Fall Colors in Arizona?

You Bet!

If you're planning to hunt for fall colors this year and haven't thought of Arizona, you may want to think again. Although it may be best known for its tall Saguaro cactus and Sonoran Desert, the Grand Canyon State is also home to mountains, pine forests and trees and shrubs that display a range of fall colors that usually peak late September to mid-October.

While scouting for fall colors, keep in mind that the best red color will be found in bigtooth maple trees, scarlet sumac, squawbush shrubs and the Virginia creeper vine. Plus, you'll see plenty of gold in the apsen trees in the state's higher elevations.

Incidentally, it's not frost that makes the leaves change color. Cooler temperatures coupled with the decrease in light as the days shorten cause the green leaf pigment to break down and the lovely fall colors to appear.

In Flagstaff, a best bet for seeing fall color is at the Arboretum at Flagstaff. In the Courtyard Garden, guests can enjoy the red hues of the sumac and the bigtooth maple and the yellow tones of the willow. An October stroll through the Mixed Conifer habitat rewards visitors with the golden colors of the quaking aspen and the redish-orange shades of the curranl bush. The Arboretum's Herb Garden boasts a beautiful display of Virginia creeper that changes to rich shades of brilliant red during the fall season.

Visitors also will find fall color in the Groundcover Demonstration Garden. The amur maple found there turns a pleasant red and the low-growing ice plant, not traditionally known for its fall color display, turns an orange-red color as well. For information, call the Arboretum at (520) 774- 1 442.

The Arizona Snowbowl ski area is one of Flagstaff's best locations for yellow and gold aspen. Consider enjoying the colors from the ski area's chairlift ride, which operates on Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays during the fall color season. For information, call Arizona Snowbowl at (520) 779- 1 95 1

In the White Mountains, reds, oranges and yellows usually peak in mid-October. The small communities of Greer and Alpine afford great viewing. Pinetop-Lakeside celebrates the changing of the season with the 23rd annual Pinetop-Lakeside Fall Festival in late September.

Near Payson, at the north edge of town, take state highway 87 to Houston Mesa Road or take state highway 260 northeast towards Kohl's Ranch or Whispering Pines. For views from atop the Mogollon Rim, take state highway 87 beyond Pine and Strawberry to the General Crook Trail, which is now paved state highway 260.

Sedona's Oak Creek Canyon along highway 89A north of town offers especially scenic fall colors with the reds, oranges and golds of oak, sycamore and aspen. The pink color of sugar maples also is found in the red-rock region.

Slide Rock State Park in Sedona will be hosting "Canyon Colors," a series of ranger-led walks in the canyons adjacent to the park in October. For information, call (520)282-3034.

Not far from Tucson, Madera Canyon, the village of Summerhaven and Mount Lemmon in the Santa Catalina Mountains usually provide their fall color displays in early October. Early October changes are also found in the Patagonia area (Mount Wrightson, for instance) south on state highway 83 offlnterstate 10.

In the Chiricahua Mountains (located about 120 miles east of Tucson near Willcox), autumn leaf hunters will usually catch oak, ash, maple and aspen changing in early October. It's also a good place to search for the vermilion of Virginia creepers. The area's canyons -- Miller, Ramsey and Carr -- are also good spots to glimpse crimson.

Another way to experience fall in southeastern Arizona is to see towering cottonwoods that turn golden in early autumn along riparian areas. One way to enjoy the landscape is aboard the San Pedro and Southwestern Railroad, which offers four-hour, round-trip excursions departing from Benson. In October, the train runs Thursday through Saturday. For information about times and rates, call (520) 586-2266.

To receive a free packet of Arizona travel information, call the Arizona Office of Tourism toll-free at 1-888-520-3444 ot visit the state's tourism website at www.arizonaguide.com. Photos by Erika Koerber.

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