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

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

After packing up this morning, the trail works it’s way south around the lower slopes of Mormon Mountain before The hiker arrives at Double Springs campground. While it’s closed, there’s a nearby creek that I use to get a couple liters of water.

Gambel oaks hiking to Double Springs Campground
Arizona Trail, Passage 30 (Mormon Lake)
Coconino National Forest
Gambel oaks glow backpacking along the AZT
Arizona Trail, Passage 30 (Mormon Lake)
Coconino National Forest
Gambel oaks hiking in fall foliage surrounding the AZT
Arizona Trail, Passage 30 (Mormon Lake)
Coconino National Forest
Hiking through gambel oaks in fall foliage in morning light
Arizona Trail, Passage 30 (Mormon Lake)
Coconino National Forest
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Backpacking through gambel oaks in the light along the AZT
Arizona Trail, Passage 30 (Mormon Lake)
Coconino National Forest
Hiking through gambel oaks and ponderosa pines in fall foliage surrounding the AZT
Arizona Trail, Passage 30 (Mormon Lake)
Coconino National Forest
Backpacking through gambel oaks among ponderosa pines in fall foliage
Arizona Trail, Passage 30 (Mormon Lake)
Coconino National Forest

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

Mormon Lake hiking view
Arizona Trail Passage 30 (Mormon Lake)
Coconino National Forest
Mormon Lake backpacking view
Arizona Trail Passage 30 (Mormon Lake)
Coconino National Forest
Mormon Lake hiking view
Arizona Trail Passage 30 (Mormon Lake)
Coconino National Forest
Mormon Lake overlook spur hiking trail
Arizona Trail, Passage 30 (Mormon Lake)
Coconino National Forest
Mormon Lake overlook spur trail
Arizona Trail Passage 30 (Mormon Lake)
Coconino National Forest
Mormon Lake overlook spur trail
Arizona Trail Passage 30 (Mormon Lake)
Coconino National Forest

The trail continues south, passing more evidence of past logging railroads. A nearby interpretive sign reads as follows:

Loggers lived a dangerous and rough life in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. They spent long days in all kinds of weather felling massive ponderosa pines and skidding them to the railroads for transport to the saw mills. Their nights were spent in drafty bunkhouses without showers or running water. So what was it that kept them going – food, and lots of it.

The loggers that worked in these woods needed to eat between 6000 and 9000 calories a day to fuel their hard work. How about this grocery list for 45 men from a 1907 logging camp: one tub of lard, a sack of turnips, a sack of onions, a box of yeast, a case of cream, a barrel of sweet potatoes, seven sacks of potatoes, a case of peaches, a case of pears, two cases of eggs, a case of tomatoes, a barrel of apples, 112 pounds of cabbage, a case of corn, 22 pounds of cakes, 10 pounds of tea, 12 cases of strawberries, two barrels of flour, 15 cans of baking powder, and 300 pounds of beef. How long did it last? One week.

USFS interpretive sign

The trail ultimately leads to Navajo Spring, the last reliable good water source for a while. I take the opportunity to hike into Mormon Lake and get some real food at Mormon Lake Lodge. I also find and grab some things out of a hiker box at the store. Unfortunately I have to settle for Coors Lite when it comes to food and drink at the lodge, but a burger and some chili certainly help. A magnet from my Osprey pack gets lost in the shuffle; I leave a description and a phone number that I can be reached at in case it gets found. When I leave later, it’s raining so I end up spending the night on the covered porch of a closed building of the lodge. I also realize that I left my sleeping pad at the prior campsite, so I’ll have to get an early start tomorrow and get that.

Remnant logging railroad ties & spikes viewed hiking the AZT
Arizona Trail Passage 30 (Mormon Lake)
Coconino National Forest
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Animal tracks – possibly coyote? Spotted backpacking the AZT.
Arizona Trail Passage 30 (Mormon Lake)
Coconino National Forest
Coming and going
Arizona Trail Passage 30 (Mormon Lake)
Coconino National Forest
Logging railroad ties and spikes
Arizona Trail Passage 30 (Mormon Lake)
Coconino National Forest
Arriving at Mormon Lake, which has quite the population fluctuation!

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National Park Quest: Tonto National Monument

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.

Backpacking the Amazing Arizona Trail – Inspiration Point to Roosevelt Cemetery (Passages 20 & 19, Four Peaks to Superstition Mountains)

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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Arizona Trail Backpacking Logistics – AZT Gateway Communities: Tonto Basin

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.

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

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.

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

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

Logistics, trail journal, and magnificent mountain scenery.

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Passage 29 (Mormon Lake)
Trail SurfaceDirt singletrack
Length (Mi)14.8
SeasonSpring-Fall
Potential Water SourcesMayflower Springs (mi 247.8 SOBO/540.9 NOBO)
Dairy Springs (mi 248.9 SOBO/539.8 NOBO)
Double Springs (mi 250.6 SOBO/538.1 NOBO)
Wallace Spring (mi 252.3 SOBO/536.4 NOBO)
Indian Springs (mi 255.0 SOBO/533.7 NOBO)
Mormon Lake Village (mi 255.0 SOBO/533.7 NOBO)
Spring/Tank (mi 257.6 SOBO/531.1 NOBO)
Van Deren Spring (mi 261.3 SOBO/527.4 NOBO)
Allan Lake Tank (mi 262 SOBO/526.7 NOBO)
TrailheadsNorth: Mayflower Spring
South: Gooseberry Springs Trailhead (mi 10.6 SOBO/778.1 NOBO)
Trailhead AccessNorth: Two track dirt road
South: Graded dirt road
WildernessNo
Possible resupply pointsMormon Lake village
DifficultyModerate
Potential campsites (mileages S to N)Dairy Springs Campground
Double Springs Campground
Indian Springs – excellent spot, wide flat camping area at the junction of the Indian Springs Trail to the village of Mormon Lake and the Arizona Trail
Numerous spots south of Mormon Lake as terrain flattens
ThreatsHeat – wear a cotton shirt so you can soak it. Synthetics aren’t great in the desert.

Hypothermia – nights are generally about 30°F cooler than days in Arizona regardless of the time of year. Consider this in packing gear. Mornings can be cool year-round.

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

Dehydration
Permits Required? No
Cell service?Limited
Ecosystems traversedRocky Mountain Montane Conifer Forest
Sources: Personal experience, Guthook Guides & ATA Guide to the Arizona Trail.
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Rocky Mountain Montane Conifer Woodland
Common Trees/Shrubs* Ponderosa Pine
* Southwestern white pine
* Subalpine fir
* White fir
* Rocky Mountain maple
* Bigtooth maple
* Grey alder
* Red birch
* Red osier dogwood
* Cliffbush
* Mallow ninebark
* New Mexican locust
* huckleberry
* bilberries



Common herbaceous plants* fringed brome
* Geyer’s sedge/elk sedge
* Ross’ sedge
* Bronze sedge/dry land sedge/hillside sedge/hay sedge/Fernald’s hay sedge
* screwleaf muhly
* bluebunch wheatgrass
* Spruce-fir fleabane
* wild strawberry/Virginia strawberry
* Small-flowered woodrush
* mountain sweet Cicely
* bittercress ragwort
* western meadow-rue
* Fendler’s meadow-rue
Passage 31 & 33 Ecology (source: Arizona Trail Association AZT Guide & NatureServe). Only California and Texas are more diverse ecologically than Arizona.
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Arizona Trail, Day 31 – Anderson Mesa to Double Springs (Passages 30, Anderson Mesa & 29, Mormon Lake)

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

First order of business today is to fill up on water at Horse Lake, then pack up and head south. I run through a lot of water today, probably because of the exposed going. By the time I’ve descended off Anderson Mesa, crossed Lake Mary Road and reentered the ponderosa forest I’m on at least my third liter of water, so I’ve gone into rationing in the hopes of making it to Double Springs Campground, which it looks from Guthook is the next likely source of water. The trail becomes more dirt on the descent off Anderson Mesa, and this becomes more fixed west of Lake Mary Road.

San Francisco Peaks, hiking view from Horse Lake
Arizona Trail, Passage 30 (Mormon Lake)
Coconino National Forest
Price Lake and Mormon Mountain, backpacking view
Arizona Trail, Passage 30 (Mormon Lake)
Coconino National Forest
Horse Lake, hiking view from the AZT
Arizona Trail, Passage 30 (Mormon Lake)
Coconino National Forest
Wildflowers on Anderson Mesa, spotted backpacking the AZT
Arizona Trail, Passage 30 (Mormon Lake)
Coconino National Forest
Hiking through ponderosa forest on Anderson Mesa
Arizona Trail, Passage 30 (Mormon Lake)
Coconino National Forest

There is a lot of cool railroad history west of Lake Mary Road. The trail started following something that appeared to be a mass of stones in what seemed to be an unnatural line with a tendency to curve in places. Looked very much manmade and piled.

Old railroad route following the Arizona Trail
Arizona Trail, Passage 30 (Mormon Lake) west of Lake Mary Rd
Coconino National Forest
Former railroad grade along AZT
Arizona Trail, Passage 30 (Mormon Lake) west of Lake Mary Rd
Coconino National Forest

Eventually more of an obvious grade emerged, making the status of that particular feature an old railroad route quite obvious – particularly in the places where it was built above the level of the surrounding land. In some places you could even see where trestles would have been, and in others the ties were still visible. For someone like myself who is very much into railroad history – in this case, an old logging railroad, as confirmed by a nearby interpretive sign, it was really cool.

AZT crossing old railroad grade
Arizona Trail, Passage 30 (Mormon Lake) west of Lake Mary Rd
Coconino National Forest
AZT crossing old railroad grade
Arizona Trail, Passage 30 (Mormon Lake), west of Lake Mary Rd
Coconino National Forest

The sign nearby reads: “As you hike from Lake Mary toward Mormon Lake and south to Allan Lake on the Arizona Trail, you will pass and even follow the grades of many old logging railroads. The Flagstaff Lumber Company extended their old logging railroad from Lake Mary toward Mormon Lake and Mormon Mountain beginning in 1923. The railroad was constructed primarily to haul logs cut from the forest to sawmills in Flagstaff, Williams, and other areas. On weekends, the railroad would carry as many as 300 passengers to the Mormon Lake area.

The Flagstaff Lumber Company’s railroad ceased operations in 1927 due to a slump in timber prices and the high cost of operating a railroad up the seven mile grade to Mormon Mountain. Other logging railroads continued to operate in northern Arizona until 1966. Today these railroad grades provide a unique opportunity for the hiker to travel these traditional routes – under their own power rather than under steam power.”

Old railroad grade and ties along the AZT
Arizona Trail, Passage 30 (Mormon Lake), west of Lake Mary Rd
Coconino National Forest
AZT crossing old railroad grade west of Lake Mary Road
Arizona Trail, Passage 30 (Mormon Lake)
Coconino National Forest
AZT crossing old railroad line west of Lake Mary Road
Arizona Trail, Passage 30 (Mormon Lake)
Coconino National Forest
AZT crossing old railroad line west of Lake Mary Road
Arizona Trail, Passage 30 (Mormon Lake)
Coconino National Forest
Backpacking along old railroad grade along AZT
Arizona Trail, Passage 30 (Mormon Lake)
Coconino National Forest
Hiking along old railroad grade along AZT
Arizona Trail, Passage 30 (Mormon Lake)
Coconino National Forest
Backpacking along old railroad grade along AZT
Arizona Trail, Passage 30 (Mormon Lake)
Coconino National Forest

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. With the delay, I don’t quite make it to Double Springs, but I make it within about 1.5 miles of it.

Hiking through gambel oaks in fall foliage along AZT west of Lake Mary Road
Arizona Trail, Passage 30 (Mormon Lake)
Coconino National Forest
Evening light on gambel oaks and ponderosa, backpacking along the AZT west of Lake Mary Road
Arizona Trail, Passage 30 (Mormon Lake)
Coconino National Forest
Todays route

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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 47: Red Hills, Part II/II

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

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

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

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

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

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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Passage 30: Anderson MesaPassage 29: Mormon Lake
Trail SurfaceSingletrack. Basalt lava with soil covering.Dirt Singletrack
Length (Mi)17.814.8
SeasonApril-October. Snow can be significant in winter.Spring-fall
Potential Water SourcesMarshall Lake & Lower Tank (230.2 SOBO, 558.5 NOBO)
Prime Lake (231.3 SOBO, 557.4 NOBO)
Vail Lake (232.7 SOBO, 556.0 NOBO
Lakeview Campground (mid-May to mid-October; 234.5 SOBO, 554.2 NOBO)
Horse Lake Tank (237.1 SOBO, 551.6 NOBO)
Pine Grove Campground (mid-May to mid-October; 241.3 SOBO, 547.4 NOBO)
Railroad Tank (242.7 SOBO, 545.9 NOBO)
Mayflower Spring (247.8 SOBO, 540.9 NOBO)
Mayflower Springs (mi 247.8 SOBO/540.9 NOBO)
Dairy Springs (mi 248.9 SOBO/539.8 NOBO)
Double Springs (mi 250.6 SOBO/538.1 NOBO)
Wallace Spring (mi 252.3 SOBO/536.4 NOBO)
Indian Springs (mi 255.0 SOBO/533.7 NOBO)
Mormon Lake Village (mi 255.0 SOBO/533.7 NOBO)
Spring/Tank (mi 257.6 SOBO/531.1 NOBO)
Van Deren Spring (mi 261.3 SOBO/527.4 NOBO)
Allan Lake Tank (mi 262 SOBO/526.7 NOBO)
TrailheadsNorth: Marshall Lake
South: Mayflower Spring
North: Mayflower Spring (mi 247.8 SOBO/540.9 NOBO)
South: Gooseberry Springs Trailhead (mi 10.6 SOBO/778.1 NOBO)
Trailhead AccessNorth: Graded dirt road
South: Dirt road
North: Two track dirt road
South: Graded dirt road
WildernessNoNo
Possible resupply pointsNoneMormon Lake Village
ATA-Rated DifficultyModerate (rugged trail surface)Moderate
Potential campsites (mileages S to N)Various LNT-compatible sites throughout, especially on Mesa top. Basalt can prove challenging in places to find smooth spot. Developed Lakeview Campground and Pine Grove Campground.
Dairy Springs Campground
Double Springs Campground
Indian Springs – excellent spot, wide flat camping area at the junction of the Indian Springs Trail to the village of Mormon Lake and the Arizona Trail
Numerous spots south of Mormon Lake as terrain flattens
Ecosystems TraversedGreat Basin Conifer Woodland (Marshall Lake Trailhead to descent from Anderson Mesa just north of Lake Mary Road)
Rocky Mountain Montane Conifer Woodland (just north of Lake Mary Road to Mayflower Spring)
Rocky Mountain Montane Conifer Woodland
Sites of InterestViews of San Francisco Peaks & Mormon Mountain
Lowell Observatory’s NPOI (Naval Precision Optical Intterferometer)
Mormon Lake
Railroad history throughout in form of logging railroad routes that trail follows today – very evident. Please remember all artifacts are protected by the Antiquities Act and no artifact hunting is allowed on National Forest Land
Sources: Personal experience, Guthook Guides, ATA Guide to the Arizona Trail
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Rocky Mountain Montane Conifer Woodland
Common Trees/Shrubs* Ponderosa Pine
* Southwestern white pine
* Subalpine fir
* White fir
* Rocky Mountain maple
* Bigtooth maple
* Grey alder
* Red birch
* Red osier dogwood
* Cliffbush
* Mallow ninebark
* New Mexican locust
* huckleberry
* bilberries



Common herbaceous plants* fringed brome
* Geyer’s sedge/elk sedge
* Ross’ sedge
* Bronze sedge/dry land sedge/hillside sedge/hay sedge/Fernald’s hay sedge
* screwleaf muhly
* bluebunch wheatgrass
* Spruce-fir fleabane
* wild strawberry/Virginia strawberry
* Small-flowered woodrush
* mountain sweet Cicely
* bittercress ragwort
* western meadow-rue
* Fendler’s meadow-rue
Passage 31 & 33 Ecology (source: Arizona Trail Association AZT Guide & NatureServe). Only California and Texas are more diverse ecologically than Arizona.
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Arizona Trail, Day 26: Walnut Canyon National Monument, Part 4

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

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

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

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

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

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

“The Arizona Trail,” Dale R Shewalter

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.

Wrapping up at Walnut Canyon National Monument. After finishing up the fantastic Island Trail, the Rim Trail yields some great sites as well, including an unexcavated site and several pueblos. The views of the canyon itself are pretty amazing too. Some kind visitors in the parking lot also give me some snacks when they hear about my attempt to hike across Arizona. One can always trust fellow parkies to help out! All in all, well worth the side trip here. I underestimated this stop and I am now running a little behind schedule, so it is time to head back and pick up the trail toward Flagstaff again.

Archeological site on the rim of Walnut Canyon
Walnut Canyon National Monument (one of 22 national parks in Arizona)
Archeological pueblo on the rim of Walnut Canyon
Walnut Canyon National Monument (one of 22 national parks in Arizona)
An unexcavated archeological site on the rim of Walnut Canyon. Leaving such sites in place helps preserve the artifacts in as close to natural condition as possible. Walnut Canyon National Monument, one of 22 national parks in Arizona.
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Cliff dwellings visible from the Island Trail
Walnut Canyon National Monument (one of 22 national parks in Arizona)
Cliff dwellings visible from the Island Trail
Walnut Canyon National Monument (one of 22 national parks in Arizona)
Cliff dwellings visible from the Island Trail
Walnut Canyon National Monument (one of 22 national parks in Arizona)

About the area: Starting in the 1880s, theft and looting became an issue at Walnut Canyon as construction of the Atchison, Topeka and Santa Fe Railroad brought more people to the region. By 1915, alarm among local citizens led President Wilson to establish Walnut Canyon National Monument, first under the US Forest Service as part of Coconino National Forest, then the National Park Service starting in 1934. In the 1930s, the Civilian Conservation Corps built trails and buildings, stabilized the walls of various cliff dwellings, and led guided tours. Further expansions of the site in 1938 by President Roosevelt and 1994 by President Clinton added additional stretches of the canyon into the monument, bringing it to its current 3600 acres of protected resources.

Today, 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. Most are near the Island Trail that rings a peninsula of rock that Walnut Creek bends around, connected to the north rim of a canyon by a narrow ridge of rock, giving the peninsula the appearance of an island. Each room, built under limestone ledges, might have housed a family. The ledges afforded protection from the elements – they kept the dwellings cool in the summer and warm in the winter. They were also easier to defend against invasion. Prior to building the cliff dwellings, the Sinagua lived and cultivated areas on the rim of the canyon. In a dry, semi-arid landscape – though not as harsh as some found further south – the communities relied on the intermittent flow of water in Walnut Creek for sustenance. It is not clear why the dwellings were abandoned around 1250, but suspected reasons include drought and relations with neighboring tribes. The National Monument also protects natural resources, including 387 species of plants as well as marine fossils remaining from when the area was located under a sea. Views from the canyon rim include the volcanic peaks around Flagstaff, including Elden Mountain and the San Francisco Peaks, as well as landmarks such as Mormon Mountain to the south, all rising out of the extensive ponderosa forest covering the Mogollon Plateau.

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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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Rim TrailIsland Trail
Type of hikeOut & backLoop
Trail SurfacePaved trailPaved Trail
Length (Mi)0.71
SeasonAll yearAll year. Stairs may get icy in winter. Snowy & icy conditions can lead to closure of the trail.
Major attributesGood view of variety of cliff dwelling structure remains throughout the central portion of Walnut Canyon. Rim-top pueblo.Loop trail providing close-up view of cliff dwellings in inner canyon
Potential Water SourcesWalnut Canyon Visitor CenterWalnut Canyon Visitor Center
TrailheadsVisitor CenterVisitor Center
Trailhead AccessVehicular (paved road)Vehicular (paved road)
WildernessNoNo
DifficultyEasyStrenuous. 185 feet descent into canyon at 7000’ elevation.
Potential campsites (mileages S to N)Hiking/Backpacking campsites available along Arizona Trail on borders of parkHiking/Backpacking campsites available along Arizona Trail on borders of park
Ecosystems TraversedRocky Mountain Montane Conifer WoodlandRocky Mountain Montane Conifer Woodland
Accessible?YesNo
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Rocky Mountain Montane Conifer Woodland
Common Trees/Shrubs* Ponderosa Pine
* Southwestern white pine
* Subalpine fir
* White fir
* Rocky Mountain maple
* Bigtooth maple
* Grey alder
* Red birch
* Red osier dogwood
* Cliffbush
* Mallow ninebark
* New Mexican locust
* huckleberry
* bilberries



Common herbaceous plants* fringed brome
* Geyer’s sedge/elk sedge
* Ross’ sedge
* Bronze sedge/dry land sedge/hillside sedge/hay sedge/Fernald’s hay sedge
* screwleaf muhly
* bluebunch wheatgrass
* Spruce-fir fleabane
* wild strawberry/Virginia strawberry
* Small-flowered woodrush
* mountain sweet Cicely
* bittercress ragwort
* western meadow-rue
* Fendler’s meadow-rue
Passage 31 & 33 Ecology (source: Arizona Trail Association AZT Guide & NatureServe). Only California and Texas are more diverse ecologically than Arizona.
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Arizona Trail, Day 26: Walnut Canyon National Monument, Part 3

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

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. Most are near the Island Trail that rings a peninsula of rock that Walnut Creek bends around, connected to the north rim of a canyon by a narrow ridge of rock, giving the peninsula the appearance of an island. Each room, built under limestone ledges, might have housed a family. The ledges afforded protection from the elements – they kept the dwellings cool in the summer and warm in the winter. They were also easier to defend against invasion. Prior to building the cliff dwellings, the Sinagua lived and cultivated areas on the rim of the canyon. In a dry, semi-arid landscape – though not as harsh as some found further south – the communities relied on the intermittent flow of water in Walnut Creek for sustenance. It is not clear why the dwellings were abandoned around 1250, but suspected reasons include drought and relations with neighboring tribes. National Monument also protects natural resources, including 387 species of plants as well as marine fossils remaining from when the area was located under a sea. Views from the canyon rim include the volcanic peaks around Flagstaff, including Elden Mountain and the San Francisco Peaks, as well as landmarks such as Mormon Mountain to the south, all rising out of the extensive ponderosa forest covering the Mogollon Plateau. 

Cliff dwellings visible from the Island Trail within Walnut Canyon National Monument (National Park Service-managed, Arizona)
Upper Walnut Canyon within Walnut Canyon National Monument, from the Canyon rim. Elden Mountain and the San Francisco Peaks rise behind in the distance. (National Park Service-managed, Arizona)
Elden Mountain and the San Francisco Peaks (Agassiz and Schultz) from the rim at Walnut Canyon National Monument


Archeological farming areas within Walnut Canyon National Monument (National Park Service-managed, Arizona)
Southward view from the rim of Walnut Canyon National Monument. Mormon Mountain rises in the distance. The “island” of the Island Trail passing many cliff dwellings is the narrow peninsula at right-center. (National Park Service-managed, Arizona)
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Starting in the 1880s, theft and looting became an issue at Walnut Canyon as construction of the Atchison, Topeka and Santa Fe Railroad brought more people to the region. By 1915, alarm among local citizens led President Wilson to establish Walnut Canyon National Monument, first under the US Forest Service as part of Coconino National Forest, then the National Park Service starting in 1934. In the 1930s, the Civilian Conservation Corps built trails and buildings, stabilized the walls of various cliff dwellings, and led guided tours. Further expansions of the site in 1938 by President Roosevelt and 1994 by President Clinton added additional stretches of the canyon into the monument, bringing it to its current 3600 acres of protected resources.

Cliff dwellings on the walls of Walnut Canyon within Walnut Canyon National Monument (National Park Service-managed, Arizona). Can you spot the dwellings?
Cliff dwellings on the walls of Walnut Canyon within Walnut Canyon National Monument (National Park Service-managed, Arizona). Can you spot the dwellings?
Southwest panorama of Walnut Canyon, showing the canyon itself, the “Island,” (center-right), Mormon Mountain (distance, left), and Elden Mountain and the San Francisco Peaks near Flagstaff (distance, right). Smoke from a fire rises in the distance as well, possibly the one that I observed several days ago from the Peaks.

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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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Rim TrailIsland Trail
Type of hikeOut & backLoop
Trail SurfacePaved trailPaved Trail
Length (Mi)0.71
SeasonAll yearAll year. Stairs may get icy in winter. Snowy & icy conditions can lead to closure of the trail.
Major attributesGood view of variety of cliff dwelling structure remains throughout the central portion of Walnut Canyon. Rim-top pueblo.Loop trail providing close-up view of cliff dwellings in inner canyon
Potential Water SourcesWalnut Canyon Visitor CenterWalnut Canyon Visitor Center
TrailheadsVisitor CenterVisitor Center
Trailhead AccessVehicular (paved road)Vehicular (paved road)
WildernessNoNo
DifficultyEasyStrenuous. 185 feet descent into canyon at 7000’ elevation.
Potential campsites (mileages S to N)Hiking/Backpacking campsites available along Arizona Trail on borders of parkHiking/Backpacking campsites available along Arizona Trail on borders of park
Ecosystems TraversedRocky Mountain Montane Conifer WoodlandRocky Mountain Montane Conifer Woodland
Accessible?YesNo
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Rocky Mountain Montane Conifer Woodland
Common Trees/Shrubs* Ponderosa Pine
* Southwestern white pine
* Subalpine fir
* White fir
* Rocky Mountain maple
* Bigtooth maple
* Grey alder
* Red birch
* Red osier dogwood
* Cliffbush
* Mallow ninebark
* New Mexican locust
* huckleberry
* bilberries



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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“The Arizona Trail,” Dale R Shewalter

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

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, hiking eastbound in Schultz Pass.
AZT Passage 32 (Elden Mountain)
Coconino National Forest
Golden ferns from a dry summer mix with ponderosa pines, backpacking the Arizona Trail in Schultz Pass
AZT Passage 32 (Elden Mountain)
Coconino National Forest
The San Francisco Peaks from hiking the Arizona Trail in 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.
AZT Passage 32 (Elden Mountain)
Coconino National Forest
Backpacking the Arizona Trail through ponderosa forest and rice grass meadows in Schultz Pass.
AZT Passage 32 (Elden Mountain)
Coconino National Forest
Hiking the Arizona Trail past aspens and ponderosa among rice grass in Schultz Pass.
AZT Passage 32 (Elden Mountain)
Coconino National Forest
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Backpacking through aspens along the Arizona Trail in Schultz Pass.
AZT Passage 32 (Elden Mountain)
Coconino National Forest
Deer Hill or Schultz Peak rises above the ponderosas and aspens, hiking east on the Arizona Trail in Schultz Pass
AZT Passage 32 (Elden Mountain)
Coconino National Forest
Deer Hill or Schultz Peak rises above the ponderosas and aspens in Schultz Pass. Impacts of the 2010 Schultz Fire clearly visible.
Arizona Trail Passage 32 (Elden Mountain)
Coconino National Forest
Aspens add a splash of beautiful color to backpacking through the burn scar of the 2010 Schultz or 1977 Radio Fires
Arizona Trail Passage 32 (Elden Mountain)
Coconino National Forest
Aspens add a splash of beautiful color to hiking through the burn scar of the 2010 Schultz or 1977 Radio Fires.
Arizona Trail Passage 32 (Elden Mountain)
Coconino National Forest
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Deer Hill or Schultz Peak from the Arizona Trail in Schultz Pass. Impacts of the 2010 Schultz Fire clearly visible.
AZT Passage 32 (Elden Mountain)
Coconino National Forest

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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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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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Passage 32 (Elden Mountain)
Trail SurfaceDirt singletrack
Length (Mi)13.7
SeasonSpring-Fall. Snow can be significant in winter.
Potential Water SourcesSchultz Tank (590.3 NOBO, 198.5 SOBO)
Little Elden Horse camp (587.8 NOBO, 200.9 SOBO)
Flagstaff East (583.7 NOBO, 205 SOBO)
TrailheadsNorth: Schultz Pass
South: I-40
Trailhead AccessNorth: Vehicular access via gravel road
South: Foot/bike access. Vehicular access to Painted Canyon or Walnut Canyon near south terminus of passage.
WildernessNo
Possible resupply pointsFlagstaff
East Flagstaff
ATA-Rated DifficultyModerate (south end is easier)
Potential campsites (mileages S to N)Best on east side of Schultz Pass, outside of Painted Canyon. Can also easily use Flagstaff as a base and shuttle in and out of town.
Ecosystems TraversedRocky Mountain Montane Conifer Woodland
Major Features of InterestSchultz Pass
Painted Canyon
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Rocky Mountain Montane Conifer Woodland
Common Trees/Shrubs* Ponderosa Pine
* Southwestern white pine
* Subalpine fir
* White fir
* Rocky Mountain maple
* Bigtooth maple
* Grey alder
* Red birch
* Red osier dogwood
* Cliffbush
* Mallow ninebark
* New Mexican locust
* huckleberry
* bilberries



Common herbaceous plants* fringed brome
* Geyer’s sedge/elk sedge
* Ross’ sedge
* Bronze sedge/dry land sedge/hillside sedge/hay sedge/Fernald’s hay sedge
* screwleaf muhly
* bluebunch wheatgrass
* Spruce-fir fleabane
* wild strawberry/Virginia strawberry
* Small-flowered woodrush
* mountain sweet Cicely
* bittercress ragwort
* western meadow-rue
* Fendler’s meadow-rue
Common succulents
Passage 32 Ecology (source: Arizona Trail Association AZT Guide & NatureServe). Only California and Texas are more diverse ecologically than Arizona.
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Backpacking the Amazing Arizona Trail: Dry Lake Hills to Flagstaff (Passage 33, Flagstaff)

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

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

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

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

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

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

“The Arizona Trail,” Dale R Shewalter

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

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

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

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

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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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Passage 33 (Flagstaff)
Trail SurfaceDirt singletrack
Length (Mi)15.5
SeasonApril-October. Snow can be significant in winter.
Potential Water SourcesN/A
TrailheadsNorth: Schultz Pass
South: Fisher Point
Trailhead AccessNorth: Grade dirt/gravel road
South: Foot/bike access
WildernessNo
Possible resupply pointsFlagstaff
ATA-Rated DifficultyModerate (south end is easier)
Potential campsites (mileages S to N)N/A
Ecosystems TraversedRocky Mountain Montane Conifer Woodland
Sites of InterestHistoric Flagstaff
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Rocky Mountain Montane Conifer Woodland
Common Trees/Shrubs* Ponderosa Pine
* Southwestern white pine
* Subalpine fir
* White fir
* Rocky Mountain maple
* Bigtooth maple
* Grey alder
* Red birch
* Red osier dogwood
* Cliffbush
* Mallow ninebark
* New Mexican locust
* huckleberry
* bilberries



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

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

Today, day 22 on the AZT and 28 overall, takes me down the entirety of Passage 33 into Flagstaff. I leave my camp here and hike 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. Hiking on, 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)
Coconino National Forest
Aspens along the Arizona Trail hiking in Schultz Pass
Arizona Trail (Passage 33, Flagstaff)
Coconino National Forest
AZT backpacking in Schultz Pass
Arizona Trail (Passage 33, Flagstaff)
Coconino National Forest
AZT hiking in Schultz Pass
Arizona Trail (Passage 33, Flagstaff)
Coconino National Forest
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AZT backpacking in Schultz Pass
Arizona Trail (Passage 33, Flagstaff)
Coconino National Forest
AZT hiking in Schultz Pass
Arizona Trail (Passage 33, Flagstaff)
Coconino National Forest
AZT backpacking in Schultz Pass
Arizona Trail (Passage 33, Flagstaff)
Coconino National Forest
AZT hiking in Schultz Pass
Arizona Trail (Passage 33, Flagstaff)
Coconino National Forest
AZT backpacking in Schultz Pass
Arizona Trail (Passage 33, Flagstaff)
Coconino National Forest
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AZT backpacking in Schultz Pass
Arizona Trail (Passage 33, Flagstaff)
Coconino National Forest
AZT hiking in Schultz Pass
Arizona Trail (Passage 33, Flagstaff)
Coconino National Forest
AZT backpacking in Schultz Pass
Arizona Trail (Passage 33, Flagstaff)
Coconino National Forest
Hiking the AZT in Schultz Pass
Arizona Trail (Passage 33, Flagstaff)
Coconino National Forest
Backpacking the AZT in Schultz Pass
Arizona Trail (Passage 33, Flagstaff)
Coconino National Forest
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Hiking the AZT in Schultz Pass
Arizona Trail (Passage 33, Flagstaff)
Coconino National Forest
Antiquities Act resources along the Arizona Trail in Schultz Pass
Arizona Trail (Passage 33, Flagstaff
Coconino National Forest

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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)

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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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Passage 33 (Flagstaff)
Trail SurfaceDirt singletrack
Length (Mi)15.5
SeasonApril-October. Snow can be significant in winter.
Potential Water SourcesN/A
TrailheadsNorth: Schultz Pass
South: Fisher Point
Trailhead AccessNorth: Grade dirt/gravel road
South: Foot/bike access
WildernessNo
Possible resupply pointsFlagstaff
ATA-Rated DifficultyModerate (south end is easier)
Potential campsites (mileages S to N)N/A
Ecosystems TraversedRocky Mountain Montane Conifer Woodland
Sites of InterestHistoric Flagstaff
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Rocky Mountain Montane Conifer Woodland
Common Trees/Shrubs* Ponderosa Pine
* Southwestern white pine
* Subalpine fir
* White fir
* Rocky Mountain maple
* Bigtooth maple
* Grey alder
* Red birch
* Red osier dogwood
* Cliffbush
* Mallow ninebark
* New Mexican locust
* huckleberry
* bilberries



Common herbaceous plants* fringed brome
* Geyer’s sedge/elk sedge
* Ross’ sedge
* Bronze sedge/dry land sedge/hillside sedge/hay sedge/Fernald’s hay sedge
* screwleaf muhly
* bluebunch wheatgrass
* Spruce-fir fleabane
* wild strawberry/Virginia strawberry
* Small-flowered woodrush
* mountain sweet Cicely
* bittercress ragwort
* western meadow-rue
* Fendler’s meadow-rue
Passage 31 & 33 Ecology (source: Arizona Trail Association AZT Guide & NatureServe). Only California and Texas are more diverse ecologically than Arizona.
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Arizona Trail Day 21, Part 3: Heart of the San Francisco Peaks (Trans-Arizona/Utah Hike Day 27)

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

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

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

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

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

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

“The Arizona Trail,” Dale R Shewalter

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

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

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

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

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

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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.

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

As the trail ascends again to traverse the mountain flank, the ponderosas transition further to aspens and mixed conifer forest again. These seem to be slightly past peak in places, but many are still quite magnificent. The trail passes through mature forest and rice grass meadows as it contours along the lower slopes of the mountains below Humphreys and Agassiz Peaks, the two highest peaks in Arizona. The weather is perfect, and the aspen leaves glow in the high elevation light. I’ll let some of their beauty again speak for themselves here, before continuing on in the next entry.

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



Common herbaceous plants* fringed brome
* Geyer’s sedge/elk sedge
* Ross’ sedge
* Bronze sedge/dry land sedge/hillside sedge/hay sedge/Fernald’s hay sedge
* screwleaf muhly
* bluebunch wheatgrass
* Spruce-fir fleabane
* wild strawberry/Virginia strawberry
* Small-flowered woodrush
* mountain sweet Cicely
* bittercress ragwort
* western meadow-rue
* Fendler’s meadow-rue
Passage 31 & 33 Ecology (source: Arizona Trail Association AZT Guide & NatureServe). Only California and Texas are more diverse ecologically than Arizona.
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Arizona Trail, Day 21, Part 2: Heart of the San Francisco Peaks (Trans-Arizona/Utah Hike Day 27)

(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!)

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. The quality of the aspens seems to be growing. I will again allow these magnificent trees to speak for themselves.

(The San Francisco Peaks are the highest peaks in Arizona today, including Humphreys at 12633 and Agassiz at 12360 ft. Native peoples such as the Hopi believe them to be the home of the Kachina spirits, supernatural beings that visit the villages in the first half of the year. This makes the Peaks exceptionally sacred to local Hopi and Zuni cultures. The wilderness that surrounds much of the Peaks is named the Kachina Wilderness in recognition of this connection, and to native peoples they are the Kachina Peaks.

Physically, the San Francisco Peaks are a product of a volcanic hotspot under northern Arizona that formed what we know of today as the San Francisco Volcanic Field, a cluster of lava fields, around 600 cinder cones, and lava domes surrounding Flagstaff. The most prominent feature are the Peaks, an extinct stratovolcano complex. San Francisco Mountain erupted around 400,000 years ago in a lateral blast (think Mt St. Helens). The eruption carved a hole in the northeast side of the mountain and is estimated to have lowered the height of the mountain by approximately 6000 ft. At an estimated height around 18000 ft prior to the eruption, had the eruption not taken place it would be the highest peak in the continental United States today. The view from the top reaches into Utah, Arizona, and New Mexico at a minimum. I’m not sure if you can see the southwest corner of Colorado. The most recent eruption in the San Francisco volcanic field was Sunset Crater, now contained within Sunset Crater Volcano National Monument and probably one of the most unexpected places for many visitors in the United States where one can walk on and get a hands-on experience with lava. Sunset Crater last erupted around 1085 AD, meaning there is human documentation of the event from native people.)

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The Arizona Trail approaches aspen groves as it passes through rice grass meadows on the San Francisco Peaks
AZT Passage 34 (San Francisco Peaks)
Kachina Peaks Wilderness, Coconino National Forest
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Towering aspen groves along the Arizona Trail on the San Francisco Peaks
AZT Passage 34 (San Francisco Peaks)
Kachina Peaks Wilderness, Coconino National Forest
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Towering aspen groves along the Arizona Trail on the San Francisco Peaks
AZT Passage 34 (San Francisco Peaks)
Kachina Peaks Wilderness, Coconino National Forest
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Towering aspen groves along the Arizona Trail on the San Francisco Peaks
AZT Passage 34 (San Francisco Peaks)
Kachina Peaks Wilderness, Coconino National Forest
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Towering aspen groves along the Arizona Trail on the San Francisco Peaks
AZT Passage 34 (San Francisco Peaks)
Kachina Peaks Wilderness, Coconino National Forest

Logistics for Today’s Stretch:

Passage 34 (San Francisco Peaks)
Length
Trail SurfaceSingletrack
SeasonSpring-Fall
Potential Water SourcesAlfa Fia Tank
TrailheadsArizona Snowbowl
ATA-Rated DifficultyModerate
Logistics for Section Hiked Today
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Towering aspen groves along the Arizona Trail on the San Francisco Peaks
AZT Passage 34 (San Francisco Peaks)
Kachina Peaks Wilderness, Coconino National Forest
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Towering aspen groves along the Arizona Trail on the San Francisco Peaks
AZT Passage 34 (San Francisco Peaks)
Kachina Peaks Wilderness, Coconino National Forest
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Towering aspen groves along the Arizona Trail on the San Francisco Peaks
AZT Passage 34 (San Francisco Peaks)
Kachina Peaks Wilderness, Coconino National Forest
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Towering aspen groves along the Arizona Trail on the San Francisco Peaks
AZT Passage 34 (San Francisco Peaks)
Kachina Peaks Wilderness, Coconino National Forest

Logistics for Full Passage Length:

Passage 34 (San Francisco Peaks)
Length35.3 miles
Trail SurfaceMixed, dirt road & singletrack
SeasonSpring-Fall
Potential Water SourcesCedar Ranch supply box
East Cedar Tank
Kelly Tank & supply box
Alfa Fia Tank
Schultz Tank
TrailheadsArizona Snowbowl
ATA-Rated DifficultyModerate
Logistics for Full Passage Length
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Towering aspen groves and mixed conifers along the Arizona Trail on the San Francisco Peaks
AZT Passage 34 (San Francisco Peaks)
Kachina Peaks Wilderness, Coconino National Forest
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Towering aspens and mixed conifers along the Arizona Trail on the San Francisco Peaks
AZT Passage 34 (San Francisco Peaks)
Kachina Peaks Wilderness, Coconino National Forest
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Towering aspen groves and mixed conifers along the Arizona Trail on the San Francisco Peaks
AZT Passage 34 (San Francisco Peaks)
Kachina Peaks Wilderness, Coconino National Forest
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Towering aspens and mixed conifer groves along the Arizona Trail on the San Francisco Peaks
AZT Passage 34 (San Francisco Peaks)
Kachina Peaks Wilderness, Coconino National Forest
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Towering aspens and mixed conifer groves along the Arizona Trail on the San Francisco Peaks
AZT Passage 34 (San Francisco Peaks)
Kachina Peaks Wilderness, Coconino National Forest
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Towering aspens and mixed conifer groves along the Arizona Trail on the San Francisco Peaks
AZT Passage 34 (San Francisco Peaks)
Kachina Peaks Wilderness, Coconino National Forest
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Towering aspens and mixed conifer groves along the Arizona Trail on the San Francisco Peaks
AZT Passage 34 (San Francisco Peaks)
Kachina Peaks Wilderness, Coconino National Forest
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Towering aspen groves along the Arizona Trail on the San Francisco Peaks
AZT Passage 34 (San Francisco Peaks)
Kachina Peaks Wilderness, Coconino National Forest
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Towering aspens and mixed conifer groves along the Arizona Trail on the San Francisco Peaks
AZT Passage 34 (San Francisco Peaks)
Kachina Peaks Wilderness, Coconino National Forest
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Southwest view from the Arizona Trail on the lower slopes of the San Francisco Peaks, across US-180 toward Bill Williams Mountain
AZT Passage 34 (San Francisco Peaks)
Kachina Peaks Wilderness, Coconino National Forest
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Towering aspen groves among mixed conifers along the Arizona Trail on the San Francisco Peaks
AZT Passage 34 (San Francisco Peaks)
Kachina Peaks Wilderness, Coconino National Forest
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West panorama from the Arizona Trail on the San Francisco Peaks, over the San Francisco Volcanic Field, including Bill Williams Mountain (left), Sitgreaves Peak (center-left), and Kendrick Peak (center-right)
AZT Passage 34 (San Francisco Peaks)
Kachina Peaks Wilderness, Coconino National Forest
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Aspens tower above mixed conifers along the Arizona Trail on the San Francisco Peaks
AZT Passage 34 (San Francisco Peaks)
Kachina Peaks Wilderness, Coconino National Forest
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Aspens tower above mixed conifers along the Arizona Trail on the San Francisco Peaks
AZT Passage 34 (San Francisco Peaks)
Kachina Peaks Wilderness, Coconino National Forest
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Aspens tower above mixed conifers along the Arizona Trail on the San Francisco Peaks
AZT Passage 34 (San Francisco Peaks)
Kachina Peaks Wilderness, Coconino National Forest
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Aspens tower above mixed conifers along the Arizona Trail on the San Francisco Peaks
AZT Passage 34 (San Francisco Peaks)
Kachina Peaks Wilderness, Coconino National Forest
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The San Francisco Peaks tower over the rice grass meadows and aspen/mixed conifer forest of the lower slopes along the Arizona Trail. Humphreys Peak is center left, Agassiz on the right (the subsidiary peak in the middle is a false summit of Humphreys). The trail to the Humphreys summit ascends to the saddle between the center ridge point and Agassiz, and crosses the center peak to Humphreys
AZT Passage 34 (San Francisco Peaks)
Kachina Peaks Wilderness, Coconino National Forest

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

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

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

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

Backpacking the Arizona Trail, Day 15: Passage 37, Grand Canyon South Rim

Hiking across more limestone ridges on the Coconino Plateau past rice grass meadows, scrub, and pines with gambel oaks. The trail ultimately passes through an area that seems the subject of a recent prescribed burn shortly before I call it for the night. The oaks aren’t quite the aspens but they are putting on a good show as well.

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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 ArizonaThrough desert heat or snowWinds a trail for folks to followFrom Utah to Old MexicoIt’s the Arizona TrailA pathway through the great SouthwestA diverse track through wood and stoneYour spirit it will testOh, sure you’ll sweat and blisterYou’ll feel the miles every dayYou’ll shiver at the lonelinessYour feet and seat will … 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 … Continue reading Backpacking the Arizona Trail, Day 8: Passage 38, Grand Canyon Inner Canyon, Part 1 (Trans-Arizona/Utah Day 15)

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Backpacking the Amazing Arizona Trail: Grand Canyon National Park Boundary to Lindbergh Hill (Passage 39, Grand Canyon North Rim)

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

Backpacking the Amazing Arizona Trail, Day 6, Part I: Passage 40, Kaibab Plateau South

I’m on the trail early, hiking south toward the northern boundary of Grand Canyon National Park. As I noted in an earlier entry, one of the perils of combining being a seasonal ranger and thruhiking in the offseason (or shoulder seasons) is that one must make oneself available for interviews in sometimes inconvenient times or places. I owe a park a return call at some point today. Based on the tip I received from a nobo hiker yesterday, I hope to have service at the East Rim Overlook about 2 miles south of my campsite last night. Hiking south, the trail passes through even more glorious aspens as well as beautiful subalpine conifer forest on its way to the overlook . Logistics and ecological details follow the photos.

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Backpacking the Amazing Arizona Trail, Day 5, Part II: Southern Kaibab Plateau (Passage 40), Part I

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

The Arizona Trail, Day 5, Part 1: Central Kaibab Plateau (Passage 41)

The North Rim tried to kill me last night. I woke up at 2:45 with a frozen left big toe. I pulled my shell layer into my bag in an effort to stay warm and managed to do so. I got up around six when the sun breaks over and headed south across the burn area. The wind was brutal, continuing to blow me sideways on the trail in places.

Trail logistics and amazing landscapes of aspen groves in addition to today’s journal entry & ecology for the flagship trail of the third most diverse state in the country.

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Backpacking the Arizona Trail, Day 4, Part II: Central Kaibab Plateau (Trans-Arizona/Utah Hike Day 11)

The trail continues through the burn scar of the 2006 Warm Fire, In between looking around at the aspens in the prior two posts, a crack opens in the tree line to the west. The first southbound view of Grand Canyon opens up in the distance. Plus, logistics and ecology of the central Kaibab Plateau for those interested in following in these footsteps or learning more detail.

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

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

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