Thursday, October 23, 2008

A fall Sierra walk

After such a dry spring and warm summer, I didn't expect much in the way of fall color this year. But in the last week or so, the trees have started coming on.

Early rain and some cold nights have given the leaves a shove into autumn. The color is especially vivid in the colder drainages, the creek and river canyons.

Yesterday, I went hiking with a friend on the Caples Creek trail, which starts near the creek's confluence with the Silver Fork of the American River, off Silver Fork Road. The heart-shaped black cottonwood leaves were a shimmering deep gold. The aspens were at peak color: light, not leaf. The willows flashed against the dark granite and water along the stream.

The black oaks, which I expected to be really disappointing this year, were a rich golden yellow trending to red, cascading down the slopes. Rose leaves clung to creek-side dogwoods. The creek itself was flowing clear and slow, transporting packs of leaves downstream. It was a clear, bright-blue Sierra day.

The Caples Creek trail is also noteworthy because of its big, old Jeffrey pines, cedars and firs; the big granite shoulders that intrude from each side of the canyon; lovely meadows with native plants; and a basalt postpile on the canyon's north side.

The trail has wonderful flowers in the spring. We could see their remnants yesterday: fascinating seedpods on the lilies, scarlet berries on the false Solomon seal, gnarled, desiccated, maroon snow plant. (I am waiting for the day when someone writes the Field Guide to Dead Flowers of the Sierra Nevada, but doubt it's at the top of any naturalist's list.)

We didn't see anyone on the trail yesterday, a Wednesday, but there was plenty of evidence of hikers and trail bikes (motorcycles). The lower part of the trail is open to motorcycles, which are deepening the ruts, widening the trail, and adding to the dust this time of year.

But on this weekday, at least, the Caples Creek trail was a beautiful, quiet place to hike. We listened to the birds, chickarees, and creek. We examined the abundant pine and fir cones. And most of all, we breathed the clear, clean air and rejoiced in a lovely fall Sierra day.

Note: All photos are from the Caples Creek trail, shot in October 2007.

No comments: