Arizona Trail Day 21, Part 3: Heart of the San Francisco Peaks (Trans-Arizona/Utah Hike Day 27)

In the land of Arizona
Through desert heat or snow
Winds a trail for folks to follow
From Utah to Old Mexico

It’s the Arizona Trail
A pathway through the great Southwest
A diverse track through wood and stone
Your spirit it will test

Oh, sure you’ll sweat and blister
You’ll feel the miles every day
You’ll shiver at the loneliness
Your feet and seat will pay

But you’ll see moonlight on the borderlands
You’ll see stars on the Mogollon
You’ll feel the warmth of winter sun
And be thrilled straight through to bone

The aches and pains will fade away
You’ll feel renewed and whole
You’ll never be the same again
With Arizona in your soul

Along the Arizona Trail
A reverence and peace you’ll know
Through deserts, canyons, and mountains
From Utah to Old Mexico

“The Arizona Trail,” Dale R Shewalter

Below the Arizona Snowbowl (yes, there are ski resorts in Arizona, and this is not the only one that the trail passes), I take a moment to do the side Aspen Loop. This grove of aspens appears to be peaking, and the experience of walking through an atmosphere of pure gold is very hard to put into words. It’s a short loop that soon rejoins the Arizona Trail continuing south toward Flagstaff. 610 miles to Mexico. I’ll again allow their magnificence to speak for themselves. A fire seems to be burning to the west as the two trails merge again. I know that some prescribed burns had been planned in the area, but I’m not familiar with this one. Something to look into when I reach Flagstaff.

Aspens along the Arizona Trail on Passage 34, the San Francisco Peaks
Coconino National Forest

The trail continues along, passing another potential water source, Alfa Fia Tank. It’s borderline whether I’ll need it, but I ultimately pass based on the reports that I read on Guthook. I encounter Jim, a local mountain biker (this stretch of the trail in the Coconino National Forest is extremely popular with mountain bikers) near Aspen Corner. He’s heading back to his car and fills up my reservoir for me after a conversation around the trail and sports – including the baseball playoffs currently ongoing. It really is incredible to experience the culture that surrounds long-distance trails, the spontaneous support (often called “trail magic”) that locals provide, and just the opportunities to take a break and talk about the experience with someone for a while. Especially on a trail like the AZT, where you can literally go for days at a time without seeing ANYONE.

The trail continues south, reentering predominantly ponderosa forest. I’m not quite going to make it to Flagstaff today as I hoped, but I do encounter another thruhiker, Silver. (As fate would have it, I would encounter another acquaintance of his several months later as well). He’s heading north, hoping to reach the northern terminus and then head back to Flagstaff. (His plans changed. I’ll write about those in a postscript to this entire journey.) I eventually make camp near where the trail forks. My hope tomorrow is to do the resupply run into Flagstaff, take a zero there, then return and do the normal route around the town using a friend in Flagstaff as a home base, to cut back on the supplies I have to carry for a few days.

Aspens along the Arizona Trail backpacking on Passage 34, the San Francisco Peaks
Coconino National Forest
Aspens along the Arizona Trail hiking on Passage 34, the San Francisco Peaks
Coconino National Forest
Aspens & mixed conifers backpacking along the Arizona Trail on Passage 34, the San Francisco Peaks
Coconino National Forest
610 miles to Mexico!
Arizona Trail, Passage 34 (San Francisco Peaks)
Coconino National Forest
Hiking on the Aspen Loop surrounded by golden foliage
Coconino National Forest
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Hiking the Aspen Loop
Coconino National Forest
Hiking on the Aspen Loop surrounded by golden foliage
Coconino National Forest
Hiking the Aspen Loop
Coconino National Forest
Hiking on the Aspen Loop surrounded by golden foliage
Coconino National Forest
Hiking the Aspen Loop
Coconino National Forest
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Hiking on the Aspen Loop surrounded by golden foliage
Coconino National Forest
Hiking the Aspen Loop
Coconino National Forest
Hiking on the Aspen Loop surrounded by golden foliage
Coconino National Forest
Surrounded by gold, hiking on the Aspen Loop
Coconino National Forest
Hiking on the Aspen Loop surrounded by golden foliage
Coconino National Forest
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Surrounded by gold, hiking on the Aspen Loop
Coconino National Forest
Hiking on the Aspen Loop surrounded by golden foliage
Coconino National Forest
Surrounded by gold hiking on the Aspen Loop
Coconino National Forest
Hiking past fall foliage surrounding the Aspen Loop
Coconino National Forest
Surrounded by gold on the Aspen Loop
Coconino National Forest
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Hiking past fall foliage surrounding the Aspen Loop
Coconino National Forest
Fire burning near Sitgreaves Peak in the western San Francisco Volcanic Field, as viewed from the lower San Francisco Peaks
Arizona Trail, Passage 34 (San Francisco Peaks)
Coconino National Forest
The San Francisco Peaks from the AZT backpacking their lower slopes. Humphreys Peak at left; Agassiz Peak at right.
Arizona Trail, Passage 34 (San Francisco Peaks)
Coconino National Forest
Backpacking past aspens among mixed conifers along the AZT
Arizona Trail, Passage 34 (San Francisco Peaks)
Coconino National Forest
Hiking past aspens among mixed conifers along the AZT
Arizona Trail, Passage 34 (San Francisco Peaks)
Coconino National Forest
Backpacking past aspens among mixed conifers along the AZT
Arizona Trail, Passage 34 (San Francisco Peaks)
Coconino National Forest

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Backpacking the Amazing Arizona Trail – Four Peaks North (Passage 20)

Backpacking the Arizona Trail’s Four Peaks Passage to just south of Pigeon Spring. The terrain is incredibly precipitous – in places the trail seems to occupy the only level ground around. Fire impacts are present throughout as well, a legacy of the 1996 Lone Fire. Magnificent views of Roosevelt Lake, the southern Mazatzal foothills, and the Sierra Ancha across Tonto Basin.

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.

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 47: 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.

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Passage 34 (San Francisco Peaks)
Trail SurfaceDirt singletrack, mostly
USFS roads
Length (Mi)36
SeasonSpring-fall (May-October)
Potential Water SourcesCedar Ranch Resupply Box (mi 163.1 SOBO, 625.6 NOBO)
East Cedar Tank (mi 164 SOBO, 624.7 NOBO)
Bonita Tank (mi 171.2 SOBO, 617.5 NOBO)
Badger Tank (mi 171.8 SOBO, 616.9 NOBO)
Borrego Trick Tank (mi 173.7 SOBO, 615 NOBO)
Kelly Tank (mi 176 SOBO, 612.7 NOBO)
Kelly Tank Resupply Box (mi 176 SOBO, 612.7 NOBO)
Little Spring (mi 180.8 SOBO, 608 NOBO)
Bismarck Lake (mi 182.9 SOBO, 605.8 NOBO)
Arizona Snowbowl (mi 185.6 SOBO, 603.1 NOBO)
Alfa Fia Tank (mi 186.5 SOBO, 602.2 NOBO)
TrailheadsNorth: Cedar Ranch
South: Schultz Pass
Trailhead AccessVehicular access via graded dirt roads to both trailheads
WildernessNo
Possible resupply pointsNone
ATA-Rated DifficultyModerate
Potential campsites (mileages S to N)Various. Good spots just north of Schultz Pass and again north of Bismarck Lake.
Ecosystems TraversedRocky Mountain Montane Conifer Woodland
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Rocky Mountain Montane Conifer Woodland
Common Trees/Shrubs* Ponderosa Pine
* Southwestern white pine
* Subalpine fir
* White fir
* Rocky Mountain maple
* Bigtooth maple
* Grey alder
* Red birch
* Red osier dogwood
* Cliffbush
* Mallow ninebark
* New Mexican locust
* huckleberry
* bilberries



Common herbaceous plants* fringed brome
* Geyer’s sedge/elk sedge
* Ross’ sedge
* Bronze sedge/dry land sedge/hillside sedge/hay sedge/Fernald’s hay sedge
* screwleaf muhly
* bluebunch wheatgrass
* Spruce-fir fleabane
* wild strawberry/Virginia strawberry
* Small-flowered woodrush
* mountain sweet Cicely
* bittercress ragwort
* western meadow-rue
* Fendler’s meadow-rue
Passage 31 & 33 Ecology (source: Arizona Trail Association AZT Guide & NatureServe). Only California and Texas are more diverse ecologically than Arizona.
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