If you love color in Arizona, you’ll love the entire month of September in the Grand Canyon State! The ninth month of the year serves as a transition period where the summer heat finally gives into the cooler, refreshing breezes of autumn and the wildflowers dancing in picturesque meadows begin to disappear, paving the way for the on-looking trees to put on their own colorful display.
Thanks to our mild climate – save for summer in the desert – Arizona sees an extended growing season for not only wildflowers, but fall colors across the state. As the weather changes, leaves on the deciduous trees and bushes begin their multicolored transformation in late September in the higher elevations and last into early January along the riparian areas in the far south. Yes, early January!
Though we’re sad to see the 2012 wildflower come to an end, we’re gearing up already for an exciting autumn season ahead! And we hope you are too! As we prepare for the new season’s arrival, Paul and I wanted to share our favorite locations to photograph the changing palette of color in Arizona each month. So mark your calendars and get ready for Mother Nature’s next act!
- Paul (P): The Kaibab Plateau en route to the North Rim of the Grand Canyon starting in late September. The drive from Jacob Lake on Highway 67 to De Motte Park has some of Arizona’s best groves of aspen. A short drive on any forest road in this area will get you deep into the golden forests.
- Colleen (C): Near the Snowbowl Ski Area in Flagstaff the last week of September. A quick and easy stroll from the parking lot leads to abundant aspens, changing seemingly all hues of yellow and orange. A visit here is a great way to kick off your fall photography season! (www.arizonasnowbowl.com)
- P: Upper Christopher Creek area with a short one mile hike into See Canyon in mid-October. See fiery maples without the crowds of Oak Creek Canyon (near Sedona, which also a worthwhile location to visit around this time, so long as you don’t mind a little more company).
- C: Canyon de Chelly in late October. An already magical, photogenic canyon gets a splash of color, thanks to the cottonwood trees lining the wash change from summer green to vibrant yellow. (nps.gov/cach)
- P: Garden Canyon on the Huachuca Army Base out side of Sierra Vista in early November. A long, bumpy ride along a dirt road pays off with a canyon full of eclectic deciduous trees showing their vivacious fall coats along a small, idyllic flowing creek.
- C: Pumphouse Wash in early November. Everyone flocks to the nearby West Fork of Oak Creek – and for good reason! It’s spectacular! – but when you want to photograph the season’s color in solitude, turn to this quiet canyon to record maples, Oregon grape, and sycamores against the beige Coconino sandstone cliffs.
- P: San Pedro River all month and into January: The autumnal season in Arizona goes out on a high note here as a ribbon of cottonwoods and sycamore sing the final song of fall along sections of stream from Charleston Road outside of Sierra Vista to Hereford.
- C: Hassyampa River Nature Preserve in early December. While many people in northern latitudes are shoveling snow, the cottonwood trees in this little-known gem are still saying it’s fall in Arizona.
As we’ve done with the wildflowers this year, we’ll post periodic Field Reports here on our blog throughout the season with up-to-date information about color conditions in the various locations we visit and photograph. Be sure to keep us posted with your findings along the way as well!
In the meantime, if you’re looking to start polishing your photography skills, be sure to join Colleen at the Boyce Thompson Arboretum on Sunday, September 16 for the “Get Ready for Fall” Photo Workshop (more information at arboretum.ag.arizona.edu/photoclass.html, registration required, limited to 12 students).
Happy fall color shooting!
Paul and Colleen