October 26, 2011

East side of Sierra explodes with fall color

Autumn is the time of year when those of us living on the west side of the Sierra Nevada have every right to be a little envious.

While there are many lush forests and towering waterfalls on this side of the range, we kind of get the short end when it comes to fall color. Sure, you'll find an aspen tree here and there or stumble across a flaming dogwood or two. But compared to the east side, it pales.

That view is no doubt colored by my recent visit to Lundy Canyon in the Hoover Wilderness northeast of Yosemite National Park.

Lundy Canyon has an abundance of aspen groves, and every late September to mid October their leaves turn bright hues of yellow and gold. Combine that with the reds, browns and grays of the metamorphic rock that make up the canyon walls, rather than typical Sierra granite, and it's almost too much for your eyes' photoreceptors.

The Lundy Canyon Trail begins by bisecting one of several aspen groves, and it isn't long before it skirts around the first of several beaver ponds. (Beavers are non-native but were apparently introduced to the canyon many years ago.) The first climb leads to a knob overlooking the first of two major waterfalls on Mill Creek, which flows year round along the canyon floor. From here and other open areas, you can also see frothy cascades tumbling down the canyon walls.

Continuing on, there are more aspen trees, beaver ponds and even the remains of a trapper's cabin. At about 2.5 miles, you reach another series of waterfalls before the trail starts climbing out of the canyon toward the high country.

Most hikers turn around as the trail begins switch-backing up a steep slope of unsettled rocks, which can make both footing and route-finding difficult. Those who persevere are rewarded with more views of plunging waterfalls and, eventually, the granite summits and glacial-fed lakes of Twenty Lakes Basin. It's even possible (though not recommended in October) to continue hiking all the way to Saddlebag Lake near Tioga Pass.

Before fall color enthusiasts came along, Lundy Canyon was best known for its mining activity. The best evidence of this – ruins of a large structure and pump – can be found by doing a little bushwhacking near the parking lot.

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