Arizona Trail Day 25: Passages 32/31, Elden Mountain and Walnut Canyon (Trans-Arizona/Utah Hike Day 32)

After spending the night at the excellent Grand Canyon International Hostel, I indulge in an excellent breakfast at Tourist House (excellent breakfast burritos) and the Old Towne Creperie in Flagstaff. Delicious, all. One of the truly enjoyable things about thruhiking, indulging a bit with the knowledge that you’ll burn off the calories pretty quick on the trail.

I catch an Uber back to Picture Canyon around midday and hike and wander around the loop through the Preserve before rejoining the Arizona Trail. There are some great archeological sites as well as many petroglyphs throughout the area; Flagstaff’s only waterfall, on the Rio de Flag; and a historic railroad trestle.

The signage in the area is great, helping to understand this historic site. The Waterbird petroglyphs feature numerous symbols, including a bird-shaped one commonly referred to as “waterbird,” but which could be a crane or great blue heron, which may have been more common when the petroglyph creators, the Northern Sinaqua, lived in the region. It remains a clan symbol for their descendants, the Hopi and Zuni.

Zig zag petroglyphs are believed to represent lightning by Hopi and Zuni; other tribes believe them to possibly be water-related. Some interpret them as mountains.

Images of the sun and moon have many variations but may represent specific celestial events. They may also suggest the presence of the Yavapai, the People of the Sun.

Human shaped figures have various interpretations as well. One specific case is detailed in the photos below. Some appear to have tails, which according to the signage the Zuni believe represents their emergence from the underworld.

Four legged animals resemble bighorn sheep and may represent animal migrations, while spiral images have a variety of interpretations, including migration routes, water hole locations, coiled snakes, or whirlwinds. Some interpret them to symbolize and represent the path of the sun. The only relative certainty is that they represent some kind of motion.

Simple linear figures, likewise, can represent many different things – streams, maps, migration routes, and are simultaneously the figures hardest to interpret and those that provide the most room for imagination in interpretation.

Waterbird Petroglyphs, Picture Canyon Preserve
Waterbird Petroglyphs, Picture Canyon Preserve
Waterbird Petroglyphs, Picture Canyon Preserve
Waterbird Petroglyphs, Picture Canyon Preserve
Waterbird Petroglyphs, Picture Canyon Preserve
Waterbird Petroglyphs, Picture Canyon Preserve. The human figure on the left may represent Masaw, the Hopi earth guardian. According to the signage at the site, his location near a migration symbol may represent the migration of Hopi and Zuni into this world.
Waterbird Petroglyphs, Picture Canyon Preserve
Waterbird Petroglyphs, Picture Canyon Preserve
Waterbird Petroglyphs, Picture Canyon Preserve
Waterbird Petroglyphs, Picture Canyon Preserve
Waterbird Petroglyphs, Picture Canyon Preserve
Waterbird Petroglyphs, Picture Canyon Preserve
Pithouse archeological site along Don Weaver Trail, Picture Canyon Preserve
View down Picture Canyon toward Turkey Hills, Don Weaver Trail
Petroglyphs at Petroglyph Overlook along Don Weaver Trail, Picture Canyon Preserve
Historic railroad ties, Picture Canyon Preserve
Flagstaff’s only waterfall, Picture Canyon Preserve

Continuing east on the AZT, the pines drop away completely and pinyon/juniper replaces them. Train after train passes, then the trail takes a hard right and passes under the BNSF tracks and then I-40.

View of Elden Mountain (left), Little Elden Mountain (center), and the San Francisco Peaks (right) from the Arizona Trail in the Coconino National Forest east of Picture Canyon Preserve. Passage 32, Elden Mountain
Wildcat Hill covered with pinyon & juniper in Coconino National Forest along the Arizona Trail, Passage 32 (Elden Mountain)
Rabbitbrush blooms among isolated ponderosas as the landscape transitions to pinyon/juniper woodland. Arizona Trail Passage 32 (Elden Mountain)
Classic pinyon/juniper woodland along the Arizona Trail, Passage 32 (Elden Mountain)
Crossing under I-40 on the Arizona Trail. Passage 31 (Walnut Canyon)
View back toward Elden and Little Elden Mountains, the San Francisco Peaks and (far right) Turkey Hills along the Arizona Trail, Passage 31 (Walnut Canyon)

I barely miss the time cutoff for Walnut Canyon National Monument, so I’ll have to camp in the vicinity and hit that in the AM. The trail crosses the entrance road, entering passage 30 and then begins to ascend into pines again, and the late afternoon light on the changing oaks and pines is gorgeous. I make camp near the Old Walnut Canyon Rd and opt to stay here for the night. Going to have to push my second full resupply/zero day in Flag to Tuesday instead of Monday.

Ponderosas start to reappear in greater numbers on the south side of I-40 on the Arizona Trail, Passage 31 (Walnut Canyon)
Ponderosas mix with pinyon-juniper woodland in evening light along Arizona Trail, Passage 31 (Walnut Canyon)
Gambel oak in evening light along the Arizona Trail, Passage 31 (Walnut Canyon)
Gambel oak and ponderosa pines in evening light along the Arizona Trail, Passage 31 (Walnut Canyon)

Arizona Trail, Day 22: Flagstaff, Part 2 (Trans-Arizona/Utah Hike Day 28)

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

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

Welcome back to Aspen’s Tracks, thruhiking the Arizona Trail from Utah to Mexico. I want to note that this hike was completed before the coronavirus pandemic arrived, but it has left me with quite a bit of time in quarantine to write up my experiences on the trail.

The trail continues through forest that opens up as it heads south. The forest here looks younger, possibly impacted by fires more recently. Indeed, a fire – possibly the one I saw yesterday, or a different one – appears to be burning to the southwest, possibly in the Bradshaw Mountains. Flagstaff can be seen in the immediate foreground; the fire is on the horizon across a mountain ridgeline. Appears to possibly be in the general direction of Prescott. Again, could be a prescribed burn given the showers and virga that passed through recently.

Hiking out the west side of Schultz Pass, the trail enters and wraps around the west and south sides of the Dry Lake Hills, and immense burn piles appear beside the trail, obvious preparations for future prescribed burns that add to the more open views and young trees, as well as the burn marks on trees (living and dead) to project a general impression of a more fire-impacted landscape. There was a large fire in this general vicinity this summer, the Museum Fire, but it’s unclear if this was an area impacted by that. It’s quite possible, however. The gambel oaks are glorious with the light passing through the leaves, and the views of Elden Mountain – the other side of which was “apocalyptically burned” in the 1970s Radio Fire, according to my AZT guidebook – are spectacular. Mule deer graze among the rice grass and trees. The gambel oaks continue to look incredible. It’s amazing how as I progress south I seem to be seeing the progression of the foliage across different tree species as well as within the species. Makes for an ever changing and spectacular color display.

Gambel oaks and ponderosa hiking the Arizona Trail in the Dry Lake Hills
AZT Passage 33 (Flagstaff)
Coconino National Forest
Gambel oaks and ponderosa backpacking the Arizona Trail in the Dry Lake Hills
AZT Passage 33 (Flagstaff)
Coconino National Forest
Hiking through gambel oaks in the Dry Lake Hills on the AZT
Arizona Trail, Passage 33 (Flagstaff)
Coconino National Forest
Backpacking through gambel oaks in the Dry Lake Hills on the AZT
Arizona Trail, Passage 33 (Flagstaff)
Coconino National Forest
Flagstaff with a fire burning on the horizon, viewed from the Dry Lake Hills hiking on the Arizona Trail
AZT Passage 33 (Flagstaff)
Coconino National Forest
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Burn piles stacked to dry for use in prescribed burns in the future. One of the largest I’ve ever seen!
Arizona Trail, Passage 33 (Flagstaff)
Coconino National Forest
Hiking through gambel oaks in the Dry Lake Hills on the AZT
Arizona Trail, Passage 33 (Flagstaff)
Coconino National Forest
Backpacking through gambel oaks in the Dry Lake Hills on the AZT. Fire impacts also visible.
Arizona Trail, Passage 33 (Flagstaff)
Coconino National Forest
Hiking through gambel oaks in the Dry Lake Hills on the AZT
Arizona Trail, Passage 33 (Flagstaff)
Coconino National Forest
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Backpacking through gambel oaks & ponderosa pines in the Dry Lake Hills on the AZT
Arizona Trail, Passage 33 (Flagstaff)
Coconino National Forest
Hiking through gambel oaks & ponderosa pines in the Dry Lake Hills on the AZT
Arizona Trail, Passage 33 (Flagstaff)
Coconino National Forest
Backpacking through gambel oaks & ponderosa pines in the Dry Lake Hills on the AZT
Arizona Trail, Passage 33 (Flagstaff)
Coconino National Forest
Hiking through gambel oaks & ponderosa pines in the Dry Lake Hills on the AZT
Arizona Trail, Passage 33 (Flagstaff)
Coconino National Forest
Hiking through gambel oaks & ponderosa pines in the rocky Dry Lake Hills on the AZT
Arizona Trail, Passage 33 (Flagstaff)
Coconino National Forest
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Elden Mountain, seen from hiking on the AZT in the Dry Lake Hills
Arizona Trail, Passage 33 (Flagstaff)
Coconino National Forest
Juniper, gambel oaks, and ponderosa on the Dry Lake Hills, seen hiking the AZT. Elden Mountain above, mule deer grazing below.
Arizona Trail (Passage 33, Flagstaff)
Coconino National Forest
Hiking through gambel oaks & ponderosa pines in the rocky Dry Lake Hills on the AZT
Arizona Trail, Passage 33 (Flagstaff)
Coconino National Forest
Mule deer graze in the Dry Lake Hills while hiking the AZT
Arizona Trail, Passage 33 (Flagstaff)
Coconino National Forest
Elden Mountain, seen from backpacking on the AZT in the Dry Lake Hills. Fire impacts, possibly from the recent Museum Fire, visible in the foreground.
Arizona Trail, Passage 33 (Flagstaff)
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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Passage 33 (Flagstaff)
Trail SurfaceMostly dirt singletrack. Short paved stretch crossing through downtown Flagstaff
Length (Mi)15.5
SeasonApril-October
Potential Water SourcesFlagstaff
TrailheadsNorth: AZT Passages 34/32 at Schultz Pass
Middle: Downtown Flagstaff
South: AZT Passage 31 at Fisher Point
Trailhead AccessNorth: Graded dirt road
Middle: Paved
South: Foot access only
WildernessNo
Possible resupply pointsFlagstaff
ATA-Rated DifficultyModerate
Potential campsites (mileages S to N)Few at best. There are good spots near the ends of the adjacent passages
HazardsHeat – wear a cotton shirt so you can soak it. Synthetics aren’t great in the desert.

Hyponatremia – “drunk on water.” To avoid, ensure adequate salt & electrolyte intake and ensure you eat as well as drink water. Symptoms are almost identical to dehydration, but drinking more makes it worse. Prevention is by far the best solution.

Dehydration
Ecosystems TraversedRocky Mountain Montane Conifer Woodland
HighlightsViews of San Francisco Peaks
Views of Elden Mountain
Dry Lake Hills
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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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