Column: Eastern Sierra’s Seasonal Show Rivals Northeastern Foliage


Last week’s raindrops were an even stronger clue to the arrival of fall and reminded me of the words of my favorite poet.

“And nature is calling, calling, let’s go,” wrote Robert Service more than a century ago in his iconic work, “The Call of the Wild.”

I’ve answered that call for over half a century as the rugged Eastern Sierra high country slides from summer to winter, offering a final burst of glory with a massive display of brilliant fall colors. .

That time is fast approaching again.

Already, some of the smaller aspens at higher elevations are beginning to show yellow spots. Between now and mid-October, fall colors will slowly trickle through the groves of aspen that blanket the rugged Sierra Canyons until the last leaves of fall have been stripped away by winter winds. coming.

Like clockwork, the first snows will arrive in the high country after the first week of October, adding another dimension of beauty.

After so many decades I am still overwhelmed by the beauty of nature exposed only a few hundred miles to the north and will be returning this year.

I have written about this beauty before, but sometimes after the fact. I share it now early, hoping some readers can go and experience the beauty.

I have traversed some of the highest passes in the Sierra on horseback, and in my energetic youth I have walked through remote wild voids.

On high school graduation day, I was in the car with some friends that afternoon heading for the high country. This was way before modern lightweight gear and I was 125lbs and my pack was 60lbs.

I can’t take it anymore and I really don’t want to.

For some reason now the distances are longer, the trails are steeper, the mountains are taller and the air feels thinner. I’m still drawn to this powerful place, but the joy now comes from the journey, not the destination.

Part of the seasonal display is the acceleration of nature as birds, bears, deer and even wild trout eagerly feed in anticipation of winter.

There’s something quite magical and Monet about standing in a wild pond surrounded by fiery aspens reflecting their colors in the rippling water and feeling the tug of a wild speckled trout that’s taken the little fly you have offered. Bringing the fish to hand, the glory of its fall spawning colors is breathtaking as I put it back in the cold water. People who fish understand this special moment of connection.

You don’t have to be a hiker or wilderness camper to enjoy this seasonal spectacle. A hot cup of coffee sitting in an aspen grove in autumn, or a roadside stop overlooking a meandering stream meandering through a patch of trees standing sentinel at the water’s edge can be just as satisfying.

There is still time to plan such an experience.

The 200-mile stretch of California’s Eastern Sierra offers dozens of prime fall-colored locations, with campgrounds and accommodations available from Lone Pine to Bridgeport along Highway 395.

Typically the peak of fall color in the Sierra is around the second week of October, but the show will begin next week at higher elevations and continue in some places at lower elevations until late october.

The vast maple forests that draw throngs of tourists to the northeast for fall color are spectacular, but the Eastern Sierra can be just as breathtaking.

The Eastside’s colorful canyons look like lava flows from afar while the aspen groves glow orange, red and yellow. The jagged, snow-capped peaks of the High Sierra range provide a dramatic backdrop to this magnificent spectacle of nature.

Some of the most concentrated color locations include Big Pine, Bishop Creek, and Rock Creek Canyons, Mammoth Lakes, June Lake Loop, Lee Vining and Lundy Canyons, Virginia Lakes, and the Twin Lakes area around Bridgeport.

Many of these areas offer hiking trails for those who like to get away from the car crowds that can be heavy on fall color days.

To help you find the best spots, the Bishop Chamber of Commerce offers a fall color map of the Eastern Sierra that can be downloaded to your phone. Visit and click on the “Explore Here” tab.

I don’t know what draws me so strongly to the high country every fall. Maybe it’s the overwhelming beauty, the challenge of the unforgiving wilderness, or just a chance to carry on a tradition I’ve enjoyed all my life.

I may have found the embodiment of the poet’s words when Service wrote:

Have you gazed at the bare grandeur where there is nothing else to gaze upon,

Pieces mounted and scenes of curtains galore,

Great mountains high in the sky, emblazoned with blinding sunsets,

Black canyons where the rapids surge and rumble?

Whatever the reason, the Wild is calling, calling, let us go.

Cowan is a freelance columnist. Email [email protected] or visit


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