Adam Blauert

Blauert on Outdoors: Fall colors starting to show in the Sierra

Aspens are starting to show their fall colors now along the eastern slope of the Sierra Nevada.
Aspens are starting to show their fall colors now along the eastern slope of the Sierra Nevada. Sun-Star correspondent

After making a trip to the eastern slope of the Sierra last weekend, it’s clear there will be beautiful fall colors to enjoy for at least the next two weekends. It’s not one of the better years I’ve seen over there, but it’s not bad and should be improving over the next two weeks.

Inyo County’s groves are farther along than Mono County’s, so if you’re waiting to see the color, head to Mono. Most of the county is still green or on the edge of turning, though we were surprised to see some trees that were completely bare – often right next to green trees.

For current information about the status of fall color in the Eastern Sierra, try these websites:

Mono County: The downloadable brochure on this site also has maps to the most accessible groves in Mono and Inyo counties.

Inyo County:

Additional fall color reports for both counties:

On our Saturday trip to Mono County, the weather didn’t cooperate for taking fall color photos, but it did provide a dramatic change from the heat of this everlasting summer. On the way home, it was 31 degrees at Tioga Pass at 8 p.m., and they closed the entrance behind us. Snow was falling, and the road remained closed until midday Sunday.

No matter what time of year you visit the Eastern Sierra, the weird tufa formations of Mono Lake are always an interesting destination. The Sierra’s dramatic rain shadow effect makes for dry sagebrush valleys along the range’s eastern edge. Resting in a large basin at the foot of the eastern slope is ancient Mono Lake, the remnant of a much larger inland sea and one of the oldest bodies of water in North America. Today, it covers about 70 square miles.

As Mono Lake has shrunk, the receding water has revealed haunting limestone “tufa” formations. They stand out against the lake and sky like bizarre statues. They’re intriguing to look at and never fail to provide opportunities for memorable photos. Mono Lake’s water is no longer dropping at the dramatic rate it once was.

Remember those “Save Mono Lake” bumper stickers? They’ve been replaced by “Long Live Mono Lake” stickers. Legal decisions in the late 1980s and early ’90s mandated that Los Angeles could no longer divert all of the water that would have naturally flowed into the lake. Currently at 6,380 feet, the lake’s level has gradually risen and will be stabilized at 6,392 feet.

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This unusual lake is almost three times as salty as the ocean and supports algae, brine shrimp and alkali flies but no fish. Large populations of nesting and migratory birds often are seen by visitors. Many landscape features around the lake are of volcanic origin, including the Mono Craters, Panum Crater and Mono Lake’s islands.

The best access points to the tufas are the South Tufa Area southeast of the town of Lee Vining on Highway 120 and Mono Lake County Park on Cemetery Road, north of Lee Vining. South Tufa offers ample parking and a short, easy walk down to the tufas and the water’s edge. Access is $3 for adults or free if you’re under 16 or have a federal lands/national parks pass. The county park has a boardwalk that makes it easy to see the lake’s marsh and tufas. It’s also a great place for a picnic, with tables, restrooms, a playground and no charge for access.

The Mono Basin Scenic Area Visitor Center in Lee Vining is a great place to learn more about the lake. Currently open Thursday through Monday from 9 a.m. to 4:30 p.m., it offers exhibits about the lake and an interpretive trail. Guided activities are frequently offered at both access points and the visitor center, especially during the warmer months. The lake may be seen throughout the year, even when snow is on the ground – though it’s a long drive from the Merced area when the Sierra passes are closed. For information, visit the Mono Lake Committee’s excellent website at or call the visitor center at (760) 647-3044.

Food, services and lodging are available in Lee Vining along the lake’s western shore. The Whoa Nellie Deli at the Mobil gas station at the junction of Highway 120 and U.S. 395 serves delicious food at a good price ( For fine dining with an extraordinary view of the lake – especially nice at sunset – the Mono Inn is the place to go. The menu is unique, and the view is unforgettable (

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