But at the lower levels, below 8,000 feet or so, striking aspen groves, cottonwoods and the occasional willows are now in prime time.
Mammoth Lakes basin
I'm pretty sure God keeps his still up this way. In January, the snow tastes like vodka. In June, it tastes of rum. They don't call it God's Country for nothing, you know.
- June Lake
Fall color along Highway 395
- Eastern Sierra's amazing autumnal palette
- A look at Lone Pine in California's Eastern Sierra
And in autumn, this painterly alpine setting is a hiker and photographer's dream. Light, textures and all the California colors come into play in the series of lakes just five minutes above town – the buttermilk granites, the differing blues of water and sky, patches of snow laced across the yellows and oranges of the trees and shrubs.
Courtesy of the early snows, the road to Devil's Postpile is already closed.
But there are plenty of day hike trails to pick from. Or just set up that camp chair, pull out the camera and fill your memory card.
June Lake Loop
Another of Poimiroo's leaf spotters, Alicia Vennos, insisted I visit this road around June Lake, 20 minutes north of Mammoth and best known as a family ski alternative to hipper and more frenzied Mammoth — at least till this season, when June Mountain closed as a result of continued financial muck.
The June Lake Loop takes you past four lakes, and I dare you not to stop every mile or two to take another photo of the trees against the sapphire water.
Favorite time of day: 2 to 5 p.m., when the sun flames the trees.
Favorite spot: Silver Lake, where tunnels of aspen and cottonwood line the road and deer come out of the woods at dusk to feed. Here's another transcendent spot in which to set up your camping chair or hike the shoreline of nearby Gull Lake as mallards drift the reeds.
June Lake, the centerpiece of the area's fall color, is worth the trip all by itself. But we're not done yet. Because neither is fall.
Skip the disinterested front desk at the Mammoth Lakes visitors center, where the lack of good information isn't the only problem; it's as if they're doing you some sort of favor (this based on repeated visits).
Instead, stop at the Bishop visitors center (opposite Erick Schat's Bakkery), where they will give you a fall color guide and patiently fill you in with timely news on the fall color scene. Compared with Mammoth, Bishop is the little town that could.
That's where I first heard of Lundy Canyon, which is a remote hiking and fishing spot north of Mono Lake. It peaks in mid-October, depending on the ingredients that go into a good fall — plenty of sunshine, warm days, cool nights.
"I had naturalists tell me that because of the dry year, it would be a short color season," Poimiroo says. "But it's been pretty glorious."
Stop for coffee at the little town of Lee Vining, itself aglow this time of year, then make your way 15 minutes north to Lundy.
Doesn't hurt that in late autumn, you virtually have places like Lundy all to yourself. During a two-hour hike, 330 miles from Los Angeles, it's just you and the wildlife, the woods, the sheer granite bluffs, the clicking of the aspen leaves.
That's right, the aspen chatter at you like children, a sound you won't soon forget.
"Welcome to the woods," they say. "Last call for fall."