Arizona Trail Approach Day 7: Buckskin Gulch, Paría Canyon-Vermilion Cliffs Wilderness (Vermilion Cliffs National Monument)

Buckskin Gulch, Paria Canyon-Vermilion Cliffs Wilderness, Vermilion Cliffs National Monument
Paria Canyon-Vermilion Cliffs Wilderness, Vermilion Cliffs National Monument

After several hours spent trying to fill water bags and talking with a friendly BLM ranger, as well as a farewell encounter with Philip and Raj, I head up Buckskin Gulch. After dragging my pack over the boulder jam – a much more difficult undertaking than yesterday without the pack – I start up canyon (see photos). It’s an incredible journey that photos will tell better than words, heading westbound through the canyon and gazing up at the narrow strips of sky, icing light and rare deeper light penetrations. No quicksand, which can form here at this time of year but has not this year with how dry it has been. There are places where you can reach out and touch both sides of the canyon at once. Yet the logs and debris lodged high up in the canyon continue to tell the story of the harsher side of the water that can flow through here, as opposed to the delicate beauty currently evidenced.

Paria Canyon-Vermilion Cliffs Wilderness, Vermilion Cliffs National Monument
Buckskin Gulch, Paria Canyon-Vermilion Cliffs Wilderness, Vermilion Cliffs National Monument
Buckskin Gulch, Paria Canyon-Vermilion Cliffs Wilderness, Vermilion Cliffs National Monument
Buckskin Gulch, Paria Canyon-Vermilion Cliffs Wilderness, Vermilion Cliffs National Monument
Buckskin Gulch, Paria Canyon-Vermilion Cliffs Wilderness, Vermilion Cliffs National Monument
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It eventually becomes clear that I won’t make it out to Wire Pass today as hoped, so I let my friend Steve know to cache the water and supplies he’s leaving for me at the start of the AZT on his way back from Page and settle in for the night. Looking for an early start to get onto the AZT itself and start heading toward Jacob Lake tomorrow.

This image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is img_2825.jpg
Buckskin Gulch, Paria Canyon-Vermilion Cliffs Wilderness, Vermilion Cliffs National Monument
Buckskin Gulch, Paria Canyon-Vermilion Cliffs Wilderness, Vermilion Cliffs National Monument
Buckskin Gulch, Paria Canyon-Vermilion Cliffs Wilderness, Vermilion Cliffs National Monument
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Buckskin Gulch, Paria Canyon-Vermilion Cliffs Wilderness, Vermilion Cliffs National Monument
Buckskin Gulch, Paria Canyon-Vermilion Cliffs Wilderness, Vermilion Cliffs National Monument
Buckskin Gulch, Paria Canyon-Vermilion Cliffs Wilderness, Vermilion Cliffs National Monument
Buckskin Gulch, Paria Canyon-Vermilion Cliffs Wilderness, Vermilion Cliffs National Monument
Buckskin Gulch, Paria Canyon-Vermilion Cliffs Wilderness, Vermilion Cliffs National Monument
Buckskin Gulch, Paria Canyon-Vermilion Cliffs Wilderness, Vermilion Cliffs National Monument
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Buckskin Gulch, Paria Canyon-Vermilion Cliffs Wilderness, Vermilion Cliffs National Monument
Buckskin Gulch, Paria Canyon-Vermilion Cliffs Wilderness, Vermilion Cliffs National Monument
Buckskin Gulch, Paria Canyon-Vermilion Cliffs Wilderness, Vermilion Cliffs National Monument
Buckskin Gulch, Paria Canyon-Vermilion Cliffs Wilderness, Vermilion Cliffs National Monument
Buckskin Gulch, Paria Canyon-Vermilion Cliffs Wilderness, Vermilion Cliffs National Monument
Buckskin Gulch, Paria Canyon-Vermilion Cliffs Wilderness, Vermilion Cliffs National Monument
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Arizona Trail, Day 36 – Passage 29 (Happy Jack)

The low last night was projected to be 12º, the coldest night yet on the trail, and I would say that may well have been accurate. Fortunately I came prepared for such conditions. Today I will be one of the first to walk the full new Happy Jack passage routing south of Shuff Tank.

Arizona Trail, Day 35 – Passage 29 (Happy Jack)

It is brutally cold this morning, making it hard to even move much before 11. I believe it was around 20 at 9:00. Packing is a slow process in these temperatures. But, I pick up a few things that might make future packings faster in these temperatures, like doing most of it inside the tent at first and having a solid plan in advance to minimize time spent debating with oneself in the cold. Once packed, I head east along the forest road until coming to a trail crossing. There is a problem; the trail crosses on both sides. Clearly I missed a turnoff in the twilight yesterday evening. In both my purist nature and out of curiosity to see just where I made a wrong turn, I take the trail to the right, and it winds through the ponderosas back to Shuff Tank. It is clearly new, so this must be part of the new reroute, which has gone around the road stretch that I walked to get to the junction earlier. Instead of following the road on the north side of the tank, the trail now follows a singletrack around the west and south sides of the tank, then crosses the road on the east.

Arizona Trail, Day 34 – Passage 30 (Mormon Lake), Day 3

It’s brutally cold this morning, notably because of the strong wind that whips across the clearing to the west. Not setting up the tent last night was a mistake. I ultimately fill up for the last time at Navajo Spring and run into a few dayhikers who have completed over 300 miles of the trail themselves. Two of them are the Grouper and the Oracle. I continue south, aiming for Gooseberry Springs TH and Passage 29, Happy Jack.

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Arizona Trail, Day 40 – Passage 28 (Blue Ridge)

Managed to push through the entire Blue Ridge Passage today, one of my best days on the trail. I left the Blue Ridge Ranger Station this morning and headed south for the Rim. Saw a herd of elk near the Blue Ridge Campground and Elk Tank while climbing Blue Ridge itself. The trail also passed through an active prescribed burn, though it was low intensity so probably not considered a public hazard at this point. I’m familiar with them anyway, having worked as a PIO (public informations officer) on one over the summer at Grand Canyon. The trail crossed Blue Ridge and dipped across the steep valley of East Clear Creek, dry at the crossing.

Arizona Trail, Day 33 – Mormon Lake Zero

It’s cold and raw after the rain the night before. I walk about 3 miles up the road to Double Springs and then use the AZT to get back to my prior campsite to grab the sleeping pad, then retrace my steps again. Did it hail up here?

Arizona Trail, Day 32 – Double Springs to Mormon Lake (Passage 30, Mormon Lake)

Heading south the trail passes an overlook of the ridges and of Mormon Lake itself, Arizona’s largest natural lake. It’s low (it often dries up under drought conditions to become Mormon Meadow) but the spring was wet enough that it hasn’t disappeared. It’s so windy that I’m almost blown off the overlook and my glasses ARE blown off (thankfully I catch them before they fall).

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Arizona Trail, Day 31 – Anderson Mesa to Double Springs (Passages 30, Mormon Lake)

There is a lot of cool railroad history west of Lake Mary Road, the trail follows an old logging railroad grade for much of the route and in places the ties are still visible. Very cool. The forest turns into a dense mixed conifer and I have a chance encounter with a mountain biker named Chris who recently moved here from Idaho. We talk about the trail ahead and some I’m looking at doing in Idaho.

Coronavirus and National Parks: All COVID-19 Impacts and Park Reopenings

Another period of big updates across the National Park System.

Here we will look at the status of all 500+ national parks and affiliates, see which have changed status or will soon, and look at the details of what is or is not currently available at each park.

Disclaimer: please observe all CDC recommendations for the safety of staff and visitors alike. They are there to help and serve you, please do them the courtesy of helping keep them safe.

Arizona Trail, Day 30 – Anderson Mesa (Passages 31 and 30, Walnut Canyon and Mormon Lake)

The trail reaches Lowell Observatory’s Navy Precision Optical Interferometer (NPOI). The NPOI measures precise relative positions of stars in the sky for the Naval Observatory to use as reference when determining geographic positions of locations on both Earth and in space, as well as for use in timekeeping. Over four football fields long, it uses a six-mirror array directing multiple light beams from a star to a single point, enhancing image detail and separating stars that are so close that even the largest conventional telescopes cannot separate them visually. Near the NPOI is an excellent view of Upper Lake Mary in the valley of Walnut Creek below, after which the trail continues across Anderson Mesa.

After reaching Horse Lake, I make camp for the night. The sky is black as coal and the night is filled with coyotes howling.

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Arizona Trail Thruhike, Day 26: Passage 31 (Walnut Canyon), Part 2 (Arizona/Utah Day 33)

The ponderosas are dense throughout, and their reddish bark glows in the light that filters through the green needles. The gambel oaks continue to impress along the route as well, adding splashes of yellow, red, and orange to the green ponderosa woodlands. The trail crosses two spur trails leading to overlooks with more magnificent views of the canyon.

Arizona Trail, Day 26: Passage 31 – Walnut Canyon (Arizona/Utah Day 33)

The trail crosses FR 303, Old Walnut Canyon Road, and heads west toward Flagstaff. Rolling in and out of drainages, It traces the rim of Walnut Canyon in places, and veers away into the woods in others. Heading west, the forest transitions back to the ponderosas, rolling up and down through drainages. The ponderosas are dense throughout, and their reddish bark glows in the light that filters through the green needles. The gambel oaks continue to impress along the route as well, adding splashes of yellow, red, and orange to the green ponderosa woodlands. The trail crosses two spur trails leading to overlooks with more magnificent views of the canyon. Both well worth the minor extra mileage and time.

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Arizona Trail: Walnut Canyon National Monument, Part 4

Wrapping up at Walnut Canyon National Monument. After wrapping up the fantastic Island Trail, the Rim Trail yields some great sites as well, including an unexcavated site and several pueblos. The views of the canyon itself are pretty amazing too.

Arizona Trail, Day 26: Walnut Canyon National Monument, Part 3

This morning starts with a stop at my last national park in northern Arizona, Walnut Canyon National Monument. Walnut Canyon National Monument protects over 80 cliff dwellings of the Northern Sinagua people. Named for the historic Spanish name for the general region, Sierra de Sin Agua, or “mountains without water,” the Sinagua people built the dwellings between 1125 and 1250 CE. The dwellings are, as the name suggests, located in Walnut Canyon, a 20 mile long, 400 ft deep and quarter mile wide canyon carved by Walnut Creek in the Mogollon Plateau southeast of Flagstaff.

Arizona Trail, Day 26: Walnut Canyon National Monument, Part 2

Walnut Canyon National Monument, one of 420 national parks in the National Park System, protects over 80 cliff dwellings of the Northern Sinagua people. Named for the historic Spanish name for the general region, Sierra de Sin Agua, or “mountains without water,” the Sinagua people built the dwellings between 1125 and 1250 CE. The dwellings are, as the name suggests, located in Walnut Canyon, a 20 mile long, 400 ft deep and quarter mile wide canyon carved by Walnut Creek in the Mogollon Plateau southeast of Flagstaff.

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