Arizona Trail, Day 21, Part 2: Heart of the San Francisco Peaks (Trans-Arizona/Utah Hike Day 27)

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The Arizona Trail continues through massive groves of mature aspen and across rice grass meadows below the San Francisco Peaks. Contouring around below Humphreys and Agassiz Peaks, the two highest in Arizona, the view of the Peaks themselves and the western San Francisco Volcanic Field, over to Kendrick Peak and Bill Williams Mountain near Williams, is wide-open and magnificent. The quality of the aspens seems to be growing. I will again allow these magnificent trees to speak for themselves.

(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.)

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The Arizona Trail approaches aspen groves as it passes through rice grass meadows on the San Francisco Peaks
AZT Passage 34 (San Francisco Peaks)
Kachina Peaks Wilderness, Coconino National Forest
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Towering aspen groves along the Arizona Trail on the San Francisco Peaks
AZT Passage 34 (San Francisco Peaks)
Kachina Peaks Wilderness, Coconino National Forest
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Towering aspen groves along the Arizona Trail on the San Francisco Peaks
AZT Passage 34 (San Francisco Peaks)
Kachina Peaks Wilderness, Coconino National Forest
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Towering aspen groves along the Arizona Trail on the San Francisco Peaks
AZT Passage 34 (San Francisco Peaks)
Kachina Peaks Wilderness, Coconino National Forest
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Towering aspen groves along the Arizona Trail on the San Francisco Peaks
AZT Passage 34 (San Francisco Peaks)
Kachina Peaks Wilderness, Coconino National Forest

Logistics for Today’s Stretch:

Passage 34 (San Francisco Peaks)
Length
Trail SurfaceSingletrack
SeasonSpring-Fall
Potential Water SourcesAlfa Fia Tank
TrailheadsArizona Snowbowl
ATA-Rated DifficultyModerate
Logistics for Section Hiked Today
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Towering aspen groves along the Arizona Trail on the San Francisco Peaks
AZT Passage 34 (San Francisco Peaks)
Kachina Peaks Wilderness, Coconino National Forest
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Towering aspen groves along the Arizona Trail on the San Francisco Peaks
AZT Passage 34 (San Francisco Peaks)
Kachina Peaks Wilderness, Coconino National Forest
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Towering aspen groves along the Arizona Trail on the San Francisco Peaks
AZT Passage 34 (San Francisco Peaks)
Kachina Peaks Wilderness, Coconino National Forest
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Towering aspen groves along the Arizona Trail on the San Francisco Peaks
AZT Passage 34 (San Francisco Peaks)
Kachina Peaks Wilderness, Coconino National Forest

Logistics for Full Passage Length:

Passage 34 (San Francisco Peaks)
Length35.3 miles
Trail SurfaceMixed, dirt road & singletrack
SeasonSpring-Fall
Potential Water SourcesCedar Ranch supply box
East Cedar Tank
Kelly Tank & supply box
Alfa Fia Tank
Schultz Tank
TrailheadsArizona Snowbowl
ATA-Rated DifficultyModerate
Logistics for Full Passage Length
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Towering aspen groves and mixed conifers along the Arizona Trail on the San Francisco Peaks
AZT Passage 34 (San Francisco Peaks)
Kachina Peaks Wilderness, Coconino National Forest
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Towering aspens and mixed conifers along the Arizona Trail on the San Francisco Peaks
AZT Passage 34 (San Francisco Peaks)
Kachina Peaks Wilderness, Coconino National Forest
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Towering aspen groves and mixed conifers along the Arizona Trail on the San Francisco Peaks
AZT Passage 34 (San Francisco Peaks)
Kachina Peaks Wilderness, Coconino National Forest
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Towering aspens and mixed conifer groves along the Arizona Trail on the San Francisco Peaks
AZT Passage 34 (San Francisco Peaks)
Kachina Peaks Wilderness, Coconino National Forest
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Towering aspens and mixed conifer groves along the Arizona Trail on the San Francisco Peaks
AZT Passage 34 (San Francisco Peaks)
Kachina Peaks Wilderness, Coconino National Forest
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Towering aspens and mixed conifer groves along the Arizona Trail on the San Francisco Peaks
AZT Passage 34 (San Francisco Peaks)
Kachina Peaks Wilderness, Coconino National Forest
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Towering aspens and mixed conifer groves along the Arizona Trail on the San Francisco Peaks
AZT Passage 34 (San Francisco Peaks)
Kachina Peaks Wilderness, Coconino National Forest
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Towering aspen groves along the Arizona Trail on the San Francisco Peaks
AZT Passage 34 (San Francisco Peaks)
Kachina Peaks Wilderness, Coconino National Forest
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Towering aspens and mixed conifer groves along the Arizona Trail on the San Francisco Peaks
AZT Passage 34 (San Francisco Peaks)
Kachina Peaks Wilderness, Coconino National Forest
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Southwest view from the Arizona Trail on the lower slopes of the San Francisco Peaks, across US-180 toward Bill Williams Mountain
AZT Passage 34 (San Francisco Peaks)
Kachina Peaks Wilderness, Coconino National Forest
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Towering aspen groves among mixed conifers along the Arizona Trail on the San Francisco Peaks
AZT Passage 34 (San Francisco Peaks)
Kachina Peaks Wilderness, Coconino National Forest
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West panorama from the Arizona Trail on the San Francisco Peaks, over the San Francisco Volcanic Field, including Bill Williams Mountain (left), Sitgreaves Peak (center-left), and Kendrick Peak (center-right)
AZT Passage 34 (San Francisco Peaks)
Kachina Peaks Wilderness, Coconino National Forest
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Aspens tower above mixed conifers along the Arizona Trail on the San Francisco Peaks
AZT Passage 34 (San Francisco Peaks)
Kachina Peaks Wilderness, Coconino National Forest
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Aspens tower above mixed conifers along the Arizona Trail on the San Francisco Peaks
AZT Passage 34 (San Francisco Peaks)
Kachina Peaks Wilderness, Coconino National Forest
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Aspens tower above mixed conifers along the Arizona Trail on the San Francisco Peaks
AZT Passage 34 (San Francisco Peaks)
Kachina Peaks Wilderness, Coconino National Forest
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Aspens tower above mixed conifers along the Arizona Trail on the San Francisco Peaks
AZT Passage 34 (San Francisco Peaks)
Kachina Peaks Wilderness, Coconino National Forest
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The San Francisco Peaks tower over the rice grass meadows and aspen/mixed conifer forest of the lower slopes along the Arizona Trail. Humphreys Peak is center left, Agassiz on the right (the subsidiary peak in the middle is a false summit of Humphreys). The trail to the Humphreys summit ascends to the saddle between the center ridge point and Agassiz, and crosses the center peak to Humphreys
AZT Passage 34 (San Francisco Peaks)
Kachina Peaks Wilderness, Coconino National Forest

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Backpacking the Amazing Arizona Trail – Pine Mountain (Passage 21), FR 422 to Pigeon Spring Trailhead

Backpacking the Arizona Trail’s Saddle Mountain Passage from near Saddle Mountain to Sycamore Creek at the start of the Pine Mountain passage. More magnificent Arizona mountain views of the central Mazatzal peaks and ridgelines, and a gorgeous Arizona sunset.

Logistics, trail journal, and magnificent mountain scenery.

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Backpacking the Arizona Trail, Day 51: Mazatzal Divide (Passage 23), Part II

Disruptive event today, an F-16 that flew over while I was packing. It flew extremely low and around a mountain – possibly North Peak – and made me think very seriously about why that would be allowed over a designated wilderness area. Still, I manage to knock out a few miles to Chilson Spring before dark, with spectacular views of Deadman’s Canyon, the Verde Valley, and the western Mazatzal foothills along the way. The mountains are jagged and rugged and the trail traces steep slopes nearly the whole way across precipitous terrain.

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Backpacking the Arizona Trail, Day 50, Part II: Mazatzal Divide (Passage 23)

It’s here. The Mazatzal Divide represents the heart of the longest stretch of the Arizona Trail within a designated wilderness area. To that end, a reminder on the meaning of wilderness. Under the Wilderness Act of 1964, wilderness is “an area where man is but a visitor and does not remain.” Consequently, motorized access as … Continue reading Backpacking the Arizona Trail, Day 50, Part II: Mazatzal Divide (Passage 23)

Backpacking the Arizona Trail, Day 50: Red Hills, Part II/II

Second day hiking through the Red Hills toward the Mazatzal Mountains. Earning their name through the red rock colors, the Hills also provide hikers with wildflowers and diverse vegetation, in addition to showing the scars of recent wildfires and spectacular views of the range north toward the Mogollon Rim.

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Backpacking the Arizona Trail, Day 49: Whiterock Mesa, Part III

Departing Polk Spring, the trail continues to provide magnificent views of the northern Mazatzal Mountains and the neighboring Red Hills as it descends to the East Verde River. The trail will pass through both mountain ranges – first the Red Hills, then the Mazatzals. The origin of the name “Mazatzal” is unclear, though one possible meaning is a Nahuatl term meaning “place of the deer.” The Mazatzal Wilderness, which the trail will remain within now until just shy of Strawberry in the central Mazatzals, is about 390 square miles in size. It was one of the original Wilderness Areas designated upon the passage of the Wilderness Act in 1964.

Backpacking the Arizona Trail – FR 194 to Pine Spring (Passage 45, Whiterock Mesa)

I got started around 10, heading down Passage 25 toward the East Verde River.
I hike through a gate and enter the Mazatzal Wilderness. Following cairns, the surface alternates between the basalt and more dirt – like walking through a wash. As the trail skirts the rim briefly, a magnificent view of the Mazatzal Mountains and Red Hills opens up to the hiker, then the trail experiences yet another spectacular sunset as it and the backpacker fall off the Mesa to Polk Spring near the East Verde River.

Pink ribbons spread across the bluish/purple sky at sunset

Fossil Springs Wilderness – FR 708

Take a virtual hike through the Fossil Creek Wilderness! Fossil Creek Wilderness is one of the most spectacular areas in Arizona – so much so that permits are required from April 1-October 1. From the Fossil Creek Bridge trailhead, FR 708 begins to climb the wall of Fossil Canyon. A short distance up, the road is gated. Just on the other side is the trailhead for the Waterfall Trail, one of the most popular spots in the wilderness.

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2 thoughts on “Arizona Trail, Day 21, Part 2: Heart of the San Francisco Peaks (Trans-Arizona/Utah Hike Day 27)

    1. Thanks! Yes, they are also known as quakes or quaking aspens due to the sound the leaves make in a breeze. This was actually my first time seeing them in the fall, it was amazing! Like walking through a forest of pure gold in places. Just incredible.

      Liked by 1 person

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