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

(Note: If you enjoy this blog, please help support it by clicking separately on each post. Follow along for account of national park, public land, hiking, and cycling travels across the country!)

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.)

The Arizona Trail approaches aspen groves as it passes through rice grass meadows on the San Francisco Peaks, Coconino National Forest, Arizona
Towering aspen groves along the Arizona Trail on the San Francisco Peaks, Coconino National Forest, Arizona
Towering aspen groves along the Arizona Trail on the San Francisco Peaks, Coconino National Forest, Arizona
Towering aspen groves along the Arizona Trail on the San Francisco Peaks, Coconino National Forest, Arizona
Towering aspen groves along the Arizona Trail on the San Francisco Peaks, Coconino National Forest, Arizona
Panorama of towering aspen groves along the Arizona Trail on the San Francisco Peaks, Coconino National Forest, Arizona
Towering aspen groves along the Arizona Trail on the San Francisco Peaks, Coconino National Forest, Arizona
Towering aspen groves along the Arizona Trail on the San Francisco Peaks, Coconino National Forest, Arizona
Towering aspen groves along the Arizona Trail on the San Francisco Peaks, Coconino National Forest, Arizona
Towering aspen groves and mixed conifers along the Arizona Trail on the San Francisco Peaks, Coconino National Forest, Arizona
Towering aspens and mixed conifers along the Arizona Trail on the San Francisco Peaks, Coconino National Forest, Arizona
Towering aspen groves and mixed conifers along the Arizona Trail on the San Francisco Peaks, Coconino National Forest, Arizona
Towering aspens and mixed conifer groves along the Arizona Trail on the San Francisco Peaks, Coconino National Forest, Arizona
Towering aspens and mixed conifer groves along the Arizona Trail on the San Francisco Peaks, Coconino National Forest, Arizona
Towering aspens and mixed conifer groves along the Arizona Trail on the San Francisco Peaks, Coconino National Forest, Arizona
Towering aspens and mixed conifer groves along the Arizona Trail on the San Francisco Peaks, Coconino National Forest, Arizona
Towering aspen groves along the Arizona Trail on the San Francisco Peaks, Coconino National Forest, Arizona
Towering aspens and mixed conifer groves along the Arizona Trail on the San Francisco Peaks, Coconino National Forest, Arizona
Southwest view from the Arizona Trail on the lower slopes of the San Francisco Peaks, across US-180 toward Bill Williams Mountain; Coconino National Forest
Towering aspen groves among mixed conifers along the Arizona Trail on the San Francisco Peaks, Coconino National Forest, Arizona
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).
Aspens tower above mixed conifers along the Arizona Trail on the San Francisco Peaks (AZT Passage 34)
Aspens tower above mixed conifers along the Arizona Trail on the San Francisco Peaks (AZT Passage 34)
Aspens tower above mixed conifers along the Arizona Trail on the San Francisco Peaks (AZT Passage 34)
Aspens tower above mixed conifers along the Arizona Trail on the San Francisco Peaks (AZT Passage 34)
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.

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

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s