MONTPELIER, Vt. – Desert sands and spectacular gorges, sure. But fall foliage? In Arizona?

That’s what the state’s tourism magazine claims in an October cover story that takes on the apex of Vermont’s natural beauty, the reds, oranges and yellows of its spectacular fall foliage season. The headline reads, “Autumn in Arizona and why it’s better than it is in Vermont.”

“Those are fighting words,” said a chuckling Burr Morse, the proprietor of the Morse Farm Maple Sugarworks just outside Vermont’s capital of Montpelier. His 40-year-old family business gets about a third of its revenue during the foliage season from about mid-September to mid-October when more than a dozen tour buses a day bring people to learn about syrup production as an interlude to viewing the nearby hillsides.

“There’s no desert in the world that’s going to compare with Vermont’s foliage season,” he added.

In tiny Vermont, tourism has been one of the top ranked industries for generations. The cover of the 1947 premier issue of the state’s own tourism magazine, Vermont Life, was of a woman painting colors onto the state’s leaves. Now an estimated 3.5 million people visit the state during foliage season, spending an estimated $131 million.

Arizona Highway Editor Robert Stieve said his magazine’s story was designed to draw attention and dispel some of the stereotypes that Arizona is all desert and rattlesnakes.

Attention it did draw. Vermont Life created a mock cover that claimed that a local attraction, the Quechee Gorge, is greater than the Grand Canyon.

But Stieve acknowledges that Arizona’s offerings probably don’t compare to Vermont’s.

“The truth is, we set Vermont up as the gold standard for fall leaves,” Stieve said.

Arizona’s foliage season does have one distinct advantage over Vermont: It can linger into December, when Vermont’s trees are usually barren and cold weather has set in.

Arizona’s high country boasts changing colors starting in mid-September. The colors can be found in the big-tooth maple trees, scarlet sumac and golden aspens. Some of the best places to see them include the White Mountains of eastern Arizona, Flagstaff, Oak Creek Canyon in northern Arizona as well as the mountains around Tucson.

“People who live in the metropolitan areas of the desert actually have to get in their cars and drive to it for the best stuff,” Stieve said. “So part of our cover line was to inspire some of our own readers to get off the couch and get out and check things out.”