City Cast

Weekend Trips to Feel That Autumn Vibe

Scott Dickensheets
Scott Dickensheets
Posted on October 3   |   Updated on October 10
Photo from Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument

Try this in a big town — a scene from Utah’s Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument.  (Suzanne Stroeer/Aurora Photos via Getty)

“I'm forlorn without my Mount Charleston aspen fix,” says writer Natalie Burt, who contributes a monthly column about nature and adventure to the Review-Journal. No doubt a lot of you share her dismay now that storm-caused road closures have curtailed access to one of Southern Nevada’s most reliable harbingers of autumn. “It's the first time in at least 20 years that I have not been up there to see the autumn leaves do their magic.”

Fortunately, Natalie knows where else to find quality fall vibes.

🍂 Can you recommend a couple of favorite autumn overnighters?

“Only a couple? I guess that’s fair, considering practical matters like work and wallet. Both recommendations demand long weekends and four-hour drives: Arizona’s West Fork of Oak Creek trail, north of Sedona, and Southern Utah’s massive Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument.

“West Fork trailhead is found along the stunning U.S. Highway 89A en route to Sedona. Fall color peaks from mid- to late-October, and its seemingly floating, big red oak leaves are pure autumn magic. Get in the car line before the gates open at 8 a.m., and wear water-friendly shoes (there are 10 stream crossings).

“A decidedly less crowded fall option is Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument, reached via Utah Highway 12. You’ll pass golden aspen in September and brilliant yellow cottonwoods in October. Skipping this spot while living in the Southwest is inexcusable.”

🍂 OK, OK, one more destination!

“Another spot to find fall foliage treasure is about two hours away, in Hualapai Mountain Park near Kingman, Ariz. Aspens at higher elevations shine in golden hues against stately ponderosa pines, and Gambel oak in handsome shades of reds and oranges line trails that wind through this picturesque 2,300-acre Mohave County park. An October trip could center around a relaxing, probably chilly picnic with glimpses of fall color or a moderately strenuous 4.4-mile Potato Patch Loop hike offering close encounters with quaking aspens and Gambel oak. Visitors pay $10 to park and have access to 10 miles of trails (don’t forget to ask for a map).”

🍂 What do you get out of all the traveling you do?

“Returning to remarkable places in the desert Southwest is a little like spending time with friends. I get to know them better with each shared experience. I don’t just go to places to check destinations off my list. I travel the Southwest to understand the plants, birds, animals, geology, history, and stories. Meeting people and enjoying restaurants and bakeries along the way are big extras. What’s amazing is that the more time I spend in a place, the more layers, complexities, and beauty I experience.”

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