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Autumn in Arizona

“Delicious autumn! My very soul is wedded to it, and if I were a bird I would fly about the earth seeking the successive autumns.” ~George Eliot

The autumnal equinox ushered in the first day of fall on September 23. An equinox is the time when the sun’s rays fall directly on the equator, so that neither the north pole nor the south pole is inclined toward the sun. This makes the day and night equal in length.

Did you know…? The first day of Autumn in the northern hemisphere is the first day of Spring in the southern hemisphere!

While crisp fall weather and glorious foliage aren’t the first things that come to mind here in the desert, that’s exactly what you’ll find in some of the state’s higher elevations. Up north, where expanses of ponderosa pines are broken by stands of quaking aspen, changing leaves can herald fall’s coming as early as mid-September.

Much of the Coconino National Forest around Flagstaff is in the high country. Humphrey’s Peak is the highest point in Arizona at 12,643 feet. The annual color change begins on the higher slopes of these forested volcanic highlands as aspen leaves turn yellow while summer is still in the air. From there the transformation gradually migrates to the crimson sumacs and fuchsia maples of the lower canyons as cool nights confirm the full onset of autumn. Remnants of reds, oranges, and golds may linger in the desert canyons as late as mid-November.

The traditional times to view fall foliage in Arizona are from early to mid-October. The second weekend of October is probably the best bet. But even early in the season, scenic drives in the San Francisco Peaks area will provide good foliage displays, and later in the season look for color along the scenic drive in Oak Creek Canyon.

Hikers and backpackers might want to check out the Kachina Peaks Wilderness area north of Flagstaff; this area has the Little Bear Trail, where Gambel oaks and Rocky Mountain maples blaze with color. Or try the West Fork of Oak Creek Canyon, one of the most well-loved hikes in Arizona, located in the Red Rock-Secret Mountain Wilderness area. The West Fork is an unspoiled, narrow-walled sheer-rock canyon that is lush and heavily wooded. The first three miles are an easy walk for everyone from toddlers to seniors. The last eight miles are the province of the more serious backpacker. During the fall foliage season the canyon is absolutely beautiful.

I’ve only named a few places in northern Arizona where fall leaves can be found. There are plenty of other pockets of fall color around the state, too – in the White Mountains, around Globe, and in the “Sky Islands” of southern Arizona, for example.

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