Finally: Fall Color



Today was the last day on the road.  Doug was headed up to Quincy for an extra day of riding.  I was thinking of doing the same but rain was forecasted and if I was honest, the office was calling me back. Riding with people is fun, but it’s hard to take your time exploring and getting out into the woods to be with the woods. I’m usually herding cats to get everyone to the endpoint with maximum fun and safety.  Tad, Doug, and I had had breakfast at Jacks before we all head our separate ways.

Jack’s Restaurant and Bakery (C is average. No grade inflation here):

SeatingB-It was a local hot spot for breakfast and they did well getting us right in.  The table was in the center of all the commotion, but it wasn’t unpleasant enough to move.
AtmosphereC-The restaurant has a dated feel to it, but wasn’t distracting from the experience.
Wait StaffB+Our waitress was great.  She was very welcoming and on top of ensuring we were taken care of.
FoodCAverage greasy spoon fare. I had a ham and cheese omelet which didn’t have the best of cheese in it, but standard for the non-designer breakfast.
ValueCPrice seemed to be on par for the area.
OverallC+I’d go back.  Jack’s is an easy option for those looking to not deal with the massive crowds at Schatt’s Bakkery just down the road.

We saw that there was a AAA of Southern California office right nearby Jack’s. We wandered in to see what was in there. It turns out there were a few nice people as well as a whole lot of maps. In the world of GPS it seems the paper map is going by the wayside. The big problem with GPS is it’s hard to see all of the roads. GPS tends to show you the largest roads which are usually not the ones riders want to take. A paper map has all the little squiggles that we tend to gravitate to. With a full refresh of California maps we all were headed off. Doug went to Quincy, Tad jetted to San Francisco, and I took the long way to San Jose.

The mountains to the west of Bishop tend to have one of the most brilliant displays of fall color in the eastern Sierras.  I’ve never hit this area “on time” but usually something in the area is in color every time I go.  There are three main areas to look for color: North Lake, Lake Sabrina,  South Lake, and Aspendell.  South Lake doesn’t have any color of its own as there are no deciduous tress at the lake.  The road up to it, has great color.

Thus, the first major area to hit was South Lake.  About 15 miles out of Bishop, South Lake Road veers off to the left.  After a quick loop de loop there are a set of trees off to the left hand side that light up with color!  Fall color here is extremely fickle.  It varies by year, latitude, elevation, and local weather.  I think I was a touch early (ala a few days), but there was plenty to see in the area.

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The V-Strom blended in perfectly into the area!

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There’s a house that sits off into the mountains next to this wonderful display of color. I’m envious of that piece of real estate! I do believe the state plows 168 and South Lake Road all the way to just about the end. Thus, this is a four season accessible area. The aspens were in great color today! There was a fair amount of lime green but enough yellow to make the trip worthwhile. I was here the same weekend last year and there were far fewer yellow trees in the same area.

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I was excited to find some photographers in the area! One even volunteered to take my picture. The nice thing about having somebody who takes pictures to take your picture is that you’re likely to get a decent picture. I can count time and time again photos of myself that were not composed well. I’m always a little surprised I’m even in the picture. This one, however was a winner. I love the fact that I’m off-center a bit and that you can see the fall color behind me.

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The next major stop was North Lake. It tends to be a bit earlier for peak color so I was hoping it would have a full show. The road to Northlake is almost all dirt. It’s one lane wide and winds up tightly against the mountain. When I got up to see the lake, there was no color to be found. Everything was brown.

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Headed back down the mountain there are some areas of truly beautiful color.

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Aspendell was still all green. That was a bit surprising to me given that it’s above 7,000 feet.  You can see it’s green trees way off into the distance from North Lake Road.

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Finally, it was time to see Lake Sabrina. Sabrina was passed her peak but there is definitely some color in the area that was worth photographing.

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It was easier to get photos of individual leaves share as it was clearly less windy.

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I ran into another photographer and got one more photo. It was equally as nice. I’m surprised how many people were up here given the fact the light was fairly flat and it was Tuesday.

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The road up to the lake was equally as pretty.

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It’s always fun to get up close to the trees and see what’s been immortalized in their tree bark!

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From here was time to roll down the mountain as it was nearing 1:30 PM. Lunch had to be quick in Bishop. I have eaten at just about every Mexican restaurant in Bishop. I wasn’t in the mood for sushi nor your average greasy spoon. The one thing that stuck out on the main strip was Pizza Factory. I know I ate there yesterday in Lone Pine. The one in Bishop is older and more worn but the salad bar is way more complete. I ate just about the same thing and one thing I can tell you is whether it comes from Lone Pine or from Bishop it tastes exactly the same.

Given the fact that I was way over budget on time I began to care even less about getting home on time. I wanted to see the June Lake Loop as it usually is a magnet for fall color as well. It turns out that I was definitely at least a week or two early here. The main spots along the highway were still fairly green. They weren’t even lime yet. When I got to Grant Lake I thought I saw Anel go by. I had to take a double take as it was Tuesday, hundreds of miles from home, and well hundreds of miles from home. I didn’t think much of it and resumed taking photos of Grant Lake. California 158 as a nice high-speed squiggle that’s fun to ride against the great body of water.

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I knew that if I went through Yosemite National Park, I’d get stuck in traffic headed back to the Bay Area. Sonora Pass was longer and there was indeed a storm brewing coming over the mountains. The last thing I really wanted was to be on top of pass during a storm. I pushed my luck and headed North towards Sonora Pass.

The last major stop was Conway Summit. Being late in the afternoon the light was completely in the wrong place. I should’ve been here between 9 and 10 AM so the sun would be at my back. I made do with the light that I had and I got the photos came out pretty well!

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The dark gray clouds were on top of Sonora Pass as I turned left onto California 108. I knew I had to get over the pass before the heavens opened up. I wasn’t expecting snow or any freezing conditions. I just wasn’t in the mood to be damp and cold. As I passed the United States Marine Corps Mountain Warfare Training Center (phew!), I saw a bunch of the guys in uniform out practicing their training exercises. I’ve probably been by this facility at least 50 times and this is the first time I’ve really seen the Marines out there training. A friendly wave got a big cheer from the platoon which is awesome. They sacrifice a lot for us so it’s the least I can do to recognize their contribution to our society.

After leaving the boys in green I was headed up the pass in earnest. The higher I got, the darker the clouds got, the when year it got, and the colder it got. 🙁 At 9000 feet I started to hear tapping on my helmet: rain! After going a little bit further I realized I wasn’t getting wet but the knocking continued. Seeing that the road was accumulating some white and that it was too warm for snow there was only one culprit: hail! This wasn’t good at all. The hailstones were pretty small but I didn’t want to give them a chance to get bigger. Once I got below 7000 feet the hail stopped and blue skies were back in my view. Looking behind me though, the clouds were definitely dark.

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My last scenic stop was Donnelly Lake. The sun was just about gone.

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From here in a decent time out to Oakdale and was ready for dinner. I’ve eaten at a number of Mexican restaurants here in Oakdale and wasn’t in the mood to be adventurous. A meatball sub at Subway did just fine. It turns out it was Anel back there at June Lake. She stopped in the say hello at Subway. Guess we were both at the same place at the same time.

It was a bit of a late dinner so all of the Sunday night rush-hour was long gone. There’s really nothing glamorous about the stretch of road between Oakdale and the Altamont Pass at night. It was a bit windy crossing the Altamont Pass but every time I come over and see the Tri-Valley lights flicker below I know that home is within sight. It seems like Caltrans is putting the final touches on routing more traffic onto Highway 84 rather than Interstate 580. It was the first time I had seen Highway 84 officially signed for San Jose. Both the GPS in the street signage pointed I go that way. In the end it didn’t seem faster than Interstate 580 Interstate 680.

It was a late night getting in. I keep telling myself I should do a better job getting in earlier. The road and the motorcycle disagree every time. They always win. That’s the way it should be though. 🙂


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