Thanks to our winter visitors, the annual changing of the license plates means it is fall in Arizona. All jokes aside, there are parts of this state where true autumnal beauty flourishes. Orange, golds, ambers and reds – no, I’m not talking about a flight of beer from one of our local breweries; I am talking leaves.
Most Valley residents will head north to Sedona, Oak Creek or Flagstaff for autumn beauty. I prefer those paths less traveled to the land of standing rocks, Chiricahua National Monument, and its lesser-known eastside entrance.
To access the eastside entrance, guests must come through the town of Portal. You’ll enter Cave Creek Canyon, then follow the Southfork #243 trail to one of Arizona’s most biodiverse areas.
I’d say watch out for birders, but its color, not birds, that draws visitors in this time of year. As you walk along the trail, Sycamores, some gold, others a beautiful reddish color, are the first signs of autumn.
Further up the trail is an area marked Maple Camp, where a grove of red-leafed Maple trees creates the most beautiful and surreal Arizona scene. Make sure to look up onto the cliffs – you might spot flaming Aspens.
Autumn color is a short season in Arizona, so call before you make the trip.
While you are in the area, check out the town of Portal. Grab a bite at the Portal Peak Lodge Café, where staples like huevos rancheros and southwestern beef hash highlight the breakfast menu. Save room for the house-made deep-dish cobbler with ice cream.
A fun fact about Portal: It is rumored to have more Ph.D.’s per capita than anywhere else in Arizona. Biologists, geologists and anthropologists have flocked to this community and set up shop to conduct field research.
Not far from Chiricahua National Monument’s west side entrance is the town of Willcox. This southern Arizona town is known as the birthplace of “Arizona Cowboy” Rex Allen and Arizona’s original agri-tourism destination, Apple Annie’s. There are apples and pumpkins of all shapes, sizes and colors. Guests can pick out a pumpkin, test their skills inside the corn maze, or grab a bucket and pick some fresh fruits and veggies.
Owned by the Kirkendall family since the 1970s, Apple Annie’s had hoped to cash in on the booming apple industry. In the 1980s, that business model proved unsuccessful, so they pivoted and opened the farm to the public.
Now, you will find acres of produce and fun. Guests can even pick sunflowers. Where else can you do that in Arizona? For many Arizonans, this has become a family tradition and a great escape from the city.
Stop by Apple Annie’s country store to pick up some apple bread. They have hundreds of jarred goods, from apple butter to preserves, pickled items and salsas. Their fudge counter was popular with the Arizona Highways TV crew.
For the Kirkendall family, with all of the work and the sleepless nights, seeing people have fun and hearing kids tell parents, “This is more fun than Disneyland,” makes it all worthwhile.