Arizona Trail Thruhike, Day 26: Passage 31 (Walnut Canyon), Part 2 (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.

Peaking gambel oaks in the filtered forest light. Arizona Trail, Passage 31 (Walnut Canyon), Coconino National Forest
Peaking gambel oaks in the filtered forest light. Arizona Trail, Passage 31 (Walnut Canyon), Coconino National Forest
Peaking gambel oaks in the filtered forest light. Arizona Trail, Passage 31 (Walnut Canyon), Coconino National Forest

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.

After the late start due to the magnificent cliff dwellings at the monument, I dont quite make it as far as I would like to before evening rolls around. I make camp near the trail on a bed of pine needles and crash for the night. Tomorrow I will be back in Flagstaff.

View up Walnut Canyon from the Arizona Trail skirting the rim. Passage 31, Walnut Canyon, Coconino National Forest
A peek into Walnut Canyon from the rim at the second spur overlook. Arizona Trail Passage 31 (Walnut Canyon), Coconino National Forest
Peaking gambel oaks in the filtered forest light. Arizona Trail, Passage 31 (Walnut Canyon), Coconino National Forest
Peaking gambel oaks amid green ponderosa in the filtered forest light. Arizona Trail, 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 juniper and 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 gambel oaks in fall foliage amid green ponderosa in the filtered forest light. Passage 31 (Walnut Canyon), Coconino National Forest
Gambel oaks and juniper stand beside the Arizona Trail in Passage 31 (Walnut Canyon) on the Coconino National Forest
Gambel oaks and juniper stand beside the Arizona Trail in Passage 31 (Walnut Canyon) on the Coconino National Forest
Gambel oaks and juniper stand beside the Arizona Trail in Passage 31 (Walnut Canyon) on the Coconino National Forest
A peek into Walnut Canyon from the rim. Arizona Trail Passage 31 (Walnut Canyon), Coconino National Forest
Peeking down Walnut Canyon from the rim. Elden Mountain and the San Francisco Peaks rise to the north on the left. Arizona Trail Passage 31 (Walnut Canyon), Coconino National Forest
Walnut Canyon Panorama from
Elden Mountain and the San Francisco Peaks from the Arizona Trail along the rim of Walnut Canyon in the Coconino National Forest (AZT Passage 31, Walnut Canyon)
Panorama of the San Francisco Peaks and Walnut Canyon from the second spur overlook in Coconino National Forest (AZT Passage 31, Walnut Canyon)
Evening light ices the rim of Walnut Canyon as viewed from the second spur overlook along the Arizona Trail, Passage 31 (Walnut Canyon), Coconino National Forest
Downcanyon view through dense ponderosa forest from the second spur overlook on the Arizona Trail (AZT Passage 31, Walnut Canyon) in the Coconino National Forest. This is part of the largest intact stand of ponderosa pines in the world – and from here, it is not hard to see why.
Evening light illuminates the gambel oaks, ponderosa and juniper found on lower and south-facing portions of the rim of Walnut Canyon as the Arizona Trail heads south and west through the Coconino National Forest. (AZT Passage 31, Walnut Canyon)
Evening light illuminates the gambel oaks, ponderosa and juniper found on lower and south-facing portions of the rim of Walnut Canyon as the Arizona Trail heads south and west through the Coconino National Forest. (AZT Passage 31, Walnut Canyon)
Evening light illuminates the gambel oaks on the rim of Walnut Canyon as the Arizona Trail heads south and west through the Coconino National Forest. (AZT Passage 31, Walnut Canyon)
Evening light illuminates the gambel oaks on the rim of Walnut Canyon as the Arizona Trail heads south and west through the Coconino National Forest. (AZT Passage 31, Walnut Canyon)
Evening light illuminates the gambel oaks on the rim of Walnut Canyon as the Arizona Trail heads south and west through the Coconino National Forest. (AZT Passage 31, Walnut Canyon)
Evening light illuminates the gambel oaks on the rim of Walnut Canyon as the Arizona Trail heads south and west through the Coconino National Forest. (AZT Passage 31, Walnut Canyon)

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 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 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, Part 2 (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.

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.

On the east side of Schultz Pass, the trail skirts Little Elden Mountain and I notice while I’m hiking that the the trail passes a small foundation, unmarked like the earlier one in Schultz Pass. This one is more circular, and looks something like the foundation visible at Moqui Stage Station back on the Coconino Rim passage. Perhaps a remnant of another stage station, or John Elden’s (the mountain’s namesake) homestead?

Views of Elden Mountain open up as the trail turns south around Little Elden. Geologically speaking, Elden is a silicic volcanic feature, part of the San Francisco Volcanic Field, a lava dome formed from several vents. It’s one of the largest features in the area aside from the San Francisco Peaks stratovolcano, along with the Dry Lake Hills that I passed through on Passage 33, as well as the Hochderffer and White Horse Hills and O’Leary Peak. It’s likely they are all subsidiary features of the Peaks (itself a remnant of San Francisco Mountain).

There was some great foliage and views of the eastern San Francisco Volcanic Field on this stretch, so I’ll let those speak for themselves here and pick up with the remainder of the day tomorrow.

(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!)

Gambel oaks and ponderosa pines along the Arizona Trail, Passage 32 (Elden Mountain)
Gambel oaks and ponderosa pines along the Arizona Trail, Passage 32 (Elden Mountain)
Gambel oaks and ponderosa pines among rock outcrops along the Arizona Trail, Passage 32 (Elden Mountain)
Little Elden Mountain from the Arizona Trail (Passage 32, Elden Mountain)
Gambel oaks and ponderosa along the Arizona Trail (Passage 32, Elden Mountain)
Little Elden Mountain from the Arizona Trail (Passage 32, Elden Mountain)
Elden Mountain through the ponderosas and oaks along the Arizona Trail, Passage 32 (Elden Mountain)
Little Elden Mountain from the Arizona Trail (Passage 32, Elden Mountain)
Foothills of the San Francisco Peaks, and the southeastern San Francisco Volcanic Field. To the left are the Turkey Hills, Apache Butte, Cinder Mountain, Merrill Crater, O’Neill Crater, and Edge Butte. View from Passage 32 of the Arizona Trail (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)

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.

(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 passes through stands of gambel oak on the Dry Lake Hills below Elden Mountain, Coconino National Forest. (Passage 33, Flagstaff)
Gambel oaks along the Arizona Trail, Dry Lake Hills, Coconino National Forest (Passage 33, Flagstaff)
Gambel oaks and ponderosa pine among rock outcrops on the Arizona Trail in the Dry Lake Hills, Coconino National Forest (Passage 33, Flagstaff)
Gambel oaks and ponderosa pine among rock outcrops on the Arizona Trail in the Dry Lake Hills, Coconino National Forest (Passage 33, Flagstaff)
Elden Mountain rises above gambel oaks and ponderosa pine on the Arizona Trail in the Dry Lake Hills, Coconino National Forest (Passage 33, Flagstaff)
Gambel oaks and ponderosa pine on the Arizona Trail on Elden Mountain, Coconino National Forest (Passage 33, Flagstaff)
Gambel oaks and ponderosa pine on the Arizona Trail on Elden Mountain, Coconino National Forest (Passage 33, Flagstaff)
Gambel oaks and ponderosa pine on the Arizona Trail on Elden Mountain, Coconino National Forest (Passage 33, Flagstaff)
Gambel oaks and ponderosa pine on the Arizona Trail on Elden Mountain, Coconino National Forest (Passage 33, Flagstaff)
Gambel oaks and ponderosa pine on the Arizona Trail on Elden Mountain, Coconino National Forest (Passage 33, Flagstaff)
Elden Mountain from 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.
Dry Lake Hills and San Francisco Peaks from the Arizona Trail in Buffalo Park, Flagstaff (Passage 33, Flagstaff).
San Francisco Peaks and Dry Lake Hills (left); Elden Mountain (right) as viewed from the Arizona Trail in Buffalo Park, Flagstaff (Passage 33, Flagstaff)
Dry Lake Hills and San Francisco Peaks from the Arizona Trail on Switzer Mesa, Flagstaff (Passage 33, Flagstaff).
San Francisco Peaks and Dry Lake Hills (left); Elden Mountain (right) as viewed from the Arizona Trail on Switzer Mesa, Flagstaff (Passage 33, Flagstaff)
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 (Passage 33, Flagstaff)
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 (Passage 33, Flagstaff)

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

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

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 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 in the Dry Lake Hills, Coconino National Forest. Arizona Trail, Passage 33 (Flagstaff).
Gambel oaks and ponderosa in the Dry Lake Hills, Coconino National Forest. Arizona Trail, Passage 33 (Flagstaff).
Gambel oaks and ponderosa in the Dry Lake Hills, Coconino National Forest. Arizona Trail, Passage 33 (Flagstaff).
Gambel oaks and ponderosa in the Dry Lake Hills, Coconino National Forest. Arizona Trail, Passage 33 (Flagstaff).
Flagstaff with a fire burning on the horizon, viewed from the Dry Lake Hills on the Arizona Trail in Coconino National Forest (Passage 33, Flagstaff)
Burn piles stacked to dry for use in prescribed burns in the future. One of the largest I’ve ever seen! Arizona Trail, Coconino National Forest (Passage 33, Flagstaff).
The Arizona Trail through gambel oaks in the Dry Lake Hills, Coconino National Forest (Passage 33, Flagstaff)
Gambel oaks in the Dry Lake Hills, Coconino National Forest. Arizona Trail, Passage 33 (Flagstaff).
Gambel oaks in the Dry Lake Hills, Coconino National Forest. Arizona Trail, Passage 33 (Flagstaff).
The Arizona Trail passes through gambel oaks and ponderosa in the Dry Lake Hills, Coconino National Forest. Passage 33 (Flagstaff).
Gambel oaks and ponderosa in the Dry Lake Hills, Coconino National Forest. Arizona Trail, Passage 33 (Flagstaff).
Gambel oaks and ponderosa in the Dry Lake Hills, Coconino National Forest. Arizona Trail, Passage 33 (Flagstaff).
Gambel oaks and ponderosa in the Dry Lake Hills, Coconino National Forest. Arizona Trail, Passage 33 (Flagstaff).
Gambel oaks and ponderosa in the rocky Dry Lake Hills, Coconino National Forest. Arizona Trail, Passage 33 (Flagstaff).
Elden Mountain from the Dry Lake Hills in Coconino National Forest. Arizona Trail, Passage 33 (Flagstaff).
Gambel oaks and ponderosa in the Dry Lake Hills, Coconino National Forest. Arizona Trail, Passage 33 (Flagstaff).
Juniper, gambel oaks, and ponderosa on the Dry Lake Hills in Coconino National Forest (Passage 33, Flagstaff). Elden Mountain above, mule deer grazing below.
Mule deer graze on the Dry Lake Hills beneath Elden Mountain. Arizona Trail, Coconino National Forest (Passage 33, Flagstaff).

Arizona Trail, Day 22: Flagstaff, Part 1 (Trans-Arizona/Utah Hike Day 28)

Today takes me down the entirety of Passage 33 into Flagstaff. I leave my camp here and head into town in order to resupply and visit a friend, then I plan to continue on the main Arizona Trail route around Flagstaff to east, possibly using the town as a base so I don’t have to carry as much weight as I do so, until I reach the south side of the town and continue south toward Mormon Lake.

The day starts among the towering ponderosas of the lower slopes of the San Francisco Peaks, around 7500 ft in elevation. I know I’ve said this before, by I do love ponderosas – they have an incredible vanilla/butterscotch aroma, a great way to start a visit to any park or forest that have them, After a short distance, the trail splits. The main Arizona Trail – my route for the future day – heads left towards Schultz Pass between the Peaks and Dry Lake Hills. I take the trail to the right, which quickly drops past more gambel oaks in peak foliage, along with some more aspens as well. The trail crosses the road and turns to the southwest along a creekbed running through the pass. There’s a low foundation made of concrete visible along the trail after a moderate distance. No marker for what it was, but there is a sign regarding the Antiquities Act nearby, encouraging visitors to protect their American heritage by not disturbing archeological sites nearby. Perhaps the foundation is one of those? It would be nice to have some kind of interpretive sign here regarding the significance of the site, and why the foundation has obviously been left as a reminder of whatever used to be here.

Heading out through the ponderosa forest of the San Francisco Peaks, Arizona Trail (Passage 34, San Francisco Peaks)
Aspens along the Arizona Trail in Schultz Pass (Passage 32, Flagstaff)
The Arizona Trail, Schultz Pass in Coconino National Forest (Passage 32, Flagstaff)
The Arizona Trail, Schultz Pass in Coconino National Forest (Passage 32, Flagstaff)
The Arizona Trail, Schultz Pass in Coconino National Forest (Passage 32, Flagstaff)
The Arizona Trail, Schultz Pass in Coconino National Forest (Passage 32, Flagstaff)
The Arizona Trail, Schultz Pass in Coconino National Forest (Passage 32, Flagstaff)
The Arizona Trail, Schultz Pass in Coconino National Forest (Passage 32, Flagstaff)
The Arizona Trail, Schultz Pass in Coconino National Forest (Passage 32, Flagstaff)
The Arizona Trail, Schultz Pass in Coconino National Forest (Passage 32, Flagstaff)
The Arizona Trail, Schultz Pass in Coconino National Forest (Passage 32, Flagstaff)
The Arizona Trail, Schultz Pass in Coconino National Forest (Passage 32, Flagstaff)
The Arizona Trail, Schultz Pass in Coconino National Forest (Passage 32, Flagstaff)
The Arizona Trail, Schultz Pass in Coconino National Forest (Passage 32, Flagstaff)
The Arizona Trail, Schultz Pass in Coconino National Forest (Passage 32, Flagstaff)
The Arizona Trail, Schultz Pass in Coconino National Forest (Passage 32, Flagstaff)
Antiquities Act resources along the Arizona Trail, Schultz Pass in Coconino National Forest (Passage 32, Flagstaff)

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

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

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

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

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

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

Advertisements

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.

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.

Fossil Creek 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.

Advertisements
Advertisements

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.

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.

Advertisements
Advertisements

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.

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.

Advertisements
Advertisements

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,

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!

Advertisements
Advertisements

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.

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.

Advertisements
Advertisements

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.

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.

Advertisements
Advertisements
Advertisements
Advertisements
Advertisements
Advertisements
Advertisements
Advertisements
Advertisements
Advertisements
Advertisements
Advertisements
Advertisements
Advertisements
Advertisements
Advertisements
Advertisements
Advertisements
Advertisements
Advertisements
Advertisements
Advertisements
Advertisements
Advertisements