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

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