Some people say that Southern California has no seasons – and are surprised when they see photos of fall colors from San Diego County, wondering where and how they might see them, just like friends who are getting into photography often ask me if and where to see fall colors around here. The answer is simple: higher up. :)
While riparian woodlands are often lined with Sycamore, Willows and Cottonwoods who all turn color at some point, their fall color display is somewhat limited. Sycamores for example may begin to turn and shed their leaves in summer already to preserve water – all trees lose moisture through the underside of their leaves, and Sycamores with their large and soft leaves evaporate a lot of moisture compared to evergreen Live Oaks with their small and hardy leaves, for example.
Willows can turn really late on the other hand, I’ve seen some of them bright and yellow in late December, or even January. So if anything, seasons are different in Southern California. :)
The most reliable delivery of fall colors comes from Black Oaks. Their larger leaves turn from green to a bright yellow, then orange and quickly into brown before they fall, and they are beautiful trees (in Spring by the way, the young leaves are pink/purple before they turn into a fresh green, something they have in common with the other oaks).
In my much-favored Laguna Mountains though, the Black Oaks have suffered quite heavily from infestation with the Gold-spotted Oak Borer, a beetle native to Arizona that has no natural enemies in Southern California (it was most likely brought here in firewood, which led to the “buy it where you burn it” rule for firewood in campgrounds). At Palomar Mountain, the Black Oaks are still in better shape and you’ll be treated with a nice display of fall colors when you visit in late October or well into November, depending on the weather:
I made these photos during the short hike on the Observatory Trail – it lies outside the boundaries of Palomar Mountain State Park and is actually Cleveland National Forest land (just like Love Valley), which means you can bring a pooch along… and our little Toni just loves walks in the woods! :)
The hike starts at the Observatory Campground (where day-use parking is rather limited, unfortunately) and the trail slowly but steadily goes uphill to the observatory – it’s a beautiful walk through the woods that does not showcase just fall colors, but nice manzanita, moss-covered granite boulders and impressive old-growth Canyon Oaks as well. Be on the lookout for Poison-oak which grows near the trail here and there.
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