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Leaf Peeping Along the Eastern Sierra

We headed over to the east side of the Sierra to check out the fall color. We drove over the Tioga Pass where I think we saw our best color, down to June Lake Loop, then up to Lundy Canyon, taking short walks from the car to get a closer look at nice color when we spotted it. We also made a stop by Mono Lake to admire the reflections of the Tufas in the clear blue water.

Distance: About 300 miles roundtrip
Difficulty: Easy
Elevation Range: 7,200′ to 9,000′
Date: October 3, 2014

Our first stop along the Tioga Road was at Olmsted Point, partly to stretch our legs but also to show my friend Suzette the stunning views from here. Gail used the relief map to help orientate her on our drive across the Tioga Road. (Photo of Suzette and myself with Half Dome by Gail Gilbert)

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I am going to share one of our secret places to see some great color in the aspens, along with a beautiful backdrop. We headed east of the Tioga entrance to Yosemite, past Saddlebag Road and Ellery Lake. There is an elevation marker on the right side of the road that says “9,000′ elevation” and there is a wide spot to pull off of Tioga Road and park. This wide spot really is the beginning of an old road that goes down along Lee Vining Creek. We parked our car and walked down the road. The recent snow still had a dusting on Dana Plateau and Mount Dana, creating some really nice pictures for us.

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It turned out that my secret place wasn’t so secret after all. This was the first of several professional photographers that we encountered during our day. They were busy trying to locate and capture the best color and we shared our plans with each other.

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We headed south on Hwy 395 to the June Lake Loop to see what the color was looking like there. Grant Lake’s water level was way down but some waterfowl were busy feeding in it. There was a pretty splash of color coming down a draw, but really nothing else in the way of color in this area.

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Silver Lake was just starting to get some yellow color but it was mostly green. It was still very pretty though. We caught up with some yellow aspens right alongside the road as we headed for Gull Lake.

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It was getting close to lunchtime and we headed down to the Gull Lake Marina where they have a picnic table, benches, restrooms and an incredible view of the lake. We had brought our lunches with us, not really knowing if we would be in civilization when it was lunchtime. After lunch, we headed over to check out the unique wood carvings that they have.

I checked out the tackle shop and the white board that showed recent plants and what they were catching them on. I saw a smoker in operation out on the deck and was curious what was in it. I lucked out because the person using it needed to check on it. He was smoking several trout and I knew at that moment that I need to give this a try. Mmmmm.

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We were very curious what the fall color would look like in Lundy Canyon. We had seen some pictures that had been posted, including comments about “go now,” indicating that this area was really looking good. We headed north on Hwy 395, turning east on Lundy Canyon Road.

There is another secret place we have that usually has some really nice color. . .and a porta potty. It is hard to explain where this is but it is the first good pullout on the south side. You just might spot the porta potty first. We walked around in this area where the aspens were just starting to turn yellow, but still showed a lot of green.

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A photograph of yellow aspen leaves only shows half of their beauty. When they are shaking and twirling in the breeze, the colors of yellow and green flicker in a beautiful way. I tried to capture a little of this for you in this video.

We drove up the road to the beaver pond where we had gotten some great pictures last year on October 5. It is always a beautiful spot but the aspens were quite a bit later than they were last year. We did find a few in their orange color though. It you are planning a trip over to check out the color, you might wait a bit if you can. If you can’t, it will still be gorgeous.

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We continued driving up to the end of the road, stopping along the way for some pictures.

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It was time to start heading back toward home but we weren’t ready to call it quits yet though. We decided that we needed to stop at Mono Lake and check out those weird looking tufa towers. Tufa towers are limestone formations and here is how the Mono Lake Committee describes how they are created.

“Tufa is essentially common limestone. What is uncommon about this limestone is the way it forms. Typically, underwater springs rich in calcium (the stuff in your bones) mix with lake water rich in carbonates (the stuff in baking soda). As the calcium comes in contact with carbonates in the lake, a chemical reaction occurs resulting in calcium carbonate–limestone. The calcium carbonate precipitates (settles out of solution as a solid) around the spring, and over the course of decades to centuries, a tufa tower will grow. Tufa towers grow exclusively underwater, and some grow to heights of over 30 feet. The reason visitors see so much tufa around Mono Lake today is because the lake level fell dramatically after water diversions began in 1941.”

Mono Lake is an ancient saline lake that covers over 70 square miles. They say that it is among the oldest lakes in North America, at least 760,000 years old and probably 1-3 million years.

I love this picture that Gail Gilbert took of Suzette and I walking along the trail down to the lake. Can you believe these reflections on the lake?

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Algae, brine shrimp and alkali flies live in Mono Lake and provide food for many birds that nest in Mono Lake. Did you know that Mono Lake has the second largest rookery of California Gulls in North America? Snowy Plovers, Eared Grebes, Wilson’s Phalaropes, Red-necked Phalaropes, and 79 other species of waterfowl visit Mono Lake during the year.

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We headed back up Tioga Road, making a quick stop just below Ellery Lake where we spotted a blaze of color along Lee Vining Creek.

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We had a fun day as we checked out the fall color. For some reason it is a little early for the big color in these areas. Some people say it is because of the drought, some say we haven’t had the cold weather yet but I never can figure out why the color does what it does. I look forward to checking out many other fall colors in our nearby mountains as they start to appear.

I thought some maps of the areas that we traveled may be helpful. The topographic map and the Google Earth map are of our first stop at the 9,000′ elevation marker east of Ellery Lake on the Tioga Road (Hwy 120 where the road horseshoes).

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Our second main stop was on the June Lake Loop.

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Our third main stop was along Lundy Canyon.

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Sources:

https://www.gulllakemarina.com/
http://monolake.org/
http://www.californiafallcolor.com/tag/eastern-sierra/
http://www.monocounty.org/fall-colors/

Prior Blogs on This Area:

https://www.sierranewsonline.com/index.php?option=com_k2&view=item&id=2736:leaf-peeping-in-lundy-canyon&Itemid=535
https://www.sierranewsonline.com/index.php?option=com_k2&view=item&id=2757:warren-canyon-hike&Itemid=535

About Candace Gregory

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