Arizona Trail, Day 31 – Anderson Mesa to Double Springs (Passages 30, Mormon Lake)

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 from Horse Lake
Arizona Trail, Passage 30 (Mormon Lake)
Coconino National Forest
Price Lake and Mormon Mountain
Arizona Trail, Passage 30 (Mormon Lake)
Coconino National Forest
Horse Lake
Arizona Trail, Passage 30 (Mormon Lake)
Coconino National Forest
Wildflowers on Anderson Mesa
Arizona Trail, Passage 30 (Mormon Lake)
Coconino National Forest
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
Old railroad grade along AZT
Arizona Trail, Passage 30 (Mormon Lake)
Coconino National Forest
Old railroad grade along AZT
Arizona Trail, Passage 30 (Mormon Lake)
Coconino National Forest
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.

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 west of Lake Mary Road
Arizona Trail, Passage 30 (Mormon Lake)
Coconino National Forest
Todays route

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
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Arizona Trail, Passage 25: Whiterock Mesa, Part 2

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

Fossil Springs Wilderness – FR 708

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

Fossil Creek Wilderness – Waterfall Trail

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

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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.

Arizona Trail, Day 46 – Passage 26 (Hardscrabble Mesa)

I finally get off around 11:30 & run into Matt and a female friend near East Tank. I’m glad for the company and we walk together for a while. The road condition is terrible – lots of loose basalt – and the going is slow. I finally reach the split to Strawberry and encounter them again, and their friend who picked them up flags me down and brings me a beer. Some more trail magic! I think my biggest challenges are becoming the pack weight and the solitude. I head for a short side trip to Fossil Creek.

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Arizona Trail, Day 45 – Passage 25 (Whiterock Mesa)

The trail first rolls through the pines and passes Pine Creek (dry) and Bradshaw Tank on its way to the top of Hardscrabble Mesa, which provides an excellent overlook of Oak Spring Canyon, the highlight of the passage, before dropping to the bottom. Like on the Highline, foliage still lingers in the warmer Canyon. I also spot some cool geology in what appears to be dikes in some of the rocks.

Arizona Trail, Day 43, Part III – Passage 27 (Highline)

The Arizona Trail following the Highline continues its route around Milk Ranch Point, passing some artifacts – perhaps ranching or mining related, as many seem to be in Arizona. Magnificent views to the south are common, with the Mazatzal Mountains an ever-increasing sight to the southeast.

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Arizona Trail, Day 43, Part II – Passage 27 (Highline)

Having filled up on water and eaten lunch, the trail ascends from Webber Creek and the Geronimo Trailhead toward Milk Ranch Point, jutting out from the Mogollon Rim. This is a much more consistently wooded & shaded stretch that appears to have been spared by the Dude Fire of 1990 and February Fire (2006). It also seems to be wetter here – there are still touches of green in the ferns as the trail ascends. Gamble oaks, maple and ponderosa dominate the trail through this stretch, and the light filtering through the canopy and the leaves is magical.

Arizona Trail, Day 42-43, Part I – Passage 27 (Highline)

The trail continues to roll across the eroded foothills of the Mogollon Rim, the impressive and distinctive southern boundary of the Colorado Plateau, where the elevation jumps around 4000 ft in elevation. The Highline continues to define itself as a diverse landscape where the species of the desert below and the pine forests above mingle.

The Mazatzal Mountains – the next major hurdle once I make it to Pine – loom in the distance as well, and ironwood line the more open stretches of path across the Highline, where the Dude Fire burned the forest in 1990,

Arizona Trail, Day 41 – Passage 27 (Highline), Part 3

The Arizona Trail continues west toward Pine, curving around parts of the Mogollon Rim that reach out, and segments that sit farther back, rolling across the eroded foothills beneath the parapets that’s tower overhead. The diverse plants continue to amaze. How often do you find blue spruce growing next to agave cactus!

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Arizona Trail Thruhike, Day 26: Passage 31 (Walnut Canyon), Part 2 (Arizona/Utah Day 33)

Welcome back to Aspens Tracks, thruhiking the Arizona Trail from Utah to Mexico. Hopefully this wilderness account is helping you get through your coronavirus-related distancing and isolation, and giving you hope for what adventures may yet come in the post-COVID-19 future for you.

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

Heading west, the forest transitions back to the ponderosas, rolling up and down through drainages. The ponderosas are dense throughout, and their reddish bark glows in the light that filters through the green needles. The gambel oaks continue to impress along the route as well, adding splashes of yellow, red, and orange to the green ponderosa woodlands. I filled up on water at the visitor center for the National Monument, so I should have enough to get me back into Flagstaff. The trail crosses two spur trails leading to overlooks with more magnificent views of the canyon. Both well worth the minor extra mileage and time.

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

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

Arizona Trail, Day 26: Passage 31 – Walnut Canyon (Arizona/Utah Day 33)

Welcome back to Aspens Tracks, thruhiking the Arizona Trail from Utah to Mexico. Hopefully this wilderness account is helping you get through your coronavirus-related distancing and isolation, and giving you hope for what adventures may yet come in the post-COVID-19 future for you.

The Arizona Trail passes peaking gambel oaks amid green ponderosa in the filtered forest light. Passage 31 (Walnut Canyon), Coconino National Forest
The Arizona Trail passes peaking gambel oaks amid green ponderosa in the filtered forest light. Passage 31 (Walnut Canyon), Coconino National Forest
The Arizona Trail passes peaking gambel oaks amid green ponderosa in the filtered forest light. Passage 31 (Walnut Canyon), Coconino National Forest

I get back to where I camped and pick up a few things I had left there while I was at Walnut Canyon National Monument. The trail crosses FR 303, Old Walnut Canyon Road, and heads west toward Flagstaff. Rolling in and out of drainages, It traces the rim of Walnut Canyon in places, and veers away into the woods in others. Heading west, the forest transitions back to the ponderosas, rolling up and down through drainages. The ponderosas are dense throughout, and their reddish bark glows in the light that filters through the green needles. The gambel oaks continue to impress along the route as well, adding splashes of yellow, red, and orange to the green ponderosa woodlands. I filled up on water at the visitor center for the National Monument, so I should have enough to get me back into Flagstaff. The trail crosses two spur trails leading to overlooks with more magnificent views of the canyon. Both well worth the minor extra mileage and time.

A peek into Walnut Canyon from the rim. Arizona Trail Passage 31 (Walnut Canyon), Coconino National Forest
View back down Walnut Canyon from the Arizona Trail skirting the rim on Passage 31 (Walnut Canyon), Coconino National Forest
The Arizona Trail passes peaking gambel oaks and toomey’s century plants – characteristic of a south-facing slope at this elevation – amid green ponderosa in the filtered forest light. Passage 31 (Walnut Canyon), Coconino National Forest
The Arizona Trail passes peaking gambel oaks amid green ponderosa in the filtered forest light. Passage 31 (Walnut Canyon), Coconino National Forest
The Arizona Trail passes peaking gambel oaks amid green ponderosa in the filtered forest light. Passage 31 (Walnut Canyon), Coconino National Forest
The Arizona Trail passes peaking gambel oaks amid green ponderosa in the filtered forest light. Passage 31 (Walnut Canyon), Coconino National Forest
The Arizona Trail passes peaking gambel oaks amid green ponderosa in the filtered forest light. Passage 31 (Walnut Canyon), Coconino National Forest
The Arizona Trail passes peaking gambel oaks amid green ponderosa in the filtered forest light. Passage 31 (Walnut Canyon), Coconino National Forest
The Arizona Trail passes stands of mature ponderosa, with their classic reddish-tinted bark. I can almost smell their butterscotch aroma in the picture….(Passage 31 (Walnut Canyon), Coconino National Forest)
The Arizona Trail passes stands of mature ponderosa in a classic northern Arizona drainage, with their classic reddish-tinted bark. I can almost smell their butterscotch aroma in the picture….(Passage 31 (Walnut Canyon), Coconino National Forest)
The Arizona Trail passes peaking gambel oaks amid green ponderosa in the filtered forest light. Passage 31 (Walnut Canyon), Coconino National Forest
The Arizona Trail passes peaking gambel oaks amid green ponderosa in the filtered forest light. Passage 31 (Walnut Canyon), Coconino National Forest
The Arizona Trail passes peaking gambel oaks amid green ponderosa in the filtered forest light. Passage 31 (Walnut Canyon), Coconino National Forest
The Arizona Trail passes peaking gambel oaks amid green ponderosa in the filtered forest light. Passage 31 (Walnut Canyon), Coconino National Forest

Arizona Trail: Walnut Canyon National Monument, Part 4

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.

Cliff dwellings visible from the Island Trail, Walnut Canyon National Monument (one of 22 national parks in Arizona)
Cliff dwellings along the Island Trail, Walnut Canyon National Monument (one of 22 national parks in Arizona)
Cliff dwellings along the Island Trail, Walnut Canyon National Monument (one of 22 national parks in Arizona)
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.

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 along the Island Trail, Walnut Canyon National Monument (one of 22 national parks in Arizona)
Cliff dwellings along the Island Trail, Walnut Canyon National Monument (one of 22 national parks in Arizona)
Cliff dwellings along the Island Trail, Walnut Canyon National Monument (one of 22 national parks in Arizona)

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. 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)
Cliff dwellings on the walls of Walnut Canyon 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)
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)

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?
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.
Elden Mountain and the San Francisco Peaks (Agassiz and Schultz) from the rim at Walnut Canyon National Monument

Arizona Trail, Day 26: Walnut Canyon National Monument, Part 2

This morning starts with a stop at my last national park in northern Arizona, Walnut Canyon National Monument. Walnut Canyon National Monument, one of 420 national parks in the National Park System, protects over 80 cliff dwellings of the Northern Sinagua people.

Cliff dwellings along Island Trail, Walnut Canyon National Monument, ((a national park, managed by the National Park Service, Arizona)
Limestone texture on the walls of Walnut Canyon; Walnut Canyon National Monument ((a national park, managed by the National Park Service, Arizona)

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.

Cliff dwellings along Island Trail, Walnut Canyon National Monument, (a national park, managed by the National Park Service, Arizona)

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.

Cliff dwellings along Island Trail, Walnut Canyon National Monument, (a national park, managed by the National Park Service, Arizona)
Cliff dwellings along Island Trail, Walnut Canyon National Monument (a national park, managed by the National Park Service, Arizona)

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.

Cliff dwellings along Island Trail, Walnut Canyon National Monument (a national park, managed by the National Park Service, Arizona)
Cliff dwellings along Island Trail, Walnut Canyon National Monument (a national park, managed by the National Park Service, Arizona)

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.

Panoramic photo of Walnut Canyon from Island Trail in Walnut Canyon National Monument ((a national park, managed by the National Park Service, Arizona)
Unaccessible cliff dwellings along Island Trail in Walnut Canyon National Monument (a national park, managed by the National Park Service, Arizona)
Upcanyon view of Walnut Canyon from Island Trail, Walnut Canyon National Monument (a national park, managed by the National Park Service, Arizona)
Unaccessible cliff dwellings in Walnut Canyon viewed from Island Trail, Walnut Canyon National Monument (a national park, managed by the National Park Service, Arizona)
Upcanyon view of Walnut Canyon from Island Trail, Walnut Canyon National Monument (a national park, managed by the National Park Service, Arizona)
Unaccessible cliff dwellings in Walnut Canyon viewed from Island Trail, Walnut Canyon National Monument (a national park, managed by the National Park Service, Arizona)

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

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.

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.

View into Walnut Canyon within Walnut Canyon National Monument
View along Walnut Canyon, Walnut Canyon National Monument
Cliff dwellings in Walnut Canyon, Walnut Canyon National Monument
Panorama of upper Walnut Canyon from the upper Island Trail, Walnut Canyon National Monument
Cliff dwellings visible from the Island Trail in Walnut Canyon National Monument
Cliff dwellings along the Island Trail, Walnut Canyon National Monument
Cliff dwellings along the Island Trail, Walnut Canyon National Monument
Cliff dwellings along the Island Trail, Walnut Canyon National Monument
Cliff dwellings along the Island Trail, Walnut Canyon National Monument
Cliff dwellings visible from the Island Trail in Walnut Canyon National Monument

Arizona Trail Day 25: Passages 32/31, Elden Mountain and Walnut Canyon (Trans-Arizona/Utah Hike Day 32)

After spending the night at the excellent Grand Canyon International Hostel, I indulge in an excellent breakfast at Tourist House (excellent breakfast burritos) and the Old Towne Creperie in Flagstaff. Delicious, all. One of the truly enjoyable things about thruhiking, indulging a bit with the knowledge that you’ll burn off the calories pretty quick on the trail.

I catch an Uber back to Picture Canyon around midday and hike and wander around the loop through the Preserve before rejoining the Arizona Trail. There are some great archeological sites as well as many petroglyphs throughout the area; Flagstaff’s only waterfall, on the Rio de Flag; and a historic railroad trestle.

The signage in the area is great, helping to understand this historic site. The Waterbird petroglyphs feature numerous symbols, including a bird-shaped one commonly referred to as “waterbird,” but which could be a crane or great blue heron, which may have been more common when the petroglyph creators, the Northern Sinaqua, lived in the region. It remains a clan symbol for their descendants, the Hopi and Zuni.

Zig zag petroglyphs are believed to represent lightning by Hopi and Zuni; other tribes believe them to possibly be water-related. Some interpret them as mountains.

Images of the sun and moon have many variations but may represent specific celestial events. They may also suggest the presence of the Yavapai, the People of the Sun.

Human shaped figures have various interpretations as well. One specific case is detailed in the photos below. Some appear to have tails, which according to the signage the Zuni believe represents their emergence from the underworld.

Four legged animals resemble bighorn sheep and may represent animal migrations, while spiral images have a variety of interpretations, including migration routes, water hole locations, coiled snakes, or whirlwinds. Some interpret them to symbolize and represent the path of the sun. The only relative certainty is that they represent some kind of motion.

Simple linear figures, likewise, can represent many different things – streams, maps, migration routes, and are simultaneously the figures hardest to interpret and those that provide the most room for imagination in interpretation.

Waterbird Petroglyphs, Picture Canyon Preserve
Waterbird Petroglyphs, Picture Canyon Preserve
Waterbird Petroglyphs, Picture Canyon Preserve
Waterbird Petroglyphs, Picture Canyon Preserve
Waterbird Petroglyphs, Picture Canyon Preserve
Waterbird Petroglyphs, Picture Canyon Preserve. The human figure on the left may represent Masaw, the Hopi earth guardian. According to the signage at the site, his location near a migration symbol may represent the migration of Hopi and Zuni into this world.
Waterbird Petroglyphs, Picture Canyon Preserve
Waterbird Petroglyphs, Picture Canyon Preserve
Waterbird Petroglyphs, Picture Canyon Preserve
Waterbird Petroglyphs, Picture Canyon Preserve
Waterbird Petroglyphs, Picture Canyon Preserve
Waterbird Petroglyphs, Picture Canyon Preserve
Pithouse archeological site along Don Weaver Trail, Picture Canyon Preserve
View down Picture Canyon toward Turkey Hills, Don Weaver Trail
Petroglyphs at Petroglyph Overlook along Don Weaver Trail, Picture Canyon Preserve
Historic railroad ties, Picture Canyon Preserve
Flagstaff’s only waterfall, Picture Canyon Preserve

Continuing east on the AZT, the pines drop away completely and pinyon/juniper replaces them. Train after train passes, then the trail takes a hard right and passes under the BNSF tracks and then I-40.

View of Elden Mountain (left), Little Elden Mountain (center), and the San Francisco Peaks (right) from the Arizona Trail in the Coconino National Forest east of Picture Canyon Preserve. Passage 32, Elden Mountain
Wildcat Hill covered with pinyon & juniper in Coconino National Forest along the Arizona Trail, Passage 32 (Elden Mountain)
Rabbitbrush blooms among isolated ponderosas as the landscape transitions to pinyon/juniper woodland. Arizona Trail Passage 32 (Elden Mountain)
Classic pinyon/juniper woodland along the Arizona Trail, Passage 32 (Elden Mountain)
Crossing under I-40 on the Arizona Trail. Passage 31 (Walnut Canyon)
View back toward Elden and Little Elden Mountains, the San Francisco Peaks and (far right) Turkey Hills along the Arizona Trail, Passage 31 (Walnut Canyon)

I barely miss the time cutoff for Walnut Canyon National Monument, so I’ll have to camp in the vicinity and hit that in the AM. The trail crosses the entrance road, entering passage 30 and then begins to ascend into pines again, and the late afternoon light on the changing oaks and pines is gorgeous. I make camp near the Old Walnut Canyon Rd and opt to stay here for the night. Going to have to push my second full resupply/zero day in Flag to Tuesday instead of Monday.

Ponderosas start to reappear in greater numbers on the south side of I-40 on the Arizona Trail, Passage 31 (Walnut Canyon)
Ponderosas mix with pinyon-juniper woodland in evening light along Arizona Trail, Passage 31 (Walnut Canyon)
Gambel oak in evening light along the Arizona Trail, Passage 31 (Walnut Canyon)
Gambel oak and ponderosa pines in evening light along the Arizona Trail, Passage 31 (Walnut Canyon)

Just What is the Difference Between National Park Service Designations, Anyway?

Zabriskie Point sunrise, Death Valley National Park

It’s National Park Week! As I head toward the next national park on my account of the Arizona Trail, Walnut Canyon National Monument, I wanted to stop and address one thing that is the source of a lot of misconceptions and questions about the National Park System.

Just what is the difference between all those national park designations, anyway?

Sunrise, Joshua Tree National Park, California
Lower Falls of the Yellowstone River, Yellowstone National Park, Wyoming
General Sherman Tree, Sequoia National Park, California

First, an important observation here. I realize that this is an age where things like nuance and capitalization are treated as irrelevant or unimportant. On this note, such things are often critical, because we are dealing with laws and presidential actions.

Great Fountain Geyser eruption, Yellowstone National Park, Wyoming

OK, some background. For those who aren’t aware, the National Park System has a variety of designations for its component parks:

National Park
National Monument
National Preserve
National Reserve
National Seashore
National Lakeshore
National River
National River & Reccreation Area
Wild River
Wild and Scenic River
National Scenic River
National Scenic Riverways
Scenic & Recreational River
National Historical Reserve
National Scenic Trail
National Military Park
National Battlefield
National Battlefield Site
National Battlefield Park
National Historical Park
National Historic Site
International Historic Site
National Memorial
National Recreation Area
National Parkways
National Park for the Performing Arts

Fort Point National Historic Site, San Francisco
Linville Falls on the Blue Ridge Parkway, North Carolina
Big Slackwater, Chesapeake & Ohio Canal National Historical Park

Whew. That’s quite the list! Just for an added twist, some parks contain multiple designations in one contiguous area. For example, the North Cascades National Park Service Complex includes not only the National Park but also two contiguous National Recreation Areas, Ross Lake and Lake Chelan. More on that to come. Many parks in Alaska and at least one in the lower 48 (Great Sand Dunes) contain both National Parks and Preserves, which each count as two national park units – the Park and the Preserve. There has been discussion about New River Gorge (currently designated a National River) being redesignated as such as well.

Washington Monument, National Mall & Memorial Parks, Washington DC

All of the above designations can be created by an Act of Congress. Congress can name a park anything it wants. It could name a park the National Playground or National Backyard if it wanted. It would be kind of ridicuous, but it could do it.

Now, National Monuments. How about those?

Sipapu Bridge, Natural Bridges National Monument, Utah
Montezuma Castle National Monument, Arizona
Wildflowers on a rainy day at Cedar Breaks National Monument, Utah

Well, the Antiquities Act of 1906 grants the President the authority to create parks from previously owned public lands, and under the law such sites automatically receive the designation of National Monument regardless of their characteristics. Most are smaller sites, focused on a single resource. A great example of this is Jewel Cave National Monument in the Black Hills of South Dakota. It primarily protect the cave beneath the surface; the surface area is relatively limited in size. Other examples include areas like the Statue of Liberty.

But, there are some important caveats here! First, as noted, Congress can name a park anything it wants, and at least one National Monument has been created by an Act of Congress, not a Presidential Proclamation under the Antiquities Act – George Washington’s Birthplace National Monument in Virginia.

George Washington’s Birthplace National Monument, Virginia, on a gray President’s Day

Second, not all National Monuments created by Presidential Proclamation are small – some, despite meeting the legal size requirement to be limited in scope to the “proper care and management of the objects to be protected” are larger than some National Parks, partially due to the scale of the landscape and “objects to be protected,” and partially due to recent decisions by Congress to rename two relatively small sites, Gateway Arch and Indiana Dunes, as National Parks. Organ Pipe Cactus and Chiricahua National Monument are both substantially larger than either. (I think the characteristics of both make them better suited to be National Parks, personally, but Congress has not taken action to make that change.)

Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument, Arizona
Chiricahua National Monument, Arizona

Third, not all National Monuments are managed by the National Park Service. This is important because other land management agencies have different missions, which may be either more multiple use (Forest Service, Bureau of Land Management) or more resource protection (Fish & Wildlife Service) than the Park Service is, which is primarily resource protection with a dose of public recreation and access thrown in to allow the public to experience the protected resources – “for the benefit and enjoyment of the people,” as the Act creating Yellowstone famously proclaimed. Vermilion Cliffs National Monument, Grand Staircase National Monument, and Gold Butte National Monument are examples of BLM National Monuments. Misty Fjords National Monument in Alaska is an example of a US Forest Service National Monument. Bears Ears National Monument in Utah is joint BLM/USFS; Grand Canyon-Parashant National Monument in Arizona is joint BLM and NPS. More on this separately.

Different designations generally reflect the core resource or landscape of the site. National Seashores and Lakeshores largely contain spectacular stretches of coastline; the various battlefield designations (National Battlefield Park, National Battlefield, National Military Park, National Battlefield Site, and, in one or two cases, National Historical Park) protect historic battlefields; National Historical Parks and Sites generally protect historic areas, with the primary difference between those two being the relative size of the park, etc. National Parks generally contain a variety of resources, what the Park Service would term “multiple resources,” typically both natural and cultural, and thus tell a diverse story.

Bodie Island Lighthouse, Cape Hatteras National Seashore, North Carolina

The key words here, however, are “largely” and “generally.” Why? Because there is, despite public perception and common belief, no actual legal dfference between the different designations; there is no law that defines legal characteristics for each designation. As noted above, Congress can name something anything that it wants. Gateway Arch National Park, for example, protects an almost exclusively cultural landscape. Mesa Verde National Park protects a primarily cultural landscape, albeit in a beautiful setting in southwest Colorado.

Interior dome of Old Courthouse, Gateway Arch National Park

There’s one rough exception. National Preserves and National Reserves are a unique designation that often allow additional resource activities that would be prohibited in the other designations.

Kelso Dunes, Mojave National Preserve, California

Now that we’ve gone over the designations, what misconceptions might you hear about these?

Well, first and foremost, you might hear some suggest that there is a status difference between them – notably, that National Parks are a higher “status” or an “upgrade.” This manifests in two ways. The first is the belief that there is some kind of hierarchy within the park system. This is what drove the redesignation of parks like Gateway Arch (formerly Jefferson National Expansion Memorial). And I admit, it’s a misconception I fell for myself at one time. However, its not true. The mission of the Park Service is identical regardless of designation. The management is largely identical, and differences are generally due to other parts of founding legislation, not the designation*. Most parks regardless of designation prohibit the gathering of resources within the park, but while Cape Hatteras National Seashore allows the gathering of seashells, Grand Canyon National Park also allows the gathering of pinyon pine nuts. The authorization for parks to allow such activities is written into other parts of the founding legislation, and is unrelated to the designation itself (as evidenced by the fact that both a National Park and National Seashore allow a variation on a similar activity). When parks such as Gateway Arch, Cuyahoga Valley, and Indiana Dunes were redesignated, all that changed was the letterhead and signage (and visitation). For this reason, when names are changed or a park of a different designation is renamed a National Park, “redesignation” is a more appropriate phrase than “upgrade.”

Brandywine Falls, Cuyahoga Valley National Park, Ohio
Brandywine Falls, Cuyahoga Valley National Park, Ohio

The second manifestation is that there is a difference in legal protections or legal status between the designations established by Congress and National Monuments. Now, I will observe that it many national parks start as National Monuments and are later further established by Congress, but there is a solid legal argument that since National Monuments are established through a path established by Congress and since the Antiquities Act, their legal status is identical to that of a park established directly through an Act of Congress. Major modifications thus have to be made to the site by Congress once established, just like with all other sites, rather than by the President. There is material in the Congressional Record and further legislation since (the Federal Land Management Policy Act of 1976) to back up Congressional intent on this matter.

It’s also easy when visiting an area like the Black Hills to compare somewhere like the previously mentioned Jewel Cave National Monument to the nearby Wind Cave National Park. And it is true that Wind Cave received its designation due in part to the 30,000+ acres that Wind Cave protects on the surface in addition to the cave beneath. While Wind Cave and its surface of mixed grass prairie and 450 pure bison are unquestioningly magnificent, the two parks should be viewed based on their individual characteristics. Wind Cave didn’t receive its designation because of anything it had that Jewel Cave didn’t, nor vice versa. They each received their designations because of the legal means through which the parks were established, and because of the characteristics of the individual site.

Pronghorn on the border of Wind Cave National Park and Custer State Park, South Dakota

You might also hear some people say that “national parks are different from national park units.” Well, yes – but all 419 parks are units of the park system, including all 62 National Parks. Indeed, the better way to distinguish between the two is to use capitalization to indicate the 62 Congressionally-designated National Parks, since it is an official title granted by Congress, whereas the lowercase “national parks” usually refers to all 419. NPS typically reserves the term “unit” for a subsidiary part of one of the 419 parks, such as the “North Unit of Theodore Roosevelt National Park.”

Theodore Roosevelt National Park, North Dakota

Lastly, as further evidence of the relative insignificance of most designations, there are at least 5 designations for battlefields, as referenced above. As a native of northern Virginia, I’ve been to many of them. The difference between them (other than the obviously smaller National Battlefield Site) is extremely limited, to the point of being practically nonexistent. If designations were truly impactful, this would not be the case. Indeed, I believe that one of the simplest ways to streamline park nomenclature would be to establish one designation for all battlefields. I favor “National Battlefield Park,” which makes both the primary resource and the National Park Service connection clear, but I’m open to other thoughts as well on that matter.

Antietam National Battlefield during the annual luminaries event, Maryland
Rose River Falls, Shenandoah National Park, Virginia

I also mentioned North Cascades above. The three parks that make up the North Cascades National Park Service Complex are the product of compromise and politics and show how those processes influence designations and park establishment. When the park was initially proposed, the entirety of the North Cascades complex was within the National Park. But residents of the town of Stehekin were concerned – likely due to some of the misconceptions above, in part – about the implications of living within the border of a National Park. So that area was drawn into Lake Chelan National Recreation Area. In addition, the state of Washington wanted to build a road across the area, but park advocates wanted the park to maintain a wilderness character. So the road corridor became part of Ross Lake National Recreation Area, dividing the National Park itself into the North and South Units and accessed only by hiking trails and one short 6 mile spur road. Many visitors never actually cross into Park itself. Yet, all three parks are managed together as one unit despite their different designations. The different designations are the result of politics, not status or any other reason.

I hope this clarifies park designations somewhat. It’s important to remember that at their core the parks represent, protect, and interpret the shared natural, cultural, and historical story of America, beautiful and ugly. And the name a park receives as part of its role in telling that story is relatively limited in impact relative to the story itself. As Shakespeare famously wrote, “a rose by any other name would smell as sweet.”

Have you been subject to any of these misconceptions over the years, as I was at one time? What do you think could be done by Congress to clarify such misconceptions and confusion that might result from the various nomenclature that is currently employed?

*with the exception, again, of National Preserves and National Reserves.

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.

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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.