Color Me An Arizona Autumn
October 1, 2015
Often hailed as Arizona's capital of autumn, Flagstaff is a leaf peeper's paradise. To experience the season at its most exhilarating visitors flock to the trails around 8,000 feet elevation; where large stands of aspen trees steal the show with their quaking leaves glowing like liquid sunshine.
Fall In Flagstaff
As the fall months begin to emerge, the warming autumn colors will descend from the San Francisco Peaks to the streets of Flagstaff. Considering the vague perception of when the foliage will reach its peak, the Flagstaff LEAF-ometer is a great resource for those hoping to observe the transitioning colors.
This online resource enables visitors to grasp an idea of what stage of color alteration to expect leaves in when traveling to varying areas of the city. Flagstaff offers many opportunities to explore and witness the alluring golden brown, red and orange autumn colors.
Marvelous Autumn Hikes
Those interested in absorbing the scenery by foot might consider hiking some of Flagstaff's prominent trails. There are many trails, ranging in difficulty, which will provide stunning views of the changing landscape. Some of these trails include Wilson Meadow, Aspen Nature Loop and Bismarck Lake.
Located in the Heart Prairie, Wilson Meadow is brimming with meadows and aspen groves in an open landscape. The lavish amount of nature, including fields of wildflowers and grasslands, ensures that this trail will offer incredible sights of the foliage. This trail comes in at two miles roundtrip, making it a wonderful option for those with minimal hiking experience and for those with children.
Aspen Nature Loop
Another salient trail, the Aspen Nature Loop offers views of the San Francisco Peaks and Kendrick Mountain. Located near the base of Arizona Snowbowl, this scenic loop is sure to expose some of the most impeccable fall colors. At a length of 1.8 miles, this hike is rated as relatively easy. Those looking for an effortless way to witness the scenery should consider Aspen Nature Loop.
Situated in an alpine meadow, Bismarck Lake is the perfect location to observe both the altering autumn setting and the wildlife that is attracted by the lake. This remarkable "lake" exhibits pond-like features, acquiring shallow waters enclosed by marshes. As a resource for wildlife in the surrounding forests, visitors should expect to see some wildlife activity. Although rated at moderate difficulty, this trail gives hikers the option of a two-mile roundtrip trail or an elongated seven-mile roundtrip trail leading to Snowbowl Road.
Leaf Peepers Seeking A Scenic Fall Foliage Trip? Follow The State Parks Trail
Every autumn as the days get shorter, trees produce spectacular displays of fall leaf colors. But, finding the best color often requires a trip on the scenic byways through Arizona's north country. On the Colorado Plateau the sycamores, maple, oak, cottonwood, elm, ash and sumac colors are peaking and fall foliage road trips are a favorite fall adventure.
Now Is A Good Time
For "leaf peepers," right now is a good time to grab a jacket, hiking boots and camera and head up to higher elevations. As you start planning your trip, just remember to check the weather before you go because temperature, wind and precipitation impact foliage. The State Parks have varying degrees of leaf colors, so calling the park before you leave will ensure the best spots to see the changing leaves.
If you head north on I-17 take the exit to Cottonwood and visit Dead Horse Ranch State Park for a horseback ride along the Verde River or fish in the lagoons. A picnic in the cottonwood grove will stir your soul with the music of the birds and leaves.
Following 89A, you'll find Red Rock State Park just up the road from Cottonwood. Red Rock State Park, a 286-acre nature preserve with winding trails lined with a lush green riparian habitat is just starting to primp with its the harvest gold, pumpkin orange and red leaves. The park has many hiking trips scheduled and special programs that you can work into your plans.
Red Rock State Park, Sedona
Red Rock State Park with its red rock pinnacles frame the crimson sumacs and fuchsia maples as the brisk nights confirm the full onset of autumn along Oak Creek.
After you enjoy one of Sedona's fine lunch spots, head up Oak Creek Canyon and stop at Slide Rock State Park for a stroll along the creek or up Hospital Canyon to capture some incredible photographs of the rushing stream and smooth red plates of rock.
Keep On 89A North
Following 89A north another 20 miles and you are in downtown Flagstaff, and then take the Lake Mary Road south past Mormon Lake, which is always an adventure because elk use the center of the dry lake as their personal spa and the entire route is brimming with wildlife.
Don't forget your binoculars for this elk-viewing stop. Coming into Strawberry and Pine, you'll see the treetops and blankets of color as you travel over Zane Grey's famous escarpment and elevations where different trees are starting to show their color.
Tonto Natural Bridge
As you travel south just past the town of Pine, turn down into Tonto Natural Bridge State Park to discover the largest natural travertine bridge in the world at 183 feet high over a 400-foot long tunnel along the creek. Hike down to the bottom of the waterfalls that gently cascade over the bridge and surrounding rocks and take in the colors of the brilliant aspen, cottonwood and elder trees that enclose the park. Plan plenty of time to just sit on the rocks and enjoy this cavernous wonder before heading to Payson for a bite to eat and home. (Open 9 to 5PM - closed Tues/Wed.)
Boyce Thompson Arboretum
For those who can't get away now, consider going to Boyce Thompson Arboretum State Park, a 320-acre botanical garden, to savor the grove of burgundy Chinese pistachios, sycamores and varnish trees as they change through November and December.
At Boyce, the trees show their golds, orange and burgundy reds in mid-November, and peak color is typically around Thanksgiving weekend.
Leaf peepers like to collect leaves, so here is how you do it. Dry them slowly in the microwave between paper towels, press them in an old telephone book, or you can press them with wax paper with an iron and spray them with glossy preservative from a craft store. Now you have your decorations for Thanksgiving tables for years to come and a gentle reminder of your escape to enjoy Arizona's amazing beauty.
For detailed information about becoming a State Parks volunteer call (602) 542-4174 (outside of the Phoenix metro area call toll-free (800) 285-3703) or visit the website at http://www.AZStateParks.com or Facebook/Twitter AZStateParks.
Northern Arizona State Park Weekend Scenic Drive
From Phoenix go north on I-17 100 miles to Cottonwood (Exit on 260), Dead Horse Ranch State Park is right in town, then north on 89A for 16 miles to Red Rock State Park.
Staying on 89A, go through Sedona for 6 miles to Slide Rock State Park in Oak Creek Canyon and only 24 miles north to Flagstaff to visit Riordan Mansion State Historic Park.
From Flagstaff, take the Lake Mary Road south 100 miles to Highway 87 (to Pine and Strawberry) and stop at Tonto Natural Bridge State Park. Follow 87 to Payson and it is only 88 miles back to Phoenix.
Note: The red leaves are produced when days are warm and sunny and nights are cool (no frost). The cool nights prevent the sugar from flowing into the leaf veins and then the anthorcyanins (the reds and purples) are produced.
Yellow and orange are the most prevalent as those colors are already in the leaf and do not require specific weather situations. You will notice that the sunnier spots of the mountains will become reddish/purple as Mother Nature ushers in cooler temperatures.