Autumn brings a pop of “wow” to the Sierras.


“Watercolor Magic.” A soft late afternoon cast of light dapples the water like a paintbrush and watercolor palette in this photo of fall colors in the Eastern Sierras.

My perception of falling off a mountain as a kid.

Did you draw pictures of mountains when you were a little kid? Did yours have a sharp point at the tippy top?
Mine sure did. Those ranges were flat, two-dimensional, elementary drawings. My typical composition included a sun rising or setting behind a pair of mountain peaks, about three scallop-shaped clouds, with perhaps a bird or two dropped in like letter V’s. Later, I learned to add some crude pine trees as foreground elements. 
Maybe other kids drew beach scenes or favored architecture or animals. Interesting what we gravitate towards at an early age. Mountains are my happy place.
After many hikes with my parents, I realized that I needn’t be concerned about balancing on one foot at the top of a mountain. Or worry about toppling off and falling down the steep sides. However, they weren’t into mountaineering, so I wasn’t exposed to cliff faces.

But the kid in me says those rugged Sierras look like they come to a sharp point on top.

Now, as I experience the sharpness of the Sierras, I wonder about having to balance on one foot.
These summits are chiseled to jagged points, jutting out of the dry sagebrush flat lands as if for no reason. I see the serrated teeth of a Ferengi from Star Trek: Next Generation. And if I were a kid, I’d be worried about that weapon-like sharpness. 
Head silhouette with Grand Canyon layers inside

For the love to trees...

Visualize the rugged and beautiful scenery of fall colors in the Sierras.

I’ve never been fluent in remembering geological eras or timelines. But I can imagine the earth pushing tectonic plates up with childbirth-like force. I visualize earthquakes the as we’d never want to experience and the molten interior of our planet desperately trying to escape its dark confines an inconceivable number of years ago. 
And it’s not just the height and sharp angles of these mountains that grab my imagination. The seemingly endless ridges and peaks of the Sierras give me an understanding of John Muir’s love and inspiration for this area. The canyons between these peaks are deep. Exploring is endless and limited by season due to heavy snowfall and the availability of roads or trails. 

Photographing Eastern Sierra fall colors.

We drove up a one-lane, twisty dirt road to North Lake in Bishop Canyon one late afternoon. That’s the navigating you don’t want to take fast, not knowing how you’ll pass another vehicle on a tight turn. Someone has to give, or the other route is straight down. 
Once we arrived, I headed towards the glassy water that seemed to absorb the fall colors of the aspens lining the shore. Once I’d captured several frames, I looked up. 
And there I saw my love, entranced in his world of fascination with this scene I call “Lava Flows.”  The long ravine descending the mountain in front of us had a burnt orange stream of aspens-like magma spreading downwards in a rush to get to the lake. 
Like a magical moment, the mist lifted ever so gently from the lake, enveloping him. The water still held the warmth of summer, although the air had started to chill in preparation for winter. 
fall colors in Eastern Sierra with photographer giving perspective to the scale of the mountains.
I love this photo, not just because I love the guy in it. This fall scene in the Eastern Sierras shows perspective. This vast wilderness surrounds him. And me. How much do we take for granted by our usual focus on life when there is all this wonder in our world? 
This scene of the rising range and sawtooth ridges, the cascade of fire-tinted aspens, and the glass-top lake made me appreciate this journal note of John Muir’s:
“The world’s big and I want to have a good look at it before it gets dark.”
–John Muir

Curious about what Bill was shooting? You’ve got it, that eye-popping color streaming down the mountainside. And he captured it stunningly. 

fall colors in Eastern Sierra aspens

Photo by Bill Marson.

The sun is setting, and it’s getting dark.

Will we find more fall colors in the Sierras tomorrow?

This moment of stillness with the symphony of textures and colors is but a tiny setting in the Sierras. 
Sunset is minutes away. We will have to enjoy what we captured here and return at daybreak to explore another canyon down another dirt road of wonders. 
Head silhouette with Grand Canyon layers inside

If you are visiting the Sierra's for fall color...

Take a look at Bodie Ghost Town. It’s worth the side trip.

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