Monday, August 18, 2014

In Search of Autumn

    “Road Trip” is a cry that anyone trying to find Arizona always loves to hear.  Whether cruising down the longest stretch of Old Route 66 still found in America, navigating the winding turns of Route 89A up through Oak Creek Canyon, or traveling the Wild West Highway of Route 60 to Boyce Thompson Arboretum, Arizona’s highways always lead to adventure. Moreover, when you add the annual explosion of autumn leaves, the months of September/October become the perfect time to get out and discover autumn in Arizona.
     Now we acknowledge that the red maple leafs of Maine and the yellow cottonwoods of the Ohio River Valley have no match in our Arizona, best known for its rugged mountains and cacti.  Yet there are many places in Arizona where the autumn leaf display is downright beautiful (and a heck of a lot closer) and well worth the effort to enjoy.
     From our high school biology class we remember that leaves don’t really turn color but those brown, orange and yellow autumn hues have been present since the leaves first unfolded last spring.  Green chlorophyll has been so abundant within the leaves all summer long that all those spectacular colors are simply hidden.  With the shortening hours of sunlight and the approach of Old Jack Frost the chlorophyll fades and the time comes again when the beautiful leaves of autumn take nature’s center stage.  Where do you begin to search for autumn leaves in Arizona?  Let us suggest a few places…
     The leaves on the trees nearest the timberline are usually the first to show off their autumn colors.  Knowing this fact, the Arboretum at Flagstaff becomes the perfect place to begin a search for the spectacular colors of fall.  

    Located on 200 acres a few miles southwest of downtown Flagstaff this botanical paradise transforms into ground zero for the explosion of yellow found on the aspen and cottonwood trees of Flagstaff and on the slopes of the San Francisco Peaks. This arboretum was once a working cattle ranch owned by Frances McAllister who in the early 1980s donated the land and structures to create this northern Arizona botanical haven.
        The Arboretum at Flagstaff offers more than just a botanical garden.  It also serves the people of Arizona as an environmental education center and a research center.  Its mission strives to expand the knowledge and understanding of the plants and plant communities of the Colorado Plateau. Over 2,500 species of high country plants inhabit the grounds and daily tours occur at 11:00 a.m. and 1:00 p.m.
       The Arboretum at Flagstaff will close its doors for another season on October 31st so the time to visit is now.  October brings the month long “Scarecrow Days” at the arboretum that adds to the fun of an autumn visit.  
     After visiting the Arboretum at Flagstaff let us suggest a leisurely drive around Arizona’s tallest mountain range, the San Francisco Peaks.  The San Francisco Peaks Scenic Road was designated in January 1990 as one of America’s best scenic drives. 
     Known by locals as the “Around the Peaks Drive”, this mountain road trip passes through five biotic zones of beautiful, Arizona high country.  In October the trees found along the 43 miles of well-maintained gravel roads turn the forests on the slopes of these ancient volcanoes into a showcase of color.  
     There are places along the road where one can stop to hike or enjoy a picnic.  These forest roads are all closed in winter due to snow, but in October the journey should take between 1 – 2 hours depending on how often you stop to take pictures or just to marvel at the view.  Throughout the trip an ever changing view of Humphreys Peak, Arizona’s tallest mountain at 12, 633 feet, will dominate the landscape and enrich the beauty of your road trip.      

     This web site provides specific driving directions for your “Around The Peaks Drive” -
       For those in search of Arizona’s autumn, other paved and unpaved roads can be traveled while in the Flagstaff area.  The Schultz Pass Road wanders through the aspen/pine forests some 26 miles and brings travelers to some fabulous high country hiking and mountain biking trails.  The Snow Bowl Road is paved for its 15 miles of journeying through forests to the Arizona Snow Bowl Ski Resort, sitting on the slopes of Humphreys Peak and patiently waiting for the return of the snows of winter.

Arizona Autumn Leaves Hotlines

4.    Arizona Highways Magazine – October 2008 -

Photos 16, 17 and 18 are courtesy of the Flagstaff Arboretum

Leaves of Prescott

Leaves of Keams Canyon

La Posada, Winslow

Trees of Flagstaff

San Francisco Peaks

Road to the Snow Bowl

Snow capped Humphreys Peak

Sunset Crater National Monument

Flagstaff Arboretum

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

The Amazing Desert View Watchtower

 This place is wonderful...

A short 57 miles from the Cameron Trading Post off Highway 64 in northern Arizona is found one of architect Mary Jane Colter’s greatest Arizona buildings, the Desert View Watchtower.  This site was selected by Colter to build her unique Watchtower because of its stunning view of the Colorado River as it comes out of Marble Canyon and continue its journey on through Grand Canyon National Park.
It was entrepreneur Fred Harvey who came to understand in the early 1900s that Americans and people from all over the world had a fascination with visiting the Wild West.  He took a chance and hired a rare woman architect, Mary Jane Colter, to design and build his tourist-attracting buildings. Colter would design and build five such treasures in Arizona, including the Watchtower at Desert View.
Desert View Watchtower opened in 1933. Colter designed this masterpiece to provide “the widest possible view of the Grand Canyon yet harmonizes with its setting.”  The 70-foot high tower was to reflect the Anasazi guard towers which once rose above the pueblo homes of these ancient people.  It was not designed to be a replica (no Anasazi tower was every 70-feet high) but was to be another of Colter’s interpretation of the Southwest cultures that she had come to know and love.
Colter oversaw ever aspect of the construction including the placement of nearly every stone.  She would wrap local stone around a steel frame and use natural elements to reflect both the modern and the prehistoric cultures of the people of the Four Corners area.  Her use of extreme texture in the masonry created a visual depth in the 5-story tall tower. 
Colter designed the main entrance to the tower to be the largest room of the building.  It is circular in form and was designed to resemble a Kiva.  Logs from the historic Grand View Hotel and Horseshoe Mesa at the Grand Canyon were used to make the ceiling.  The logs were laid in a prehistoric Native American pattern that Colter had once seen and remembered.  Today this room acts as a gift shop for the 1000s of yearly tower visitors.
The interior of the tower is the most impressive section of the building.  An open shaft circular staircase leads up through the tower’s additional four levels.  At the second level is found the Hopi Room with a snake altar at its center.  The walls are covered with murals painted by Hopi artist Fred Kabotie.  Here he depicts the snake legend, wedding scenes and other Hopi symbols. Small windows randomly appear on the wall creating a cave-like atmosphere within the historic tower.
The third and fourth levels highlight the replica of many petroglyphs found throughout the Southwest.  Artifacts and other museum-like displays highlight the ancient stories of the people who once made this part of Arizona their home. 
Upon arriving at the fifth level one finds a series of viewing windows.  From here, at an elevation of 7,522 feet, the visitor can view the South Rim of the Grand Canyon from the highest possible viewpoint.  A good telephoto lens can bring one to believe that they are standing on the canyon floor.  To say that the views from here are spectacular is a grand understatement.
The Desert View Watchtower of Mary Jane Colter was declared a United States National Historic Landmark on May 28, 1987.  With the canyon’s cottonwood trees changing from green to orange and yellow, fall is the perfect time of year to visit as the summer crowds have also disappeared. 
A bookstore, cafeteria, restrooms and the Desert View Campground are all available for visitor use.  The campground, open mid-May to the end of October, has drinking water but no hook-ups.  There is a $10.00 fee but no reservations are taken.    

Monday, August 11, 2014

Historic Cameron Trading Post

     Fall is just around the corner and traveling Arizona's north country is even more perfect when autumn leaves are a part of the adventure.  Here is our story about one of our favorite places in northern Arizona and an eastern gateway to the Grand Canyon.

    Any opportunity to spend time at a nearly 100-year-old institution should always be seized by those in search of Arizona.  That chance always comes about when traveling in northern Arizona by spending a night or two at the historic Cameron Trading Post.  All too often travelers just pass by these old stone buildings as they hurry on their way to Lake Powell or the facilities of the South Rim of the Grand Canyon.  But this is one Arizona centenarian that can easily become an enjoyable, yearly, autumn habit.
    The Cameron Trading Post is located on Arizona Highway 89, just 30 minutes from the Grand Canyon National Park entrance and only 80 miles from Lake Powell.  Here in 1916, along the banks of the Little Colorado River Gorge, brothers Hubert and C.D. Richardson established The Cameron Trading Post.
    In those days all travel to the post was by horse, wagon or days of hard walking.  A swayback suspension bridge had been built over the Little Colorado River Gorge in 1911 allowing the Navajo and Hopi people to come to the newly opened post and barter their crafts and wool blankets for dry goods.
    Native American guests were treated as family by the Richardson Brothers who became much more than merchants to the native people.
When modes of transportation changed and tourists began to discover northern Arizona, the family-friendly philosophy set down by Hubert and C.D. remained.
    The Cameron Trading Post today is an authentic Native American Indian hotel & trading post that offers travelers luxury suites, double and single rooms with a shopping area equal to any trading post found in the Southwest.
    A charming dining room overlooks the Little Colorado River Gorge as wonderful meals are served and a huge fireplace warms guests all day long from the fall and winter chill.  Native American art is everywhere and the quality and variety are second to none.
    A short 9.4 miles from the trading post on Arizona Highway 64 is found a series of special overlooks along that Little Colorado River Gorge. The Little Colorado River begins on the slopes of Mt. Baldy near Big Lake.  It meanders north and west for 315 miles till it reaches it’s mighty, river namesake.  It is here, some 285 miles from its headwaters, that time, limestone and the flowing waters of the Little Colorado River have created an 1800-foot shear-walled gorge.  It is one of the most magnificent, desolate and grim looking spots found in Arizona. 
The rugged gray walls of the gorge are only outdone in wilderness by the many areas of ankle-grabbing quicksand that are found along the sandy beaches of the river.  Yet from the series of overlooks off Highway 64, the Arizona adventurer can peer deep into the narrow canyon and observe the riparian environment that thrives along banks of the little river. 
Metal handrails provide necessary viewing safety while ramadas, fireplaces and tables provide a perfect place for a canyon-side picnic.  Navajo vendors are found here daily, hoping to sell their newly made crafts. 
From this location the Little Colorado River plunges in elevation over 2000 feet before it enters the Colorado River some 30 miles upstream.  For experienced hikers the 60 miles of meandering river walking from Cameron to the Colorado River of the Grand Canyon is one difficult, yet a possible Arizona adventure.
For those whose thrill seeking nature is satisfied by the gaze into the gorge, a short 30-minute drive back down Route 64 once again brings us back to the Cameron Trading Post.  Here all can once again enjoy the food, lodging, gardens and decor of the Cameron Trading Post and indulge in a nighttime treat of the best Indian Fry Bread found anywhere in Arizona.

Link -

Photos 1 – 16 are ours; Photos 17 – 22 belong to our friend Ken Jackway of Arizona  Photos

Highway 89 bridge over Little Colorado River