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Friday, September 23, 2016


Oaks and Maples on Boynton Canyon Trail
Right about the same time when the aspens of Arizona's mountain climes have passed their fall color prime, the high desert forests around Sedona are just about ready to peak. Although there are dozens of Sedona-area trails with great autumn leaf viewing, the West Fork of Oak Creek gets most of the love.
With its sound-bouncing russet canyon walls, cascading water and brilliant stand of maples, it's no wonder hikers make a beeline to this hot spot in October.
Although it's arguably the top fall color spot in the state, it will cost you ten bucks to get in and if you arrive later than 8 a.m., you'll probably have to wait around for a parking space.
It's worth the money and the wait, so go ahead and get that one out of your system. Then move on to these other Red Rock Country canyons where you can soak up the eye candy in quieter, gentler surroundings.
Bear Sign Trail, Oct 25
Unlike some Sedona routes that have been worn smooth by love, this one feels raw and remote. Tucked into weather scoured hinterlands of Red Rock Secret Canyon Wilderness, the moderate hike rambles through classic high desert flora before ducking into the damp, upper reaches of Bear Sign Canyon. The color show here is courtesy of mustard-colored Gambel oaks, lemony Canyon grape vines, russet sycamores and shocks of crimson sumac scrambled among forests of Arizona cypress and juniper scrub. Actual bear sightings are rare, but signs of their foraging are common along the trail. The hike can be done as a 6-mile out-and-back or as a 7.2-mile loop with David Miller and Secret Canyon Trails. Elevation range is 4,880 to 5,640 feet.
Getting there:
From the "Y" intersection of State Routes 179 and 89A in Sedona go left (toward Cottonwood) and continue 3.2 miles to Dry Creek Road. Turn right, go 2 miles to Vultee Arch Road (Forest Road 152), hang a right and continue 4.5 miles to the Dry Creek #52 trailhead located past the Vultee Arch parking loop on the left. A high clearance vehicle is required on FR 152.
Templeton Trail, Nov. 3
In a woodsy bend where Oak Creek swerves around Cathedral Rock, willows and cottonwoods arch over the steel blue waterway, caressing the flow that reflects autumn foliage in syrupy whirlpools. To reach the water from the trailhead, follow a 0.3-mile access path along a combo of constructed rock stairs and slick red sandstone marked by basket cairns to the Cathedral Rock/Templeton junction sign. Straight ahead is a short (0.4 mile), semi-technical rock scramble leading to two nice vista points----optional, but not this hike. Instead, head right and follow Templeton, which clings to a rugged, yucca cluttered slope. After about a half-mile, the path swerves for first views of Oak Creek and its flood plains. Here, the route makes an easy but edgy descent to the forested color frenzy along the waterway. A kaleidoscope of massive sycamore, cottonwood, of alder, sumac, willow, walnut and countless shrubs (beware of poison ivy) glow like beacons among cypress and junipers with a backdrop of rusty cliffs to boot. Along the next half-mile, the trail stays by the water exposing countless root-tangled coves and shady spots to relax in this high-desert oasis.
Getting there:
From Interstate 17, take the Sedona/Oak Creek exit 298. Turn left (west) and continue 11 miles on State Route 179 to the traffic circle at Back O’ Beyond Road near milepost 310. Veer left and go 0.6 mile on Back O’ Beyond to the Cathedral Rock trailhead on the left.
Boynton Canyon, Oct. 23
Already a hiker favorite for its spectacular geology and soul tingling vortex virtues, the haunting trip through Boynton Canyon also brims with autumnal color beginning in mid-October.
You'll need to hike a few miles through sunny yucca and manzanita before reaching the mouth of the canyon where a frenzy of maple, hoptree, alder and oak trees that sway in gorge-fueled breezes appear as animated watercolors and stained glass. The 7.4-miles roundtrip hike climbs from 4,500 to 5,050 feet, ending in a box canyon wrapped in red sandstone walls soaring hundreds of feet overhead.
Getting there: From the traffic circle at State Routes 179 and 89A in Sedona go left (toward Cottonwood) and continue 3.2 miles to Dry Creek Road. Turn right onto Dry Creek Road (Forest Road 152C) go 3 miles to Boynton Canyon Road, turn left and proceed another 0.3 miles to the parking lot on the right. Roads are paved. FEE: Red Rock Pass--$5 per vehicle is required
Secret Canyon, Oct. 24
A community of pinion pines, juniper and assorted cacti at the trailhead belie what lies ahead on Secret Canyon Trail. Epic views of Sedona’s red rock landscape dominate the first 1.75 miles of this 11-mile roundtrip hike before the trail makes a sharp westward swerve at the mouth of the canyon. From here, the route leaves the shade-less chaparral plunging into a stream bed where torrential storm runoff and blowing dust have carved bizarre sculptures in the sandstone escarpments flanking the path. Residual pools of water stand at the bases of moisture-hungry cottonwoods with heart-shaped, lemony leaves.
Near the 5-mile point, the trail enters “the narrows”, a series of slick-rock corridors hemmed in by a vertical fortification of sandstone with clusters of blood-red maples and rusty-orange oaks bursting from the rubble-strewn canyon floor. Beyond this point, the trail degrades into a quagmire of scree and undergrowth, which is why most hikers make the narrows their turnaround point. However, those with good route-finding skills can opt to scramble, squeeze and scoot along a sketchy footpath for another half-mile. Elevation range is 4,500 to 5,100 feet.
Getting there:
From the traffic circle at State Routes 179 and 89A in Sedona, go left (toward Cottonwood) and go 3.2 miles to Dry Creek Road. Turn right and go 2 miles to Vultee Arch Road (Forest Road 152). Turn right and continue 3.4 miles to the trailhead on the left. A high clearance vehicle is required on FR 152.
Red Rock State Park, Oct 17th
Tame by comparison to some of the aforementioned destinations, the 5-mile trail system at Red Rock State Park is neatly groomed, well signed and outfitted with wooden bridges where they cross Oak Creek. The lovely creekside foliage is augmented with family-friendly features such as a visitor center, picnic areas, restrooms and educational programs. Elevation is 3,880 to 4,080 feet.
Getting there: From the traffic circle at State Routes 179 and 89A in Sedona, go left (toward Cottonwood) on Highway 89A for 5.5 miles to Lower Red Rock Loop Road and follow the signs 3.3 miles to Red Rock State Park. The park is open 7 days 8 a.m. to 5 p.m.. Entry fee is $7 for adults, $4 for youth 7-13 and free for kids 0-6. Pets are not allowed.

Monday, September 19, 2016


Autumn is just weeks away and the first tiny blotches of fall foliage color have already begun to tease of what's to come on Flagstaff's San Francisco Mountain. Many hiking trails on the slopes of Arizona's highest peaks make for ideal fall foliage viewing. The quaking aspen color spectacle begins in the high elevations in late September then trickles down into the foothills lasting through October. Here are six top leaf peeping picks.
Abineau-Bear Jaw Loop, Sept. 28, 2013
This rigorous 7.2-mile loop on the north face of the San Francisco Peaks takes you up to a scenic saddle through moss-draped, spruce-fir woodlands of Abineau Canyon and back down the aspen-cluttered gorge of Bear Jaw Canyon via a 2-mile connecting walk along Waterline Road. Elevation range is 8,530 to 10,320 feet.
Getting there:
From Flagstaff, go north on US180 (Fort Valley Rd.) to milepost 235.2 and turn right onto Forest Road 151 (Hart Prairie Road, north access). Continue 1.6 miles on FR 151 and connect to Forest Road 418. Drive 3.1 miles on FR418 to Forest Road 9123J (signed for Abineau-Bear Jaw), turn right and go 0.6 mile to the trailhead. Dirt/cinder roads are rutted but passable by carefully driven sedans.
Inner Basin Trail, Sept. 28, 2012
Plan ahead and be prepared for crowds if you want to stroll among tight knit aspen groves high on the mountain's eastern face. Getting to this immensely popular trail involves a white knuckle drive on a curvy dirt road, but for those who dare to brave the congestion and hairpin turns, the hike is one to savor. The moderately difficult trail begins at 8,630 feet in Lockett Meadow with a mild but constant uphill walk through an enchanting white trunk forest capped in gold. Mid way through, the route enters a gaping basin, fringed in color and populated with tiny pump houses that manage the watershed that supplies the City of Flagstaff. The hike culminates with a final, steep slog up to 9,410 feet where it connects with Weatherford Trail. 
Getting there:
From Phoenix, travel north on Interstate 17 to the Interstate 40 junction in Flagstaff. Head east on I40 and connect with US89 north. Continue 17 miles north on US89 to Forest Road 420 at milepost 431.2 (across from the turnoff for Sunset Crater). Turn left here and veer left onto FR 552, following the signs 4.5 miles to Lockett Meadow. The good gravel roads are narrow and winding with steep drop offs and no guardrails. Sedans okay, drive slowly and watch those curves. Trailhead parking is just past the campground. Trailhead has restrooms and fee-based camping. The access road is subject to traffic management to control the mobs during peak color weeks. Expect delays.
Kachina Trail, Oct. 8, 2011
One of the best places in Arizona to see aspens, this 5.2-mile (10.4 roundtrip) moderate trek wanders on the mountain's moist, southern edge between 8,790 and 9,290 feet in elevation. Abundant, year round precipitation feeds an understory of neck-high ferns that grow among volcanic boulders and some of the densest populations of aspens anywhere in the state.
Complementing the color frenzy are shallow lava caves, alpine meadows and scenic landings overlooking Flagstaff.
Getting there:
From Flagstaff, go 7.3 miles north on US 180 to Snow Bowl Road (Forest Road 516). Drive 6.6 miles up FR 516 to the signed turnoff for the large parking lot and trailhead on the right.
Arizona Trail, Oct. 7, 2013
If you've ever pulled over at Aspen Corner on Snowbowl Road to gawk at golden leaf canopies, you might want to stay a little longer and take an easy walk on the Arizona Trail. From the parking area, follow the trail four miles (one way) to Bismarck Lake for a wind-addled trek dominated by mountain breezes that rustle up golden, aspen leaf blizzards. Elevation range is 8,780 to 9,000 feet.
Getting there:
From Phoenix, travel north on Interstate 17 to Flagstaff. Connect with US180 and drive 7 miles north to Snowbowl Road and head 5.2 miles uphill to Aspen Corner. There's a parking apron on the left near a split rail fence.
Aspen Nature Loop, Oct. 15, 2010
An easy walk with breathtaking views, Aspen Nature Trail makes a 2-mile trip through breezy forests at the base of Humphreys Peak. Situated between 9,270 and 8,990 feet, the trail has all the benefits of hiking in high elevation autumn alpine paradise without strenuous climbing.
Getting there:
From Flagstaff, go 7.5 miles north on US180 to milepost 223, turn right onto Snowbowl Road and continue 6.2 miles to the Humphreys trailhead on the left. Hike begins on the northwest side of the parking lot. Roads are paved up to the parking lot.
Lamar Haines, Oct. 11, 2013

This short and easy kiddie favorite is jam packed with enough points of interest to keep even the most antsy young ones entertained. Stashed along the margins of this woodsy, 1.6-mile loop trail are springs, petroglyphs and ruins of a homestead tucked into foothills that roll between 8,600 and 8,450 feet.
Getting there:
From Flagstaff, go 7.5 miles north on US180 to milepost 223, turn right onto Snowbowl Road and drive 4.2 miles to the Lamar Haines Memorial Wildlife Area trailhead on the right.