Photo: Elliott McCucken
“Notice that autumn is more the season of the soul than of nature.” ~ Friedrich Nietzsche.
Bishop’s big backyard has one of the most enchanting fall color seasons in California. It is long, it is vibrant, and it’s easily accessible. Drive, hike, or bike the many roads and trails and immerse yourself in the magic and mystery of fall in the Eastern Sierra.
Even before the color change begins high up in these mountains, the feeling of fall is palpable everywhere. Mornings are crisp and refreshing and the light is brilliantly blue. The daylight hours are slowly diminishing, but the bright sunlight still warms the valley. Evenings are languid and lustrous as the setting sun shakes off its last drops of golden sunshine.
Fall is traditionally the season of the harvest. It is a time for celebration and festivals. It is also a time of beauty and the promise of rebirth that fills our souls. We witness the end of a life cycle and yet we are reassured that growth will return. The mystery of life is presented in stunning, vivid color and it appears magical no matter how many times we see it.
There is much science in the nature of fall and still it seems mysterious.
The Autumnal Equinox is considered the official start of fall. It is the day when the sun crosses the celestial equator. It is usually on or about September 22nd every year in the Northern Hemisphere. This year it happens on Monday, September 23rd. The name equinox is Latin for equal night and it is believed by many that this is the day where most of us on earth enjoy an equal day and equal night. It is not. The day we each experience that, depends on the latitude at which we live or where we happen to be. The date of equal light can be many days removed from the equinox. It is called the equilux, and it is rarely exactly equal, but it’s very close. Here in Bishop at a little above 37deg north our equilux falls on September 26th this year.
But well before either of these dates, in early to mid-September, when the light and heat of the sun become less and less, the trees that live high the mountain canyons begin their slow preparation for a cold, snowy winter. Green gives way to yellow and gold. Then as the season moves beyond the equal day and equal night the oranges and umbers may burst through. And finally, as the nights grow longer and darkness exceeds daylight, the reds and russets might explode in a final celebration of a season well lived.
And, all this time, the ebb of life washes down the mountain and out over the valley floor. The colors that appear high in the crags seem to flow down the ravines like buckets of spilled paint. Yellow and gold trickle down creek sides and creep into meadows. Then splashes of orange and red spatter the fields and sparkle in the dusky high desert like gems scattered from a broken necklace. Their colors are mirrored in the calm water of the streams and rivers and, eventually, when the last leaves fall, the landscape is washed clean in preparation for the slumber of winter.
Autumn is the vibrant illustration that allows us to notice not the passing of life, but the promise of rejuvenation. This is the gift from mother nature to our souls. Color floods our landscape and fills our hearts with joy. Our spirits soar in the presence of these bright, earthy tones. Our senses are bathed by fresh air, soft light, and the sound of murmuring water. We too are cleansed and released into the season of holiday cheer and loving celebration.
It all feels perfectly magical and yet it can be scientifically explained.
The Eastern Sierra has one of the longest fall color seasons in the US. The topography of the region means that fall begins early in the mountains where temperatures drop sooner and quicker at these high elevations. The season wanes slowly down the mountainside. The warmth dissipates following the steep contours of the escarpment and finally the air in the wide-open valley cools and winter prevails.
The weather in summer and autumn has a significant effect on the colors that will appear. The hues, their intensity, the rate of change, and duration are all greatly influenced by the balance of temperature, water, and sunlight. Science explains why the leaves change color, where it is most likely to happen, and more-or-less when it all occurs. The natural world has a natural order, but what we see is its magic and what we feel is its assurance.
The exact start and end of the season, and the precise color palette that will surface, are difficult to predict, but we keep a close watch on it every year. We have created a Fall Colors guide page that is packed with information, maps, photos, links, and everything you need for a fabulous fall color experience. During the color season we monitor the fall color hotspots regularly and post updated color reports. Begin your fall color search by reviewing our fall colors page here and come into the Bishop Visitor Center on 690 N. Main street, or call us on (760) 873-8405, and get your sharpie ready to take a free fall colors class with our friendly, knowledgeable staff.
From our own years of experience and countless reports from our guests, an adventure into our big backyard during fall color season is an intensely beautiful and rejuvenating experience.