It’s really a short distance from central Oregon to northern California. Before we knew it, we were in Weed for the night, watching a guy chase his German Shepherd chasing a deer in the campground. What is so astounding is you’re driving along, la-de-da, and then, all of a sudden, this massive bulk is in front of you, Mount Shasta. The next day we headed east, around its southern flank, and every now and then, we spotted it lurking behind us, like a stalker.
We made an honest effort to find fall color at Mount Lassen and Plumas County. There are few deciduous trees and so not much color. We reached the visitor center at the southern end of the park and found out that we could stay in their parking lot for the night. It’s so quiet there right now that it was very pleasant. And we finally got a clear night with almost no ambient light. The stars were spectacular. We looked for meteors – the Leonid meteor shower occurred the night before – but I only saw one.
We headed to Plumas County with high hopes. Of all the northern counties, Plumas is the one with an active, updated website on fall foliage. “Yellow” they said. “Yellow, yellow, yellow.” I was a willing believer. Mais non! Okay, there was yellow here and there. But not brilliant yellow, not yellow you jump out of the car to photograph. We drove around for 2 days and found little yellow that excited us. So, we caught up with John Petrin, who lives in the area during the summer months, and who didn’t have to treat us to a great dinner at the Grizzly Grill, but did. Thanks, John. Sorry we missed you, Sandy.
The next day we headed seriously southeast to Bridgeport. We’re back in Eastern California. Hurray!! It feels good to see high desert country again, where the trees are on the mountains instead of all around you. The foliage reports on Eastern California said the trees were getting past prime, but were still looking good. The trees in Reno and Carson City certainly looked good. So we arrived in Bridgeport with high hopes. We drove a short distance to Twin Lakes after we established camp. There were some very nice trees on the water and there were deer all over the place. We meandered onto a gravel road to return to Highway 395; there are lots of unpaved roads in Eastern California.
The foliage we’ve seen so far has been good. Some areas are looking pretty good; others are totally blown, with all the leaves on the ground. I like the trees that still have a few leaves clinging to the tiptop of the tree. The good thing about photographing in high desert country is that the groves of aspen trees are mostly isolated, with other types of trees not interfering with them. When you get a distance from them, they stand out in the landscape. We found a great streamside area with lots of trees, ice in the water and a picturesque old cabin. But it was very chilly. One campsite neighbor told us it got down to twelve degrees on Tuesday night. Yikes!
On Wednesday we got up early and drove south towards Conway Summit but were distracted by a neat looking aspen grove about a third-mile off of Highway 395. Dave found a dirt track going down there and we found a wonderful small stream surrounded by aspens. The aspen leaves and ice in the stream held our attention. A little investigating also turned up an abandoned cabin. It was chilly in the shadows, but we stayed for about an hour.
On Thursday, we changed locations to the remote parking lot at Panum Crater, near Mono Lake. From there, we get a spectacular view of the night stars as well as first light on the Sierra Nevada peaks in the area. That afternoon, we visited Lundy Canyon, with lots of colorful trees surrounding Lundy Lake and the stream that runs from it. I was scuffing around in the fallen leaves, when I noticed the wonderful patterns on them. Each one was different. It was a beautiful afternoon.
The next morning, it was off to the June Lake Loop, a nice 15-mile circle around several lakes. The weather was again beautiful and many trees were hanging on to their leaves.
On the way back to Panum Crater, we stopped at the junction of Highways 395 and 120. Since the 1970’s, at least, there has always been a prospector’s grave there. For years, it was a pair of boots sticking out of the dirt with a wooden sign for the Unknown Prospector. I always thought it was a joke, Apparently not.
After a refreshing nap, we headed back to Lundy Canyon, and found some nice subject matter. And then, to Whoa Nellie Deli for a great dinner. The Deli is in the Lee Vining Mobil gas station, and, Oh My, they make good food. I had Lobster Taquitos and Dave nabbed the last order of Rack of Lamb. Along with a $13 bottle of decent red, we watched the light go down over Mono Lake and watched the Cardinals win the World Series. Yay!!
Our final picturesque drive was over the Sierra Nevada through Yosemite. There wasn’t much snow, but we did find some ice.
After a quiet night of camping at the Mariposa Fairgrounds, we drove to Merced to visit Jeff and Betty Denno. After a wonderful brunch and some catchup, the guys settled down to watch the 49ers play Cleveland. Betty and I went to the Vista Ranch Pumpkin Pit, an area that provides loads of pumpkins and other autumn vegies, a corn maze, hay rides and a long amble through flowered byways. When we got back, we drove over to the Merced Wildlife Refuge. After finding a location with Sandhill Cranes, Redwing Blackbirds, Egrets, Ibis and various other avian life, we settled down with wine, crackers, cheese and pickled carrots to watch birds standing, walking, calling, roosting and flying. It was an amazing finale to our trip.
We made it home today. It’s been a great trip, but we are looking forward to seeing friends and family.