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Heading down the trail from the central Ranch provides more of the same early on – great views of the Peaks, but little else. I stop for a break and water at Tug Ranch, the first water source since Lockwood Tank (where I hadn’t stopped) and then continue south.
A note about the Peaks, since the views are so good of them here. They are the highest peaks in Arizona today, including Humphreys at 12633 and Agassiz at 12360 ft. They are a product of a volcanic hotspot under northern Arizona that formed what we know of today as the San Francisco Volcanic Field, a cluster of lava fields, around 600 cinder cones, and lava domes surrounding Flagstaff. The most prominent feature are the Peaks, an extinct stratovolcano complex. San Francisco Mountain erupted around 400,000 years ago in a lateral blast (think Mt St. Helens). The eruption carved a hole in the northeast side of the mountain and is estimated to have lowered the height of the mountain by approximately 6000 ft. At an estimated height around 18000 ft prior to the eruption, had the eruption not taken place it would be the highest peak in the continental United States today. The view from the top reaches into Utah, Arizona, and New Mexico at a minimum. I’m not sure if you can see the southwest corner of Colorado. The most recent eruption in the San Francisco volcanic field was Sunset Crater, now contained within Sunset Crater Volcano National Monument and probably one of the most unexpected places for many visitors in the United States where one can walk on and get a hands-on experience with lava. Sunset Crater last erupted around 1085 AD, meaning there is human documentation of the event from native people.
Late afternoon finds me entering Passage 34, the San Francisco Peaks, and finally off the Ranch roads. The trailhead also marks the entry to the Coconino National Forest. Some trail angel left beer and candy at the resupply box here, much appreciated. The Peaks are just towering above at this point. I encounter Timmy, a friend of Boates from the Canyon, and we talk and hike together for a while. I leave first (for once) but he catches me speaking with some day trippers heading out and we hike together for much of the rest of the evening. Showers pass along with virga, a desert phenomenon where precipitation falls but evaporates before reaching the ground, comes in the evening, ultimately making for a spectacular sunset as we head into the thick of the northern San Francisco Volcanic Field. I leave him to climb Missouri Bill in the hopes of seeing the sunrise from the top. In the dark, clusters of lights become evident on the reservation to the west – Kayenta, Cameron, Tuba City. It’s that dark, individual towns can be identified with just a rudimentary knowledge of the area.