In this edition of "In Your Backyard," FOX26 Sports Anchor Nick King is traveling back to the Eastern Sierra, hunting for fall color. While most people might think autumn doesn't happen in California - it sure does - and there isn't a better place in the state to experience it than the east side of the Sierra Nevadas.
“There's a magic to it that you can’t - it's really hard to explain but it's, it's absolutely breathtaking," says Josh Wray of Mammoth Lakes Tourism.
"I’d almost say it's like out of a movie," says Krisdina Karady. "It's gorgeous. Man. It blows you away.”
Leaves washed in orange, yellow, gold and crimson red - up and down creek-carved canyons - surrounding alpine lakes of every shade of blue - beneath 12,000 and 13,000 foot mountain peaks. This is autumn in the Eastern Sierra.
“It's really something you got to see," says Jared Smith of Parcher's Resort. "Because there's really nothing else like it. And there's only like a two and a half week, three week window where it's like that. So it's really special.”
Every year, from mid-September to mid-October, the always spectacular scenic drive along U.S. Highway 395 gets even better. For 150 miles through Inyo and Mono Counties, fall color is everywhere.
John Poimoroo, who runs californiafallcolor.com, says "People are flabbergasted that California has such spectacular color. They had no idea.”
And that's the thing. Even for people who live in the state, it's still quite the surprise that California puts on this kind of dazzling display.
“I am constantly answering questions where people are asking that's, that's not in California is it?" says Wray. "It's kind of that awe inspiring, ‘are you kidding me?’ type of reaction.”
Smith says, “‘We get a lot of wows. They come up once in the fall and they’re like, ‘holy cow, I have no idea.’ We get a lot of I’m gonna need to buy a better camera, we get a lot of that kind of stuff.”
Jeff Simpson, of Mono County Tourism, says, “Just about everyone that drives the 395 corridor through the Eastern Sierra is surprised. It's just not typical to everywhere else in California and you know it's mountains, really, and you're in your backyard.”
The mountains make California's fall special. Not only does the dramatic landscape paint an epic backdrop for fall color, but it creates a cascading change in color. The trees turn at the highest elevations first, and descend from there.
Plus, California beats other parts of the country this time of year thanks to that famous Golden State sunshine.
Poimiroo says, "the California light is so clear - it comes through blue skies - which they don't often see in the rest of the world. Not like we do, and that light comes through and the whole ground just literally illuminates it becomes iridescent in gold."
There are dozens and dozens of spots to stop and soak in the splendor - South Lake, North Lake and Lake Sabrina in Bishop Creek Canyon; a steady climb up McGee Creek Canyon; an easy, three mile hike around Convict Lake; the June Lake Loop, featuring four lakes right next to the road and a fifth, Parker Lake, a short afternoon stroll away. The list goes on, and on.
But again, keep in mind, the aspen, willow and cotton trees do peak at different times, based on elevation. And the steep slope of the Eastern Sierra means you can go from 5,000 to 10,000 feet pretty quickly, so you'll want to bookmark a few websites to assist in planning your trip.
monocounty.org does a weekly Fall Color Report during September and October, alerting travelers to what areas of the Eastern Sierra are "patchy," "near peak," "peaking," and past peak. The website also has a list of Fall Events, Fall Color Photo Galleries, Fall Color Drives, a Fall Color Map & Guide and Fall Color Viewing Areas.
californiafallcolor.com provides multiple, daily updates on what areas of the state are peaking, complete with current pictures. The site also has an archive system, so you can easily search by Month/Year and/or Location, to help get an idea of what area might be best to go to, and when, based on when it peaked in years past. CFC also has an updated Color Map, to see which areas of the Eastern Sierra are "just starting," "patchy," "near peak," "peak" and "past peak."
visitmammoth.com is also a helpful resource when planning any trip to the Eastern Sierra. Mammoth Lakes Tourism's website actually has "how-to videos for enjoying fall colors," that cover topics like "fall mountain biking," "fall color hotspots," "fall color hikes," "fall color drives," and "your ultimate guide to fall fishing."