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!
Annie’s Canyon Trail is more a destination than a trail. Or perhaps it’s best described as a “trail within a trail” – part of the San Elijo Lagoon Reserve trails. Our short 1.5 mile round trip trek started at the north end of North Rios Avenue. (Find parking information, maps and a trail guide online.) We parked at the cul-de-sac and followed the trail easterly along the San Elijo Lagoon. You’ll quickly see it really is an interpretive nature trail complete with park benches and label posts for trees, bushes and other flora. Look up ahead you’ll see Interstate 5; look back over your shoulder, you’ll see the lagoon and a glimpse of the ocean.
In less than half a mile, you’ll reach a fork to the right. Continue walking, as this only is another neighborhood access point, not the direction to Annie’s Canyon. However, if you want to make a side trip you can, but there’s not really much to see along this section, except for a very large tree. On a warm day, you may want to enjoy the shade of this old twisted trunk and limbs of what may be a eucalyptus tree (I’m not sure). It reminded me of the “tree of life” from Game of Thrones or other fantasy fiction.
Back to the main trail, continue heading east until you see the Annie’s Canyon sign. Now here’s where we were a bit confused. We knew this was a loop canyon hike, but didn’t realize it was a one-way loop. The recommendation is to stay to the right and climb up through the slot canyon up to the viewpoint and complete the loop on the other side. We took the left trail, which indicated a more moderate ascent. When we reached the viewpoint, we realized we should have taken the other direction.
At the top, looking west are sweeping views of the lagoon, the ocean, and the occasional water birds surveying the landscape. Looking east, the fast moving freeway traffic between Solana Beach and Encinitas is a reminder you’re still in the city.
Once at the top, we enjoyed our views, snapped a few photos and backtracked down, and around, headed up the canyon slot section for a little ways. But the afternoon was slipping away, and we wanted to enjoy some beach time at Fletcher’s Cove so we cut our short hike even shorter, and headed back to the car.
The San Diego area is one of our perfect getaway destinations, because it has everything we enjoy — taking a morning hike through the canyons and lagoon parks, followed by a few hours at the beach, then topping it off with a dinner of pizza and local craft brews.
Often our trips to the Palm Springs, Calif. area involve little more than dining, shopping, relaxing poolside with an icy drink and a good book. We wanted to do a bit more this visit; we planned a couple of hikes, a tramway trip to the top of San Jacinto Mountains followed by the inevitable dining, shopping and relaxing poolside. But we found ourselves in the first week of this month with temperatures well below the average, accompanied by strong winds, rain, and at the top of the mountain: snow. Which brings us to the number one travel tip: Always have a “plan b.”
The first morning we started out with a short hike. The winds were whipping around the desert at 30 mph, so we located a short hike that was somewhat protected by nearby hills and a thousand or so palms: the easy 1.7 miles to McCallum Pond at Coachella Valley Preserve.
Our second hike on this getaway weekend was also fairly short. We made the 1.8-mile climb up to Tahquitz Canyon Falls.
Both hikes are excellent for all ages and abilities. Both offer great views, geographic variety and photographic possibilities. Both can be prime activities for those looking for one to two hour excursions to supplement a day of shopping, sightseeing, a round of golf or lounging poolside.
In the case of inclement weather, always have a few indoor activities lined up. Several museums, shopping malls, galleries in the area provide indoor things-to-do. Because both my husband and I enjoy craft beer, we opted to visit two of several craft beer breweries. One is La Quinta Brewing in La Quinta, a 15-20 minute drive from Palm Springs. Old Town La Quinta is a picturesque and pleasant array of shops, galleries and eateries.
Beers sampled at La Quinta included the Poolside Blonde, an easy-drinking, light blonde ale, the Bloody Hot Summer, a refreshing, fruity beer, the Even Par 7.2 IPA, a smooth, perfectly balanced IPA, the Heatwave Amber Ale, a tasty brew with malt and caramel, and the Koffi Porter, with rich coffee, chocolate and malt.
Coachella Valley Brewing (or CVB) has many types of brews with a wide variety of flavors and blends, something for almost everyone, except the amber, red or brown ale drinker. Beers we enjoyed were the I-10 IPA, a lower alcohol session IPA, the Kolschella, a refreshing Kolsch-style German ale, the Harvester, an imperial IPA with grapefruit, and the Palms to Pines, a triple IPA at 13 percent APV!
After a weekend of wind and rain, we wrapped up our getaway with a day of abundant sunshine next to the Westin Mission Hills pool. We like to recommend: Allow ample time on the last day to let the events of your vacation soak in. Let the intermittent bursts of kids splashing and laughing blended with faint sounds of different styles of music and low rumble of adult chatter lull you into relaxation as you turn the page of your book or magazine or swipe your Kindle. Gaze up at the sun through the palms, take a deep breath and know: no matter what the weather or other environmental factors; you’ve had the time to unwind.
Okay, maybe we weren’t ‘lost’ in the purest sense, more like disoriented. But in the Superstition Wilderness, there’s a fine line between being disoriented and lost. It all boils down to the quantities of confidence, water supply and daylight.
Always download the map to a GPS or phone. Don’t depend on cell phone service, as it’s usually spotty. Carry a paper map as a back up, as well as plenty of water, emergency provisions, first aid kit.
“We just came down this path the last time we were here a few years ago, right?”
“No, I think we came down from a different trailhead, but we’re still coming out in the same place… at least I think. It all leads to about the same place.”
“Yeah, I don’t remember this at all.”
“Doesn’t this trail go past Hackberry Springs… where we saw the mules last time?”
“I think so.”
“Wait, I think we’ve gone too far down First Water Creek! Aren’t we supposed to cut back up the hill toward Garden Valley?
“It all looks so different now, after just a couple of years.”
“It’s been more like six years… Yep, it’s way overgrown now. All the rain and snow melt.”
“Yeah, we don’t want to get turned around like we did that time when we started down into Boulder Canyon and thought we were headed to Hackberry. That would’ve been a long day of hiking.”
“Okay, this looks all too familiar now.”
“Yep. This is Garden Valley. I can see Weaver’s Needle.”
“Now we’re back at the intersection of Black Mesa and Second Water Trails. So, the First Water Trailhead should be up past that rise.”
“Should be. We have to cross First Water Creek again.”
“Hey, look! More poppies! Boy, I bet Lost Dutchman (state park) has a bunch in bloom right now!”
What was supposed to be a five-mile loop turned into a 7.5-mile loop. When we arrived at the main First Water parking lot, it was full so we were forced to turn back and park at the staging area. We began our Hackberry Springs/Garden Valley Loop from there, heading down toward First Water creek, unknowingly passing by the old windmill and corral area, and wallking along the creek on the west bank, heading north, and ultimately missing the turn heading east. When we realized our error, we reversed course, crossed over the creek and come up around the bluff at Hackberry, gradually along the ridge to Garden Valley. Not having gone this clockwise direction before, most of the territory appeared unfamiliar.
We recommend starting at First Water, completing the loop counterclockwise, with the only precaution to not overlook the turn to Garden Valley. Rock cairns usually mark the spot, but not always! After the sign to Black Mesa, look for a trail veering left. After crossing the “valley,” the terrain changes. Keep to your right (easterly), and the trail will lead you along a canyon ridge with sweeping views. After 1.7 miles, you’ll arrive at a sort of rocky roundabout, you may be tempted to take a trail to the left, but stay to the right, Once you’ve descended into the thickly-grown springs area, you’ll have the bluff on your left. Continue along the creek; watch closely and you may see a dripping pipe protruding from the rocks. You’ve made it to Hackberry Springs! Continue along the creek toward the windmill and corral and walk up the old road to the staging area parking lot/trailhead or the main First Water Trailhead and parking lot.
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!
Ready for a winter hike? Take a look at AZGetawayTravel’s hiking list.
See you on Arizona’s hiking trails!
Picacho Peak State Park will close for the summer season on May 24. To my knowledge, it’s the only Arizona state park to shut down completely during the hottest part of the year. The park will re-open Sept. 14. Although there are only a few weeks left to visit the park before it closes, you can still squeeze in some early morning hikes, picnic lunches and long, respectful gazes of this famous historic and geographical Arizona landmark.
In April we spent a Sunday morning hiking along a couple of the trails at the park, located just off I-10 between Tucson and Phoenix. Poppies, lupine and most cacti had completed their flower shows weeks before. Only the Ocotillo continued to splash its red and coral colors onto this canvas of Sonora desert rock and sand. As we returned from our hike, and as the temperature hovered around 90 degrees, we noticed the noon heat was beginning to get a bit uncomfortable for hiking. Fortunately, a Dairy Queen has been strategically placed across the highway from Picacho Peak State Park.
We look forward to hiking the trails of Picacho Peak next fall, winter or early spring. And as usual, we’ll be promising ourselves to be better prepared: “We’ll have amped up our gym workout. We’ll leave the dogs at home. We’ll start earlier in the day. We’ll have more water and better footwear.”
Yeah, whatever. And of course next time, I’ll try to keep my eyes focused on the ground right under my feet and not on the ground 1000 feet below.
Here are some shots taken April 14, 2013.
Spring in Arizona always brings a renewed excitement of outdoor activity. It’s the best time for spring training baseball, festivals, picnics, wildflower watching and day hiking. I already have found myself plotting courses to the Superstition, Catalina and White mountains. I’ve dusted off my day pack in anticipation of my next hike. But first it’s time to do a little equipment inventory before hitting the trail again, so I’m compiling another day hiking checklist. (I knew the last one was outdated because it listed such items as “fanny pack” and “film.”) Please help me — could you suggest some additional items? Here’s what I have so far (in no particular order):
- Water (100 oz. for my Camelbak M.U.L.E. hydration pack)
- Maps (single sheet trail maps can be put in a waterproof pouch if phone service fails)
- Hiking boots or shoes (I love my Keen’s – they seem to mold perfectly to my feet)
- Hat (I’m learning to wear a hat that covers ears too.)
- Gloves (for chilly mornings or steel cable hand-rails)
- Small flash light or headlamp
- Reflective emergency blanket
- Cell phone (Fine, when it’s usable when in cell service area. Otherwise it’s feels like a “boat anchor.” So my phone usually serves as a timepiece and camera.)
- Mophie Juice Pack Plus (To extend cell phone battery life)
- Digital SLR Camera (Only if I’m sure I’m going to capture that National Geographic Photo Contest winning shot. Otherwise it’s just another “anchor.”)
- Pair of binoculars (Best for those view trails when I’m sure I’ll use it – if not: “boat anchor.”)
- Trash bag (Plain old plastic grocery bag, just for picking up picnic trash)
- Hiking staff (I need just one pole — for extra balance and traction)
- Rain poncho (Small fold-up type – but this really doesn’t get much use)
- Tissue pack
- Hand sanitizer
- Gauze, bandages, corn cushions
- Ace bandage
- Tweezers/nail clippers or small Leatherman tool (but not too large or it’s just another, you guessed it: “boat anchor”)
- Lip protection
- Whistle (Mom always said to pack a whistle – even before the “Titanic” movie)
- Matches in waterproof container
- Food for snacks or lunch including: fruit, jerky/beef stick/salami, trail mix, cheese, crackers, small sandwiches
Did I forget anything? Of course, not all hikes require ALL of these items. What items will be going into your day pack? I’d like to know about your day hiking tips and your hiking checklist recommendations!