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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To Thruhike or Section Hike, That is the Question

When many individuals are first looking at getting into thruhiking, they face one crucial decision after trail selection – to section hike, or thruhike. Each has different advantages and challenges, and may be better suited for one trail than another. Today, we’re going to discuss these. First, we need to define each. For our purposes, … Continue reading To Thruhike or Section Hike, That is the Question

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.

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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.

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.

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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.

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.

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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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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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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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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.

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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