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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“The Arizona Trail,” Dale R Shewalter

Continuing 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 out for a trail run after attending the condor release conducted by the Peregrine Fund at Vermilion Cliffs today. My only regret about this hike was that the timing prevented me from attending, so it was good to hear how that went. I’m sure word of my trek will now make it back to Grand Canyon for my return there in the near future.

The trail winds through extensive ponderosa groves and some large meadows created by wildfires. While smaller fires that clear out underbrush and allow additional nutrients and space is a natural occurrence in the ponderosa forests of the Colorado Plateau – on which sit many smaller, higher plateaus like the Kaibab – large scale fires that reach the crowns of trees can destroy wider sections of forest and subsequently replace it with rice grass meadows. Ricegrass is a common pioneer species – one of the first to move into an area after a disturbance has occurred.

Backpacking through ponderosa pines dominating the route of the Arizona Trail across the northern Kaibab Plateau
AZT Passage 42 (Kaibab Plateau North)
Kaibab National Forest
Hiking through ponderosa pines that dominate the route of the Arizona Trail across the northern Kaibab Plateau
Arizona Trail, Passage 42 (Kaibab Plateau North)
Kaibab National Forest

After 5 miles, I cross US-89 and enter Passage 41, the central Kaibab. In the next few miles, the first aspens are sighted. Like the ricegrass, aspens are a pioneer species, one of the first trees to appear after a disturbance. It appears that my hope of seeing some foliage color in the has been fulfilled. Fingers crossed that continues heading south.

After a few more miles, it’s camp for the night and a side hike to Jacob Lake for dinner. Some real food for the first time in almost a week and a half.

Greater short-horned lizard
Arizona Trail, Passage 42 (Kaibab Plateau North)
Kaibab National Forest
Backpacking the Arizona Trail, winding through rice grass and ponderosas on the northern Kaibab Plateau
AZT Passage 42 (Kaibab Plateau North)
Kaibab National Forest

My camp tonight is in a clearing thinned (though not completely exposed) by wildfires on the central Kaibab. I lay looking up at surviving ponderosas creaking and swaying in a gusty Kaibab breeze, one of the loudest winds I’ve ever heard, silhouetted against the light of the Milky Way stretched out across the heavens. I could hear others creaking unseen, the sound the only clue to their presence. Unreal. I’m not sure even if I had my real camera with me to capture that that it could do that moment justice. (If only I had a portable wind turbine as well as a solar panel. I could have charged everything off the breeze in that clearing tonight.)

Tomorrow morning, back to Jacob Lake for a real breakfast and then 15-20 miles down the trail through the central Kaibab.

Arizona Trail passing through an area burned by a wildfire
Kaibab National Forest
Camping among young aspen and ponderosa
Kaibab National Forest
Camping among young aspen in fall foliage on the northern Kaibab Plateau
Kaibab National Forest
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Backpacking the Amazing Arizona Trail – Pine Mountain (Passage 21), Boulder Creek Trail

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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Passage 42 ( Kaibab Plateau North)Passage 41 (Kaibab Plateau Central)
Trail SurfaceDirt singletrack Dirt singletrack
Length (Mi)17 17.2
SeasonSpring-fall best; extensive snow possible in winterSpring-fall. No vehicular access to this section December-April. Feet of snow in winter.
Potential Water SourcesRock Creek Apron (mi 13.3 SOBO/mi 775.4 NOBO)
Government Reservoir (mi 17.8 SOBO/ 770.9 NOBO)
Umbrella Tank (mi 20.3 SOBO/768.4 NOBO)
Ponderosa Trick Tank (mi 20 SOBO, 768.7 NOBO)
Orderville Trick Tank (mi 21 SOBO, 767.7 NOBO)
Wildlife Tank (mi 36.9 SOBO, 751.8 NOBO)
Cement Trough (mi 37.3 SOBO, 751.4 NOBO)
TrailheadsNorth: Winter Road
South: US-89A
North: US-89A
South: Telephone Hill
Trailhead AccessVehicular access. North trailhead dirt; south pavedVehicular access
WildernessNo, but it can feel like it outside of the 89 crossing at the south end.No, but it can feel like it. Most hikers in the area stick to the national park. Or are passing through to reach routes in the national park.
Possible resupply pointsJacob LakeJacob Lake
ATA-Rated DifficultyEasyEasy
Potential campsites (mileages S to N)Various points throughout; terrain is not a limiting factor here. Various points throughout; terrain is not a limitation here. Avoid the burn area from the 2006 Warm Fire in the event of high winds, since shelter is nonexistent there.
Ecosystems TraversedRocky Mountain Montane Conifer WoodlandGreat Basin Subalpine Conifer Forest
Rocky Mountain Montane Conifer Woodland

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Great Basin Subalpine Conifer Forest/Rocky Mountain Montane Conifer Forest
Common Trees/Shrubs* Corkbark fir
* Gambel oak
* Quaking aspen
* White fir
* Blue spruce
* Engelmann spruce
* Buckwheats
* Currants
* Dwarf juniper
* Elderberry
* Fendler’s ceanothus
* Greenleaf Manzanita
* New Mexican locust
* Perry’s rabbitbrush
* Raspberry
* smooth sumac
* Snowberry
Common herbaceous plants* Bracken Fern
* Buckwheats
* Cinquefoils
* Columbines
* Fleabane daisies
* Geraniums
* goldeneye
* Goldenrods
* Groundsels
* Hairy golden aster
* Indian paintbrush
* Lotus
* Lupines
* Meadow-rue
* Parry’s bellflower
* Peavine
* Penstemons
* Puccoon
* Pussytoes
* Thistles
* Western & white prairie asters
* Wild strawberry
* Wormwood
* Yarrow
* Yellow hawkweed
Common succulentsPrickly pear, occasionally
Aquatic* Bulrush
* Buttercups
* Rushes
* Sedges
* Water plantains
Passage 23 & 22 Ecology (source: Arizona Trail Association AZT Guide & NatureServe). Only California and Texas are more diverse ecologically than Arizona.
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Backpacking the Arizona Trail: Buckskin Mountain to Kaibab Plateau North (AZT Day 2, Passages 43 & 42; Arizona/Utah Day 9)

Looking across Larkum Canyon on the Arizona Trail
AZT Passage 43, Buckskin 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

Another early start. I make it off Passage 43 (Buckskin Mountain) by mid morning and break into the northern Kaibab Plateau (Passage 42).

Backpacking the Arizona Trail SOBO through PJ scrubland
AZT Passage 43, Buckskin Mountain
Exiting the Buckskin Passage of the Arizona Trail, on to Passage 42, Kaibab Plateau North
AZT Passage 43, Buckskin Mountain

The land shifts from BLM land at the start and enters the Kaibab National Forest south of the Passage boundary. I’m having some issues charging given the intermittent shade cast by the continuing pinyon-juniper (PJ) forest landscape, so this will be brief. After a crossing of the Old Spanish Trail and long meadow section that ends near Government Reservoir, there’s a brisk climb to the end of the day after 14.3 miles.

After the better part of the last day or so of hiking through pinyon-juniper (PJ) Forest, today the trail starts to break out into open ricegrass and blackbush meadows.
Arizona Trail Passage 42, Kaibab Plateau North
Backpacking south with the Arizona Trail leading ahead through fields of ricegrass and blackbush
AZT Passage 42, Kaibab Plateau North
While the rice grass in the meadows is mostly browned out from the lack of a monsoon, in some places microclimates or the lingering evidence of the wet winter can still be seen with a green tinge.
Arizona Trail Passage 42, Kaibab Plateau North
Looking across ricegrass & blackbush meadows toward another of Arizona’s mountain ranges, potentially the Moccasin Mountains to the NW or Buckskin Mountains behind on the trail, hiking view from the AZT
Arizona Trail Passage 42, Kaibab Plateau North
Backpacking south on the AZT
Arizona Trail Passage 42, Kaibab Plateau North
Looking back while hiking along the Arizona Trail through the rice grass & blackbush meadows and pinyon-juniper (PJ) forest of the northern Kaibab Plateau
AZT Passage 42, Kaibab Plateau North
Backpacking along the AZT, looking across the rice grass meadows and PJ forested hills of the extreme northern Kaibab Plateau
Arizona Trail Passage 42, Kaibab Plateau North

Some immense Kaibab Limestone outcrops are the highlight glowing gold in the evening light. I’ve broken into ponderosa forest and spotted some Gamble Oaks with tinges of fall color. It’s still pretty warm but fall is on the way.

Hiking south & climbing onto the main portion of the northern rim of the Kaibab Plateau, ponderosa pines take precedence on golden limestone. A cluster of Gamble oaks starting to break into fall foliage sits beside the trail.
Arizona Trail Passage 42, Kaibab Plateau North
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Backpacking through the ponderosa pines
Arizona Trail Passage 42, Kaibab Plateau North
Kaibab National Forest
Sunset from camp, seen hiking south on the Arizona Trail
AZT Passage 42, Kaibab Plateau North
Kaibab National Forest



The shift from PJ to ponderosa forest represents the first major ecosystem change on a trail famed for its diversity, and it is indeed quite the shift from a landscape perspective. Instead of shorter trees and intermittent shade, interspersed with meadows offering more direct sunlight, the landscape now features mature ponderosa and widespread shading and much more filtered light.

I should be to Jacob Lake in time for dinner tomorrow evening (and hopefully breakfast the following morning) before heading into the central Kaibab. Looking forward to my first real meal in 1-2 weeks.



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Backpacking the Arizona Trail, Day 51: Mazatzal Divide (Passage 23), Part II

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

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

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

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

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

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.

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Passage 43 (Buckskin Mountain)Passage 42 (Kaibab Plateau North)
Trail SurfaceDirt singletrack Dirt singletrack
Length (Mi)10.816.4
SeasonMarch-November. Lower elevations hot in summer with little shade.Spring-Fall
Potential Water SourcesSeasonal tank (mi 4.1 SOBO/784.6 NOBO)
Seasonal tank (mi 10.6 SOBO/778.1 NOBO)
Rock Creek Apron (mi 13.3 SOBO/775.4 NOBO), off trail
Government Reservoir (mi 17.8 SOBO/770.9 NOBO), off trail
Ponderosa Trick Tank (mi 20.0 SOBO/768.7 NOBO), off trail
Umbrella Tank (mi 20.3 SOBO/768.4 NOBO)
Orderville Trick Tank (mi 21 SOBO/767.7 NOBO), off trail
TrailheadsNorth: Utah border at Coyote Valley (mi 0 SOBO/788.7 NOBO)
South: Winter Road Trailhead (mi 10.6 SOBO/778.1 NOBO)
North: Winter Road Trailhead (mi 10.6 SOBO/778.1 NOBO)
South: US-89A east of Jacob Lake
Trailhead AccessVehicular access to all trailheadsNorth: Vehicular access (dirt road)
South: Vehicular access (paved road)
WildernessNoNo
Possible resupply pointsNoneJacob Lake
DifficultyEasyEasy to moderate
Potential campsites (mileages S to N)Best near summit of Buckskin Mountain, after initial climb out of Coyote Valley/just before final descent into Coyote Valley. Developed campsite at Utah state line in Coyote Valley.Good LNT-compatible sites through National Forest. I liked a spot right at the northern end of the ponderosa forest, at the north tip of the Kaibab itself.
ThreatsHeat – wear a cotton shirt so you can soak it. Synthetics aren’t great in the desert.

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

Dehydration

Lightning
Heat – wear a cotton shirt so you can soak it. Synthetics aren’t great in the desert.

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

Dehydration

Lightning
Permits Required? NoNo
Cell service?Limited Limited to nonexistent
Ecosystems traversedGreat Basin Conifer WoodlandGreat Basin Conifer Woodland
Rocky Mountain Montane Conifer Forest
Sources: Personal experience, Guthook Guides & ATA Guide to the Arizona Trail. Note that due to wildfire, Passage 43 is currently closed to access by the Bureau of Land Management.
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Great Basin Conifer WoodlandRocky Mountain Montane Conifer Forest
Common Trees/Shrubs* Big sagebrush
* Fernbush
* Fremont barberry
* Gambel oak
* Hopbush
* Mormon tea
* Rabbitbrush
* Serviceberry
* Stansbury cliffrose
* Junipers
* Piñon pine
* 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* Cutleaf
* Phacelia
* Wild onions
* Buckwheats
* Bladderpods
* Evening primrose
* Penstemons
* Sego-lily
* Grasses such as muttongrass & squirreltail
* Groundsel
* Indian paintbrush
* Locoweed
* Phlox
* Pinque rubberweed
* Sedges, such as clustered field sedge & western sedge
* Wild cabbage (unusual, thick stemmed)
* 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* Banana & Bailey’s yucca
* Beehive cactus
* Claret cup hedgehog cacti
* Prickly pear cacti
* Whipple cholla
Passage 23 & 22 Ecology (source: Arizona Trail Association AZT Guide). Only California and Texas are more diverse ecologically than Arizona.

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Prologue: The Arizona Trail

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

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

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

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

Aspens along the Arizona Trail, Kaibab National Forest



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

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

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

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Backpacking the Arizona Trail, Day 48: Whiterock Mesa (P25), Part 2

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

Pink ribbons spread across the bluish/purple sky at sunset

Fossil Springs Wilderness – FR 708

Take a virtual hike through the Fossil Creek Wilderness! Fossil Creek Wilderness is one of the most spectacular areas in Arizona – so much so that permits are required from April 1-October 1. From the Fossil Creek Bridge trailhead, FR 708 begins to climb the wall of Fossil Canyon. A short distance up, the road is gated. Just on the other side is the trailhead for the Waterfall Trail, one of the most popular spots in the wilderness.

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.

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