Arizona Trail, Day 20: Passage 34, San Francisco Peaks (Trans-Arizona/Utah Hike Day 26)

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

Slow start. I overslept by 15 minutes past sunrise, but the views atop Missouri Bill are fantastic – all the way to the North Rim, the Navajo and Hopi Nations, and the San Francisco Peaks. Small alpine plants are blooming, too.

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North panorama atop Missouri Bill Hill in the Coconino National Forest. View over the Navajo Nation, Hopi Mesas, and the San Francisco Volcanic Field. Center distance is the North Rim of Grand Canyon.
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Wildflowers atop Missouri Bill Hill in the San Francisco Volcanic Field.
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Wildflowers atop Missouri Bill Hill in the San Francisco Field along the Arizona Trail
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West panorama from atop Missouri Bill Hill along the Arizona Trail in the Coconino National Forest, including the San Francisco Peaks and Volcanic Field.
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Cinder cones of the San Francisco Volcanic Field from atop Missouri Bill Hill in the Coconino National Forest
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Cholla cactus on Missouri Bill Hill in the Coconino National Forest

For those who didn’t see my last post, another note about the San Francisco Peaks. They are the highest peaks in Arizona today, including Humphreys at 12633 and Agassiz at 12360 ft. They 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.

I head back down and south along the AZT, encountering a European couple heading nobo, fnishing what they started in the spring (apparently they bailed when they ran into a blizzard in Flagstaff in April), and yet another friendly camper. The ecosystems change again, from pinyon-juniper to sparse ponderosa. These also seem affected by dwarf mistletoe, and it’s obvious a prescribed burn or wildfire has come through.

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The Arizona Trail approaches the San Francisco Peaks, lit up by aspens in fall foliage on their slopes. The center of this view of the Peaks is the area that was blown out by its last eruption. Humphreys Peak on the right, 12633 ft, is the highest in Arizona. Coconino National Forest, Arizona.
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The Arizona Trail crosses back from pinyon-juniper into ponderosa forest in the Coconino National Forest
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The Arizona Trail crosses back from pinyon-juniper into ponderosa forest in the Coconino National Forest
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The Arizona Trail heads through ponderosa pines toward the San Francisco Peaks in the Coconino National Forest
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Ponderosa pines amid golden rice grass along the Arizona Trail in the Coconino National Forest

A gorgeous view of the peaks with aspen on their middle flanks appears, an irressistible photo op. After a brief retracing of steps for my camp light, it is on to Kelly Tank, encountering a strung-out group of hikers from Maine, South Carolina, and Washington. We talk and fill up on water, me providing recommendations for Grand Canyon & Flagstaff.

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Rice grass meadows among the ponderosa pines and mighty San Francisco Peaks lit by aspens. Humphreys Peak, right, is the highest in Arizona at 12633 ft. Arizona Trail, Coconino National Forest.
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Rice grass meadows among the ponderosa pines and mighty San Francisco Peaks lit by aspens. Humphreys Peak (12633) is on the right, highest in Arizona. Arizona Trail, Coconino National Forest.

Then it is on through the glowing light beams through the ponderosa, on to camp among the aspens at around 8300 ft, and the discovery of the largest, most painless blister I’ve ever had. Unsurprisingly, right around a spot I’ve been trying to treat for possible fungal infection. Maybe a connection there? Also, everything around – grasses, ferns – totally browned out from the dry summer.

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Another skeleton, showing the harsh reality of the area despite its beauty on fall evenings.
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Sunset light ignites the tip of ponderosas on the lower slopes of the San Francisco Peaks.
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Cinder cones of the San Francisco Volcanic Field aglow in evening light. Arizona Trail, Coconino National Forest
Passage 34 – San Francisco Peaks
Trail SurfaceMixed – Dirt Road, Singletrack
Length
SeasonSpring-Fall
Potential Water SourcesKelly Tank & supply box
TrailheadsNone
ATA Rated DifficultyModerate
Logistical Information for distance hiked today
Passage 34 – San Francisco Peaks
Trail SurfaceMixed – Dirt Road & Singletrack
Length35.3 miles
SeasonSpring-Fall
Potential Water SourcesCedar Ranch
East Cedar Tank
Kelly Tank & supply box
Alfa Fia Tank
Schultz Tank
TrailheadsCedar Ranch
Arizona Snowbowl
Schultz Pass
ATA Rated DifficultyModerate
Logistical Information, full passage length

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Backpacking the Amazing Arizona Trail – Pine Mountain (Passage 21), FR 422 to Pigeon Spring Trailhead

Backpacking the Arizona Trail’s Saddle Mountain Passage from near Saddle Mountain to Sycamore Creek at the start of the Pine Mountain passage. More magnificent Arizona mountain views of the central Mazatzal peaks and ridgelines, and a gorgeous Arizona sunset.

Logistics, trail journal, and magnificent mountain scenery.

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Backpacking the Amazing Arizona Trail: North Kaibab Trail, Roaring Springs to Ribbon Falls (Day 8 – Passage 38, Grand Canyon Inner Canyon)

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

Continuing to hike down the North Kaibab Trail at Grand Canyon National Park from Roaring Springs, one descends through Bright Angel Canyon, passing the Manzanita Resthouse and Cottonwood Campground while crossing and recrossing Bright Angel Creek. The trail flattens out around Cottonwood, halfway from the North Rim to the Colorado River and Bright Angel Campground. The bridge to Ribbon Falls is out, but I’m able to ford the creek – something that was not possible the last time that I hiked this trail, during the spring runoff. I’m able to identify a trail that leads to the falls and make it over to see them briefly before making it back to the main trail and continuing toward the River.

Continue reading “Backpacking the Amazing Arizona Trail: North Kaibab Trail, Roaring Springs to Ribbon Falls (Day 8 – Passage 38, Grand Canyon Inner Canyon)”

Continuing to hike down the North Kaibab Trail at Grand Canyon National Park from Roaring Springs, one descends through Bright Angel Canyon, passing the Manzanita Resthouse and Cottonwood Campground while crossing and recrossing Bright Angel Creek. The trail flattens out around Cottonwood, halfway from the North Rim to the Colorado River and Bright Angel Campground. The bridge to Ribbon Falls is out, but I’m able to ford the creek – something that was not possible the last time that I hiked this trail, during the spring runoff. I’m able to identify a trail that leads to the falls and make it over to see them briefly before making it back to the main trail and continuing toward the River.

Continue reading “Backpacking the Amazing Arizona Trail: North Kaibab Trail, Roaring Springs to Ribbon Falls (Day 8 – Passage 38, Grand Canyon Inner Canyon)”

Backpacking 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
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
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.

Backpacking 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
Arizona Trail, Passage 38 (Grand Canyon Inner Canyon)
Grand Canyon National Park
Hiking 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
Arizona Trail Passage 38 (Grand Canyon Inner Canyon)
Grand Canyon National Park
North Rim layering above, seen backpacking the North Kaibab Trail. Kaibab Formation at top, sloping Toroweap, Coconino Cliffs, and sloping Hermit Shale lead down to the Supai Group
Arizona Trail, Passage 38 (Grand Canyon, Inner Canyon)
Grand Canyon National Park
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Hiking view through the Supai Tunnel on the North Kaibab Trail
Arizona Trail Passage 38 (Grand Canyon Inner Canyon)
Grand Canyon National Park
Backpacking view down Roaring Springs Canyon from the Supai Tunnel on the North Kaibab Trail. Redwall Bridge visible in shade, lower right of image.
Arizona Trail, Passage 38 (Grand Canyon, Inner Canyon)
Grand Canyon National Park
Hiking view down Roaring Springs Canyon from the Supai Tunnel on the North Kaibab Trail. Redwall Bridge visible in shade, lower right of image.
Arizona Trail, Passage 38 (Grand Canyon, Inner Canyon)
Grand Canyon National Park
Backpacking view down Roaring Springs Canyon from the Supai Tunnel on the North Kaibab Trail. Redwall Bridge visible in shade, lower right of image.
Arizona Trail, Passage 38 (Grand Canyon, Inner Canyon)
Grand Canyon National Park

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, backpacking the North Kaibab Trail descending into Roaring Springs Canyon
Arizona Trail, Passage 38 (Grand Canyon, Inner Canyon)
Grand Canyon National Park
Hiking view down Roaring Springs Canyon from north side of Redwall Bridge.
Arizona Trail, Passage 38 (Grand Canyon, Inner Canyon)
Grand Canyon National Park
Backpacking view down Roaring Springs Canyon from Redwall Bridge
Arizona Trail, Passage 38 (Grand Canyon, Inner Canyon)
Grand Canyon National Park
Upcanyon view of Roaring Springs Canyon, Redwall Bridge in lower center. NK Trailhead is located in pine forest on upper left.
Arizona Trail, Passage 38 (Grand Canyon, Inner Canyon)
Grand Canyon National Park
North Rim seen hiking the North Kaibab Trail in Roaring Springs Canyon
Arizona Trail, Passage 38 (Grand Canyon, Inner Canyon)
Grand Canyon National Park
View down & across Roaring Springs Canyon from backpacking on the North Kaibab Trail. Uncle Jim Point at upper left. Rim in distance is in Bright Angel Canyon.
Arizona Trail, Passage 38 (Grand Canyon, Inner Canyon)
Grand Canyon National Park
Hiking the North Kaibab Trail in Roaring Springs Canyon. 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.
Arizona Trail, Passage 38 (Grand Canyon, Inner Canyon)
Grand Canyon National Park
Upcanyon backpacking view of Roaring Springs Canyon. Redwall Bridge in lower center. NK Trailhead is located in pine forest on upper left.
Arizona Trail, Passage 38 (Grand Canyon, Inner Canyon)
Grand Canyon National Park
Roaring Springs, viewed from hiking the North Kaibab Trail.
Arizona Trail, Passage 38 (Grand Canyon, Inner Canyon)
Grand Canyon National Park
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Backpacking the Arizona Trail, Day 51: Mazatzal Divide (Passage 23), Part II

Disruptive event today, an F-16 that flew over while I was packing. It flew extremely low and around a mountain – possibly North Peak – and made me think very seriously about why that would be allowed over a designated wilderness area. Still, I manage to knock out a few miles to Chilson Spring before dark, with spectacular views of Deadman’s Canyon, the Verde Valley, and the western Mazatzal foothills along the way. The mountains are jagged and rugged and the trail traces steep slopes nearly the whole way across precipitous terrain.

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Backpacking the Arizona Trail, Day 50, Part II: Mazatzal Divide (Passage 23)

It’s here. The Mazatzal Divide represents the heart of the longest stretch of the Arizona Trail within a designated wilderness area. To that end, a reminder on the meaning of wilderness. Under the Wilderness Act of 1964, wilderness is “an area where man is but a visitor and does not remain.” Consequently, motorized access as … Continue reading Backpacking the Arizona Trail, Day 50, Part II: Mazatzal Divide (Passage 23)

Backpacking the Arizona Trail, Day 50: Red Hills, Part II/II

Second day hiking through the Red Hills toward the Mazatzal Mountains. Earning their name through the red rock colors, the Hills also provide hikers with wildflowers and diverse vegetation, in addition to showing the scars of recent wildfires and spectacular views of the range north toward the Mogollon Rim.

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Backpacking the Arizona Trail, Day 49: Whiterock Mesa, Part III

Departing Polk Spring, the trail continues to provide magnificent views of the northern Mazatzal Mountains and the neighboring Red Hills as it descends to the East Verde River. The trail will pass through both mountain ranges – first the Red Hills, then the Mazatzals. The origin of the name “Mazatzal” is unclear, though one possible meaning is a Nahuatl term meaning “place of the deer.” The Mazatzal Wilderness, which the trail will remain within now until just shy of Strawberry in the central Mazatzals, is about 390 square miles in size. It was one of the original Wilderness Areas designated upon the passage of the Wilderness Act in 1964.

Backpacking the Arizona Trail – FR 194 to Pine Spring (Passage 45, Whiterock Mesa)

I got started around 10, heading down Passage 25 toward the East Verde River.
I hike through a gate and enter the Mazatzal Wilderness. Following cairns, the surface alternates between the basalt and more dirt – like walking through a wash. As the trail skirts the rim briefly, a magnificent view of the Mazatzal Mountains and Red Hills opens up to the hiker, then the trail experiences yet another spectacular sunset as it and the backpacker fall off the Mesa to Polk Spring near the East Verde River.

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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Backpacking the Arizona Trail – Pine Ridge to FR 194 (Passage 26, Whiterock 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.

Backpacking the Arizona Trail – Pine to Pine Ridge (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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Backpacking the Arizona Trail, Day 41, Part II – Highline Trail (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.

Backpacking the Arizona Trail, Day 40-41 – Highline Trail (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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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.

Backpacking the Amazing Arizona Trail: Passage 39, Grand Canyon National Park North Rim, Part II (Day 7, Part III)

Day 14 hiking across Utah and Arizona, from Lee’s Ferry to the Mexico border. Hiking across Lindbergh Hill, the Arizona Trail rolls southward through the aspens to AZ-67, then crosses and joins a road following an old power corridor south toward the North Rim through a mix of aspens and pines to reach the Widforss Trailhead.

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Arizona Trail looking toward Lindbergh Hill, Grand Canyon National Park
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Arizona Trail on Lindbergh Hill AZT Passage 39 (Grand Canyon North Rim)
Grand Canyon National Park
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Backpacking the Arizona Trail, east side of AZ-67 crossing
AZT Passage 39 (Grand Canyon North Rim)
Grand Canyon National Park
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Hiking the Arizona Trail, east side of AZ-67 crossing
AZT Passage 39 (Grand Canyon North Rim)
Grand Canyon National Park

The Arizona Trail almost directly parallels AZ-67, rolling through the hills beside. It crosses the road and follows an old utility corridor down the west side past Thompson Canyon to the Widforss Trailhead past more magnificent aspen foliage. At Widforss, a strange situation arises.

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Backpacking the Arizona Trail, east side of AZ-67 crossing
AZT Passage 39 (Grand Canyon North Rim)
Grand Canyon National Park
Hiking the Arizona Trail, west side of AZ-67 crossing
AZT Passage 39 (Grand Canyon North Rim)
Grand Canyon National Park
Backpacking the Arizona Trail south of AZ-67 crossing
AZT Passage 39 (Grand Canyon North Rim)
Grand Canyon National Park
Hiking the Arizona Trail south of AZ-67 crossing
AZT Passage 39 (Grand Canyon North Rim)
Grand Canyon National Park
Backpacking the Arizona Trail south of AZ-67 crossing
AZT Passage 39 (Grand Canyon North Rim)
Grand Canyon National Park
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Hiking the Arizona Trail south of AZ-67 crossing
AZT Passage 39 (Grand Canyon North Rim)
Grand Canyon National Park
Backpacking the Arizona Trail south of AZ-67 crossing
AZT Passage 39 (Grand Canyon North Rim)
Grand Canyon National Park
Hiking the Arizona Trail south of AZ-67 crossing, Grand Canyon National Park
AZT Passage 39 (Grand Canyon North Rim)
Grand Canyon National Park
Hiking the Arizona Trail south of AZ-67 crossing
AZT Passage 39 (Grand Canyon North Rim)
Grand Canyon National Park
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Backpacking the Arizona Trail south of AZ-67 crossing
AZT Passage 39 (Grand Canyon North Rim)
Grand Canyon National Park
Squirrel in conifer tree, possibly a Kaibab squirrel. Hard to see from this angle whether it has tufted ears or not.
AZT Passage 39 (Grand Canyon North Rim)
Grand Canyon National Park
Hiking the Arizona Trail south of AZ-67 crossing
AZT Passage 39 (Grand Canyon North Rim)
Grand Canyon National Park
Backpacking the the Arizona Trail south of AZ-67 crossing
AZT Passage 39 (Grand Canyon North Rim)
Grand Canyon National Park
Hiking the Arizona Trail south of AZ-67 crossing
AZT Passage 39 (Grand Canyon North Rim)
Grand Canyon National Park
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Backpacking the the Arizona Trail south of AZ-67 crossing
AZT Passage 39 (Grand Canyon North Rim)
Grand Canyon National Park
Hiking the Arizona Trail south of AZ-67 crossing
AZT Passage 39 (Grand Canyon North Rim)
Grand Canyon National Park
Backpacking the the Arizona Trail south of AZ-67 crossing
AZT Passage 39 (Grand Canyon North Rim)
Grand Canyon National Park

When I reach the trailhead, I notice that the Widforss Trail is blocked off, which is strange since we had been informed that area was still open and accessible despite the Ikes Fire to the west. An LE ranger approaches me and asks if I’m a thruhiker, and I say yes, that I came from just outside the park. He asks if I saw anything unusual on the trail, and signs of a fire or anything. Apparently someone on the Widforss trail somehow managed to set their tent on fire. How that happened, I can only imagine, but apparently they managed to do it. I mention that I worked on the South Rim and we talk for a while before I press on to the campground, where I encounter Eric and the two thruhikers, Roger and his friend, who I met at the North Rim Country Store yesterday. We talk for a while and then head to the lodge to get something to eat. I’m interested in eating at the restaurant, but it’s going to be a bit of a wait, so I grab some pizza and a beer with them and sit out on the fantastic patio area the lodge has overlooking the canyon.

Hiking past aspens in Harvey Meadow
AZT Passage 39 (Grand Canyon North Rim)
Grand Canyon National Park
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Backpacking the Arizona Trail north of the North Kaibab Trailhead
AZT Passage 39 (Grand Canyon North Rim)
Grand Canyon National Park
Grand Canyon at sunset, south view from Transept Trail toward San Francisco Peaks from Grand Canyon Lodge
Grand Canyon National Park
Moon over Grand Canyon at sunset, south view toward San Francisco Peaks from Grand Canyon Lodge
Grand Canyon National Park
Grand Canyon at sunset, south view toward San Francisco Peaks from Grand Canyon Lodge
Grand Canyon National Park

I should say, the North Rim Lodge (or Grand Canyon Lodge, as it is officially known), is my favorite lodge so far in the park system. It blends seamlessly with the natural beauty around it, having been constructed of native stone. It has some of the best food I’ve had at any lodge – superior to that on the South Rim for sure. And it is perched directly on the rim of the canyon, so you can just sit on the patio, grab a drink and soak in the view – which stretches farther than the South Rim vista due to the higher elevation of the Kaibab and the North Rim.

And sitting out there with a couple other thruhikers, talking about our plans for the next day, how we are going to get across the canyon, permits and logistics, and plans for the days beyond, as the sun set over the canyon, is just incredible.

Ultimately, I do get a spot at the restaurant as well. The hostess recognizes my name. Apparently she has been told about me through a mutual friend on the South Rim. She’s also a seasonal ranger; her season just ended at Glen Canyon. She gives me her boyfriend as my waiter, and we talk about hiking, the Arizona Trail, and other long distance trails (I’m already considering the Long Trail) throughout dinner. Shortly thereafter, I experience my second bit of “trail magic” – he shows up at the end of the meal and tells me not to worry about the bill, “I took care of it.” Guess he appreciated me and the conversation I provided. Back to sleep before trying to get a permit for Bright Angel tomorrow to cross the canyon.

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Backpacking the Arizona Trail – Highline Trail, Part II (Passage 27, Highline)

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!

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Backpacking the Arizona Trail – Clear Creek to Mogollon Rim (Passage 28, Blue Ridge)

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.

Backpacking the Arizona Trail, Day 38 – Blue Ridge Ranger Station to Mogollon Rim (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 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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Backpacking the Arizona Trail – Mormon Lake to Shuff Tank (Day 34; Passages 29 & 28, Mormon Lake & Happy Jack)

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 31 – Anderson Mesa to Double Springs (Passages 30, Anderson Mesa & 29, 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.

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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Backpacking the Arizona Trail, Day 29 – Flagstaff to Anderson Mesa (Passages 31 & 33, Flagstaff & Walnut Canyon)

Welcome back to Aspen’s Tracks, thruhiking the Arizona Trail from Utah to Mexico. After doing a full resupply yesterday to get me through to Pine, where my next box has been shipped, and replacing some gear, including a new pair of boots and new sleeping pad, today started with breakfast with Oscar at Tourist Home, … Continue reading Backpacking the Arizona Trail, Day 29 – Flagstaff to Anderson Mesa (Passages 31 & 33, Flagstaff & Walnut Canyon)

Passage 39 (Grand Canyon North Rim)
Trail SurfaceDirt trail
Length (Mi)24.3
SeasonSpring-fall. No vehicular access to this section December through mid-May. Feet of snow in winter.
Potential Water SourcesCrane Lake (mi 46.5 SOBO, 742.2 NOBO)
Little Pleasant Valley Tank (mi 48.8 SOBO, 739.9 NOBO)
Wildlife Drinker (mi 56.5 SOBO, 732.2 NOBO)
Dog Lake (mi 56.6 SOBO, 732.1 NOBO)
North Canyon Spring (mi 58.9 SOBO, 729.8 NOBO)
Crystal Spring (mi 59.5 SOBO, 729.2 NOBO)
Sourdough Well (mi 62.1 SOBO, 726.6 NOBO)
Upper North Canyon Creek (mi 63.9 SOBO, 724.9 NOBO)
TrailheadsNorth: Grand Canyon National Park boundary
South: Grand Canyon North Rim
Trailhead AccessNorth: Foot access only
South: Vehicular access May 15-November 30 (services close October 15)
WildernessNo
Possible resupply pointsNorth Rim village, including Grand Canyon Lodge and General Store
ATA-Rated DifficultyEasy
Potential campsites (mileages S to N)Campsites within Grand Canyon National Park require permits. Dispersed backcountry camping is allowed November 1-May 14 and requires a permit & Leave No Trace principles. Camping is otherwise restricted to the North Rim Campground and designated backcountry sites (there are no such sites directly on the trail). When the Campground is open, first come first serve hiker/biker sites are available for $15.

Note: As of August 2020 the North Rim Campground is closed and no new backpacking permits are being issued at this time. This includes backcountry sites on both the rim and Inner Canyon sites.
Ecosystems TraversedGreat Basin Subalpine Conifer Forest
Logistics for AZT Passage 39. Sources: Personal experience, Guthook Guides, AZT Guide to the trail
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Great Basin Subalpine Conifer Forest
Common Trees/Shrubs* Corkbark fir
* Gambel oak
* Quaking aspen
* White fir
* Blue spruce
* Engelmann spruce
* Buckwheats
* Currants
* Dwarf juniper
* Elderberry
* Fendler’s ceanothus
* Greenleaf Manzanita
* New Mexican locust
* Perry’s rabbitbrush
* Raspberry
* smooth sumac
* Snowberry
Common herbaceous plants* Bracken Fern
* Buckwheats
* Cinquefoils
* Columbines
* Fleabane daisies
* Geraniums
* goldeneye
* Goldenrods
* Groundsels
* Hairy golden aster
* Indian paintbrush
* Lotus
* Lupines
* Meadow-rue
* Parry’s bellflower
* Peavine
* Penstemons
* Puccoon
* Pussytoes
* Thistles
* Western & white prairie asters
* Wild strawberry
* Wormwood
* Yarrow
* Yellow hawkweed
Common succulentsPrickly pear, occasionally
Aquatic* Bulrush
* Buttercups
* Rushes
* Sedges
* Water plantains
Passage 39 Ecology (source: Arizona Trail Association AZT Guide). Only California and Texas are more diverse ecologically than Arizona.
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Backpacking the Amazing Arizona Trail: Grand Canyon National Park Boundary to Lindbergh Hill (Passage 39, Grand Canyon North Rim)

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

Day 7 on the AZT, and day 14 since departing Lee’s Ferry and crossing through Utah to get to this point.

The North Rim lookout is located near the highest point on the entire Arizona Trail. A historical geographic marker still bearing the Forest Service name (the tower was moved to its current location inside the park in the 1930s) is beside the tower, along with a historic lookout register sign. This particular tower is also notable for a particularly famous lookout – Edward Abbey once staffed it for four years from the late 60s into the 70s. The historic guide to using the “FireFinder” system is still present in the room at the top of the lookout.

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North Rim Lookout geographic marker
Grand Canyon National Park
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FireFinder instruction guide, originally from Six Rivers National Forest
North Rim lookout tower
Grand Canyon National Park
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Osbourne FireFinder system
North Rim Lookout Tower
Grand Canyon National Park

Climbing to the top of the lookout, one can see the Ikes Fire actively burning to the west. Through the haze, the shadow of Mt Trumbull and other peaks in Grand Canyon-Parashant National Monument can be seen.

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West view from North Rim Lookout Tower
Grand Canyon National Park, Arizona

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.

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San Francisco Volcanic Field from the North Rim Lookout Tower. From left to right, O’Leary Peak, the San Francisco Peaks (Humphreys Peak highest), Kendrick Peak, and Red Mountain in Coconino National Forest
Grand Canyon National Park, Arizona
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East-South view from North Rim Lookout Tower
Grand Canyon National Park, Arizona
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Aspen meadow below the North Rim Lookout Tower
Grand Canyon National Park
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South/Southwest view from North Rim Lookout Tower
Grand Canyon National Park, Arizona

The trail descends down the old road that led to the fire lookout until it reaches AZ-67 at the North Rim Entrance Station.

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Aspens seen backpacking along Lookout Road east of the North Rim Entrance Station
Arizona Trail Passage 39, Grand Canyon North Rim
Grand Canyon National Park

I check in with the ranger there, who asks if I need anything, but I’m good for now. There was water available for hikers near the station. After some slight confusion about the route leaving that area, I pick up the trail again (purist that I am, after retracing some steps, admittedly) and follow it south.

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Aspens, hiking on Arizona Trail north of Lindbergh Hill
AZT Passage 39, Grand Canyon National Park
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Aspen tunnels, backpacking on the Arizona Trail north of Lindbergh Hill
Grand Canyon North Rim (AZT Passage 39)
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Arizona Trail, hiking north of Lindbergh Hill
AZT Passage 39, Grand Canyon National Park
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Arizona Trail, backpacking view north of Lindbergh Hill
AZT Passage 39, Grand Canyon National Park
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Arizona Trail, hiking view north of Lindbergh Hill
AZT Passage 39, Grand Canyon National Park
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Aspens on the Arizona Trail, backpacking view north of Lindbergh Hill
AZT Passage 39, Grand Canyon National Park
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Arizona Trail, hiking view north of Lindbergh Hill
Arizona Trail Passage 39, Grand Canyon National Park
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Arizona Trail, backpacking view north of Lindbergh Hill
AZT Passage 39, Grand Canyon North Rim

Grand Canyon National Park
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Hiking the Arizona Trail north of Lindbergh Hill
AZT Passage 39, Grand Canyon
North Rim
Grand Canyon National Park
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Backpacking the Arizona Trail north of Lindbergh Hill
AZT Passage 39, Grand Canyon North Rim

Grand Canyon National Park
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Hiking the Arizona Trail north of Lindbergh Hill
AZT Passage 39, Grand Canyon
North Rim
Grand Canyon National Park
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Backpacking the Arizona Trail north of Lindbergh Hill
AZT Passage 39, Grand Canyon North Rim

Grand Canyon National Park
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Hiking the Arizona Trail north of Lindbergh Hill
AZT Passage 39, Grand Canyon North Rim

Grand Canyon National Park
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Backpacking the Arizona Trail north of Lindbergh Hill
AZT Passage 39, Grand Canyon North Rim

Grand Canyon National Park
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Hiking the Arizona Trail north of Lindbergh Hill
AZT Passage 39, Grand Canyon North Rim

Grand Canyon National Park
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Backpacking the Arizona Trail north of Lindbergh Hill
AZT Passage 39, Grand Canyon North Rim
Grand Canyon National Park
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Hiking the Arizona Trail north of Lindbergh Hill
AZT Passage 39, Grand Canyon North Rim
Grand Canyon National Park
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Backpacking the Arizona Trail north of Lindbergh Hill
AZT Passage 39, Grand Canyon North Rim
Grand Canyon National Park
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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.

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.

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Arizona Trail, Day 26: Walnut Canyon National Monument, Part 4

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.

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.

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

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.

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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)

Backpacking the Arizona Trail: Schultz Pass (Passage 32, Elden Mountain)

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.

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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.

Backpacking the Amazing Arizona Trail: Dry Lake Hills to Flagstaff (Passage 33, Flagstaff)

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.

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.

Passage 39 (Grand Canyon North Rim)
Trail SurfaceDirt singletrack
Length (Mi)12
SeasonSpring-fall. No vehicular access to this section December-mid May. Feet of snow in winter.
Potential Water SourcesNorth Rim entrance station (66.5 SOBO, 722.2 NOBO)
TrailheadsNorth: Grand Canyon National Park boundary
South: North Kaibab Trailhead, Grand Canyon North Rim
Trailhead AccessNorth: Dirt forest roads in vicinity
South: Vehicular access (paved road, developed trailhead)
WildernessNo, but it can feel like it, especially the northern half.
Possible resupply pointsGrand Canyon North Rim village
ATA-Rated DifficultyEasy to moderate
Potential campsites (mileages S to N)Unless road is closed, camping only permitted in designated spots within park. Hiker-biker sites are available at the North Rim Campground for reduced rates.
Ecosystems TraversedGreat Basin Subalpine Conifer Forest
Permits Required?Yes for camping, not for hiking
HighlightsNorth Rim lookout tower
Aspen foliage in fall
Grand Canyon North Rim
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Great Basin Subalpine Conifer Forest/Rocky Mountain Montane Conifer Forest
Common Trees/Shrubs* Corkbark fir
* Gambel oak
* Quaking aspen
* White fir
* Blue spruce
* Engelmann spruce
* Buckwheats
* Currants
* Dwarf juniper
* Elderberry
* Fendler’s ceanothus
* Greenleaf Manzanita
* New Mexican locust
* Perry’s rabbitbrush
* Raspberry
* smooth sumac
* Snowberry
Common herbaceous plants* Bracken Fern
* Buckwheats
* Cinquefoils
* Columbines
* Fleabane daisies
* Geraniums
* goldeneye
* Goldenrods
* Groundsels
* Hairy golden aster
* Indian paintbrush
* Lotus
* Lupines
* Meadow-rue
* Parry’s bellflower
* Peavine
* Penstemons
* Puccoon
* Pussytoes
* Thistles
* Western & white prairie asters
* Wild strawberry
* Wormwood
* Yarrow
* Yellow hawkweed
Common succulentsPrickly pear, occasionally
Aquatic* Bulrush
* Buttercups
* Rushes
* Sedges
* Water plantains
Passage 23 & 22 Ecology (source: Arizona Trail Association AZT Guide & NatureServe). Only California and Texas are more diverse ecologically than Arizona.
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Prologue: The Arizona Trail

I finally bit the bullet on a thruhike. Since I arrived at Grand Canyon National Park in March, I have been considering thruhiking the Arizona Trail across the state.

For those who don’t know, the Arizona Trail is an 800 mile long hiking trail across Arizona. It starts at the Utah state line, skirts Buckskin Mountain, climbs onto and crosses the Kaibab Plateau, crosses the Grand Canyon and Coconino Plateau. It skirts the mighty San Francisco Peaks north of Flagstaff and the town itself, and then runs to the southeast past Mormon Lake to the Mogollon Rim, the southern edge of the Colorado Plateau. Dropping off and running beside the rim to the town of Pine, it passes within miles of the Fossil Creek Wilderness area before crossing several mesas and the East Verde River. It climbs into the rugged Mazatzal Mountains and traverses them to Roosevelt, then crosses the Superstitions and desert canyons to eventually reach the Sky Islands near Tucson. Climbing across Mount Lemmon and Santa Catalinas, it drops to Redington Pass before rising again through the Rincon Mountains in Saguaro National Park. It again enters desert but soon climbs again into the Santa Rita Mountains, passing directly below 9400 ft Mt Wrightson. Crossing the Canelo Hills, it makes a final climb into the Huachuca Mountains and ultimately drops to its southern terminus at the US/Mexico border at Coronado National Memorial.

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“The Arizona Trail”
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The hallmark of the Arizona Trail is diversity. Many long distance trails simply follow mountain ranges and focus on views. The AZT, by contrast, focuses on crossing each of the state’s ecosystems, from deserts to ponderosa forests, Sky Islands to riparian areas.

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Of course, this means that the challenges vary greatly along the trail; depending on the area and recent conditions, terrain, elevation, water availability and access to resupplies may all be challenges.

Aspens along the Arizona Trail, Kaibab National Forest



On September 21st, I set off to conquer this trail, adding 45 miles at the start through Vermilion Cliffs National Monument to access the northern trailhead.

I have chosen it for three reasons: I wanted one that was unique, that relatively few people successfully achieve. The diversity appealed to me, as it is a novel approach to a trail. And I wanted one that would give me the confidence that no matter what I follow it with, I could do it. And, I’m already in Arizona after wrapping up my season at Grand Canyon. I also hope to raise funds for the Arizona Trail Association and National Park Foundation.

So, I’m coming for you, Arizona. Let’s see just what we are both truly made of.

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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.

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