Photo by Cindy Barks.
PRESCOTT – Mention “fall colors” and “Prescott” in the same sentence, and you’re likely to get a less than enthusiastic response.
The conventional wisdom, it seems, is that the Prescott National Forest is mostly about ponderosa pines, junipers, and pinons – beautiful in their own way, certainly, but not so spectacular in the fall.
But ask the experts who spend their time working to preserve the trails and open spaces in the Prescott area, and you’re likely to get a different response.
Jason Williams, the wilderness and trails manager for the Prescott National Forest, notes that while locals might have to look a bit harder than in some regions, their persistence will pay off.
A full tableau of autumn’s offerings is on display, he said – everything from the aspens of Copper Basin Road, to the cottonwood and ash trees of Watson Woods, to the sycamores of Sycamore Canyon.
Prescott Trails and Natural Parklands Coordinator Chris Hosking agrees that while the quantity of colors might be a bit sparse, he says, “There are pockets of really great stuff.”
For the best chances of spotting fall colors, Hosking recommends heading toward the waterways and lakes. Watson Woods, Granite Basin Lake, and the Granite Creek Greenways are all good choices, he said.
While Prescott might not have the variety and range of regions to the north, Betsy Hilgendorf, the web manager for the Prescott National Forest, says she has discovered “that the area does have a lot of fabulous colors during fall for those who are willing to go looking.”
She recommends looking in the Granite Basin for Virginia Creeper and fetid goosefoot; Copper Basin Road for aspens; Mingus Mountain’s Haywood Canyon for golden Gambel oaks; and Palace Station via Senator Highway.
The forest’s website features a fall colors page, (http://www.fs.usda.gov/detail/prescott/home/?cid=STELPRD3855798) which states: “Come visit the Prescott National Forest this fall and you might be surprised by what you find. Pockets of ash, maple, oaks, cottonwoods, aspen, poplars, and sycamores sprinkled throughout the forest explode in color during the autumn.”
The page adds that although it is impossible to say exactly when the fall colors will peak, the higher elevations tend to experience changing colors from mid- to late-September, with the lower elevations changing in mid- to late-October.
For fairly accessible places to take in the changing leaves right now, the experts suggest:
• Aspen Creek/Copper Basin – With Flagstaff’s plentiful aspens clogging social media these days, it is easy to forget that Prescott has its own stands of the stately trees. Southwest of town on Copper Basin Road – about five and a half miles from the White Spar Road intersection – lies the trees of Aspen Creek, which are currently sporting shimmering golden leaves.
• Watson Woods – In a high-profile location along Highway 89, the Watson Woods Riparian Preserve provides an annual showcase of the changing seasons. A walk into the woods (accessible off the Highway 89 overlook, or the Peavine Trailhead off Sundog Ranch Road) offers an up-close look at the towering old cottonwoods, and the flow of the Granite Creek.
• Lynx Lake – A reservoir located within the Prescott National Forest, the 55-acre Lynx Lake is circled by an easy trail that hugs the shoreline – offering access to the lake and the leafy trees that surround it. Get to the lake via Highway 69 and Walker Road.
• Granite Basin Lake – A tiny five-acre lake located in the Prescott National Forest, Granite Basin Lake sits at the foot of the imposing Granite Mountain. On a calm day, the massive mountain and the trees around it are reflected in the surface of the lake. Reach the lake via Iron Springs Road and Granite Basin Road.
• Granite Creek Park/Greenways – Located in the middle of Prescott’s downtown, the Greenways Trail System follows the route of Granite Creek and Miller Creek near the A.C. Williams Granite Creek Park. Consisting of about 1.5 miles of multi-use trails, the Greenways pass by the creeks’ old-growth cottonwoods.
• Courthouse Plaza – Perhaps the easiest and surest bet for changing colors in Prescott is the Yavapai County Courthouse Plaza. Consisting of dozens of leafy trees, the plaza annually evolves from the deep greens of summer to the rich golds of fall. Located in the center of downtown Prescott, along Gurley and Montezuma.