Published September/October 2012

Fall Foliage

A drive through northern Arizona reveals landscapes teeming with autumnal hues

BYChristine Maxa
While most of the nation gets only a couple weeks to enjoy fall color, Arizona has more than two months. The show starts in late September in the highest elevations and doesn’t end until it arrives in the desert canyons, where it lasts into early December. Around mid-October, when cloudless autumn days follow cool, frost-free nights, a spectacular show of color appears in northern Arizona’s Central Highlands and makes for a dazzling drive.
The tour begins in Prescott’s Whiskey Row, with golden treetops. Grab some breakfast fare at The Raven Café, and then drive south on Montezuma Street six miles to the signed turnoff (a half-mile south of Milepost 306) for the towns of Ponderosa and Crown King. Turn east onto Indian Creek Road. The gushes of gold you saw along the highway forest continue here. Watch for scarlet Virginia creeper twining around tree trunks and golden canyon grape streaming from trees.
After passing through Ponderosa Park, the color dwindles when the road enters a pine-oak forest. Hang in there; the best color comes after you pass the Wolf Creek campgrounds and turn south onto Senator Highway. Your signal is the remains of a stamp mill from the Senator Mine (established in 1878) perched above the Hassayampa River. Look for flames of red from bigtooth maple trees on the canyon walls. Aspens gather just around the bend.
At the sharp left turn for Walker Road, veer right to see some stunning roadside displays of bigtooth maple trees. When the color runs out, find a place to turn around and loop back to Prescott on color-packed Walker Road. At State Route 69, turn west. Go about three miles to State Route 89, and turn north.
Just beyond the boulder-filled Granite Dells laced with gold in woodlands around the wetlands, turn east onto state Route 89A toward the old mining town of Jerome via Mingus Mountain. Within eight miles, hardwoods glow gold along the highway, and the upper slopes have red streaks of maples you can view from the crest before dropping into Jerome. As you wind through the town, stop for lunch at Bobby D’s Bar-B-Q Pit at the historic English Kitchen. Then, continue on Route 89A through the town of Cottonwood, veering left at a fork with State Route 260, toward Sedona.
Before you reach the red rocks, take a detour on Page Springs Road (about eight miles from the fork). The two-lane road winds with Oak Creek, whose banks beam gold from cottonwoods, past vineyards that offer wine tasting. Page Springs Fish Hatchery makes a great place to picnic or get up close to the color along the water.
Double back to Route 89A and turn east toward Sedona. Erosion has carved the town’s signature red rocks into a jigsaw of canyons that pack fall color. Stay on Route 89A to get to the most popular one, Oak Creek Canyon.
The roadside forest rollicks with color and upstages the canyon’s red rock formations. Grab the makings for a picnic at Garland’s Indian Gardens Trading Post and take a break at one of several turnouts along the road or at Slide Rock State Park, which sells fresh cider made from historic apple trees. Just before the road starts to gooseneck up the canyon, check out signed Pumphouse Wash for some intense fall color.
From there, Route 89A climbs into the pines past colorful side canyons. As it nears Flagstaff, you can connect with Interstate 17. Or, double back for a rerun of this once-a-year extravagance of the season’s beauty. 
CHRISTINE MAXA is an award-winning author based in Arizona.
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If You Go
The Prescott loop has graded dirt roads safe for most cars; south Walker Road can be dicey for very low clearance.
142 N. Cortez St.
119 E. Jerome
1600 N. Page Springs Road
Garland’s Indian Gardens Trading Post
3951 N. AZ 89A
6871 N. AZ 89A
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