Banzai Run To Bishop Creek and Rock Creek

By September 28, 2009October 24th, 2022Sierra Nevada

I got reports that the Eastern Sierra fall colors in the Bishop Creek Canyon basin were starting to peak at higher elevations, and that one or two weather developments in the coming week might affect the weekend of 10/3-4, so I decided to jam up to Bishop (5 hours from my door to Schats bakkery!) at the last minute. It was a little stressful since we were in the middle of negotiating the purchase of a new home, but when photo opportunities develop what can one do? I was able to go, thanks to my understanding (and beautiful) wife. I shot Rock Creek basin on Sat 9/27 and all three Bishop Creek basins on Sun 9/28. Rock Creek: Many years ago, when I was running in high school, my team would do some high altitude training in June Lake and Mammoth each summer before starting the racing season. One year our coach dumped us at Toms Place and said “See you guys at the top of Rock Creek”. Huh? We ran the entire way up the canyon, ending up at Rock Creek Lake, it was crazy. Well, I’ve always wanted to revisit Rock Creek, so went up there on Saturday when I got to Bishop for a look at the aspens and lake. The color is about peak and looks good in areas, but I was not impressed with how “thin” it is, i.e., I did not see huge swaths of color around Rock Creek Lake, but rather smaller stands of aspens. I did not find the angles I was looking for. It sure was easier driving up to the lake than running. Bishop Creek: it is ON RIGHT NOW. Higher elevations are at peak with lots of lime-green and yellow color, large patches are near 100% yellow. The trees look pretty clean, only saw a few with black on the leaves and it was not enough to affect photos. North Lake looks fantastic, but is often crowded on weekend mornings. Fortunately I found a new vantage point there that I had largely to myself Sunday morning. The aspen tunnel from which I shot some of my favorite wide shots a few years ago is not as impressive right now, and strangely half of it is green while the other half is yellow (you can see it in the slideshow below). Sunrise at North Lake begins at 6:45am, alpenglow 30-40 minutes earlier, so I’ll save you the trouble of guessing. I forgot pants and only had my shorts, so it was pretty chilly standing beside the lake to catch alpenglow at 5:45am:

Lake Sabrina had plenty of yellow aspen stands around the lake, but I spent little time at Sabrina this visit. I did go to my favorite stand of very tall aspens near Sabrina to shoot epic wide stuff but the trees were still somewhat green so, while the angles look good, the color is less than epic. In fact, in many areas the taller aspens in all the basins are holding green while the scrub aspen are the ones going full yellow/orange right now. The grove above Aspendel looks good for that “up the basin” shot with the grove in the foreground. However, Cardinal Pond in Aspendel is totally green at this moment, as is Intake II. The most impressive swaths of color are in the South Fork, especially from Table Mountain campground up to South Lake. If weather cooperates and no blow comes through, lower parts of South Fork will come online and turn full yellow in the next week or so, already there is a mix of lime green / yellow in the lower parts of South Fork. And the good thing about South Fork is that the aspen stands are so accessible there is a lot of easy shooting to do, and they are so large that when they turn full color it will look great. Cross your fingers for no wind. Give it one week, two at the most, maybe less if the cold snap forcast for midweek materializes. On one weather source I heard mention of a second front suspected for next weekend (10/3-4). Some shots from Saturday and Sunday: Rock Creek Lake 9/27 and Bishop Creek Canyon 9/28 (North Lake, Sabrina, South Fork). All these images were shot in about 24 hours starting with a couple hours at the end of the day in Rock Creek, then from 5:45am until 5pm on Sunday with a short break to eat a tasty monster-sized burger and some delicious and heart-smart spicy fries at the Bishop Creek Lodge. After returning to Bishop I stoked up on caffeine and drove straight home. I always hate to leave the Sierras and hope to see the show again next fall.

Keywords: eastern sierra, 2009 fall color report, bishop creek canyon, rock creek canyon, aspen, photo, picture, image.

About Phil Colla

I am a natural history photographer. I enjoy making compelling images in the ocean, on land, and in the air. I have maintained the Natural History Photography blog since 2005 and my searchable Natural History Photography Library since 1997. Here are some tear sheets and behind the scenes views. Thanks for looking!