Having grown up in a part of the United States that experiences four distinct seasons, fall color is something that I miss - deeply. It was tradition as a youth that every autumn, my parents and I would pile into the car and go explore nearby state parks in search of color. I would bundle up as the air became crisp and looked at the world that unfolded fiery reds, glowing oranges and bright yellows. These are the memories that are ingrained in my head and define what autumn is for me.
I’ve known that fall color exists in Arizona for some time. That’s one thing about this state - we have hot summers with blue skies for days, and just a few hours away one can experience cold, snowy winters. You know the saying: “Don’t like the weather? Just wait a few hours”? Well here you can just drive a few hours and experience something totally different.
So as October approached, my husband suggested we plan a trip up north to view the fall foliage by taking a ride on the Arizona Snowbowl Scenic Chairlift. During winter this place is known to be a skier’s destination, however, during the off-season, the chairlift offers guests a way to take in the sights of the surrounding landscape, including aspens donning their golden fall colors. I started to keep an eye on their live cams to predict when peak viewing would occur. Finally, the time seemed right.
Now I won’t lie. I was both excited for a new adventure, but also incredibly nervous. Heights are not my thing. I had seen a number of other popular vloggers document their experience on various chairlifts and the idea of a floating bench dangling on a large wire, 50 feet above the ground, fastened together by a teeny little part, was frightening to me. But there I was… facing smiling patrons coming down the mountain, exiting their chairs. Almost our turn. “Breathe, Amy. You got this!”
Slowly I walked up, as directed, to the yellow line where I was to be whisked away up this mountain. Honestly, it wasn’t so bad. The chair goes at a slow enough speed that it gently comes up under you and carries you off up the mountain. The only thing that I wasn’t sure about was just how high up we were going. As we started ascending in height, I still couldn’t see where the station was where we would depart the chairlift. This was a tall mountain! In fact, it turns out that we were going up to an elevation of 11,500 feet, all the way up to the top of Agassiz Peak.
It didn’t take long before we were ascending through the fall color we sought out. The bright yellows of the aspen trees boldly stood out against the dark greens of the pine trees. In some places the chairlift felt so close to the trees, you wanted to reach out and grab a leaf. There was snow on the ground as well. Later on, I would come to find out that it was from the first seasonal test of the snow blowers. The patches of snow, the pines, and the golden aspens made for a beautiful scene.
With each minute up the 30 minutes ascent, one couldn’t help but notice how much colder it became. Hard to believe as we were still running our air conditioner back home in Phoenix! So, some advice… bring layers! I even saw one passenger with a throw blanket across her lap. She had the right idea! Also, don't be surprised if you begin to crave hot chocolate as you soar through the cool air!
We made it to the top, and wow! 11,500 feet in elevation commands a breathtaking view of the landscape surrounding the San Francisco Peaks. In the distance, you can see extinct cinder cones in the remnants of a volcanic field, and even the North Rim of the Grand Canyon! Check out our video to see more of what I mean!
Many questions filled our heads as we looked around. Thankfully there was a ranger available with a wealth of knowledge. And if that wasn’t enough… the peak of this mountain also allowed us to accomplish what surely would be on anyone’s bucket list - using the highest toilet in Arizona!
Okay, okay… that wasn’t on my bucket list but it was a welcome sight because let’s face facts, the trip both up and down totals one hour and when you gotta go… you gotta go.
Eventually it was time to return to the bottom and this promised to be the better half of the ride. All the way down we could see groves of glowing yellow-orange in the distance- the yellow aspens glowing in the sun that we passed through on the way up, as well as a sea of them further off in the distance.
As we made our way down, the lift slowed to a stop several times and the slight swaying it caused was a bit unsettling, but overall the experience was a breeze. Despite the my initial reservations, I can now say that I had no reason to fear it. Floating towards the sky, amongst the brilliant fall color, was an experience that I won’t soon forget. In fact, we look forward to making it an autumn tradition.