Fall in Arizona means desert dwellers and out-of-state visitors swarming to the north and east parts of the state to the mountains to see aspen, oak and maple leaves changing color. They often overlook a visit to the Verde Valley for the cottonwoods, willows and sycamores. Along the Verde River, Oak Creek and Sycamore Creek they’ll find a wide array of spectacular scenery and fall color changes. One Sunday in early October, we opted to make a way to Sycamore Creek Canyon to hike the Parsons Springs Trail. Although it was a bit early for the most dramatic colors below the Mogollon Rim, we were still able to spot a few splashes of yellow, splashed against a canvas of azure blue.
Parsons Springs Trail is a beautiful 7-mile out and back walk along the creek, crossing about six times and before reaching Parsons Springs. Unfortunately, due to some tire issues on the way into Cottonwood, we had to cut short our hike on this particular outing.
Sycamore Creek serves as swimming hole for some brave, hot souls during the summer. On this particular fall day, water flows were slow. The creek appeared stagnant, buggy and muddy in spots. No wading or swimming this time!
We loved the 360-degree views of the canyon at the trailhead. The parking lot has plenty of space for a tailgate picnic after hiking. The trail was quiet; we only encountered a few hikers on the way in, a few more coming back. A few had overnight packs, indicating they likely had set up camp in the wilderness area north of Parson Springs.
A clear, sunny and relatively cool day in Sycamore Canyon reminds one of a creekside landscape in an eastern or midwestern state: Shady with lush, thick growth along the path. But you only need to look up to the red rock walls and your thoughts will be transported back to Arizona. Watch out for poison ivy; we spotted several patches.
The trail is relatively level, with only a slight incline heading back to the parking lot. Molly was getting hot and tired toward the end of the afternoon, and after a couple of hours, we had our appetite worked up for a bite to eat at one of our favorite cafes in Old Town Cottonwood.
It was too bad to see our shiny, new Subaru Forester so dusty, but that’s why we bought it, to award it with a little dirt and dust while exploring Arizona and western states. We didn’t need to use the 4WD for this trip, but it was nice to know we had it, plus we easily cleared any high spots on the road.
Late September through November is prime time for fall foliage excursions around Arizona. Get out and explore!
Most travel writers will inform readers about all the highlights, most iconic things to do and see in a particular part of Arizona. Sedona Arizona is a prime example. Guidebooks and information centers are plentiful, offering the most popular (and most populated) sights. They steer people to such sights as Red Rock Crossing, Cathedral Rock, Slide Rock and Bell Rock… all those rocks! But so many excellent activities and sights are not given enough due in other websites. Here are a few:
Many folks travel to nearby wineries for tasting. Most will sample the vintages at Page Springs Vineyards and Oak Creek Vineyards. We suggest also including a stop and spending a bit more time at Javelina Leap. Step behind the winery’s original main tasting room into the new “Arizona Room” and you’ll find a larger gathering spot for trying out the best vintages from Javelina Leap. There’s even a airy patio for nibbling and noshing when the weather’s right. We not only sampled wines, but some excellent appetizers — tapas — to cleanse our palate.
Before you spend an afternoon instagramming rock cairns at Red Rock Crossing, which by the way will now cost you $10 to park, visit Red Rock State Park. for a short stroll along Oak Creek or a moderate climb to Eagle’s Nest. It’s amazing what you may see along the way.
Many Sedona/Cottonwood visitors may have Montezuma’s Castle on their itinerary, but Montezuma’s Well — maybe not so much. Stop at Montezuma Well and follow the trail to the end. You’ll see the native inhabitants’ cliff dwellings and natural springs which feed the well. Roaming rangers and docents will provide the history of the well and its original water users.
We recently made a weekend getaway to Old Town Cottonwood and found there’s lot to do and see in this quaint, historic section of the central Arizona town.
We started out the morning with a short hike along the Jail Trail in Old Town Cottonwood. At the trail head, we noticed beautiful morning glory vines weaving along the fence at the Wild Rose Tea House.
Views along the trail include these giant pampas grass clusters on the banks of the Verde River.
Pampas grass plumes bent to the morning breezes, resembling billowing ostrich feathers.
Fungus took over residence in a downed cottonwood trunk.
We lingered for a while at the edge of the Verde River, near the Tuzigoot Road bridge.
The far end of the Jail Trail connects to the entrance of Dead Horse State Park. (Tip: Walk-in entrance fee is only $3.)
After walking along the river, we stopped for a bit of brunch at the Red Rooster Cafe.
There’s nothing better than a frothy latte on a chilly morning in Old Town Cottonwood.
Even if you’re not enthusiastic about antiques, you’ll find enjoyment browsing Larry’s Antiques & Things.
While shopping for unusual antiques, we not only found a “alien receiving” sign, but we found an alien to go with it… 🙂
Finally, we topped off the day with wine tasting at one of several tasting rooms in Old Town Cottonwood including the Pillsbury Wine Company Tasting Room on Main Street.
Thinking about a road trip? Now is the perfect time to visit Cottonwood:
March 29 is the Verde River Runoff.
The Verde Valley Birding and Nature Festival is April 24-27.
A blues festival, guitar concert and local history program are among the events dot at the Old Town Center for the Arts.
Check the Cottonwood Chamber of Commerce calendar for more events.
Enjoy your Arizona Getaway!
I’ve watched people at wine tasting events and wineries and remember how connoisseurs will jot down wine notes or dictate messages into their cell phones. They want to remember their wine tasting experiences, save information about the wines. They make notes about the wine’s appearance, aroma, taste and finish.
On a recent day trip to Jerome and Cottonwood, I jotted down some notes of my own — of the tasting rooms themselves. Here are some excerpts taken from my day trip travel journal about three tasting rooms I visited:
Appearance: Rich colors; dark sandstone red. Oak and iron. Exciting, bustling, comfortable atmosphere. Warm, friendly and inviting.
Second impressions: Oil paintings of sunsets. Bold, edgy. Surreal. Apache photos and symbols. Uninhibited.
Tasting experience: Friendly and relaxed. Smooth. Five for $9
Location: 1023 North Main Street, Cottonwood. Hours: Sunday-Thursday 12-7 p.m. Saturday-Sunday 12-9 p.m.
Bitter Creek Winery
Appearance: Bright, airy. Vivid burgundy-colored walls. Welcoming, friendly.
Second impressions: Gallery of watercolors and ink. Panoramic views of Verde Valley from picture window. Artistic labels and unique names for blends. Gifts. High ceilings.
Tasting experience: Informative. Innovative. Mystical. Sultry Cellars reds: Four for $10. Bitter Creek reds and whites: Four for $8.
Location: 240 Hull Ave., Jerome. Hours: Sunday – Friday 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. Saturdays 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Open one hour later, beginning in May.
Caduceus Cellars and Merkin Vineyards Tasting Room
Appearance: Red brick. Walnut and maple wood. Steel gray wine bar with brushed chrome hardware.
Second impressions: Imaginative. Bold. Rustic-looking with modern edginess. Shop is definitely worth a browse. Apparel and wine accessories.
Tasting experience: A bit pricey. $14 per flight of four wines.
Location: 158 Main Street, Jerome. Hours: Monday-Thursday, Sunday 11 a.m. to 6 p.m., Friday and Saturday 11 a.m. to 8 p.m.
Dead Horse Ranch State Park could be called the “ultimate” state park. It’s everything anyone could ever want in a state park. I mean, when you consider its location, events, history, attractions, beauty, activities — did I say location? — it has got to be up there near the top of the list.
1. Tent, RV or Sleeping bag and toothbrush
That’s right, you have your choice of accommodations. Some like tent camping; others prefer RV’s and the park has plenty of room for both. Or if you think Motel 6 is your idea of “roughing it,” perhaps you could try out one of the camp cabins. In that case, all you need is your sleeping bag and toothbrush (okay, maybe a few extras). Make your camping reservations online.
… for your hot shower of course! Dead Horse Ranch campgrounds are equipped with clean restrooms and hot water showers, so naturally you’ll want to bring your towel, shampoo, conditioner and your soap-on-a-rope (shower gel works too.) And judging from the review sites, the facilities are very well maintained.
3. Picnic basket or equivalent
I’m not sure if people still use these, but if you don’t have a picnic basket then just bring the ice chest stuffed with all your favorite goodies. The park has plenty of tables and ramadas in the day use areas, available on a first-come first serve basis, unless prior reservations are made.
…for the kayak or canoe you’ll want to bring! Picture yourself venturing out on the lagoon or exploring the Verde River. Please leave behind the Hobie Cats, Jet Skis and 90hp Johnson outboard. These waterways are oar-power only.
5. Tackle box
You will need a variety of lures, rods and reels in case you want to try all out the fishing possibilities. Arizona Game and Fish recently stocked rainbow trout for the winter months. Lagoons are favorite spots but river provides good places to try your hand at fly-fishing. Don’t forget your fishing license, but if you do, you can always pick up one at the local Walmart, just four miles away in Cottonwood.
You’ll need to bring a variety of footwear from your closet: hiking boots for hiking; riding boots for horseback riding and cycling shoes for mountain biking. There are lots of trails: short nature trails, perfect for strolling along the river or longer ones, such as the three trails that make up the 7.8-mile Dead Horse Trail System. And now that the 15-mile stretch of Lime Kiln Trail is complete, you can ride (or bike) all the way to Red Rock State Park. Almost every trail at Dead Horse Ranch State Park is shared use, so remember to follow trail etiquette.
7. Camera, binoculars and nature guidebooks
According to the Park website, common mammals are grey fox, jackrabbit, deer, bobcat, mountain lion, javelina, skunk, and as we were told by the campground host, even the occasional river otters make their home along the Verde. The Park also hosts the “Birdy Verde,” a short name for the Verde Valley Birding and Nature Festival each April and the Verde River Days, held each September. Both events are not only great family fun, but they promote awareness about outdoor recreation and wildlife. The main reason for the plentiful wildlife is the vast number of cottonwood trees — not to be taken for granted!
8. Credit card or cash
Okay, if you’re still not convinced Dead Horse Ranch could be the perfect Arizona getaway, just remember to bring money. You can always go shopping — at the gift shop in the visitor’s center where you’ll not only find bait, water and incidentals but also souvenirs and t-shirts. Or while your spouse and kids are fishing, paddling, riding, biking or hiking, you can take a two-minute drive into Old Town Cottonwood for a latte or a little lunch, followed by Arizona wine-tasting and window shopping along Main Street — dotted with quaint gift shops, antique stores and art galleries. And later, If you’re in the mood for some ‘old West’ entertainment, take the family to the Blazin’ M Ranch for dinner and a show. It’s literally just across the street from the park. You’d better add cowboy boots to the list of footwear!
Sometimes when I visit a historical monument, I’m reminded of the adage: “to understand people, walk a mile in their shoes” (or moccasins, sandals). It’s a good way to get the most out of my visit – to imagine how life must have been during that era. I thought about that on my recent return to Tuzigoot National Monument. I gained a new appreciation for these hunter-gathering people who lived in the Verde Valley between 700 and 1400 AD. I considered myself walking that ‘mile’ – or even just a few steps.
1. Step Inside
Visit the Tuzigoot Museum and Visitor’s Center. I recommend seeing this before the ruins. Interpretive and interactive exhibits explain the story of the Sinagua people. Learn about the structures and the differences between these pueblos and other nearby ruin sites. Even the museum itself has an interesting story. If you’ve been to Tuzigoot before but haven’t been recently, know that the exhibits are continually being updated. Kids of any age will enjoy the Junior Ranger program.
2. Step Out
It’s time to take a little walk up that path to the pueblo. The developed path from the parking lot to the pueblo seems easy enough. After all, it’s paved and even. Imagine if you lived 1000 years ago, and were walking up from the fields in the valley by the river, carrying a heavy load of corn or deer meat.
3. Step Around
Walk the circumference of the pueblo, which was originally two stories high throughout and comprised 110 rooms. Get the feel for the walls of clay and rock. Think about how long it must have taken to bring all these building materials to the top of this hill. Imagine spending nights in those small rooms!
4. Step Up
Climb the steps up to the rooftop, the highest point on the remaining second level of the pueblo. Here you will find what may be your most significant memory of your visit to Tuzigoot – the view! You can learn about this vantage point from the visitor center brochure, “A View from the Roof.” Gaze down at the Tavasci Marsh and Verde River where you will see how the vegetation transforms from wetlands to desert.
5. Step Down
Finally, walk the Tavasci Marsh loop, a half-mile round trip. It’s possible to see some of the 167 species of birds here or even the occasional desert river otter among the cattails. Before Europeans arrived in the 15th century, the marsh, river and Peck’s Lake provided lush, almost tropical surroundings. The name, “Sinagua” is Spanish for “without water” and was coined in the 1920’s by Museum of Northern Arizona founder and archeologist Harold Colton. It almost seems like a misnomer since water was abundant. Perhaps the name was given as one theory to the group’s disappearance – maybe an extended period of drought? Other theories include: depletion of food sources, disease, conflicts with other cultures or spiritual reasons.
6. Step Away
Whether you’re an Arizona newcomer, long-time resident or visitor, you’ll appreciate the step back in time with a visit to Tuzigoot National Monument. You’ll leave the park with more knowledge about Arizona’s native cultures, natural history and most likely, a renewed appreciation for your modern existence.
Yep, fall is here. The days are shorter. The nights are cooler. It’s time for football games and freak shows (Halloween). It’s one of the best times to travel and explore around Arizona. And about this time every year, the local news media fill their time and space with suggestions for high country trips to see the wide array of autumn colors. Photos of yellow and gold leaves plastered against a backdrop of Arizona blue skies make for great front page color as well as pleasant road trip memories.
Having spent my childhood in Ohio, I would always enjoy a variety of autumn colors: reds, oranges, yellows, golds, browns. Some leaves had splashes of many colors. Without sounding too trite, now these sights really give me and other transplant-desert dwellers a sense of changing seasons, which is necessary when our Phoenix-area daytime high temps continue to hover around 100 degrees in late September.
But sometimes I feel the need to see some variety beyond the typical cottonwoods, aspen and oak. Sometimes I would like to drive or hike beyond Oak Creek Canyon and Hart Prairie. Maybe, for one October Saturday or Sunday, I’d like to explore a little farther — to see more of the elusive thick clusters of the less common reds and oranges. This year I’d like to seek out the bright red maple leaves.
Tree leaves don’t really turn red; rather the leaves just lose their green color with the loss of chlorophyll. Maples “turn” various shades of red and orange, depending on how much glucose remains stored in the leaves after photosynthesis stops.
The best time to catch fall colors around Arizona is late-September to mid-October. After doing a little checking around online, I found some destinations which I think are worth considering as possibilities for seeing the “reds.” As always, please first check local road and trail conditions online before starting your fall foliage tour. Start on these websites for road conditions and fire restrictions: ADOT, state fire information, national forests, plus check your destination’s local county and municipal websites. These locations may require off-road or higher clearance vehicles. If you want to see maples in a more accessible environment, visit a nearby Arizona arboretum: The Arboretum at Flagstaff or Boyce Thompson Arboretum.
Here’s my suggestions, kind of a fall foliage “bucket list,” with their respective links:
For general Arizona fall foliage exploring:
Finally, I found this newly-launched Forest Service site to see fall color opportunities nationwide.