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Q: Friends from around the country are planning a rendezvous for mid-October. One recommended Yosemite. Is that a good time to go? -ALLISON BLIZZARD, HOUSTON

October is one of our favorite months in Yosemite National Park. The waterfalls can be dry, yes. But there's good fall color in the valley--maples and black oaks. And the temperatures are autumnally perfect: 70s daytime, down to high 30s at night. Tioga Pass and Glacier Point Roads are usually open through the end of October so you have access to the high country. And there are 200,000 fewer visitors than in July. Even so, if you have your heart set on staying at The Ahwahnee hotel, we'd recommend a weekday visit.

Q: I plan to cook with my Halloween pumpkin. How long can I keep it out before it goes bad? -A.M., MILL VALLEY, CA

Carved pumpkins are pretty much kaput after a day, but a whole pumpkin is a tricky devil--its edible lifespan varies widely, based on the pumpkin's integrity (gouges are the kiss of death) and weather conditions (cool and dry is ideal). The longest we've seen an unblemished pumpkin last is about three months, stored in the fridge. As long as your pumpkin remains firm and heavy without soft spots and with a rigid stem still attached, it's good. By the way, standard pumpkins from the patch make fine jack-o'-lanterns but lousy pies--their flesh is fibrous and bland. Instead, shop at produce markets for cooking pumpkins--prettier than the carving kind and much tastier. Sugar Pie is a good bet, since it's small and easy to handle. But our Test Kitchen favorite, with flavorful, deep orange flesh, is Cinderella (also sold as Rouge Vif d'Etampes).

Q: My daughter and son-in-law want to plant a low green groundcover, hardy enough to walk on and also handle the winters up here. Suggestions? -FRAN, TRUCKEE, CA

That's a pickle. Walkable groundcovers are the holy grail of plants anywhere, especially in the rugged High Sierra. For a lawn look-alike, try creeping red fescue (Festuca rubra). It tolerates shade, and varieties such as F.r. 'Jughandle' tolerate drought. TIC Verde' buffalo grass (pictured at left) is another good choice--it's pretty and quite tough, though slow to fill in and turns brown in winter. Besides grasses, there's Roman chamomile ('Treneague' is nonflowering and needs no mowing) or woolly thyme with silvery foliage--great between pavers. For slopes, consider greenleaf manzanita (A trtostaphy-los patula); it isn't walkable, but it's a graceful Sierra native.

HAVE A QUESTION ABOUT LIFE IN THE WEST? WE HAVE THE ANSWERS.

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Publication:Sunset
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Oct 1, 2014
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