Stormy sunrise at North Lake, Bishop Creek Canyon, Inyo NF, CA, USA

Stormy sunrise at North Lake, Bishop Creek Canyon, Sunday morning

After photographing lightning near Bishop on Saturday night (see my previous post), I thought there might be some interesting clouds still hanging around on Sunday morning, so I woke early and drove up to North Lake, near the upper end of Bishop Creek Canyon.

And there were clouds – almost too many. Another small rain squall was moving up from the south along the Sierra crest, approaching Bishop Creek Canyon just as the sun was due to rise. There were enough clouds to the east that I thought they might block the light. And I think some clouds lingering over the White Mountains did block the very first sunlight, but just after sunrise some clouds started to turn color overhead, and soon the peaks began to light up as well.

It evolved quickly into a dramatic scene. It was a little breezy, rippling the water surface, but there were still nice reflections at first. Then the wind increased, so I climbed up the ridge along the eastern shore of the lake to get a different perspective, one that didn’t depend as much on reflections.

Soon the clouds closed in, the light disappeared, and it started sprinkling. Back at the car I ran into my friends Dave and Franka – a nice surprise. It turns out that they had been camping nearby the whole weekend. Then it started raining more seriously, so it seemed like a good time to head back to Bishop.

First light on peaks above North Lake, Bishop Creek Canyon, Inyo NF, CA, USA

Early-morning light on peaks above North Lake, Bishop Creek Canyon, Sunday morning

Early Fall Color

Before our trip to Bishop, I’d been hearing reports of early color on the east side. It was too windy for aspen closeups Sunday morning, but I saw some nice color at North Lake, especially near the outlet creek. Overall I’d say the color was similar to last year, which was also a little early. But there were still lots of green trees, and the peak color in the upper reaches of Bishop Creek Canyon hasn’t arrived yet. Give it another week or so. North Lake is at about 9,000 feet. At Aspendell, just a little lower at 8,500 feet, the aspens were dark green, so they have a way to go.

Monday afternoon Claudia and I drove up Rock Creek Canyon. This road climbs to over 10,000 feet, so you can often find fall color there earlier than anywhere else on the east side of the Sierra. And the very highest aspens in Rock Creek Canyon were at about peak color, with some bare branches, and some green, but most trees quite colorful.

The problem with this area (and with most high-elevation aspens) is that the trees are short and scrubby. You won’t find the nice tall, straight, white trunks that can add so much structure and beauty to aspen photographs. I tried working with the patterns of leaves, and found a couple of compositions I liked, which you’ll find below.

Aspen-leaf kaleidoscope, Rock Creek Canyon, Inyo NF, CA, USA

Aspen-leaf kaleidoscope, Rock Creek Canyon, yesterday afternoon

On the drive home we also saw some color on the highest reaches of Parker Bench (south of Parker Lake), and near Warren Canyon in Lee Vining Canyon. These are both high-elevation spots, and it’s not unusual to see some trees turning there this time of year.

Overall I’d say that the color is a little early for the higher-elevation aspens on the east side. Some of these areas, like North Lake and Lake Sabrina, may peak around the end of September, rather than the first week of October. But this doesn’t really mean anything for the mid- and lower-elevation trees. They may turn a little early, or they may turn at their usual times. A lot depends on the weather over the next few of weeks. It’s unusually warm right now, but temperatures are forecast to drop late this week, with a chance for a dusting of snow Saturday above 9,000 feet. Then temperatures are expected to warm up again next week. That colder spell this weekend is likely to start some mid-elevation trees turning, but may not have much effect on the lower-elevation aspens. If the colder weather brings wind, that will strip most of the early-turning, high-elevation trees of their leaves. We’ll see.

Mid-elevation aspens include the ones in lower Bishop Creek Canyon, upper Lundy Canyon, Conway Summit, and Dunderberg. Lower-elevation aspens include the ones around Convict Lake, lower McGee Creek, June Lake Loop, Lee Vining Canyon, and lower Lundy Canyon (in other words, most of my favorite aspen-photography locations). The mid-elevation trees typically turn around the first or second week of October, while the lower elevation ones are usually best around the third week of October.

Jeffrey pine with autumn aspens, Rock Creek Canyon, Inyo NF, CA, USA

Jeffrey pine with autumn aspens, Rock Creek Canyon, yesterday afternoon

I’ll let you know what I see and hear during the coming weeks, but I can’t be everywhere, so if you head over to the east side and see some fall color, please post a comment and let us know what you find. Also, here are some additional resources to help you keep up with the latest fall-color developments:

  • Natural History Wanderings, Sandy Steinman’s blog.
  • Calphoto, a Yahoo discussion group with reports from photographers around California.
  • California Fall Color—with the caveat that when they say “Go Now!” they’re usually jumping the gun, and you should probably wait a week. Check the accompanying photos (which often show lots of green trees even when they say “Go Now!”).
  • Parcher’s Resort gives good information about the Bishop Creek area.
  • It’s such a great time of year for photography, and it’s just getting started!

    — Michael Frye

    Related Posts: A Stormy Night; Signs of Autumn

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    Michael Frye is a professional photographer specializing in landscapes and nature. He is the author or principal photographer of The Photographer’s Guide to YosemiteYosemite Meditations, Yosemite Meditations for Women, and Digital Landscape Photography: In the Footsteps of Ansel Adams and the Great Masters. He has also written three eBooks: Light & Land: Landscapes in the Digital Darkroom, Exposure for Outdoor Photography, and Landscapes in Lightroom 5: The Essential Step-by-Step Guide. Michael written numerous magazine articles on the art and technique of photography, and his images have been published in over thirty countries around the world. Michael has lived either in or near Yosemite National Park since 1983, currently residing just outside the park in Mariposa, California.