Fall colors part 1: Lake Tahoe area

It is widely known, but not always appreciated, that the West and East Coasts experience seasons differently.  For example, Fall colors are more muted in the West than in the Midwest or East.  During my recent hikes and walks I have been particularly aware of the seasonal colors, and I decided to share some of my favorite images.  As a departure from most of my posts, the pictures that follow are of things I saw during several different walks and hikes over the past few weeks, rather than a single hike.  In this post I focus on the Lake Tahoe area.

Perhaps the most famous example of Fall colors in the Sierras is the aspens.  In mid-October I hiked in the South Lake Tahoe area on a new section of the Tahoe Rim Trail and it turned out to be near the peak of the color this year.  A first glimpse was a grove of aspens that were a beautiful golden shade against the evergreen trees adjacent to the trail.

picture of grove of aspens near Daggett Pass

Grove of aspens near Daggett Pass

Part of what I mean by more muted color in the West is that the trees that do turn color are often kind of sprinkled among other trees that do not turn color.  Here are several aspens hiding among the evergreen trees.

photo of aspens near Daggett Pass

Aspens near Daggett Pass

Two weeks later I made another trip to the Tahoe area, specifically Tahoe Donner, a few days after an early-season snowstorm had blanketed the area with nearly 2 feet of snow.  Since a regular hike wasn’t feasible, I took a long walk (about 12 miles!) on streets and found several colorful and unusual sights.  For one thing, hardly any of the aspens had lost their leaves.  Usually the first snowfall does not occur until after the leaves have dropped, so it was somewhat unusual, and pretty, to see fully-leafed aspens against the snow.  This tree hadn’t really started to turn color yet.

image of aspen on a snow-covered slope in Tahoe Donner

Aspen on a snow-covered slope in Tahoe Donner

In a more shaded area I encountered another aspen that had clearly shed most of its leaves after the snowfall.  The leaves looked like Nature’s confetti on top of the snow.

picture of aspen confetti

Aspen confetti

The aspens weren’t the only things caught off-guard by the early snow.  The town of Truckee has a yard waste pickup program in which property owners place pine needles, pine cones, and twigs in special green bags for weekly pickup and recycling.  Clearly one property owner had done quite a bit of cleanup right before the snowfall, and the bags had gotten partially covered when the snowplow cleared the street.

photo of green yard waste bags awaiting pickup

Green yard waste bags awaiting pickup

I had previously been vaguely aware that there were both red and yellow fire hydrants in Tahoe Donner.  It is interesting to note that all fire hydrants have a specially marked snow pole either attached or immediately adjacent, to help mark their location.  This is particularly useful later in the season when the snow is deeper and doesn’t fully melt until Spring.  On my walk I noted that the red hydrants seem to be taller than the yellow ones.  I’m not sure about the red-and-yellow ones.

image of colorful fire hydrants, each with its own snow pole

Colorful fire hydrants, each with its own snow pole

Since it was still October, the election campaign was in full swing.  Most of the major intersections seemed to have sprouted a small forest of campaign signs.  Interestingly, all of the campaign signs I saw were for local races.  In most years, the election is done and the signs have been removed prior to the first snowfall.

picture of campaign signs

Campaign signs

One house that I particularly noticed was all dressed up for the election season, too.  The day of my walk there wasn’t any wind, so the propeller was quiet.

photo of propeller and more election season finery

Propeller and more election season finery

On my walk I went the full length of Skislope, which is a little over 6 miles long.  It passes the Tahoe Donner Downhill Ski Area, a small, family-oriented ski area.  Since I was aware that the lifts weren’t running yet, I was a little surprised to see ski tracks criss-crossing the hillside.  Then I realized that it’s not that much of a hike to the top of the hill, and fresh snow is always irresistible to die-hard skiers.

image of ski tracks in the first snowfall of the season

Ski tracks in the first snowfall of the season

A couple of days later I decided to showshoe on one of the many hiking trails in Tahoe Donner.  The weather had been rather warm and the snow was starting to melt fairly quickly.  So I went to the Glacier Way trailhead, the highest-elevation trailhead in Tahoe Donner.  While out on the trail I encountered a cross-country skier taking her 3 dogs for a jaunt.  (For whatever it’s worth, I was wearing a long-sleeved shirt and was over-dressed for the temperature.)

picture of cross-country skier with canine entourage enjoying the snow

Cross-country skier with canine entourage enjoying the snow

Later that evening, after enjoying watching the Giants finish their World Series sweep, I had decided that I would go back out for a little more showshoeing by the light of the full moon.  (No matter that it was one day early.)  Although I had equipped myself with a headlamp and 3 flashlights, just in case, I only used a flashlight briefly to ensure that I was putting the left snowshoe on my left boot.  Other than that detail, the moonlight was more than sufficient for me to see where I was going.  It was truly gorgeous.  The trees were like silhouettes, yet cast stark shadows on the snow, and a few clouds in the sky were lit up by the moonlight.  Of course I had taken my camera with me, hoping to be able to get some pictures, but my tripod was over 200 miles away in the Bay Area so I had to make do with hand-held, l-o-n-g exposures.  I could see lots of interesting detail on my display screen setting up each shot, but the pictures themselves were almost completely black.  This is an example of what I got, though, after correcting for dynamic range.

image: after Van Gogh’s Starry Night, in black and white

After Van Gogh’s Starry Night, in black and white

Of course I was able to see more detail than this image shows, but it gives a hint of how hauntingly beautiful it was to snowshoe by moonlight.

In a future post I will show some favorite Fall color images from the Bay Area.

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5 Responses to Fall colors part 1: Lake Tahoe area

  1. What a fantastic “California” -esque Starry Night!

  2. Pingback: Fall colors part 2: Bay Area | trailhiker

  3. Pingback: Christmas colors | trailhiker

  4. Pingback: Fall colors part 2: Bay Area | trailhiker

  5. Pingback: Winter colors: Lake Tahoe area | trailhiker

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