Autumn Days in the Desert

Red Mountain towers over the Sonoran Desert in Arizona.

Red Mountain towers majestically over the Tonto National Forest in sunny Arizona.

Hi Friends!

Such breathtaking views in every direction! Autumn is a wonderful time to visit the desert Southwest. We just returned from a two week Autumn adventure in Arizona. Visiting family was truly the highlight of our vacation ~ making lots of happy memories together, sharing our favorite stories, and smiling over old family photos together. Each moment was a precious one! A true gem!

Oh, there was hiking, too!! Each day we made time to hike a few miles into the desert to admire its unique beauty, so different from our Midwestern landscape. The Sonoran Desert is exceptionally green this Autumn, following the recent Monsoon rains that brought severe flooding to many parts of the Arizona desert. In my twenty years of visits to this special place, I have never seen it so lush and green! It’s so nice to have interesting new places to walk…

The quiet beauty of the Tonto National Forest always calls us to visit.

The quiet beauty of the Tonto National Forest makes it one of our favorite places to hike.

We thought you might like to hike with us. It’s important to be prepared for walk in the desert. We always remember to wear sturdy hiking boots, hats, and sunscreen. Carrying a bottle of water is really important!  I always bring my camera on our hikes and my husband brings his compass (just in case!).

Don’t worry, we won’t get lost! Today we will take you to some of our favorite places in the Tonto National Forest, in sunny Arizona. This is the fifth largest forest in the United States, so there is a lot to see!

Four Peaks, in the distance, has the highest elevation in the area. In the winter, snow can be seen on the top of Four Peaks.

Silence. It’s the first thing that I always notice in the desert. Only the crunch of our boots on the sand and pebbles breaks the peace and quiet. Blue skies, gentle breezes, warm Autumn sunshine, and beautiful mountains in every direction always energize us as we hike.

Named after the Tonto Apache Indians, the Tonto National Forest stretches from Phoenix in the south, to the Mogollon Rim in the north. Our hikes were in the desert habitat in the south part of the forest. The higher elevations in the north are home to tall Pine trees and cooler temperatures.

Nine Native American tribes currently live on Tonto National Forest land.  Archeological sites are carefully protected here. The Native Americans are ensured the rights to continue to practice their religious and economic activities on what has become public land, since 1905.

The tall Saguaro cactus is my favorite desert plant.

The tall Saguaro cactus is my favorite desert plant.

The mountains add to the peaceful, easy feeling of the Tonto National Forest. The Usery Mountains create a lovely background for the desert plants. The lighter stripe along the top of the mountain is the Wind Cave Trail. Over the years, I have only hiked part way up to the Wind Cave, but my husband has climbed the steep, rocky path all the way up to the top of Wind Cave Trail.  Beware of the Cholla cactus, with its sharp needles, in the foreground. Little bits of the ‘Jumping Cholla’ are often in our path and we try not to step on them!

The giant Saguaro cacti are truly the most amazing plants that I know! The Saguaros will be featured in some posts of their own in a few days. There is so much to share about these fascinating giants of the Sonoran desert. They are so unique and important to the desert habitat!


The Superstition Mountains add special beauty to the Sonoran Desert.

The mountains seem to change color from moment to moment all day long. Clouds, although rare over the desert, cast beautiful dramatic shadows on the mountainsides. It’s such a treat to behold!

The Salt River

The Salt River looks more like a stream as it flows through the Tonto National Forest this Autumn.

The Salt River meanders through the Tonto National Forest most of the year. Several dams control its water levels for irrigation and drinking water supplies to the area. Outdoor enthusiasts enjoy fishing when the water is low and tubing in the deeper, fast moving waters of the Salt River. Often when we visit, we are able to hike on the dry river bed of the Salt River, seeing the desert vistas from a unique perspective.

The Salt River

The Salt River is also a natural boundary separating the Tonto National Forest from the Fort Apache Indian Reservation.

While hiking, if we stop and stand very still, we can see wildlife of all kinds. Lizards scuttle across the desert floor. Roadrunners and quail scurry across the ground, while hummingbirds, woodpeckers, and doves dart about. Overhead, hawks and vultures soar over the desert. I love hearing the unfamiliar birdsong in the desert as we walk. Jackrabbits, javelinas, desert chipmunks, coyotes, and an occasional bobcat have been spotted moving across the desert in our recent visits. We have watched so many butterflies collecting pollen from the late Autumn flowers in the desert. Holes in the dry, desert soil remind us that rattlesnakes might be waiting out of sight, while rocks provide shelter for scorpions, beetles, and other creatures.

Watching the Full Frost Moon rise over the Usery Mountains was a special memory!

Watching the Full Frost Moon rise over the Usery Mountains was a special memory this visit!

We really looked forward to our moonlight hike in the Sonoran Desert under the Full Frost Moon. With rangers to guide us, and flashlights and water bottles in hand, we met at the trailhead at dusk. To our surprise, two hundred other hikers had the same plan! So, all the hikers ~ boy scouts, families, and other visitors ~ walked two miles under the Frost Moon together, through the desert washes and amidst the cacti, with flashlights to guide us through the desert terrain.  Informative rangers taught us about the history, wildlife, and plants of the desert during our hike. For days, I had been wondering worrying what creatures might approach us during our nighttime hike. No need to worry!! I’m sure that the sound of four hundred feet pounding the desert floor frightened away every creature within miles ~ except for one very large, black, ground beetle in our path! We felt so sorry for frightening him that night!!

There is so much beauty everywhere!

There is so much beauty everywhere!

There is so much more to see in the Sonoran Desert! Let’s meet back here again to explore the flora and fauna of the desert. I think you will be fascinated by the life cycle of the giant Saguaro cactus.  We will hike together through Saguaro National Park very soon. There are some important ‘words of wisdom’ to share…  and an unexpected surprise is awaiting, too!

I’m already looking forward to our next hike! It’s the perfect way to chase away the Winter chill!

It's nice to visit Arizona in Autumn!

It’s great to visit Arizona in Autumn!

Warm sunny wishes!



27 thoughts on “Autumn Days in the Desert

  1. What a wonderful post, Dawn! I enjoyed learning a bit about your trip, and look forward to learning more in your upcoming posts!


    • Hi Carol! There is so much to see in the desert. It will be such fun to get together and share our vacation stories. Can’t wait to see all of your pictures, too! Stay warm! ♡

  2. Dawn,
    What beautiful photographs you’ve shared. You captured the best of the desert. My folks, before their passing, lived outside Phoenix and we took many treks to Arizona from Southern California. I only remember one or two years in the fall when it looked as green as these images show us. What a fun hike. I do love the quiet of the desert.
    Have a wonderful week.

    • Hi Karen! Heartfelt thanks for your sweet words. The desert is so very different from our Midwestern garden. I’m always trying to learn about the plants of the desert. We were amazed to see so many different kinds of flowers blooming in people’s front gardens! Our relatives live in the foothills of Red Mountain. Perhaps you know this area? It’s nice to remember the warm sunshine, now that we are back home to winter weather! Sending sunny thoughts! ♡

  3. Welcome back, Dawn! So glad you had such a wonderful trip! Your photos are beautiful….especially the moon over the mountains! Are you ever afraid of running into a mountain lion/bobcat or rattlesnake as you hike?! I sure would be! Or worse yet, tarantulas! I couldn’t cope with that! Too bad those things have to be in the midst of all that beauty. I know, I know….they add to the beauty! 🙂 Back to cold winter weather and reminiscing of wonderful times shared by all! Thanks for posting your adventure! xo….Karen

    • Hi Karen! I try to be cautious, knowing that I am in their territory! We saw a bobcat once, but there was a tall fence between the bobcat and us. Even walking in the neighborhood there, we have encountered large javelinas and my mom has seen rattlesnakes on the sidewalk. It’s important to be watchful! I do love the plants and the flowers blooming all year long. The desert has a very special kind of beauty! It was shocking to leave 88 degree temperatures and arrive home to snowflakes and 19 degrees. Brrrrrr! It’s really nice to look back at the warm, sunny pictures now!! Warm hugs! ♡

  4. Good evening Dawn! WOW, looking at desert pictures right now is good; it is in the single digits here tonight and I just got home from a late night! Lovely photos and even lovelier to see you post again! Anita

    • Bonjour, Anita! Thanks for your kind words. Hoping to spread a little warmth and sunshine to all of our friends in the Arctic freeze across the country! You have had LOTS of snow in Minneapolis already! Warm hugs, my friend! ♡

    • Hi Gwennie! So happy that you stopped to visit! It’s so nice to meet a Kindred Spirit in Belgium. I have enjoyed my visits to your beautiful country! It’s still very warm in September in Phoenix, Arizona. Temperatures could still reach 100 F degrees (37 C) by mid afternoon in September. During our recent November visit, temperatures were in the mid 80s (29 C) by afternoon. It’s such a beautiful place to visit! You would love to see the all the cacti! My next few posts will have more interesting facts about the desert. So, please stop by again! ♡

      • Hi Gwennie! Thanks so much for following my blog! You might also enjoy some peeks into my perennial and herb gardens. We live in the Midwest. Our cool, rainy summer really made it fun to be a gardener this year! Just click on the dark stripe to the far left to slide out the hidden sidebar. Check out the archives and tag cloud to find posts that might interest you. So glad that you are here! ♡

  5. Ahhhh…coming back here gives me a feeling of warm sunshine this very COLD morning! Thank you dearest Dawn for coming to visit me! HUGS!

  6. Hi Dawn,
    Loved reading about your adventures in the desert. Today the wind chill here is below zero so these pictures are delightful!

    • Hi Linda! It’s such fun to meet here! I’m so glad that you enjoyed our warm desert memories on this frigid day in the Midwest. It’s definitely a hot cocoa day! Big hugs! ♡

  7. Amazing! I loved the very short visits I’ve had in Arizona ~ just passing through, but longed to wander off the beaten tracks to wonder at the incredible colours of the rocks, the giant cacti, and the wildlife ~
    Thank you for sharing, I have truly enjoyed this visit.
    ~~~waving~~~from Across The Pond in Wales!

    • Hi Deb! Wish we could take a walk together along a desert path! I know you would love it! The cacti and desert wildflowers are so beautiful, but we would have to be mindful of the wildlife. We are in their habitat! Waving back, my friend! ♡

    • Oh, thank you, Donna! There is beauty everywhere you look in the Sonoran Desert. We couldn’t stop taking pictures as we hiked! Warm, sunny hugs! ♡

    • Thanks so much, Carol! I learn so much about the flora and fauna each time I visit the desert. My next post will feature my favorite desert plant! It’s truly fascinating! Thanks so much for stopping to visit. Warm wishes for a lovely December! ♡

    • Thanks so much, JoHanna! We were both just talking about last year’s Full Moon hike, at Usery Mountain Park. Everyone seemed to have the same idea that night. The rangers led the huge crowd of hikers through the desert under the moonlight. All of the desert creatures heard the footsteps of the hikers and hid away for their own safety! Over the years, we have had some nice, quiet moonlight walks (with flashlights), after watching a beautiful Sonoran sunset! So happy that you stopped to visit today, JoHannah! ♡

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