The Four Seasons of Arizona: Fall


(First in a four-part series aimed at proving that there are four seasons in Arizona!)


It’s mid-September and it looks like we’ve made it through another summer in the desert. While we still have a few more days over 100 to go, the 110s and 115s have been put to bed until next year.

I don’t often gloat about Arizona, unless it’s February and twenty degrees in Boston (home) for the tenth day in a row. But, Arizona is a really surprising state. The geography and the climate are so varied, that I decided it’s time to make a highlight reel for each season, if for no other reason than to find my own appreciation for the Grand Canyon State.


Flagstaff bills itself as Arizona’s capital of autumn. Flagstaff is also where winter happens for the desert dwellers. Take a drive up State Route 180 towards the highest mountain in Arizona, Humphrey’s Peak (12,633 feet) and the golden swaths of Aspen groves will reward you. In late September the trees burst into color, lighting up the San Francisco Peaks.

Lockett Meadow, Mt. Humphrey's, Flagstaff, AZ
Lockett Meadow, Mt. Humphrey’s, Flagstaff, AZ


One of the reasons I moved to the desert was because New England winters had beaten me down. Once the bad memories began to fade, I realized that one of the gifts of having four seasons is fall. I missed it, so I found the winding road through Oak Creek Canyon on State Route 89A; the closest thing to a New England fall display of color. The Cottonwoods along the creeks are simply on fire, burning yellow like the sun, which is usually shining in Arizona.


The Mogollon Rim

From Prescott, cut across on State Route 260 through the high desert plains and down State Route 87 into Strawberry, Pine and on to Payson. The Ponderosa Pine forests of the Mogollon Rim are studded with yellows and oranges of Sycamore and Box Elders and the brilliant red of Sumac lights it all up from beneath.

Fall on the Mogollon Rim
Fall colors explode in a quiet meadow off of Forest Road 321C in the Mogollon Rim Ranger District.
Credit: U.S. Forest Service, Southwestern Region, Coconino National Forest.


Come down Route 87 and make your way over to State Route 60 East until you find State Route 79 South towards Tucson. Once you get through the open desert, you will be rewarded with Mt. Lemmon (9,157 feet), rising just outside of Tucson. The brilliant colors of the Aspens are mixed with some serious reds and oranges, more than you might expect.


Or, stay on State Route 60 East to the rugged Pinal Mountains around Globe. The tops of these mountains create what we call a sky island. I don’t know if these are unique to Arizona, but I’ve never heard of them anywhere else. They occur when an isolated mountain range rises out of the desert lowlands.

The habitat on top is treed with oak and pine and covered by grassland. The plants and animals on top of the sky island are completely different than the desert dwellers below. The first time I visited one, I thought of it as an oasis. Here you’ll see Ash trees, Quaking Aspens and Cottonwoods, with a few Maple reds thrown in for contrast.

Photo Courtesy: Murray Bolesta
Photo Courtesy: Murray Bolesta

It has taken me years to appreciate that even though fall is subtle, it can be found in Arizona.

There really are four seasons; you just have to be paying attention so as not to miss them.