Early Fall Color in the Sierra

Yellow and green aspens in Lee Vining Canyon (from a few years ago)

Yellow and green aspens in Lee Vining Canyon (from a few years ago)

Last weekend my wife Claudia and I made our annual pilgrimage to Bishop, on the eastern side of the Sierra, for the Millpond Music Festival—or, as Joe Craven likes to say, “Music festival and consciousness-raising event.”

We’ve actually lost track of how many years in a row we’ve gone to Millpond; it’s either twelve or thirteen. But we look forward to it every year—it’s relaxing and fun, and a great way to refresh and renew our spirits. I think I see more smiling faces per hour at Millpond than anywhere else. In fact this past Sunday evening, dancing in front of the stage to Masanga Marimba and Los Lobos (an interesting mix!), I think I saw more big, wide, joyous smiles than I’ve seen all year.

By now you’re probably wondering, “What’s this got to do with photography?” Well first of all, I think we all need to recharge ourselves once in awhile. For me, since I tend to eat, sleep, and breathe photography on most days, it’s good to do something completely different. And Millpond is not only different, but I get to be outside and enjoy something creative and life-affirming like music.

For many people—including, I bet, most of you—a weekend of photography is a wonderful way to renew your energy. It’s something completely different from most Monday-through-Friday jobs, because you get to go outside and do something creative. Anything that makes us go outside and be creative has to be great. No wonder we love it.

On a more practical level, since Millpond usually takes place on the third weekend of September, we always check out the aspens on the eastern side of the Sierra. Many years some high-elevation aspens are already changing color by this time; in fact last year I photographed yellow leaves in Rock Creek Canyon after the festival.

But this year we saw very few signs of autumn. Some trees here and there showed hints of color, but that’s it. It seems that fall is arriving a bit late. And we’re experiencing some warm, Indian-summer weather this week, which won’t encourage the aspens to turn. So it looks like the early-fall hotspots on the eastern side of the Sierra, like North Lake and Lake Sabrina outside of Bishop, might turn later than usual—perhaps waiting until the second week of October, rather than changing color at the end of September or beginning of October, which is more typical.

Of course these things are hard to predict—a sudden cold snap could change everything. And I couldn’t even begin to guess what might happen later in the season, as so much depends on the weather.

Naturally I’ll post periodic reports here about what I see and hear. Another good resource for fall color information is the Calphoto group on Yahoo. In the meantime, here’s a link to a previous post outlining the typical fall progression in and around Yosemite.

And if you see any leaves changing color, post a comment and let us know. I’d also love to hear about ways that you recharge your energy, whether it’s photography or something else!

—Michael Frye

Related Posts: Music and Aspens; Autumn in Yosemite

Michael Frye is a professional photographer specializing in landscapes and nature. He is the author and photographer of The Photographer’s Guide to Yosemite, Yosemite Meditations, and Digital Landscape Photography: In the Footsteps of Ansel Adams and the Great Masters, plus the eBook Light & Land: Landscapes in the Digital Darkroom. He has 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.

In the Moment: Michael Frye's Landscape Photography Blog

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