oct 9-15) is forecast for sunny days and cool evenings.  While this is great for fall color, there will be a lack of clouds to filter the sunlight during midday.

10 day forecasts for areas along Hwy 395, from south to north

I’m planning to be back out to the Eastern Sierras towards the end of next week.  I’m not sure where the good color will be by then but I’ll venture a guess that the peak will be somewhere in the Rock Creek and Crawley Lake areas.

Mono County – Fall Color Guide/Map

Eastern Sierra Fall Colors 2011 – Weather Forecast

The latest weather forecast for the Eastern Sierras has certain locations with dustings of snow as early as Monday night (which is about now).  The strongest weather system bringing in snow is predicted for Wednesday by the National Weather Service.

Weather.com link

Here are the main points of the alert:

* TIMING: HEAVIEST MOUNTAIN SNOW EARLY WEDNESDAY MORNING… WITH SNOW SHOWERS CONTINUING INTO WEDNESDAY EVENING.

* POSSIBLE SNOW ACCUMULATIONS: 5 TO 10 INCHES ABOVE 8000 FEET ALONG THE SIERRA CREST… WITH 3 TO 6 INCHES ABOVE 7500 FEET ELSEWHERE.

* WINDS: SOUTHWEST WINDS 15 TO 25 MPH WITH GUSTS UP TO 50 MPH. RIDGE GUSTS TO AROUND 100 MPH LATE TUESDAY NIGHT INTO WEDNESDAY MORNING.

* SNOW LEVELS: 8500 TO 9000 FEET FALLING TO 6500 FEET BY LATE WEDNESDAY MORNING.

The good news is the forecast, at least from a driving and safety standpoint, is for clear skies and sun on Friday and Saturday.  Being that the only significant colors this past weekend was in the Bishop Creek area, most everywhere north is still green and hopefully won’t be too affected by the snow.  Once the leaves start to turn, contact with snow causes the leaves to fall in a day or less.  And obviously a winter squall can blow down fall color in no time.

Of course, if you are able to make it up to the aspens just before or after the storms this week, there will be some potentially incredible shots to be taken.  Stay safe and good luck!

Post Trip Recap: Bishop Creek Fall Colors 2011-Oct-01

Destination: Bishop Creek area lakes

Itinerary: South Lake area, Lake Sabrina, North Lake. (Google Map of my stops: here)

Departure time: 2:10am

Arrival home time: 10:07pm

In the 18 months or so since I’ve been more serious about photography, I’ve only been out to capture the Fall Foliage once, last year in Hope Valley, CA near Sorensen’s.   Since I have another trip schedule to the Eastern Sierra in just over a week to take my parents, it would be a good idea to do some reconnaissance.  The colors are just starting to come in and the hotbed of colors this weekend has been the lakes of Bishop Creek.  Even so, the colors are 50% in at best.

The original plan was to leave the house between 1:30 and 2:00am.  Google Maps had estimated travel time of 4.5 hours going through Yosemite’s Tioga Pass/Hwy 120 and then south on Hwy 395 past Mammoth, through Bishop, and up towards the lakes using West Line St/Hwy 168.  Since I tend to make good time driving, I didn’t worry took much about leaving a few minutes later than intended.  What I didn’t count on was having to drive through a monitored but still active fire near Tamarack Creek on Tioga Pass.  The speed limit was reduced to 25mph due to smoke on the road.  And what I thought were curiously placed Christmas lights was actually trees on fire.  So of course, I had to pause and take a few snapshots.  I really wished I was bold enough to setup my camera and tripod as it’s really a sight to see an entire tree trunk glowing red with occasional flames.

Even with the impromptu slowdown in Yosemite, I arrived in Bishop just after 6:30am.  With sunrise slated for less than 20 minutes away, I knew I had a chance of sunrise hitting the mountain peaks since the lakes are nestled between high slopes.  Driving out of Bishop and heading up the hill, the peaks briefly lit up with sunlight before going dark.  Then suddenly, it was as if the peaks were lit on fire as the sunrise finally hit in earnest.

South Lake Road, Bishop Creek
South Lake Road
South Lake Road
Parchers Resort

First up on the itinerary is South Lake.  I made it to the end of the road got out of the car to realize it was far too windy for decent photos.  Driving back down, I pulled into one of the mini-parking area above Parchers Resort and hiked along the Bishop Creek (South Fork) before making it back to the road right at Parchers.  There was decent color, but green still dominated.  Yellows and reds on the south side of the road with the most pleasing compositions made along the creek from that trail within the Resort.  I stopped at two more locations with color on the drive down the hill, but most of the color is still green with a mix along the cliffside.

Lake Sabrina

Next up was Lake Sabrina.  Decent color along the lake, about 50%.  It was very windy still and there was an equal mix of fishermen and photogs on site.  Most of the time there was waiting for the right light for each composition.  With the sun rather high in the sky, it was a waiting game for the occasional cloud to pass by and mute the light a bit.

North Lake Road

Less than a mile from Lake Sabrina is the turnoff for North Lake.  The road varies from single lane paved and unpaved with turnouts.  From the photos I had seen online from North Lake, I didn’t expect the lake to be so small.  Upon arriving, there are several reasons most photogs arrive early.  One, to catch the good light.  Two, the fishermen in waders and self-contained inner tubes take over later in the day.  I spent most of my time in the grove of aspens on the far side of the lake seen in most of the typical North Lake photos.  The aspens closest to the main parking area have reds but the majority is green or slightly turning yellow.  The rest of my stay was an attempt at photographing the tree shaded road.  This is also where the greatest frustration of the day occurred.  On more than one occasion, other photogs would see my set up for a shot but would literally walk into my shot to take their photos and we’re not talking about walking in, take a few shots, and leave.  It’s walking in without apologizing, setting up a tripod, taking shots, leaving the tripod in place (and in view of me) while going to change lenses.  This scenario occurred 3 consecutive times in one location and in between my wanting to get the sun behind some clouds, I actually stood by the side of the road for an hour without taking a shot.

Around 2pm, I headed back down to Bishop for a late lunch as breakfast bars and coffee didn’t do the trick.  Powering up the GPS, I searched for two well reviewed restaurants, Imperial Chinese Gourmet and Erick Schat’s Bakkery.  Funny thing was as I was about to turn left from W. Line St. to N. Main St., what did I see?  Mountain Light Gallery.

Now I had seen mentions of Mountain Light on various blogs, but didn’t read into the significance of it.  Even walking in and seeing all of those beautiful Galen Rowell prints framed up on the wall, it didn’t hit me.  Even after seeing book upon book of Galen’s, it still didn’t hit me.  It was only after seeing a display of newspaper and magazine articles of and by Galen and seeing his personal affects, did I realize this is Galen and Barbara Rowell’s gallery and where they ran their business until their deaths in a plane crash in 2002.  Being able to see his large photographs up close and being able to read his comments about those photos is really inspirational and uplifting.

Erick Schat Bakkery, Logo
Mule Kick Sandwich

After being re-inspired by Mountain Light, I stopped by Erick Schat Bakkery, a well-known Dutch bakery.  I brought my point-and-shoot camera but was greeted with a no video and photo sign upon entering.  No matter, I was hungry.  I made a beeline to the sandwich counter and ordered a Mule Kick sandwich.  Think roast beef stacked high with sprouts and jalapeno peppers along with the standard fixings.  Delicious.  Once I stopped the hunger, I walked back in to check out the other offerings.  The bakery is divided into two main sections: sweets and all things bread.  Less than $10 later, I had a bag with a container of mini coconut macaroons, a loaf of their famous Sheepherders Bread, and a loaf of their Beer Bread.

Hwy 395, Convict Lake Area

Rejuvenated and inspired, I headed back up Hwy 395 towards Yosemite to catch sunset at Olmsted Point along Tioga Road.  I stopped the car twice along the way, once when I drove up and out of the Owens Valley and saw sunlight filtering through clouds over Basin Mountain creating what’s called God’s fingers and the second time when storm clouds hovered around the mountains surrounding Convict Lake.

Half Dome from Olmsted Point
Half Dome from Olmsted Point

Maybe it was dumb luck or Galen’s spirit giving me a hand, but I made it to Olmsted Point was less than 10 minutes to spare for the sunset show, and boy was it a show.  As I got out of the car, the last direct light was hitting the trees above the parking area and it would have made some good photographs.  By the time I had my gear, the light was gone.  Fortunately, that wasn’t the main reason I was there.  I was there to hopefully catch alpenglow on the face of Half Dome.  The clouds were in the right place, uniform but open to the west.  Half Dome was dark.  Then as if a dimmer were slowly being switched on, an orange glow begins appear at Half Dome’s base.  Over the course of 7 minutes, the entire face of Half Dome is lit with the warm glow usually only seen when the sun is below the horizon but the light is bounced off the clouds.  And then it was gone.  I spent a few more minutes photographing the red-lit clouds in the area – last exposure, 6:54pm.  I finally packed up my gear and headed for home.

Websites used for this trip:

All photos. October 01, 2011. © Copyright 2011 Steven Tze – all rights reserved.