Arizona Trail, Day 21: Heart of the San Francisco Peaks (Trans-Arizona/Utah Hike Day 27)

Welcome back to Aspen’s Tracks, thruhiking the Arizona Trail.

Chilly start this morning. Camp is surrounded by dry ferns and aspens on the lower slopes of the mighty San Francisco Peaks. It wasn’t evident last night, but getting up this morning as I pack up and the light filters through the branches that there are quite a few aspens around. These are much more mature and larger than most I saw on the Kaibab Plateau. A bikepacker comes through on the trail, and we talk for a while. Like the one I encountered hiking across Grand Canyon in May, he too carried his bike across the canyon on his back. That never ceases to amaze me. Also like the one from May, he estimates it probably adds about 20 pounds to his weight to disassemble and hike the bike across, which is really quite remarkable to consider.

I pack up and get on the trail. As the trail ascends again to traverse the mountain flank, the ponderosas transition further to aspens and mixed conifer forest again. These seem to be slightly past peak in places, but many are still quite magnificent. The trail passes through mature forest and rice grass meadows as it contours along the lower slopes of the mountains below Humphreys and Agassiz Peaks, the two highest peaks in Arizona. The weather is perfect, and the aspen leaves glow in the high elevation light. I’ll let some of their beauty again speak for themselves here, before continuing on in the next entry.

(The San Francisco Peaks are the highest peaks in Arizona today, including Humphreys at 12633 and Agassiz at 12360 ft. Native peoples such as the Hopi believe them to be the home of the Kachina spirits, supernatural beings that visit the villages in the first half of the year. This makes the Peaks exceptionally sacred to local Hopi and Zuni cultures. The wilderness that surrounds much of the Peaks is named the Kachina Wilderness in recognition of this connection, and to native peoples they are the Kachina Peaks.

Physically, the San Francisco Peaks 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.)

Aspens and mixed conifers along the Arizona Trail, Passage 34 (San Francisco Peaks)
Aspens along the Arizona Trail, Passage 34 (San Francisco Peaks)
Aspens along the Arizona Trail, Passage 34 (San Francisco Peaks)
Aspens along the Arizona Trail, Passage 34 (San Francisco Peaks)
Aspens along the Arizona Trail, Passage 34 (San Francisco Peaks)
Aspens along the Arizona Trail, Passage 34 (San Francisco Peaks)
Aspens along the Arizona Trail, Passage 34 (San Francisco Peaks)
Aspens along the Arizona Trail, Passage 34 (San Francisco Peaks)
Aspens along the Arizona Trail, Passage 34 (San Francisco Peaks)
Aspens along the Arizona Trail, Passage 34 (San Francisco Peaks)
Aspens and mixed conifers along the Arizona Trail, Passage 34 (San Francisco Peaks)
Aspens and mixed conifers along the Arizona Trail, Passage 34 (San Francisco Peaks)
Aspens and mixed conifers along the Arizona Trail, Passage 34 (San Francisco Peaks)
Aspens and mixed conifers along the Arizona Trail, Passage 34 (San Francisco Peaks)
Aspens and mixed conifers along the Arizona Trail, Passage 34 (San Francisco Peaks)
Aspens and mixed conifers along the Arizona Trail, Passage 34 (San Francisco Peaks)
Aspens and mixed conifers along the Arizona Trail, Passage 34 (San Francisco Peaks)
Aspens and mixed conifers along the Arizona Trail, Passage 34 (San Francisco Peaks)
The Arizona Trail passing through mixed conifer forest on the slopes of the San Francisco Peaks on Passage 34.
Aspens among mixed conifers along the Arizona Trail, Passage 34 (San Francisco Peaks)
Aspens among mixed conifers along the Arizona Trail, Passage 34: San Francisco Peaks
Aspens among mixed conifers along the Arizona Trail, Passage 34: San Francisco Peaks
Aspens among mixed conifers along the Arizona Trail, Passage 34: San Francisco Peaks
Aspens among mixed conifers along the Arizona Trail, Passage 34: San Francisco Peaks
Aspens among mixed conifers along the Arizona Trail, Passage 34: San Francisco Peaks
Aspens among mixed conifers along the Arizona Trail, Passage 34: San Francisco Peaks
Aspens among mixed conifers along the Arizona Trail, Passage 34: San Francisco Peaks
Aspens among mixed conifers along the Arizona Trail, Passage 34: San Francisco Peaks
Aspens among mixed conifers along the Arizona Trail, Passage 34: San Francisco Peaks
Aspens among mixed conifers along the Arizona Trail, Passage 34: San Francisco Peaks
Aspens among mixed conifers along the Arizona Trail, Passage 34: San Francisco Peaks
Aspens among mixed conifers along the Arizona Trail, Passage 34: San Francisco Peaks
Aspens among mixed conifers along the Arizona Trail, Passage 34: San Francisco Peaks
Aspens among mixed conifers along the Arizona Trail, Passage 34: San Francisco Peaks
611 miles to Mexico! Arizona Trail, Passage 34 (San Francisco Peaks)
Aspens among mixed conifers along the Arizona Trail, Passage 34: San Francisco Peaks
Aspens among mixed conifers along the Arizona Trail, Passage 34: San Francisco Peaks
Aspens among mixed conifers along the Arizona Trail, Passage 34: San Francisco Peaks
Aspens among mixed conifers along the Arizona Trail, Passage 34: San Francisco Peaks
Aspens among mixed conifers along the Arizona Trail, Passage 34: San Francisco Peaks
Aspens among mixed conifers along the Arizona Trail, Passage 34: San Francisco Peaks
Aspens among mixed conifers along the Arizona Trail, Passage 34: San Francisco Peaks
Aspens among mixed conifers along the Arizona Trail, Passage 34: San Francisco Peaks
Aspens among mixed conifers along the Arizona Trail, Passage 34: San Francisco Peaks
Aspens among mixed conifers along the Arizona Trail, Passage 34: San Francisco Peaks
Aspens among mixed conifers along the Arizona Trail, Passage 34: San Francisco Peaks
Aspens among mixed conifers along the Arizona Trail, Passage 34: San Francisco Peaks
Aspens among mixed conifers along the Arizona Trail, Passage 34: San Francisco Peaks
Aspens among mixed conifers along the Arizona Trail, Passage 34: San Francisco Peaks

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