A monumental seasonal event takes place this Sunday—the Autumnal Equinox. Equal day, and equal night. Every day forward will have less light, and more darkness. The front door is officially open to the wonders of fall in California and our parks.
Get used to seeing more of the night sky! Fall and winter constellations are fantastic. About 30 minutes after full sunset on Sunday (and before that waning but still powerful Harvest Moon rises at just after 9 p.m.) look to the southwest and several prominent celestial bodies can be seen. The planet Venus is the brightest, but you can also spot Saturn a bit higher than Venus. Hanging down low just above the horizon is Mercury. Another standout, a star this time, will be the star Spica—the brightest star in the constellation Virgo, and the 15th brightest overall. As fall progresses, some classic and prominent constellations take over the sky, such as the stalwarts of Cassiopeia, and the Little Dipper and the Big Dipper. But Orion, Taurus, and the star Sirius (the brightest in the sky!) in Canis Major. The Swan and The Eagle flying across the sky will help you see the Milky Way (along with Cassiopeia).
Back down on the ground all sorts of things begin to change and move around. Some birds begin to wing their way south. Up to 1.5 million Eared Grebes have been recorded on Mono Lake in the fall. Millions of ducks and geese fill the central valley, and numerous birds of prey make their way south across the state.
And, yes, we do have seasons and fall color here in California! While counting those Grebes at Mono Lake, or while driving back toward the Sierra from Bodie State Historic Park, scan the precipitous eastern slope of the Sierra and marvel at swaths of orange and yellow as entire hillsides of quaking aspens turn. Drive around Lake Tahoe, or through the Gold Country and its numerous state parks, and fall foliage abounds.
The word on the trail is that two classic indicators (OK, three) are telling us it will be a wetter and cooler winter than normal here in California. The first two have been handed down by California’s native inhabitants—when acorns drop earlier than normal (and they did), and bear’s coats are thick and shiny early (and they are), then winter is coming early and strong. Also, the Farmer’s Almanac calls for the same thing. And nobody dare doubt the Farmer’s Almanac!
So, plan your trips accordingly state park lovers! Whether you are a night gazer, birder, fall color enthusiast, cool weather hiker, or snow fanatic, the fall (and soon the winter) has plenty to offer.
What is your favorite fall activity in a state park?