Arizona Trail, Day 19: Passage 35, Babbitt Ranch & 34, San Francisco Peaks (Trans-Arizona/Utah Hike Day 25)

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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.

Crossing through Babbitt Ranch among hills of the San Francisco Volcanic Field, Arizona Trail
San Francisco Peaks, including Humphreys Peak, highest in Arizona at 12633 ft, from the Arizona Trail
The Arizona Trail winds through pinyon-juniper scrubland toward the San Francisco Peaks, including the highest in Arizona, Humphreys Peak at 12633 ft

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.

The Arizona Trail crosses ranchland toward the northern segment of the San Francisco Volcanic Field, cinder cones that are a legacy of the hotspot that created the iconic San Francisco Peaks. SP Crater is the leftmost (northernmost) in the image.
The San Francisco Peaks tower above the Arizona Trail on the plateau to the north. From this angle, the blown-out northeastern side can start to be made out. The former San Francisco Mountain erupted in a lateral blast about 400,000 years ago, much like Mt St Helens. The mountain lost up to 6K ft in elevation in the eruption (meaning at one time it could have been the highest in the modern contiguous United States.)
Rabbitbush blooms in front of the San Francisco Peaks and northern segment of the San Francisco Volcanic Field. Arizona Trail, Passage 35.
Virga, a desert phenomena where moisture precipitates from clouds but evaporates before reaching the ground. Also known as “jellyfish clouds.” Arizona Trail, Passage 35 (Babbitt Ranch)
Virga and showers in the evening light over the San Francisco Volcanic Field. Arizona Trail, Passage 35 (Babbitt Ranch).
Virga and showers over the northeastern San Francisco Volcanic Field in the afternoon light. Arizona Trail Passage 35.

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.

Virga illuminating crepuscular solar rays as the Arizona Trail enters Passage 34, the San Francisco Peaks.
Crepuscular rays on virga along Arizona Trail Passage 34, the San Francisco Peaks.
Sunset along Arizona Trail Passage 34, San Francisco Peaks
Sunset with crepuscular rays along Arizona Trail Passage 34, the San Francisco Peaks
Sunset along Arizona Trail Passage 34, the San Francisco Peaks.
Sunset along Arizona Trail Passage 34, the San Francisco Peaks.
Sunset along Arizona Trail Passage 34, the San Francisco Peaks.
Virga at sunset along the Arizona Trail (Passage 34 – San Francisco Peaks)
Virga at sunset along the Arizona Trail (Passage 34 – San Francisco Peaks)
Virga at sunset along the Arizona Trail (Passage 34 – San Francisco Peaks)
Virga at sunset along the Arizona Trail (Passage 34 – San Francisco Peaks)
Sunset along the Arizona Trail (Passage 34, San Francisco Peaks)
Sunset along the Arizona Trail (Passage 34, San Francisco Peaks)
Jackrabbit at dusk along the Arizona Trail (Passage 34, San Francisco Peaks)
Jackrabbit at dusk along the Arizona Trail (Passage 34, San Francisco Peaks)

3 thoughts on “Arizona Trail, Day 19: Passage 35, Babbitt Ranch & 34, San Francisco Peaks (Trans-Arizona/Utah Hike Day 25)

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