Arizona Trail, Day 26: Passage 31 – Walnut Canyon (Arizona/Utah Day 33)

Welcome back to Aspens Tracks, thruhiking the Arizona Trail from Utah to Mexico. Hopefully this wilderness account is helping you get through your coronavirus-related distancing and isolation, and giving you hope for what adventures may yet come in the post-COVID-19 future for you.

The Arizona Trail passes peaking gambel oaks amid green ponderosa in the filtered forest light. Passage 31 (Walnut Canyon), Coconino National Forest
The Arizona Trail passes peaking gambel oaks amid green ponderosa in the filtered forest light. Passage 31 (Walnut Canyon), Coconino National Forest
The Arizona Trail passes peaking gambel oaks amid green ponderosa in the filtered forest light. Passage 31 (Walnut Canyon), Coconino National Forest

I get back to where I camped and pick up a few things I had left there while I was at Walnut Canyon National Monument. The trail crosses FR 303, Old Walnut Canyon Road, and heads west toward Flagstaff. Rolling in and out of drainages, It traces the rim of Walnut Canyon in places, and veers away into the woods in others. Heading west, the forest transitions back to the ponderosas, rolling up and down through drainages. The ponderosas are dense throughout, and their reddish bark glows in the light that filters through the green needles. The gambel oaks continue to impress along the route as well, adding splashes of yellow, red, and orange to the green ponderosa woodlands. I filled up on water at the visitor center for the National Monument, so I should have enough to get me back into Flagstaff. The trail crosses two spur trails leading to overlooks with more magnificent views of the canyon. Both well worth the minor extra mileage and time.

A peek into Walnut Canyon from the rim. Arizona Trail Passage 31 (Walnut Canyon), Coconino National Forest
View back down Walnut Canyon from the Arizona Trail skirting the rim on Passage 31 (Walnut Canyon), Coconino National Forest
The Arizona Trail passes peaking gambel oaks and toomey’s century plants – characteristic of a south-facing slope at this elevation – amid green ponderosa in the filtered forest light. Passage 31 (Walnut Canyon), Coconino National Forest
The Arizona Trail passes peaking gambel oaks amid green ponderosa in the filtered forest light. Passage 31 (Walnut Canyon), Coconino National Forest
The Arizona Trail passes peaking gambel oaks amid green ponderosa in the filtered forest light. Passage 31 (Walnut Canyon), Coconino National Forest
The Arizona Trail passes peaking gambel oaks amid green ponderosa in the filtered forest light. Passage 31 (Walnut Canyon), Coconino National Forest
The Arizona Trail passes peaking gambel oaks amid green ponderosa in the filtered forest light. Passage 31 (Walnut Canyon), Coconino National Forest
The Arizona Trail passes peaking gambel oaks amid green ponderosa in the filtered forest light. Passage 31 (Walnut Canyon), Coconino National Forest
The Arizona Trail passes stands of mature ponderosa, with their classic reddish-tinted bark. I can almost smell their butterscotch aroma in the picture….(Passage 31 (Walnut Canyon), Coconino National Forest)
The Arizona Trail passes stands of mature ponderosa in a classic northern Arizona drainage, with their classic reddish-tinted bark. I can almost smell their butterscotch aroma in the picture….(Passage 31 (Walnut Canyon), Coconino National Forest)
The Arizona Trail passes peaking gambel oaks amid green ponderosa in the filtered forest light. Passage 31 (Walnut Canyon), Coconino National Forest
The Arizona Trail passes peaking gambel oaks amid green ponderosa in the filtered forest light. Passage 31 (Walnut Canyon), Coconino National Forest
The Arizona Trail passes peaking gambel oaks amid green ponderosa in the filtered forest light. Passage 31 (Walnut Canyon), Coconino National Forest
The Arizona Trail passes peaking gambel oaks amid green ponderosa in the filtered forest light. Passage 31 (Walnut Canyon), Coconino National Forest

Arizona Trail, Day 24: Elden Mountain, Part 3 (Trans-Arizona/Utah Hike Day 31)

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.

Exiting the shadow of Elden Mountain, I hike across US-89 through a tunnel, entering the Painted Canyon Preserve. Sunset clouds glow in the sky as I hike south. I’ll return for the petroglyphs here tomorrow. The trail continues through scrubland to a small trailhead off of old Route 66 east of Flagstaff. After 14.3 miles in about 4-5 hours, one of my best paces yet, I Uber back to Flag for dinner. I’ll come back out here afterwards, or in the early morning if I opt to spend the night at the Grand Canyon Hostel in downtown, which given the time, might be likely.

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

Arizona Trail Passage 32, Elden Mountain
Arizona Trail Passage 32, Elden Mountain
Juniper berries along the Arizona Trail, Passage 32 (Elden Mountain)
Sunset on the Arizona Trail in Picture Canyon Preserve. Passage 32, Elden Mountain.
Sunset on the Arizona Trail in Picture Canyon Preserve. Passage 32, Elden Mountain.
Sunset on the Arizona Trail in Picture Canyon Preserve. Passage 32, Elden Mountain.
Sunset panorama on the Arizona Trail in Picture Canyon Preserve. Passage 32, Elden Mountain.

Arizona Trail, Day 24: Elden Mountain (Trans-Arizona/Utah Hike Day 30)

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.

Oscar gives me a ride to Macy’s for breakfast and run into some section hikers. We reminisce about some days on the trail, they have 40 miles to go. Then it is off to Schultz Pass to get back on the trail. My shin is feeling much better after the zero yesterday. I Uber up to the trailhead and pack up my tent here, talking with more section hikers heading north to Kelly Tank, then hike south along the trail. As usual, the ponderosa forest smells amazing, and I have to stop and smell the vanilla-butterscotch aroma that the bark puts out.

The Arizona Trail wraps past golden oaks and aspens through Schultz Pass and innumerable drainages. Expansive views of the San Francisco Peaks from the south are incredible, including Agassiz and Fremont Peaks. On the east end of the Pass, the trail opens out to areas potentially impacted by the 2010 Schultz Fire, which burned the area north of the AZT and east of Schultz Peak (fourth highest point in Arizona) and 1977 Radio Fire, which torched the east and south faces of Elden Mountain.

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

The Arizona Trail ascends through the ponderosas on the lower slopes of the San Francisco Peaks, eastbound in Schultz Pass. Passage 32 (Elden Mountain)
Golden ferns from a dry summer mix with ponderosa pines on the Arizona Trail, passage 32 (Elden Mountain)
The San Francisco Peaks from Schultz Pass. Burn piles left from the Museum Fire are in the foreground, while aspens color the lower slopes. Agassiz Peak is on the left, Fremont Peak on the far right. Arizona Trail, Passage 32 (Elden Mountain).
The Arizona Trail runs through ponderosa forest and rice grass meadows in Schultz Pass. Passage 32 (Elden Mountain).
Aspens and ponderosa among rice grass in Schultz Pass. Arizona Trail, Passage 32 (Elden Mountain)
Aspens along the Arizona Trail in Schultz Pass. AZT Passage 32, Elden Mountain.
Aspens along the Arizona Trail in Schultz Pass. AZT Passage 32, Elden Mountain.
Deer Hill or Schultz Peak rises above the ponderosas and aspens in Schultz Pass. Arizona Trail Passage 32, Elden Mountain.
Deer Hill or Schultz Peak from the Arizona Trail in Schultz Pass. Impacts of the 2010 Schultz Fire clearly visible. Passage 32, Elden Mountain.
Aspens add a splash of beautiful color to the burn scar of the 2010 Schultz or 1977 Radio Fires. Arizona Trail, Passage 32 (Elden Mountain)
Aspens add a splash of beautiful color to the burn scar of the 2010 Schultz or 1977 Radio Fires. Arizona Trail, Passage 32 (Elden Mountain)
Deer Hill or Schultz Peak from the Arizona Trail in Schultz Pass. Impacts of the 2010 Schultz Fire clearly visible. Passage 32, Elden Mountain.

Arizona Trail, Day 22: Flagstaff, Part 3 (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

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.

Hiking south, the trail crosses to the flanks of Elden Mountain and continues to drop down toward Flagstaff. It crosses the Coconino National Forest border onto McMillan Mesa and into Buffalo Park, managed by Flagstaff. A wide rice grass meadow composes much of the park, crisscrossed with wide trails and paths providing magnificent views of the San Francisco Peaks, Elden Mountain and the Dry Lake Hills. Just magnificent, especially seen now in the late afternoon. Near the entrance to the park, there’s a memorial bench and plaque to Dale Shewalter, a Flagstaff teacher who became known as the “Father of the Arizona Trail.” Hiking across McMillan Mesa and exiting Buffalo Park, the trail climbs onto Switzer Mesa and wraps through the Flagstaff Urban Trail System along the Ponderosa Parkway to Route 66. I make a pit stop at Dark Sky Brewing, where I meet a fellow Vermont alum! Always fun to run into a fellow Catamount. I must have made quite the impression walking in with my backpack after a week or so in the wilderness since leaving Grand Canyon. Then it’s on with another friend to a local Mexican restaurant for a full dinner.

Flagstaff, Arizona’s incredible mountain town, at last. As a bonus, my boots did not totally disintegrate getting here, but replacing them for the trek south is now on the list for the next few days, which will take stock of the logistics to get from here to Mormon Lake and Pine.

The Arizona Trail passes through stands of gambel oak hiking through the Dry Lake Hills below Elden Mountain
AZT Passage 33 (Flagstaff)
Coconino National Forest
Gambel oaks seen backpacking along the Arizona Trail, Dry Lake Hills
AZT Passage 33 (Flagstaff)
Coconino National Forest
Gambel oaks and ponderosa pine among rock outcrops, seen hiking on the Arizona Trail in the Dry Lake Hills
AZT Passage 33 (Flagstaff)
Coconino National Forest
Elden Mountain rises above gambel oaks and ponderosa pine, seen hiking on the Arizona Trail in the Dry Lake Hills
AZT Passage 33 (Flagstaff)
Coconino National Forest
AZT Passage 33 (Flagstaff)
Coconino National Forest
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Gambel oaks and ponderosa pine, backpacking on the Arizona Trail on Elden Mountain
AZT Passage 33 (Flagstaff)
Coconino National Forest
Gambel oaks and ponderosa pine, backpacking on the Arizona Trail on Elden Mountain
AZT Passage 33 (Flagstaff)
Coconino National Forest
Gambel oaks and ponderosa pine, hiking on the Arizona Trail on Elden Mountain
AZT Passage 33 (Flagstaff)
Coconino National Forest
Gambel oaks and ponderosa pine, backpacking on the Arizona Trail on Elden Mountain
AZT Passage 33 (Flagstaff)
Coconino National Forest
Gambel oaks and ponderosa pine, hiking on the Arizona Trail on Elden Mountain
AZT Passage 33 (Flagstaff)
Coconino National Forest
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Elden Mountain, seen from hiking the Arizona Trail in Buffalo Park, Flagstaff (Passage 33, Flagstaff). Fire impacts visible on the south (right) side of the mountain, a lingering reminder of the 1977 Radio Fire.
AZT Passage 33 (Flagstaff)
Dry Lake Hills and San Francisco Peaks from hiking the Arizona Trail in Buffalo Park, Flagstaff
AZT Passage 33 (Flagstaff)
Panorama of the San Francisco Peaks & Dry Lake Hills (left) and Elden Mountain (right), seen from backpacking the Arizona Trail in Buffalo Park, Flagstaff
AZT Passage 33 (Flagstaff)
Dry Lake Hills and San Francisco Peaks from hiking the Arizona Trail in Buffalo Park, Flagstaff
AZT Passage 33 (Flagstaff)
Panorama of the San Francisco Peaks & Dry Lake Hills (left) and Elden Mountain (right), seen from backpacking the Arizona Trail on Switzerland Mesa, Flagstaff
AZT Passage 33 (Flagstaff)
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Elden Mountain (right) and cinder cones of the San Francisco Volcanic Field (center) with fire smoke, as viewed from the Arizona Trail on Switzer Mesa, Flagstaff
AZT Passage 33 (Flagstaff)
Elden Mountain (right) and cinder cones of the San Francisco Volcanic Field (center) with fire smoke, as viewed from hiking the Arizona Trail on Switzer Mesa
AZT Passage 33 (Flagstaff)

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Arizona Trail, Day 49: Whiterock Mesa

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.

Arizona Trail, Passage 25: Whiterock Mesa, Part 2

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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Fossil Springs Wilderness – Waterfall Trail

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.

Fossil Springs Wilderness – Fossil Springs Trail

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. The Wilderness has 11,550 acres with 30 species of trees and shrubs and over 100 species of birds. Fossil Creek itself is one of two Wild & Scenic Rivers in Arizona as well, designated by Congress in 2009 after the Fossil Springs Dam was decommissioned by Arizona in 2005. Fossil Springs, the source of the creek, release 30 million gallons of water per day, incredibly prolific for its location in Arizona.

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Arizona Trail, Day 46 – Passage 26 (Hardscrabble Mesa)

I finally get off around 11:30 & run into Matt and a female friend near East Tank. I’m glad for the company and we walk together for a while. The road condition is terrible – lots of loose basalt – and the going is slow. I finally reach the split to Strawberry and encounter them again, and their friend who picked them up flags me down and brings me a beer. Some more trail magic! I think my biggest challenges are becoming the pack weight and the solitude. I head for a short side trip to Fossil Creek.

Arizona Trail, Day 45 – Passage 25 (Whiterock Mesa)

The trail first rolls through the pines and passes Pine Creek (dry) and Bradshaw Tank on its way to the top of Hardscrabble Mesa, which provides an excellent overlook of Oak Spring Canyon, the highlight of the passage, before dropping to the bottom. Like on the Highline, foliage still lingers in the warmer Canyon. I also spot some cool geology in what appears to be dikes in some of the rocks.

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Arizona Trail, Day 21: 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

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.)

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

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Arizona Trail, Day 43, Part III – Passage 27 (Highline)

The Arizona Trail following the Highline continues its route around Milk Ranch Point, passing some artifacts – perhaps ranching or mining related, as many seem to be in Arizona. Magnificent views to the south are common, with the Mazatzal Mountains an ever-increasing sight to the southeast.

Arizona Trail, Day 43, Part II – Passage 27 (Highline)

Having filled up on water and eaten lunch, the trail ascends from Webber Creek and the Geronimo Trailhead toward Milk Ranch Point, jutting out from the Mogollon Rim. This is a much more consistently wooded & shaded stretch that appears to have been spared by the Dude Fire of 1990 and February Fire (2006). It also seems to be wetter here – there are still touches of green in the ferns as the trail ascends. Gamble oaks, maple and ponderosa dominate the trail through this stretch, and the light filtering through the canopy and the leaves is magical.

Arizona Trail, Day 42-43, Part I – Passage 27 (Highline)

The trail continues to roll across the eroded foothills of the Mogollon Rim, the impressive and distinctive southern boundary of the Colorado Plateau, where the elevation jumps around 4000 ft in elevation. The Highline continues to define itself as a diverse landscape where the species of the desert below and the pine forests above mingle.

The Mazatzal Mountains – the next major hurdle once I make it to Pine – loom in the distance as well, and ironwood line the more open stretches of path across the Highline, where the Dude Fire burned the forest in 1990,

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Arizona Trail, Day 41 – Passage 27 (Highline), Part 3

The Arizona Trail continues west toward Pine, curving around parts of the Mogollon Rim that reach out, and segments that sit farther back, rolling across the eroded foothills beneath the parapets that’s tower overhead. The diverse plants continue to amaze. How often do you find blue spruce growing next to agave cactus!

Arizona Trail, Day 41 – Passage 27 (Highline), Part 2

Arizona Trail, Day 41 – Passage 27 (Highline), Part 2

Magnificent views of the Mogollon Rim and one of the most ecologically diverse stretches of trail to date, this entry covers from the Washington Park Trailhead across the Highline National Recreation Trail.

Arizona Trail, Day 41 – Passage 27 (Highline)

It’s another chilly morning, camped directly on the Mogollon Rim. I’ll be dropping several thousand feet today to the base of the Rim, completing the long traverse of the Coconino National Forest and entering the Tonto National Forest with views that are nothing short of spectacular.

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Arizona Trail, Day 40 – Passage 28 (Blue Ridge)

Managed to push through the entire Blue Ridge Passage today, one of my best days on the trail. I left the Blue Ridge Ranger Station this morning and headed south for the Rim. Saw a herd of elk near the Blue Ridge Campground and Elk Tank while climbing Blue Ridge itself. The trail also passed through an active prescribed burn, though it was low intensity so probably not considered a public hazard at this point. I’m familiar with them anyway, having worked as a PIO (public informations officer) on one over the summer at Grand Canyon. The trail crossed Blue Ridge and dipped across the steep valley of East Clear Creek, dry at the crossing.

Arizona Trail, Day 39 – Passage 28 (Blue Ridge), Part 2

The trail crossed Blue Ridge and dipped across the steep valley of East Clear Creek, dry at the crossing. I was told that there may be water in one direction near the crossing but didn’t need it and therefore didn’t check. Climbing out the other side, the northern aspect of the slope is apparent – while ponderosas covered the southern slope opposite, the northern one featured Douglas fir and blue spruce. Obviously the different sides show different microclimates depending on the sun aspect, the temperature and moisture levels on each side given the orientation and angle of the slope. The trail rises back to the ponderosa forests on the Mogollon Plateau and traverses them, the site of my first human sighting in 3 days, then reaches General Springs Canyon. Dipping into General Springs Canyon, silence and quiet take hold. I passed a nice campsite near the end of GSC, but the pools nearby were still frozen at the end of the day, suggesting it would get colder in the canyon overnight (and that solar exposure during the day was limited) than on the Rim, so I continued forward to the rim itself. Lights can be seen in the distance, but I’m not sure which town. Likely Pine or Strawberry. Tomorrow begins the descent off the rim at long last.

Arizona Trail, Day 36 – Passage 29 (Happy Jack)

The low last night was projected to be 12º, the coldest night yet on the trail, and I would say that may well have been accurate. Fortunately I came prepared for such conditions. Today I will be one of the first to walk the full new Happy Jack passage routing south of Shuff Tank.

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Arizona Trail, Day 35 – Passage 29 (Happy Jack)

It is brutally cold this morning, making it hard to even move much before 11. I believe it was around 20 at 9:00. Packing is a slow process in these temperatures. But, I pick up a few things that might make future packings faster in these temperatures, like doing most of it inside the tent at first and having a solid plan in advance to minimize time spent debating with oneself in the cold. Once packed, I head east along the forest road until coming to a trail crossing. There is a problem; the trail crosses on both sides. Clearly I missed a turnoff in the twilight yesterday evening. In both my purist nature and out of curiosity to see just where I made a wrong turn, I take the trail to the right, and it winds through the ponderosas back to Shuff Tank. It is clearly new, so this must be part of the new reroute, which has gone around the road stretch that I walked to get to the junction earlier. Instead of following the road on the north side of the tank, the trail now follows a singletrack around the west and south sides of the tank, then crosses the road on the east.

Arizona Trail, Day 34 – Passage 30 (Mormon Lake), Day 3

It’s brutally cold this morning, notably because of the strong wind that whips across the clearing to the west. Not setting up the tent last night was a mistake. I ultimately fill up for the last time at Navajo Spring and run into a few dayhikers who have completed over 300 miles of the trail themselves. Two of them are the Grouper and the Oracle. I continue south, aiming for Gooseberry Springs TH and Passage 29, Happy Jack.

Arizona Trail, Day 33 – Mormon Lake Zero

It’s cold and raw after the rain the night before. I walk about 3 miles up the road to Double Springs and then use the AZT to get back to my prior campsite to grab the sleeping pad, then retrace my steps again. Did it hail up here?

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Arizona Trail, Day 32 – Double Springs to Mormon Lake (Passage 30, Mormon Lake)

Heading south the trail passes an overlook of the ridges and of Mormon Lake itself, Arizona’s largest natural lake. It’s low (it often dries up under drought conditions to become Mormon Meadow) but the spring was wet enough that it hasn’t disappeared. It’s so windy that I’m almost blown off the overlook and my glasses ARE blown off (thankfully I catch them before they fall).

Arizona Trail, Day 31 – Anderson Mesa to Double Springs (Passages 30, Mormon Lake)

There is a lot of cool railroad history west of Lake Mary Road, the trail follows an old logging railroad grade for much of the route and in places the ties are still visible. Very cool. The forest turns into a dense mixed conifer and I have a chance encounter with a mountain biker named Chris who recently moved here from Idaho. We talk about the trail ahead and some I’m looking at doing in Idaho.

Coronavirus and National Parks: All COVID-19 Impacts and Park Reopenings

Another period of big updates across the National Park System.

Here we will look at the status of all 500+ national parks and affiliates, see which have changed status or will soon, and look at the details of what is or is not currently available at each park.

Disclaimer: please observe all CDC recommendations for the safety of staff and visitors alike. They are there to help and serve you, please do them the courtesy of helping keep them safe.

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Arizona Trail, Day 30 – Anderson Mesa (Passages 31 and 30, Walnut Canyon and Mormon Lake)

The trail reaches Lowell Observatory’s Navy Precision Optical Interferometer (NPOI). The NPOI measures precise relative positions of stars in the sky for the Naval Observatory to use as reference when determining geographic positions of locations on both Earth and in space, as well as for use in timekeeping. Over four football fields long, it uses a six-mirror array directing multiple light beams from a star to a single point, enhancing image detail and separating stars that are so close that even the largest conventional telescopes cannot separate them visually. Near the NPOI is an excellent view of Upper Lake Mary in the valley of Walnut Creek below, after which the trail continues across Anderson Mesa.

After reaching Horse Lake, I make camp for the night. The sky is black as coal and the night is filled with coyotes howling.

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Arizona Trail Thruhike, Day 26: Passage 31 (Walnut Canyon), Part 2 (Arizona/Utah Day 33)

The ponderosas are dense throughout, and their reddish bark glows in the light that filters through the green needles. The gambel oaks continue to impress along the route as well, adding splashes of yellow, red, and orange to the green ponderosa woodlands. The trail crosses two spur trails leading to overlooks with more magnificent views of the canyon.

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Arizona Trail, Day 26: Passage 31 – Walnut Canyon (Arizona/Utah Day 33)

The trail crosses FR 303, Old Walnut Canyon Road, and heads west toward Flagstaff. Rolling in and out of drainages, It traces the rim of Walnut Canyon in places, and veers away into the woods in others. Heading west, the forest transitions back to the ponderosas, rolling up and down through drainages. The ponderosas are dense throughout, and their reddish bark glows in the light that filters through the green needles. The gambel oaks continue to impress along the route as well, adding splashes of yellow, red, and orange to the green ponderosa woodlands. The trail crosses two spur trails leading to overlooks with more magnificent views of the canyon. Both well worth the minor extra mileage and time.

Arizona Trail: Walnut Canyon National Monument, Part 4

Wrapping up at Walnut Canyon National Monument. After wrapping up the fantastic Island Trail, the Rim Trail yields some great sites as well, including an unexcavated site and several pueblos. The views of the canyon itself are pretty amazing too.

Arizona Trail, Day 26: Walnut Canyon National Monument, Part 3

This morning starts with a stop at my last national park in northern Arizona, Walnut Canyon National Monument. Walnut Canyon National Monument protects over 80 cliff dwellings of the Northern Sinagua people. Named for the historic Spanish name for the general region, Sierra de Sin Agua, or “mountains without water,” the Sinagua people built the dwellings between 1125 and 1250 CE. The dwellings are, as the name suggests, located in Walnut Canyon, a 20 mile long, 400 ft deep and quarter mile wide canyon carved by Walnut Creek in the Mogollon Plateau southeast of Flagstaff.

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Arizona Trail, Day 26: Walnut Canyon National Monument, Part 2

Walnut Canyon National Monument, one of 420 national parks in the National Park System, protects over 80 cliff dwellings of the Northern Sinagua people. Named for the historic Spanish name for the general region, Sierra de Sin Agua, or “mountains without water,” the Sinagua people built the dwellings between 1125 and 1250 CE. The dwellings are, as the name suggests, located in Walnut Canyon, a 20 mile long, 400 ft deep and quarter mile wide canyon carved by Walnut Creek in the Mogollon Plateau southeast of Flagstaff.

Arizona Trail, Day 26: Walnut Canyon National Monument, Part I

Walnut Canyon National Monument protects over 80 cliff dwellings of the Northern Sinagua people. Named for the historic Spanish name for the general region, Sierra de Sin Agua, or “mountains without water,” the Sinagua people built the dwellings between 1125 and 1250 CE. The dwellings are, as the name suggests, located in Walnut Canyon, a 20 mile long, 400 ft deep and quarter mile wide canyon carved by Walnut Creek in the Mogollon Plateau southeast of Flagstaff.

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Arizona Trail, Day 24: Elden Mountain, Part 3 (Trans-Arizona/Utah Hike Day 31)

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. Exiting the shadow of Elden Mountain, I … Continue reading Arizona Trail, Day 24: Elden Mountain, Part 3 (Trans-Arizona/Utah Hike Day 31)

Arizona Trail, Day 24: Elden Mountain, Part 2 (Trans-Arizona/Utah Hike Day 31)

The Arizona Trail wraps past golden oaks and aspens through Schultz Pass and innumerable drainages, then opens out to areas potentially impacted by the 1977 Radio Fire. Hiking on, the trail skirts Little Elden Mountain. Views of Elden Mountain open up, and I hike across 89 through a tunnel, entering the Painted Canyon Preserve. Sunset clouds glow in the sky as I hike south.

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Arizona Trail, Day 24: Elden Mountain (Trans-Arizona/Utah Hike Day 30)

The Arizona Trail wraps past golden oaks and aspens through Schultz Pass and innumerable drainages, then opens out to areas potentially impacted by the 1977 Radio Fire. Views of Elden Mountain open up, and I hike across US-89 through a tunnel, entering the Painted Canyon Preserve. Sunset clouds glow in the sky as I continue hiking south.

Arizona Trail, Day 23: Flagstaff Zero (Trans-Arizona/Utah Hike Day 30)

Today is going to be a busy off day. I start it with a stop at Macy’s European Coffeehouse, an awesome breakfast place in downtown Flagstaff. They make particularly great waffles, but given the hiker hunger that all thruhikers suffer from, I add a smoothie and a breakfast sandwich for good measure today. I always make a point to stop here when I’m in Flag.

Arizona Trail, Day 22: Flagstaff, Part 3 (Trans-Arizona/Utah Hike Day 28)

The trail crosses to the flanks of Elden Mountain and continues to drop down toward Flagstaff. It crosses the Coconino National Forest border onto McMillan Mesa and into Buffalo Park, managed by Flagstaff. A wide rice grass meadow composes much of the park, crisscrossed with wide paths providing magnificent views of the San Francisco Peaks. Just magnificent, especially seen now in the late afternoon.

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The Arizona Trail Day 9 – Passage 39, Grand Canyon Inner Canyon (Trans-Arizona/Utah Hike Day 16)

Grand Canyon’s formations on the north side of the Inner Gorge around Bright Angel Canyon, as viewed from Tipoff on the South Kaibab Trail, Grand Canyon National Park. In the Inner Gorge, the Silver and Black Bridges can be seen, along with the mouth of Bright Angel Canyon and the creek delta, and Phantom Ranch. Formations such as Zoroaster’s Temple tower above.

Took a rare opportunity to sleep in a bit this morning. I’m familiar with the hike out from Phantom Ranch to the South Rim, even along the steeper South Kaibab Trail, so I’m relatively confident in even getting a slower start and still making it out by early evening. (Note – If I had not spent 6 months working here and accustomed to hiking here, I would not do this, so for those of you who may be considering hiking at Grand Canyon, please allow yourself plenty of time to hike out to the South Rim – ideally twice the amount of time that it took you to reach the bottom if you start from the South Rim, or about the same amount of time it took you to reach Phantom from the North Rim.). I get some breakfast at Phantom Ranch, the famous lodging within the Canyon designed by Mary Colter for the Fred Harvey Company and built at the bottom of Bright Angel Canyon just up from its junction with the Colorado River. Originally named Roosevelt Camp, Colter had the name changed to Phantom Ranch. All building materials other than rock (a prominent one, unsurprisingly) had to be hauled down by mule. Today, it is one of only two places in the United States where mail is still mailed by mule (and the cancellation stamps at the canteen proudly say so).

Around 11, I’m hiking out. The South Kaibab Trail turns east along the Colorado River from the mouth of Bright Angel Creek and passes Bright Angel Pueblo. The pueblo is 900-1000 years old, and was visited by John Wesley Powell’s 1869 Colorado River expedition, the first successful non-native attempt to raft the entire Grand Canyon.

The Kaibab Bridge from the South Kaibab Trail near Bright Angel Pueblo, Grand Canyon National Park
Bright Angel Pueblo, Grand Canyon National Park

From the Pueblo, the trail reaches the Kaibab Bridge, or Black Bridge, over the Colorado River. A 440 ft suspension bridge, it is the crossing for all mule trips from the South Rim to Phantom Ranch, and along with the Silver Bridge downstream (visible from the Kaibab Bridge) it is one of only two crossings between the Navajo Bridge at Lee’s Ferry and Hoover Dam. The construction materials for the bridge were carried down the newly constructed South Kaibab Trail in 1928, with 42 Havasupai tribesmen carrying each 1 ton, 550 ft suspension cables down the trail. The materials weighed 122 tons in total. It is a major civil engineering landmark.

Downstream view from the north side of the Kaibab Bridge over the Colorado River. The Boat Beach and Bright Angel Creek delta are visible in the center of the image. Walls of black Vishnu Schist with pink Zoroaster granite intrusions rise over 1000 ft above the river.
The Kaibab Bridge over the Colorado River, Grand Canyon National Park
Downstream view from the Kaibab Bridge over the Colorado River. The Boat Beach and Bright Angel Creek delta are visible in the center of the image. Walls of black Vishnu Schist with pink Zoroaster granite intrusions rise over 1000 ft above the river.
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Downstream view from the Kaibab Bridge over the Colorado River. The Boat Beach and Bright Angel Creek delta are visible in the center of the image. Walls of black Vishnu Schist with pink Zoroaster granite intrusions rise over 1000 ft above the river.
Upstream view from the Kaibab Bridge over the Colorado River in Grand Canyon National Park, showing the cableway system that predated the bridge.
View across the Kaibab Bridge to the south side of the river, Grand Canyon National Park

Visible from the Kaibab Bridge are the Silver Bridge downstream, which the Bright Angel Trail uses to cross the river, as well as the cableway next to the bridge. The Black Bridge is the fourth crossing of the Colorado at the location. The first was a ferry, but this was extremely perilous. The second was the cableway, a 6×10 ft steel cage to carry passengers (mules and people) across the river. Theodore Roosevelt used it on a 1913 visit to then-Grand Canyon National Monument. A successor suspension bridge opened in 1920, to be succeeded by the Kaibab Bridge in 1928.

The river itself, unlike when I departed from Lee’s Ferry, is a deep brown today due to rain upstream. At such times, the river takes on its natural brown color, which in fact was what led to its name – “Rio Colorado,” meaning “colored river” or “red river” in Spanish. It’s refreshing to see it as it was seen for all of history before the construction of Glen Canyon Dam in the 1960s.

In stark contrast to the North Rim at around 8800 ft, the Colorado at Phantom is only around 2500 ft, or around the same elevation as Phoenix, so the weather it experiences is more akin to Central Arizona valleys than it is the rims of the Canyon. A hike through Grand Canyon crosses between 5-8 ecosystems, depending of where the precise boundaries are drawn, and can be like hiking from Mexico to Canada from an ecological perspective. Below the rim, one passes through the riparian zone along the river, the Lower Sonoran Desert, Upper Sonoran Desert. The North Rim features ponderosa pine and mixed conifer forests, and the South Rim ponderosa pine and pinyon-juniper forest.

Passing through a brief tunnel on the south bank, the trail quickly ascends around 1500 ft to The Tipoff on the edge of the Tonto Platform, the rim of the Inner Canyon. During this climb, I am treated to some great views of river trips launching again after having lunch at Phantom Ranch. The trail crosses the Tonto Platform and begins to climb toward Skeleton Point, through sections of the South Kaibab with colorful names such as the “Red & Whites,” and with outstanding views of the formations and scale of the canyon.

Downstream view of the Inner Canyon including the Colorado River and Bright Angel Creek delta, Grand Canyon National Park. The Silver Bridge is visible downstream.
View of the Kaibab Bridge from the South Kaibab Trail climbing out of the Inner Gorge, Grand Canyon National Park
River trip launching on the Colorado River from the Boat Beach on the Bright Angel Creek Delta near Phantom Ranch, Grand Canyon National Park
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River trip launching on the Colorado River from the Boat Beach on the Bright Angel Creek Delta near Phantom Ranch, Grand Canyon National Park
Downstream view of the Colorado River, Inner Gorge, Bright Angel Creek delta, Bright Angel Campground, Phantom Ranch, and the Silver Bridge over the Colorado. Grand Canyon National Park.
Zoroaster Temple (the sawtooth ridge) peeks above the lip of the Inner Gorge from the South Kaibab Trail, Grand Canyon National Park
River trip continuing downstream on the Colorado River in the Inner Gorge, as viewed from Tipoff on the South Kaibab Trail, Grand Canyon National Park
Zoroaster Temple viewed from Tipoff on the South Kaibab Trail, Grand Canyon National Park
Grand Canyon’s formations on the north side of the Inner Gorge around Bright Angel Canyon, as viewed from Tipoff on the South Kaibab Trail, Grand Canyon National Park. In the Inner Gorge, the Silver and Black Bridges can be seen, along with the mouth of Bright Angel Canyon and the creek delta, and Phantom Ranch. Formations such as Zoroaster’s Temple tower above.
North panorama centered on Zoroaster’s Temple from the South Kaibab Trail crossing the Tonto Platform, Grand Canyon National Park
Zoroaster Temple from the South Kaibab Trail, Grand Canyon National Park
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And then everything changes.

I came around a corner below Skeleton Point, just below the Red & Whites to find someone sitting in the middle of the trail. Upon my asking if they were OK, they said no, they thought they had broken their ankle. When I asked why they thought that, they said that “I tried to stand up, and it just flops to the side.” Yes, that’s a break. I say that I can splint it, but other than that we’d have to get more help down to get her out. But I ask if they want me to use my new inReach to contact GRCA SAR and get it, which they accept. I hit the SOS button on my inReach, and a hiker behind me helps splint it using their poles and cord that I carried while I ran to Tipoff to call GRCA SAR directly. Unfortunately it was too windy for a helicopter medivac at that time, so we had to wait about 2-3 hours for a medic to reach us on the trail. We got a firm splint on the ankle and lucked out – eventually they did get a helicopter window and managed to land and take the individual down a slope to where they had landed. Ended up hiking out with the husband of the individual in question; we topped around around 9-10. I have to say, given the wind we experienced on the upper South Kaibab, I’m shocked the helicopter managed to reach us at all. The backup plan was apparently to have them spend the night near Tipoff and launch in the morning.

So glad that I opted to carry an inReach for this trip, now. I didn’t expect it to pay off so soon, but, of course, that is the nature of an emergency.

Departure of the medevac that I assisted with.

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

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.

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

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.

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

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.

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Arizona Trail, Day 18: Passage 35, Babbitt Ranch (Trans-Arizona/Utah Hike Day 24)

Well, I’ve officially found my least favorite part of the trail so far. The first 5 miles today from Moqui Stage Station to the border of the Kaibab National Forest are nice…and then the views disappear and a long roadwalk down a valley begins where one crosses into the Babbit Ranch Passage (Passage 35). The … Continue reading Arizona Trail, Day 18: Passage 35, Babbitt Ranch (Trans-Arizona/Utah Hike Day 24)

Arizona Trail, Day 17: Passage 36, Coconino Rim (Trans-Arizona/Utah Hike Day 23)

Today began with a continuation of the southward trek along the Coconino Rim. The rolling hike along the rim of the Coconino Plateau passes through a combination of ponderosas and, through the trees, views off the plateau toward the Navajo Nation. As the trail rises slowly back to the top of the rim and heads … Continue reading Arizona Trail, Day 17: Passage 36, Coconino Rim (Trans-Arizona/Utah Hike Day 23)

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The Arizona Trail, Day 8: Passage 38, Grand Canyon Inner Canyon, Part 1 (Trans-Arizona/Utah Day 15)

Grabbed a few things at the general store on the North Rim of Grand Canyon today, then packed up camp. The park has a number of special sites at the campground, available first-come, first-served, to those who hike or bike into the park. I then proceed over to the Backcountry Information Center, and get put on another thruhiker’s permit for Bright Angel Campground at the bottom, near the Colorado River. My pack weighs in at 46 pounds, not overly light but lighter than it has been. Obviously some of my efforts to cut weight before crossing the canyon paid off. After a side trip to see the aspens in Thompson Canyon, as recommended by the LE ranger that I spoke to yesterday, I head into the canyon.

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Aspens in Thompson Canyon, Grand Canyon National Park North Rim, Arizona
Aspens in Thompson Canyon, Grand Canyon National Park North Rim, Arizona
Aspens in Thompson Canyon, Grand Canyon National Park North Rim, Arizona
Aspens in Thompson Canyon, Grand Canyon National Park North Rim, Arizona
Aspens in Thompson Canyon, Grand Canyon National Park North Rim, Arizona
Aspens in Thompson Canyon, Grand Canyon National Park North Rim, Arizona
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Aspens in Thompson Canyon, Grand Canyon National Park North Rim, Arizona
Aspens in Thompson Canyon, Grand Canyon National Park North Rim, Arizona

This is the only part of the Arizona Trail that I have solid familiarity with, having hiked from the South Rim to the North Rim and back in May. If there’s anything I know, it’s to expect the unexpected. In May I ran into rain, hail, and snow between Cottonwood and the North Rim as elevations changed. I was also delayed heading back to the South Rim the following day by several hours due to a torrential rainstorm that blew through. Fortunately, none of that materializes today. It’s still going to be warm at the bottom, but not as warm as it would have been had I started right when my season ended, and the warmth is a welcome change from the Kaibab cold of the past few nights. The trail starts 8297 ft of elevation and drops to the Colorado River at 2480 ft.

The route heads down the legendary North Kaibab Trail, past the Coconino Overlook, where I have a long conversation with a park PSAR volunteer hoping to do the trail themselves in the spring, to the Supai Tunnel, around which the grade peaks at 25%, one of the steepest on the entire AZT. Fortunately, I’m going down. By this point, I have descended through the Kaibab Limestone, Toroweap Formation, Coconino Sandstone, and into the Supai Group.

View down Roaring Springs Canyon from Coconino Overlook. Komo Point at junction of Roaring Springs and Bright Angel Canyons. South Rim can be seen in right-center, with San Francisco Peaks above. Grand Canyon National Park, Arizona Trail Passage 38.
View down Roaring Springs Canyon from Coconino Overlook. Komo Point at junction of Roaring Springs and Bright Angel Canyons. South Rim can be seen in right-center, with San Francisco Peaks above. Grand Canyon National Park, Arizona Trail Passage 38.
North Rim layering above the North Kaibab Trail, Grand Canyon National Park, Arizona Trail Passage 38. Kaibab Formation at top, sloping Toroweap, Coconino Cliffs, and sloping Hermit Shale lead down to the Supai Group.
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View through the Supai Tunnel on the North Kaibab Trail, Grand Canyon National Park, Arizona Trail Passage 38.
View down Roaring Springs Canyon from the Supai Tunnel on the North Kaibab Trail, Grand Canyon National Park, Arizona. Redwall Bridge visible in shade, lower right of image.
View down Roaring Springs Canyon from the Supai Tunnel on the North Kaibab Trail, Grand Canyon National Park, Arizona. Redwall Bridge visible in shade, lower right of image.
View down Roaring Springs Canyon from the Supai Tunnel on the North Kaibab Trail, Grand Canyon National Park, Arizona. Redwall Bridge visible on lower right-center of image in shade.

The trail continues to descend. It enters the Redwall Limestone and drops through a series of switchbacks to the Redwall Bridge before beginning a more gradual traverse through the layer, a stretch where the trail was literally blasted out of the cliff, almost forming a half-tunnel. The trail continues through the Muav Limestone to Roaring Springs at the border with the Bright Angel Shale, the source of all of the drinking water for Grand Canyon National Park. The water from the springs is pumped to the North Rim and flows by gravity to Indian Gardens on the South Rim before being pumped to the rim itself from there. Entering Bright Angel Canyon, it passes through a segment of trail that was literally blown out of the side of the cliff by the Civilian Conservation Corps in the 1930s, the terrain was so rugged, forming a kind of half-tunnel above the trail in the side of the cliff.

View back toward Supai Tunnel from North Kaibab Trail descending into Roaring Springs Canyon, Grand Canyon National Park, Arizona
View down Roaring Springs Canyon from north side of Redwall Bridge, Grand Canyon National Park, Arizona
View down Roaring Springs Canyon from Redwall Bridge, Grand Canyon National Park, Arizona.
Upcanyon view of Roaring Springs Canyon, Grand Canyon National Park. Redwall Bridge in lower center. NK Trailhead is located in pine forest on upper left.
North Rim from North Kaibab Trail in Roaring Springs Canyon, Grand Canyon National Park
Upcanyon view of Roaring Springs Canyon, Grand Canyon National Park. Redwall Bridge in lower center. NK Trailhead is located in pine forest on upper left.
Roaring Springs, viewed from the North Kaibab Trail, Grand Canyon National Park, Arizona.

View down & across Roaring Springs Canyon from North Kaibab Trail, Grand Canyon National Park, Arizona. Uncle Jim Point at upper left. Rim in distance is in Bright Angel Canyon.
North Kaibab Trail in Roaring Springs Canyon, Grand Canyon National Park, Arizona. This section of trail, one of the most rugged and remote on the developed Corridor between the North and South Rims, was blown out of the cliff by the CCC in the 1930s.
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Arizona Trail, Day 15: Passage 37, Grand Canyon South Rim (Trans-Arizona/Utah Hike Days 21)

Unfortunately, I feel like the past few days off have broken my rhythm in terms of mileage. I spent last night with some friends on the South Rim before returning to camp for the night. Unfortunately, it seems I left my wallet at Maswik when I stopped there for dinner. So I’m up early, and … Continue reading Arizona Trail, Day 15: Passage 37, Grand Canyon South Rim (Trans-Arizona/Utah Hike Days 21)

The Arizona Trail Day 9 – Passage 39, Grand Canyon Inner Canyon (Trans-Arizona/Utah Hike Day 16)

the trail reaches the Kaibab Bridge, or Black Bridge, over the Colorado River. A 440 ft suspension bridge, it is the crossing for all mule trips from the South Rim to Phantom Ranch, and along with the Silver Bridge downstream (visible from the Kaibab Bridge) it is one of only two crossings between the Navajo Bridge at Lee’s Ferry and Hoover Dam.

The river itself, unlike when I departed from Lee’s Ferry, is a deep brown today due to rain upstream. At such times, the river takes on its natural brown color, which in fact was what led to its name – “Rio Colorado,” meaning “colored river” or “red river” in Spanish. It’s refreshing to see it as it was seen for all of history before the construction of Glen Canyon Dam in the 1960s. 

In stark contrast to the North Rim at around 8800 ft, the Colorado at Phantom is only around 2500 ft, or around the same elevation as Phoenix, so the weather it experiences is more akin to Central Arizona valleys than it is the rims of the Canyon. A hike through Grand Canyon crosses between 5-8 ecosystems, depending of where the precise boundaries are drawn, and can be like hiking from Mexico to Canada from an ecological perspective. Below the rim, one passes through the riparian zone along the river, the Lower Sonoran Desert, Upper Sonoran Desert. The North Rim features ponderosa pine and mixed conifer forests, and the South Rim ponderosa pine and pinyon-juniper forest.

Passing through a brief tunnel on the south bank, the trail quickly ascends around 1500 ft to The Tipoff on the edge of the Tonto Platform, the rim of the Inner Canyon. During this climb, I am treated to some great views of river trips launching again after having lunch at Phantom Ranch. The trail crosses the Tonto Platform and begins to climb toward Skeleton Point, through sections of the South Kaibab with colorful names such as the “Red & Whites,” and with outstanding views of the formations and scale of the canyon.

The Arizona Trail, Day 8: Passage 38, Grand Canyon Inner Canyon, Part 1 (Trans-Arizona/Utah Day 15)

Grabbed a few things at the general store on the North Rim of Grand Canyon today, then packed up camp. The park has a number of special sites at the campground, available first-come, first-served, to those who hike or bike into the park. I then proceed over to the Backcountry Information Center, and get put … Continue reading The Arizona Trail, Day 8: Passage 38, Grand Canyon Inner Canyon, Part 1 (Trans-Arizona/Utah Day 15)

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The Arizona Trail, Day 7, Part II: Passage 39, Grand Canyon National Park North Rim, Part I (Trans-Arizona/Utah Hike Day 14)

To the south lies the San Francisco volcanic field, topped by the majestic San Francisco Peaks rising above. I’ll go into it in more detail as I approach them, but for now I’ll note that were it not for the canyon, the Peaks would be the most famous geological feature in Arizona. Humphreys Peak, the highest point, stands at 12,633 feet. The Arizona Trail will reach and wrap directly around their flank on the journey south. The city of Flagstaff lies immediately beyond, at the foot of the mountain on the south side. Through the trees one can make out the rim of the canyon, but the dominant view in the foreground is the aspen foliage mixed with spruce/fir and ponderosa forest. Grand Canyon National Park fills the foreground with aspen foliage mixed with spruce/fir and ponderosa forest. Heading back down the road, I head west on the AZT to the park entrance and then south through the aspens toward the Rim.

The Arizona Trail, Day 6: Passage 40, Kaibab Plateau South, Part I

I’m on the trail early. As I noted in an earlier entry, one of the perils of combining being a seasonal ranger and thruhiking in the offseason (or shoulder seasons) is that one must make oneself available for interviews in sometimes inconvenient times or places. I owe a park a return call at some point … Continue reading The Arizona Trail, Day 6: Passage 40, Kaibab Plateau South, Part I

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The Arizona Trail, Day 5, Part III: South Kaibab Plateau (Passage 40), Part II

Toward the end of the day there is a second encounter with another thruhiker, this time with Eric, the hiker that I encountered several days ago when he was headed northbound (nobo) to Utah; he’s now headed southbound (sobo). Hiking together for a stretch, Eric and I come to a golden tree tunnel of aspens … Continue reading The Arizona Trail, Day 5, Part III: South Kaibab Plateau (Passage 40), Part II

The Arizona Trail, Day 5, Part II: Southern Kaibab Plateau (Passage 40)

Hiking south on Passage 40, the backpacker crosses Telephone Hill, where the pines and aspens offer a respite from the Kaibab winds. Dropping down the back side, the trail passes Crane Lake and proceeds south through a meadow before gradually ascending into aspens and pines once again. Aspens dominate the remainder of the route, rolling across hills hiking south toward Little Round Valley.

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The Arizona Trail, Day 4: Central Kaibab Plateau, Part III (Trans-Arizona/Utah Hike Day 11)

The trail continues through the burn scar of the 2006 Warm Fire, In between looking around at the aspens in the prior two posts, a crack opens in the tree line to the west. The first southbound view of Grand Canyon opens up in the distance. I ultimately ran out of light in the burn … Continue reading The Arizona Trail, Day 4: Central Kaibab Plateau, Part III (Trans-Arizona/Utah Hike Day 11)

The Arizona Trail, Day 3: Northern and Central Kaibab Plateau (Trans-Arizona/Utah Hike Day 10)

Continuing across the northern Kaibab today and onto the central (Passage 41). I encounter my first AZT hiker, Eric, to whom I give a great recommendation for Vermilion Cliffs – anyone who read my entries for the first week of this trek surely knows why. I also encounter some friends from Grand Canyon who were … Continue reading The Arizona Trail, Day 3: Northern and Central Kaibab Plateau (Trans-Arizona/Utah Hike Day 10)

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The Arizona Trail, Day 2: Buckskin Mountain to Kaibab Plateau North (Arizona/Utah Day 9)

Another early start. I make it off Passage 43 (Buckskin Mountain) by mid morning and break into the northern Kaibab Plateau (Passage 42). The land shifts from BLM land at the start and enters the Kaibab National Forest south of the Passage boundary. I’m having some issues charging given the intermittent shade cast by the … Continue reading The Arizona Trail, Day 2: Buckskin Mountain to Kaibab Plateau North (Arizona/Utah Day 9)

The Arizona Trail, Day 1 (AZ/UT Day 8, Part 4)

“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”

Arizona Trail Approach Day 8, Part 1 – Buckskin Gulch to the Arizona Trail (Paria Canyon-Vermilion Cliffs Wilderness, Vermilion Cliffs National Monument)

Broke camp early in Buckskin Gulch this morning and headed out. I make better time than I expect, and encounter the Dragoos from Oklahoma about 1.5 mi from Wire Pass. I’m surprised that I’m that close to the Pass, since I hadn’t expected to make it for several miles. We have breakfast together and hike … Continue reading Arizona Trail Approach Day 8, Part 1 – Buckskin Gulch to the Arizona Trail (Paria Canyon-Vermilion Cliffs Wilderness, Vermilion Cliffs National Monument)

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Arizona Trail Approach Day 6: Paría Canyon and Buckskin Gulch (Vermilion Cliffs National Monument)

I’m running low on battery in these canyons with extremely limited solar power to recharge. The day starts with a flight of bats flying down the canyon. After that exciting start, I decide to hike up to Slide Rock and then turn around and hit Buckskin Gulch. Just past the confluence of Paría Canyon and … Continue reading Arizona Trail Approach Day 6: Paría Canyon and Buckskin Gulch (Vermilion Cliffs National Monument)

Arizona Trail Approach Day 7: Buckskin Gulch, Paría Canyon-Vermilion Cliffs Wilderness (Vermilion Cliffs National Monument)

After several hours spent trying to fill water bags and talking with a friendly BLM ranger, as well as a farewell encounter with Philip and Raj, I head up Buckskin Gulch. After dragging my pack over the boulder jam – a much more difficult undertaking than yesterday without the pack – I start up canyon … Continue reading Arizona Trail Approach Day 7: Buckskin Gulch, Paría Canyon-Vermilion Cliffs Wilderness (Vermilion Cliffs National Monument)

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Grabbed a few things at the general store on the North Rim of Grand Canyon today, then packed up camp. The park has a number of special sites at the campground, available first-come, first-served, to those who hike or bike into the park. I then proceed over to the Backcountry Information Center, and get put on another thruhiker’s permit for Bright Angel Campground at the bottom, near the Colorado River. My pack weighs in at 46 pounds, not overly light but lighter than it has been. Obviously some of my efforts to cut weight before crossing the canyon paid off. After a side trip to see the aspens in Thompson Canyon, as recommended by the LE ranger that I spoke to yesterday, I head into the canyon.

Aspens in Thompson Canyon, Grand Canyon National Park North Rim, Arizona
Aspens in Thompson Canyon, Grand Canyon National Park North Rim, Arizona
Aspens in Thompson Canyon, Grand Canyon National Park North Rim, Arizona
Aspens in Thompson Canyon, Grand Canyon National Park North Rim, Arizona
Aspens in Thompson Canyon, Grand Canyon National Park North Rim, Arizona
View down Roaring Springs Canyon from Coconino Overlook. Komo Point at junction of Roaring Springs and Bright Angel Canyons. South Rim can be seen in right-center, with San Francisco Peaks above. Grand Canyon National Park, Arizona Trail Passage 38.
View down Roaring Springs Canyon from Coconino Overlook. Komo Point at junction of Roaring Springs and Bright Angel Canyons. South Rim can be seen in right-center, with San Francisco Peaks above. Grand Canyon National Park, Arizona Trail Passage 38.
North Rim layering above the North Kaibab Trail, Grand Canyon National Park, Arizona Trail Passage 38. Kaibab Formation at top, sloping Toroweap, Coconino Cliffs, and sloping Hermit Shale lead down to the Supai Group.
View through the Supai Tunnel on the North Kaibab Trail, Grand Canyon National Park, Arizona Trail Passage 38.
View down Roaring Springs Canyon from the Supai Tunnel on the North Kaibab Trail, Grand Canyon National Park, Arizona. Redwall Bridge visible in shade, lower right of image.
View down Roaring Springs Canyon from the Supai Tunnel on the North Kaibab Trail, Grand Canyon National Park, Arizona. Redwall Bridge visible in shade, lower right of image.
View down Roaring Springs Canyon from the Supai Tunnel on the North Kaibab Trail, Grand Canyon National Park, Arizona. Redwall Bridge visible on lower right-center of image in shade.
View back toward Supai Tunnel from North Kaibab Trail descending into Roaring Springs Canyon, Grand Canyon National Park, Arizona
View down Roaring Springs Canyon from north side of Redwall Bridge, Grand Canyon National Park, Arizona
View down Roaring Springs Canyon from Redwall Bridge, Grand Canyon National Park, Arizona.
North Rim from North Kaibab Trail in Roaring Springs Canyon, Grand Canyon National Park
Upcanyon view of Roaring Springs Canyon, Grand Canyon National Park. Redwall Bridge in lower center. NK Trailhead is located in pine forest on upper left.
Upcanyon view of Roaring Springs Canyon, Grand Canyon National Park. Redwall Bridge in lower center. NK Trailhead is located in pine forest on upper left.
View down & across Roaring Springs Canyon from North Kaibab Trail, Grand Canyon National Park, Arizona. Uncle Jim Point at upper left. Rim in distance is in Bright Angel Canyon.
North Kaibab Trail in Roaring Springs Canyon, Grand Canyon National Park, Arizona. This section of trail, one of the most rugged and remote on the developed Corridor between the North and South Rims, was blown out of the cliff by the CCC in the 1930s.
Komo Point on the North Rim rises above the junction of Roaring Springs Canyon and Bright Angel Canyon, Grand Canyon National Park, Arizona, AZT Passage 38.
Roaring Springs, viewed from the North Kaibab Trail, Grand Canyon National Park, Arizona.
Tarantula on the North Kaibab Trail, Grand Canyon National Park, Arizona
Tarantula on the North Kaibab Trail, Grand Canyon National Park, Arizona
Tarantula on the North Kaibab Trail, Grand Canyon National Park, Arizona
Tarantula on the North Kaibab Trail, Grand Canyon National Park, Arizona
Tarantula on the North Kaibab Trail, Grand Canyon National Park, Arizona
Bright Angel Creek from the North Kaibab Trail in upper Bright Angel Canyon, Grand Canyon National Park, Arizona. Arizona Trail Passage 38.
Bright Angel Creek from the North Kaibab Trail in upper Bright Angel Canyon, Grand Canyon National Park, Arizona. Arizona Trail Passage 38.
Cascade waterfall on Bright Angel Creek from the North Kaibab Trail in Grand Canyon National Park, Arizona. Arizona Trail Passage 38.
View toward the junction of Bright Angel Canyon (center) and Roaring Springs Canyon (left). Komo Point to right; Uncle Jim Point on upper left. View from North Kaibab Trail, Grand Canyon National Park, Arizona Trail Passage 38.
View down Bright Angel Canyon, North Kaibab Trail, Grand Canyon National Park, Arizona Trail Passage 38.
Remnant transcanyon telephone line built by the Civilian Conservation Corps during the Great Depression. North Kaibab Trail, Grand Canyon National Park, Arizona Trail Passage 38.
North Rim in Bright Angel Canyon from North Kaibab Trail, Grand Canyon National Park, Arizona Trail Passage 38.
North Rim in Bright Angel Canyon from North Kaibab Trail, Grand Canyon National Park, Arizona Trail Passage 38.
North Rim in Bright Angel Canyon from North Kaibab Trail, Grand Canyon National Park, Arizona Trail Passage 38.
Crescent moon above rim of Bright Angel Canyon, North Kaibab Trail, Grand Canyon National Park, Arizona Trail Passage 38
Bright Angel Canyon from North Kaibab Trail, Grand Canyon National Park, Arizona Trail Passage 38.
Bright Angel Canyon from North Kaibab Trail, Grand Canyon National Park, Arizona Trail Passage 38.
Bright Angel Canyon from North Kaibab Trail, Grand Canyon National Park, Arizona Trail Passage 38.
Yes, there is still water in the desert.
Ribbon Falls, Bright Angel Canyon, Grand Canyon National Park, Arizona Trail Passage 38.