Thursday, July 12, 2012

Finding Fall in Arizona

July 2012, by Susan Strom, Arizona USA.

Autumn starts coming around, and you live in Arizona. You miss the fall colors of home...New Hampshire, Canada, New York. You loved the drives through trees and country. Fear not, your fall fix can still happen, right here in your Southwestern home. Here's how...

Follow the Color

Early in the season, seek fall color at high elevations, 8,000 ft elevation and up. Try driving out east of Pinetop/Lakeside, Arizona to the White Mountain Apache Lands. Check with Hon Dah Casino for your tribal land recreation permit. Visit A-1 Lake, off main Highway 260, to see the aspens changing. Listen for elk bugling too! Highway 260 winds you through aspen forests, and more aspens are visible on the paved road to Hawley Lake (not too many at lake level though). Check US Forest Service websites for color reports. If you find a good report, try other roads too, like the paved road that winds up to Snow Bowl ski area in the San Francisco Peaks in Flagstaff. It can be beautiful, with easy access. An alternative is to check with the ranger station on Highway 89 in Flagstaff too, to see if the unpaved road to Lockett Meadow is open (it can close). Lockett is a large aspen grove about 5 miles in, entered on the eastern side of the San Francisco Peaks. The road to Lockett is an unpaved mountain road, one lane in spots, but short. Ask a Flagstaff ranger station about Hart Prairie too, on the west side of San Francisco Peaks. It can also offer fall aspen color. When hunting fall aspen color, I check first with rangers each year, to ask about road conditions & closures, recent burn areas, and any control burns in progress. Rangers are very informed about color status too. Remember, please don't carve the aspens! It sickens our beautiful trees.

A-1 Lake at sunset, White Mountains Apache Lands, Arizona by Susan Strom
Aspens at Hawley Lake turnoff of 260, White Mountains, by Susan Strom
Aspen leaves in the White Mountains, by Susan Strom
The soaring aspens of Lockett Meadow near Flagstaff AZ, by Susan Strom

As Fall Progresses

You're into Fall a little bit now and have seen some aspens. It's well into October. Maybe the high elevation roads, such as the access to Lockett Meadow, are starting to close for the snows. Now is time to seek the crimson leaves of Bigtooth Maple, golden poplars, and cognac-colored oak and sycamore. You're going to want a slightly lower, but still montane, elevation. A nice drive from the Phoenix valley is to take Highway 87 up to Payson, maybe grab breakfast at the Beeline Cafe (and a pumpkin spice latte' at the Starbucks inside Safeway), head out east on 260 to (paved) Tonto Creek Fish Hatchery Road. Drive-up creekside access is available at several spots. Patches of sycamore, oak, poplar, sumac, and canyon grape will be visible now. Then, head up the road to the Fish Hatchery, and you'll see Bigtooth Maple, just a few, one here, one there, along the road. It won't be an entire hillside, but beautiful photos can be had near a maple tree at close range. Hopefully, they will be red and showy for you! Maples grow in other places too, such as Sedona's beautiful Oak Creek Canyon, accessible via paved road, and are plentiful in the Pinal Mountains (unpaved access) above Globe, and can be found in mountain ranges in Southern Arizona.

Maple color alongside the Tonto Creek Fish Hatchery road, by Susan Strom
Maple leaves in color against ponderosa pines on the Tonto Creek Fish Hatchery road, by Susan Strom
Fall grasses and broadleaf tree alongside Tonto Creek, by Susan Strom

Foliage along a footpath at Tonto Creek off Highway 260 east of Payson, Arizona by Susan Strom
Sumac along Tonto Creek, Arizona by Susan Strom
Sumac by the Tonto Creekside, Arizona, by Susan Strom
Maple color along the Tonto Creek Fish Hatchery Road, Arizona, by Susan Strom

Deep Into Fall

You have a Thermos full of hot cider, something Pendleton to keep you warm, car keys and map. It's late October and you seek meadows, vistas, oaks. Pumpkin pie wouldn't hurt either. You may wish to slip in one last trip to the Mogollon Rim before winter takes hold. Highway 260, east out of Payson, up to the top of the Plateau (the Rim) is a beautiful ride. Several stunning cliff-edge vista points await on Forest Road 300 (look for the sign that says "Woods Canyon Lake" off 260). Military Sinkhole, Rim Lakes Vista Point, you'll see these incredible scenic overlooks from the paved road to Woods Canyon Lake. The autumn experience here will not be thick groves of eastern-style fall foliage, but rather the combination of stunning vistas, meadow and lakeside walks, with oak and aspen scattered about the woods. It is an opportunity to take in the chilly air and keep eyes & ears open for roving elk too. The road is paved to Woods Canyon Lake, but late in the season it will close for the snows. If afterward you need some warming up, there is a cabin-style restaurant in the woods, on the Christopher Creek loop road back down off 260 just under the Rim. If you have a good portion of the afternoon (I set out very early so I often do), a nice side trip might be to go back through Payson and head up to the small towns of Pine and Strawberry, on Highway 87 north of Payson. There you will find a quaint country town of Pine, with a few country stores & honey store, and in Strawberry, an original historic schoolhouse down a paved side road from the rustic Strawberry Lodge, known for pie.

Changing oaks near Mogollon Rim vista Points FR 300 Arizona by Susan Strom
Aspens along a small mountain meadow near Woods Canyon Lake, Arizona by Susan Strom
A view from the Mogollon Rim, accessible by paved road, by Susan Strom

One Last Hoorah

It's November now, leaves in the high country have fallen and you're wondering if there is anything left. Now is the time to check out beautiful Boyce Thompson Arboretum in Superior, Arizona for Fall Festival and the changing of the pistache trees. Be sure to check with the park to time it right so you can see the beautiful pistache trees at peak and for festival dates & events. Wear comfortable shoes in case you want to walk any hilly parts of the park, but you can access the fall color tree canopy via a completely flat and level trail (pictured below). You will love this park! It is about 60 miles east of downtown Phoenix along main Highway 60 three miles west of the town of Superior. Eat first, no cafe in the park, but you can bring a picnic. If you picnic, there is a lower lot nearer to the tables & trails. Before I get started for the day, I like to go up to the Buckboard Cafe in Superior for breakfast.
Pistache tree in November color, Boyce Thompson Arboretum, Superior, Arizona by Susan Strom
A drop reflects fall color at Boyce Thompson Arboretum, by Susan Strom
Color showing at Boyce Thompson Arboretum, by Susan Strom
Queen Creek running through Boyce Thompson Arboretum, by Susan Strom
The Boyce Thompson Arboretum trail near the fall trees, by Susan Strom
Afternoon canyon shade over the fall color at Boyce Thompson Arboretum, by Susan Strom
A splash of November color in the Boyce Thompson Arboretum garden, by Susan Strom

Be not denied your autumn fix, my fall-loving friend. Arizona is full of secret wildernesses that will give you autumns to remember.

New addition...A Conservation Poem

A-1 Lake in the White Mountains of Arizona by Susan Strom

Kendrick Park Watchable Wildlife Refuge west of Flagstaff, Arizona by Susan Strom
There is nothing more precious than the wild lands, untouched and unspoiled by humans. One would think that living in the American West would afford the adventurer miles upon miles of wilderness to explore. This is true, but even in my own lifetime I have seen mountains lost forever to development, grocery stores installed on scenic overlooks, and massive (to the tune of over half million acres) forest fires human-caused. I wrote a poem for those who might share the love of the remote places still untamed, and a passion for something larger than ourselves...the beautiful, inspiring, and fragile wild.

In particular, I was thinking about the The Mogollon Rim, the White Mountains, the San Francisco Peaks, Greer, the Escudilla and the eastern mountains, all in Arizona, when I wrote it. They are always on my mind.

Copyright April 2011
by Susan Strom

Look Far Beyond

Look far beyond
to save the scenic river
and crystal brooks
where fish can swim upstream

And left untouched
the meadow and the mountain
Can timeless be
the palace of your dreams

The lightning roams
the mighty river canyons
To red rock thrones
across the swirling sky

The eagles soar
to make the clouds their ocean
Dark shadows roar
with thunderous reply

The quilts of green
extend to far horizons
The morning mists
Caress the waking trees

Among the pines
The rays of autumn twilight
Shine through the woods
of endless mystery

The aspens reach
for Heaven’s endless bounty
Their arms extend
into the wind they sing

And moonlight falls
like water’s silver fountain
Cascading down
to everlasting springs

I fear the hill
falls shaven to the building
The glens can plead
but will we hear their call?

A reckless spark
could fell a treasured forest
To claim the trees
and carve into the soul

Companion wood
Whisper me your secrets
Speak through the leaves
And sunlight glistening

And what you say
Upon the wind and water
Be well assured
That I am listening

A single step
can lead to paths not trodden
And blazes forth
with new discovery

The wild heart
can save a future forest
A hero’s hand
assures recovery

Look far beyond
The valley we can prosper
The mountain steward
in virtuous husbandry

And down the line
Our children set to wander
The wilds unchanged
will praise the legacy

Written by Susan Strom Copyright 2011

I made a quick video, less than 1 min, of the aspen color along the Snowbowl ski area paved road in Flagstaff. Go to Flagstaff video on YouTube Happy Fall!