Page 8 - the Noise December 2017
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Arizona offers an abundance of higher elevation areas that experience colorful foliage displays in the fall. Some of the best places to view fall foliage are found in the Se- dona, Flagstaff and Verde Valley areas. Fall colors peak from late September through No- vember depending on elevation. Higher elevations tend to change first and colors trickle down to the lower elevations as the season progresses.
Oak Creek Canyon is a popular place to see colorful fall foliage. A drive through the can- yon will delight hikers and photographers with amazing yellows and golds of the changing leaves of the Arizona sycamore and cottonwood trees that line the creek. The presence of Bigtooth maples, boxelders, willows and Gambel oak trees add reds, pale yellows and oranges to the eye-popping display. The Call of the Canyon trailhead is famous as a fall destination for those who want to experience the fall colors close up. But walking along the creek anywhere in the West Fork area will immerse the visitor in crisp fall air and stimulate the senses with the sights and smells of autumn. Seeing fiery red leaves on a backdrop of the canyon’s red rocks is a unique and spectacular experience. Colors in Oak Creek Canyon tend to peak in late October through mid-November.
Located off the Upper Red Rock Loop Road in West Sedona, Red Rock Crossing is another great spot for fall foliage viewing. The area offers spectacular views of Cathedral Rock and easy hikes along the banks of Oak Creek. Sycamore and cottonwood trees along the creek show off their bright yellows and brilliant golds in late fall. The deep pools that serve as summertime swimming holes become vast reflecting pools in autumn. Photographers will want to bring a tripod to capture frame-worthy photos of Cathedral Rock mirroring itself in the creek’s calm waters amongst the sprays of golden foliage.
Around Flagstaff, fall colors begin in mid-September at higher elevations and peak by mid- to late October. At higher elevations, aspen trees quake in the fall breezes and offer a bright contrast to the dark greens of the Ponderosa pines and Douglas firs. The Kachina Trail, just south of Arizona Snowbowl, is an easy to moderate hike into the lush forest. The best fall colors are experienced in the first 21⁄2 miles or so of the 5-mile trail.
Beginning at Lockett Meadow about 15 miles north of Flagstaff, the inner Basin Trail of- fers both colorful fall foliage and a hike right into the caldera of the now extinct volcano that formed the San Francisco Peaks. The trail starts in the ponderosa pine forest and me- anders into aspen groves as it climbs to the caldera. The steep slopes of the basin are lined with aspens that turn to golden hues in early fall. Hikers are rewarded with stunning views of the peaks at trail’s end. Elk and porcupines frequent the area and black bears have been known to wander through as well.
For later fall foliage viewing, don’t forget the Verde River basin from Camp Verde to Cot- tonwood and Clarkdale which tends to peak in late October and will often show color into early December in some places. There are a multitude of accesses to the Verde River for viewing the pale yellows and deep golds of the cottonwood and sycamore trees that line the river. Prevalent willows add canary yellow to the palette.
The Verde River Greenway trail accessed from Dead Horse Ranch State Park is a wonderful place to hike easily along the river banks and enjoy the crisp autumn air without needing a winter coat. Mild fall temperatures in the Verde Valley mean later leaf color changes and warmer hiking weather than in the high country. But the foliage display is just as spectacu- lar as anywhere else in the area.
Another easy stroll along the Verde River is on the Jail Trail accessed from Old Town Cot- tonwood. The trailhead is located next to the old jailhouse with parking in the adjacent municipal lot. The trail begins in a riparian area filled with enormous cottonwood trees and meanders downstream to the river’s floodplain. Walking the Jail Trail, it’s easy to forget that it is so close to town. Bird-watchers will be delighted with the multitude of species that can be viewed here. The trail continues into Dead Horse Ranch State Park or hikers can loop back into Old Town Cottonwood to enjoy a cold beer or local wine post-hike.
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