Along the northern side of Pinal Peak exists a little micro-climate of aspens, bigtooth maples, and smooth sumac that creates just CRAZY colors this time of year. You need to act fast, though, because the peak is nearly over. Here is a sampling from the trail:
There are various long and difficult trails that climb Pinal Peak, but if you are wanting a hike in this dense and gorgeous fall color, then I recommend the Icehouse Canyon Trail, named for when they used to trek up here to bring ice down to the community of Globe below. You can start at the top of the trail, and within minutes you'll be surrounded in this color. Then, just hike down as far as you want to go, leaving ample time for the STEEP hike back up. Since we stopped so many times along the way . . .
First, to photograph manzanita:
Then, to take in views of the Dripping Springs range all the way to the Santa Catalinas:
Don't forget the wildlife -- we saw an Abert's tassel-eared squirrel, so cute with his fuzzy ears, but he got into the tree before we could photograph him. However, we were like the paparazzi surrounding this little guy with our cameras:
We stopped to collect rock samples and pondered the difference between shale and slate -- doing the "thud" test to determine the difference. We found some cool shale samples that contained a fossilized plant which we believe to be Annularia from the Calamites plant. Then, we collected leaf samples:
So when all this business was done, it left little time for the actual hike. I'd say we barely hiked a mile down the trail, but we were still surrounded in all of this color. We will definitely go back. The drive was a little hairy. It is 12 miles on a dirt road with some steep "barrier-free" portions. However, we were still able to do the drive without 4-wheel drive with no problems, just don't plan to go very fast. It took us nearly an hour from the Globe turn-off to the top of Pinal Peak with my white-knuckles and all the photography. Down was amazingly fast with storm clouds looming!
Length: 9 miles round trip if you do the whole trail
Elevation gain: 2,500 feet
Time it took us: varies depending on how far down you go
Directions: From metro Phoenix go east on US 60 to Globe. Just past the Safeway/Starbucks/Walmart plaza, you will turn right on Russell Road. It gets a little confusing in here, but you want to stay on Russell Road as it winds around. If, at any point, you find yourself not on Russell Road, back-track to figure out where you went wrong :) Eventually, the road turns to dirt which signifies the beginning of Forest Road #55. Stay on Forest Road #55 until the intersection with Forest Road #651 where you will turn right to continue up the mountain. After you pass the Sulfide del Rey campground, you will bear to the left to continue on Forest Road #651. Keep bearing to the left to stay on Forest Road #651, you will know you're heading the correct way when you pass the Kellner Canyon trailhead. The Icehouse Canyon trailhead will be on the left side of the road from this approach: