Try a new Arizona fall foliage tour this year

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.

I'm hoping in the next couple of weeks, I can travel beyond the MS clipart site for a closer look at red maple leaves

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:

Madera Canyon

Cave Creek Canyon in the Chiricahua Wilderness

Boynton Canyon

Barbershop Trail

Coronado Trail

For general Arizona fall foliage exploring:

Payson Rim Country

Coconino National Forest

About.com

Finally, I found this newly-launched Forest Service site to see fall color opportunities nationwide.

Seven Falls Hike — April 2011

I had an old friend that used to joke, “you know, I think I’ve lost my speaking ability — between eating my words and biting my tongue… I don’t have much left to say.” That’s what I remembered when we finished our hike to Seven Falls, just outside of Tucson at the foot of the Santa Catalina Mountains.

I had suggested to my hiking friends hours earlier that I thought this Bear Canyon Trail hike was a “fairly easy” one and that sometime we should combine with a loop around Sabino Canyon by connecting to the East Fork/Sycamore Reservoir trails.  Afterwards, I wanted to eat my words. And half way up the trail, as my lungs were heaving and my heart was pounding, I wanted to bite my tongue, but the words just fell out: “Is it very much farther?” I asked some returning hikers. But they reassured me: “It’s just a bit, but it’s well worth it.” That was enough for me!

The hike is only about four miles from the trailhead, if you take the shuttle from the Sabino Canyon visitors center, otherwise it’s about eight miles round trip. My advice: save your money and walk along the road to the trailhead.  By the time you wait for the shuttle bus, you could have walked that far — it’s about a 15-20 minute walk from the center to the trailhead. And when we came back we raced down the trail back just to catch the bus, but missed it anyway.

The trail for the most part, is a combination of seven creek crossings and gradual climbing, up to the Seven Falls. The hike indeed, is moderately easy for most, but I would rate it more “moderate” and less “easy.” Especially the last mile or so, on the southern side of the creek, takes the hiker up at least half of the 800 feet total elevation change. It took us about one and a half hours to the falls, and about 45 minutes back. I would recommend taking more time to enjoy the trail. It’s “well worth it.”

Water from the creek flowing at Seven Falls

Pools of water provide cool dips; Large rocks are perfect for sunbathing

Trees provide some shade for a lunch break

The road to and from the visitors center is an easy access to the trailhead.

 

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Butcher Jones Hike: Ideal for wildlife and wildflowers

I thought our 11 a.m. start on the Butcher Jones trail may be too late and we would encounter more of a crowd. But on this particular March Friday morning, the part-year residents and spring break stragglers weren’t out and about, and we had the popular Saguaro Lake hiking trail almost to ourselves.

A few research checks on two popular Arizona hiking websites hikearizona.com and arizonahikingtrails.com alerted us about the Tonto Pass, a $6.00 recreational parking permit — necessary if one plans to park their vehicle in the Butcher Jones parking lot. This day permit is available at the Tonto N.F. Mesa district ranger office, as well as many retail locations, and there’s a listing on the Tonto National Forest website. As we pulled up to the parking/picnic area at Butcher Jones, it’s evident not many improvements have been made in the last 5-10 years. The picnic area is overgrown and tables are neglected, the parking lot pavement looks cracked and potholed.

We started out at the trail head, located at the southeast corner of the parking lot. The trail begins as asphalt trail and looks like it once could have been set up as an ADA accessible trail for a floating fishing pier which is now closed, because of extensive high water or storm damage.

Looking back toward Butcher Jones “beach”

Previous reports made for this trail on other sites described a path laden with trash. While the trail isn’t exactly pristine, it is relatively clean, with only some paper cups washed in to Peregrine Cove from boaters. Overall, the hike is fairly easy. There’s a few ups and downs but accessible for most hikers. I would recommend sturdy shoes as the trail can be rocky with some jagged-edged protrusions — so I’d leave the flip flops at home. This is one of those trails that often requires concentration so allow yourself stopping break time for wildlife sightings, photo ops and scenic viewing.

Start early on the trail for the best opportunity for solace and wildlife sightings

Orange desert mallow along the trail

Late March and early to mid-April are the best times to see the desert in bloom. Many varieties of wildflowers and cacti are in bloom.

Hedgehog cactus in bloom

The “in-and-out” hike takes about three hours round trip for most leisure hikers. There’s little reason to remind people to bring plenty of water. We use our 100-ounce Camelbaks. And don’t forget to pack some snacks or a light lunch. Besides the end of the trail, there are two short side trips down to water’s edge of the lake that make nice picnic locations.

View of Four Peaks from Burro Cove overlook

Grassy area of Burro Cove

Without all the speed boats, Saguaro Lake can be tranquil

The coves of Saguaro Lake are perfect fishing spots

The low, grassy cove areas were once favorite watering spots for range cattle

With great views, Butcher Jones hike is easy, accessible — a great place to take out-of-state visitors

Although we didn’t get to see any bighorn sheep that day, they have been spotted before — usually at dawn or dusk on the bluffs overlooking the narrow inlets.  We did however, sight a bald eagle soaring overhead, scouting the fishing possibilities. It’s always good to watch the trail for flowers, footing and snakes during the spring, but try to take enough breaks to look up once in a while.

Doug came from Ohio for a week: a little spring training baseball, outdoor recreation, visiting friends and family: a perfect Arizona Getaway

 

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Hieroglyphics Springs – February 2011

My first post describes my hike along the Hieroglyphics Springs Trail in the Superstition Mountains on Feb. 13. I haven’t made this hike in about a decade. Lots of improvements have been made such as directional signs to the trail head at each turn along the weaving roads of Gold Canyon, and a fully functional parking lot at the trail head. Plus there are many more hikers, of course!

Chuck, Molly and I in front of the forest service sign

Not always do you see a clear, warm winter’s view from the Superstition’s foot; we got lucky that day — very clear and sunny!

Getting to the hieroglyphs at the end of the trail early, we avoided much of the crowd who visit most Sundays. Many of the rock-writings are still in tact, but some more recent scribblings have been added, unfortunately.

A few wildlife sights along the way:

Small rock overhang near the end of this trail:

Even horse and rider make it up the trail, which can be very rocky in places, but for the most part, it’s an easy, gradual climb to the hieroglyphs.

I’d recommend this short day hike for both kids and seniors, and anyone vacation in the Phoenix area. For more details about the hike, please visit hikearizona.com

 

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