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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“The Arizona Trail,” Dale R Shewalter

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

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

For those who didn’t see my last post, another note about the San Francisco Peaks. They are the highest peaks in Arizona today, including Humphreys at 12633 and Agassiz at 12360 ft. They are a product of a volcanic hotspot under northern Arizona that formed what we know of today as the San Francisco Volcanic Field, a cluster of lava fields, around 600 cinder cones, and lava domes surrounding Flagstaff. The most prominent feature are the Peaks, an extinct stratovolcano complex. San Francisco Mountain erupted around 400,000 years ago in a lateral blast (think Mt St. Helens). The eruption carved a hole in the northeast side of the mountain and is estimated to have lowered the height of the mountain by approximately 6000 ft. At an estimated height around 18000 ft prior to the eruption, had the eruption not taken place it would be the highest peak in the continental United States today. The view from the top reaches into Utah, Arizona, and New Mexico at a minimum. I’m not sure if you can see the southwest corner of Colorado. The most recent eruption in the San Francisco volcanic field was Sunset Crater, now contained within Sunset Crater Volcano National Monument and probably one of the most unexpected places for many visitors in the United States where one can walk on and get a hands-on experience with lava. Sunset Crater last erupted around 1085 AD, meaning there is human documentation of the event from native people.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Backpacking the Amazing Arizona Trail – Pine Mountain (Passage 21), Boulder Creek Trail

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

Logistics, trail journal, and magnificent mountain scenery.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“The Arizona Trail,” Dale R Shewalter

Today began with a continuation of the southward trek along the Coconino Rim. The rolling hike along the rim of the Coconino Plateau passes through a combination of ponderosas and, through the trees, views off the plateau toward the Navajo Nation. As the trail rises slowly back to the top of the rim and heads back across the Plateau, the ecosystem starts to shift. Junipers start to appear. The trail passes Russell Tank, one of the many wildlife tanks maintained by the state to provide water to wildlife. It’s the first time on the hike that I’ve had to filter water out of a tank, and the tank is low after the dry summer, but there is enough to pull but the water is decent quality, so I set up my Sawyer and get a few liters to get me to the Babbitt Ranch passage. One disturbing thing happens, though. As I step in the mud on the edge of the tank to suck some water into my filter bag, I feel a tug on the sole of my right hiking boot. Looking down, I see the sole of my boot start to separate from the body.

It’s going to be a race to Flagstaff now. Hopefully I can get there and get a new pair before my sole comes off.

After filtering the water of organisms and sediment (this IS Arizona, after all, one can’t be picky, but the Sawyer works great for filtering all that out), I’m heading south again. The ecotone is definitely getting into gear now. The pines start to thin out; more rice grass appears between them. Pinyon pines appear, joining the juniper that had appeared earlier. Moving farther from the rim, the ecosystem change is finalized. The ponderosas disappear completely, becoming replaced by pinyon pines and juniper spaced by rice grass meadows. Humphreys Peak and the San Francisco Peaks appear above the treeline. In a few days, I will be at their foot.

The day ends at the ruins of Moqui Stage Station, one of the stops on the original stagecoach route that took early tourists from Flagstaff to Grand Canyon. Stone ruins and an interpretive sign mark the site today – the main one being what could have been perhaps a water tank for horses at one point.

Setting up camp, I get a spectacular view of the full moon rising through the umbra (the shadow of the Earth) and the Belt of Venus. Just gorgeous to sit and watch that happen…with no one for miles around.

(Post will be updated with my Relieve video for today.)

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Dwarf mistletoe impacts along the AZT
Arizona Trail, Passage 36 (Coconino Rim)
Kaibab National Forest
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Dwarf mistletoe impacts to young ponderosa pines along the AZT
Arizona Trail, Passage 36 (Coconino Rim)
Kaibab National Forest
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Arizona Trail tracing the Coconino Rim
Arizona Trail, Passage 36 (Coconino Rim)
Kaibab National Forest
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View off the Coconino Rim from the AZT
Arizona Trail, Passage 36 (Coconino Rim)
Kaibab National Forest
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View through the pines off the Coconino Rim along the AZT
Arizona Trail, Passage 36 (Coconino Rim)
Kaibab National Forest
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View through the pines off the Coconino Rim along the AZT
Arizona Trail, Passage 36 (Coconino Rim)
Kaibab National Forest
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Arizona Trail through the ponderosa pines on the Coconino Rim
AZT Passage 36 (Coconino Rim)
Kaibab National Forest
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Junipers starting to appear along the Arizona Trail, first sign of another ecosystem shift
AZT, Passage 36 (Coconino Rim)
Kaibab National Forest
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Juniper berries, Arizona Trail, Kaibab National Forest
(Note: Juniper “berries” are not true berries, but rather a type of cone with merged, fleshy scales, making it appear like a berry.)
Arizona Trail, Passage 36 (Coconino Rim)
Kaibab National Forest
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Downed trees are a major challenge on the AZT
Arizona Trail, Passage 36 (Coconino Rim)
Kaibab National Forest
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Arizona Trail through pinelands, about 9 miles from the Kaibab National Forest border at Moqui Stage Station
AZT, Passage 36 (Coconino Rim)
Kaibab National Forest
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Unfortunately a photo cannot do enough to communicate the smell of walking through this particular landscape.
Arizona Trail, Passage 36 (Coconino Rim)
Kaibab National Forest
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Gambel oaks in fall foliage
Arizona Trail, Passage 36 (Coconino Rim)
Kaibab National Forest
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Gambel oaks in fall foliage
Arizona Trail, Passage 36 (Coconino Rim)
Kaibab National Forest
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Russell Tank
Arizona Trail, Passage 36 (Coconino Rim)
Kaibab National Forest
One of the first water sources along the trail that actually had water. Filled up here for the trek south.
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Russell Tank
Arizona Trail, Passage 36 (Coconino Rim)
Kaibab National Forest
One of the first water sources along the trail that actually had water. Filled up here for the trek south.
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Gambel oaks along the AZT
Arizona Trail, Passage 36 (Coconino Rim)
Kaibab National Forest
7 miles from Moqui Stage Station, 12 from the forest boundary.
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Healthy, well-spaced ponderosas along the AZT
Arizona Trail, Passage 36 (Coconino Rim)
Kaibab National Forest
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Healthy, well-spaced ponderosas along the AZT
Arizona Trail, Passage 36 (Coconino Rim)
Kaibab National Forest
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First glimpse of the San Francisco Peaks over the pines as the Arizona Trail emerges into rice grass meadows bordering the Coconino Rim
AZT Passage 36 (Coconino Rim)
Kaibab National Forest
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Arizona Trail, Passage 36 (Coconino Rim)
Kaibab National Forest

San Francisco Peaks behind over the treeline.
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Arizona Trail, Passage 36 (Coconino Rim)
Kaibab National Forest
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Pines and junipers among rice grass
Arizona Trail Passage 36 (Coconino Rim)
Kaibab National Forest
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Arizona Trail Passage 36 (Coconino Rim)
Kaibab National Forest
Pines getting more spread out, transitioning to more junipers moving away from the rim.
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Arizona Trail running through junipers among rice grass
AZT Passage 36 (Coconino Rim)
Kaibab National Forest
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Arizona Trail running through junipers among rice grass
AZT Passage 36 (Coconino Rim)
Kaibab National Forest
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Arizona Trail, Passage 36 (Coconino Rim)
Kaibab National Forest
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Pinyon pine
Arizona Trail Passage 36 (Coconino Rim)
Kaibab National Forest
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Ecosystem transition to pinyon-juniper scrubland. San Francisco Peaks on horizon
Arizona Trail Passage 36 (Coconino Rim), Moqui Stage Station
Kaibab National Forest
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San Francisco Peaks above pinyon-juniper scrubland.
Arizona Trail Passage 36 (Coconino Rim), Moqui Stage Station
Kaibab National Forest
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Sunset Juniper
Arizona Trail Passage 36 (Coconino Rim), Moqui Stage Station
Kaibab National Forest
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Remains of Moqui Stage Station
Arizona Trail Passage 36 (Coconino Rim), Moqui Stage Station
Kaibab National Forest
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Remains of Moqui Stage Station
Arizona Trail Passage 36 (Coconino Rim), Moqui Stage Station
Kaibab National Forest
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Sunset from Moqui Stage Station
Arizona Trail Passage 36 (Coconino Rim), Moqui Stage Station
Kaibab National Forest
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Full moon rising through the shadow of the earth (blue) and into the Belt of Venus (pink) above the pinyons and junipers of the Kaibab National Forest
Arizona Trail, Passage 36 (Coconino Rim)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Pink ribbons spread across the bluish/purple sky at sunset

Fossil Springs Wilderness – FR 708

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

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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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.

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Backpacking the Arizona Trail – Pine to Pine Ridge (Passage 25, Whiterock Mesa)

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

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Backpacking the Arizona Trail, Day 41, Part II – Highline Trail (Passage 27, Highline)

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

Backpacking the Arizona Trail, Day 40-41 – Highline Trail (Passage 27, Highline)

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

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

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

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

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The Arizona Trail, Day 7: Passage 40, Kaibab Plateau South

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

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

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

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

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

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

“The Arizona Trail,” Dale R Shewalter

Another cold morning. There are icicles in my water and some food has frozen. I’m on the trail around 7:30, in the vicinity of the highest point on the entire Arizona Trail. Setting out and hiking southward, the trail winds through meadows and past more aspen groves mixed with spruce/fir forest before crossing the unmarked highpoint of both the Kaibab and trail just before reaching the Grand Canyon National Park boundary.

This entire stretch falls within the boreal forest, between 8200-9200 ft in elevation. Accumulating 26 inches of precipitation per year, including an average of 10-12 feet of snow, and dominated by aspen and conifers such as Engelmann spruce & Douglas fir, the boreal forest on the North Rim has cool temperatures even in high summer, is the subject of extreme storms, and in named for Boreas, the North Wind.

Logistics and ecological details follow today’s photos.

Hiking southbound on the AZT
Arizona Trail, Passage 40
Kaibab National Forest
Fall backpacking on the AZT
Arizona Trail, Passage 40
Kaibab National Forest
Fall hiking on the AZT
Arizona Trail, Passage 40
Kaibab National Forest
Fall backpacking on the AZT
Arizona Trail, Passage 40
Kaibab National Forest
Fall hiking on the AZT
Arizona Trail, Passage 40
Kaibab National Forest
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Fall backpacking on the AZT
Arizona Trail, Passage 40
Kaibab National Forest
Fall hiking on the AZT
Arizona Trail, Passage 40
Kaibab National Forest
Fall backpacking on the AZT
Arizona Trail, Passage 40
Kaibab National Forest
Fall hiking on the AZT
Arizona Trail, Passage 40
Kaibab National Forest
Fall backpacking on the AZT
Arizona Trail, Passage 40
Kaibab National Forest
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Fall backpacking on the AZT
Arizona Trail, Passage 40
Kaibab National Forest
Fall hiking on the AZT
Arizona Trail, Passage 40
Kaibab National Forest
Fall backpacking on the AZT
Arizona Trail, Passage 40
Kaibab National Forest
Fall hiking on the AZT
Arizona Trail, Passage 40
Kaibab National Forest
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Fall backpacking on the AZT
Arizona Trail, Passage 40
Kaibab National Forest
Fall hiking on the AZT
Arizona Trail, Passage 40
Kaibab National Forest
Fall backpacking on the AZT
Arizona Trail, Passage 40
Kaibab National Forest
Fall hiking on the AZT
Arizona Trail, Passage 40
Kaibab National Forest
Fall backpacking on the AZT
Arizona Trail, Passage 40
Kaibab National Forest
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Fall hiking on the AZT
Arizona Trail, Passage 40
Kaibab National Forest
Fall backpacking on the AZT
Arizona Trail, Passage 40
Kaibab National Forest
Fall hiking on the AZT
Arizona Trail, Passage 40
Kaibab National Forest
Fall backpacking on the AZT
Arizona Trail, Passage 40
Kaibab National Forest
Fall hiking on the AZT
Arizona Trail, Passage 40
Kaibab National Forest

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

The trail crossed Blue Ridge and dipped across the steep valley of East Clear Creek, dry at the crossing. I was told that there may be water in one direction near the crossing but didn’t need it and therefore didn’t check. Climbing out the other side, the northern aspect of the slope is apparent – while ponderosas covered the southern slope opposite, the northern one featured Douglas fir and blue spruce. Obviously the different sides show different microclimates depending on the sun aspect, the temperature and moisture levels on each side given the orientation and angle of the slope. The trail rises back to the ponderosa forests on the Mogollon Plateau and traverses them, the site of my first human sighting in 3 days, then reaches General Springs Canyon. Dipping into General Springs Canyon, silence and quiet take hold. I passed a nice campsite near the end of GSC, but the pools nearby were still frozen at the end of the day, suggesting it would get colder in the canyon overnight (and that solar exposure during the day was limited) than on the Rim, so I continued forward to the rim itself. Lights can be seen in the distance, but I’m not sure which town. Likely Pine or Strawberry. Tomorrow begins the descent off the rim at long last.

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Backpacking the Arizona Trail, Day 38 – Blue Ridge Ranger Station to Mogollon Rim (Passage 28, Blue Ridge)

Managed to push through the entire Blue Ridge Passage today, one of my best days on the trail. I left the Blue Ridge Ranger Station this morning and headed south for the Rim. Saw a herd of elk near the Blue Ridge Campground and Elk Tank while climbing Blue Ridge itself. The trail also passed through an active prescribed burn, though it was low intensity so probably not considered a public hazard at this point. I’m familiar with them anyway, having worked as a PIO (public informations officer) on one over the summer at Grand Canyon. The trail crossed Blue Ridge and dipped across the steep valley of East Clear Creek, dry at the crossing.

Arizona Trail, Day 36 – Passage 29 (Happy Jack)

The low last night was projected to be 12º, the coldest night yet on the trail, and I would say that may well have been accurate. Fortunately I came prepared for such conditions. Today I will be one of the first to walk the full new Happy Jack passage routing south of Shuff Tank.

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Backpacking the Arizona Trail – Mormon Lake to Shuff Tank (Day 34; Passages 29 & 28, Mormon Lake & Happy Jack)

It’s brutally cold this morning, notably because of the strong wind that whips across the clearing to the west. Not setting up the tent last night was a mistake. I ultimately fill up for the last time at Navajo Spring and run into a few dayhikers who have completed over 300 miles of the trail themselves. Two of them are the Grouper and the Oracle. I continue south, aiming for Gooseberry Springs TH and Passage 29, Happy Jack.

Arizona Trail, Day 33 – Mormon Lake Zero

It’s cold and raw after the rain the night before. I walk about 3 miles up the road to Double Springs and then use the AZT to get back to my prior campsite to grab the sleeping pad, then retrace my steps again. Did it hail up here?

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Arizona Trail, Day 31 – Anderson Mesa to Double Springs (Passages 30, Anderson Mesa & 29, Mormon Lake)

There is a lot of cool railroad history west of Lake Mary Road, the trail follows an old logging railroad grade for much of the route and in places the ties are still visible. Very cool. The forest turns into a dense mixed conifer and I have a chance encounter with a mountain biker named Chris who recently moved here from Idaho. We talk about the trail ahead and some I’m looking at doing in Idaho.

Arizona Trail, Day 30 – Anderson Mesa (Passages 31 and 30, Walnut Canyon and Mormon Lake)

The trail reaches Lowell Observatory’s Navy Precision Optical Interferometer (NPOI). The NPOI measures precise relative positions of stars in the sky for the Naval Observatory to use as reference when determining geographic positions of locations on both Earth and in space, as well as for use in timekeeping. Over four football fields long, it uses a six-mirror array directing multiple light beams from a star to a single point, enhancing image detail and separating stars that are so close that even the largest conventional telescopes cannot separate them visually. Near the NPOI is an excellent view of Upper Lake Mary in the valley of Walnut Creek below, after which the trail continues across Anderson Mesa.

After reaching Horse Lake, I make camp for the night. The sky is black as coal and the night is filled with coyotes howling.

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

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

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Passage 40 (Kaibab Plateau South)
Trail SurfaceDirt trail
Length (Mi)24.3
SeasonSpring-fall. No vehicular access to this section December-mid May. Feet of snow in winter.
Potential Water SourcesCrane Lake (mi 46.5 SOBO, 742.2 NOBO)
Little Pleasant Valley Tank (mi 48.8 SOBO, 739.9 NOBO)
Wildlife Drinker (mi 56.5 SOBO, 732.2 NOBO)
Dog Lake (mi 56.6 SOBO, 732.1 NOBO)
North Canyon Spring (mi 58.9 SOBO, 729.8 NOBO)
Crystal Spring (mi 59.5 SOBO, 729.2 NOBO)
Sourdough Well (mi 62.1 SOBO, 726.6 NOBO)
Upper North Canyon Creek (mi 63.9 SOBO, 724.9 NOBO)
TrailheadsNorth: Telephone Hill
South: Grand Canyon National Park boundary
Trailhead AccessNorth: Vehicular access via FR 241 off AZ-67
South: Foot access only
WildernessNo, but it can feel like it. Most hikers in the area stick to the national park. Or are passing through to reach routes in the national park.
Possible resupply pointsNorth Rim Country Store & Meadow’s Edge
Accessed via FR 216 at AZT MM 54.6 S/734.1 N
ATA-Rated DifficultyEasy
Potential campsites (mileages S to N)Various
Ecosystems TraversedGreat Basin Subalpine Conifer Forest
Rocky Mountain Montane Conifer Woodland
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Great Basin Subalpine Conifer Forest
Common Trees/Shrubs* Corkbark fir
* Gambel oak
* Quaking aspen
* White fir
* Blue spruce
* Engelmann spruce
* Buckwheats
* Currants
* Dwarf juniper
* Elderberry
* Fendler’s ceanothus
* Greenleaf Manzanita
* New Mexican locust
* Perry’s rabbitbrush
* Raspberry
* smooth sumac
* Snowberry
Common herbaceous plants* Bracken Fern
* Buckwheats
* Cinquefoils
* Columbines
* Fleabane daisies
* Geraniums
* goldeneye
* Goldenrods
* Groundsels
* Hairy golden aster
* Indian paintbrush
* Lotus
* Lupines
* Meadow-rue
* Parry’s bellflower
* Peavine
* Penstemons
* Puccoon
* Pussytoes
* Thistles
* Western & white prairie asters
* Wild strawberry
* Wormwood
* Yarrow
* Yellow hawkweed
Common succulentsPrickly pear, occasionally
Aquatic* Bulrush
* Buttercups
* Rushes
* Sedges
* Water plantains
Passage 23 & 22 Ecology (source: Arizona Trail Association AZT Guide & NatureServe). Only California and Texas are more diverse ecologically than Arizona.
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Backpacking the Amazing Arizona Trail, Day 6, Part I: Passage 40, Kaibab Plateau South

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

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

Aspens in fall colors stand among mixed conifers (spruce, fir, ponderosa pine) while hiking the AZT
Arizona Trail, Passage 40
Kaibab National Forest
Backpacking the AZT, aspens in fall colors stand among mixed conifers (spruce, fir, ponderosa pine)
Arizona Trail, Passage 40
Kaibab National Forest
Hiking the AZT, aspens in fall colors stand among mixed conifers (spruce, fir, ponderosa pine)
Arizona Trail, Passage 40
Kaibab National Forest
Backpacking the AZT, aspens in fall colors stand among mixed conifers (spruce, fir, ponderosa pine)
Arizona Trail, Passage 40
Kaibab National Forest
Hiking the AZT, aspens in fall colors stand among mixed conifers (spruce, fir, ponderosa pine) while hiking the AZT
Arizona Trail, Passage 40
Kaibab National Forest
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Backpacking the AZT, aspens in fall colors stand among mixed conifers (spruce, fir, ponderosa pine)
Arizona Trail, Passage 40
Kaibab National Forest
Hiking the AZT, aspens in fall colors stand among mixed conifers (spruce, fir, ponderosa pine)
Arizona Trail, Passage 40
Kaibab National Forest
Backpacking the AZT, Aspens in fall colors stand among mixed conifers (spruce, fir, ponderosa pine)
Arizona Trail, Passage 40
Kaibab National Forest
Hiking the AZT, aspens in fall colors stand among mixed conifers (spruce, fir, ponderosa pine) beside rice grass meadows
Arizona Trail, Passage 40
Kaibab National Forest
Backpacking the AZT, aspens in fall colors stand among mixed conifers (spruce, fir, ponderosa pine) beside rice grass meadows
Arizona Trail, Passage 40
Kaibab National Forest
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Hiking the AZT, aspens in fall colors stand among mixed conifers (spruce, fir, ponderosa pine) beside rice grass meadows
Arizona Trail, Passage 40
Kaibab National Forest
Backpacking the AZT, aspens in fall colors stand among mixed conifers (spruce, fir, ponderosa pine) beside rice grass meadows
Arizona Trail, Passage 40
Kaibab National Forest
Hiking the AZT, aspens in fall colors stand among mixed conifers (spruce, fir, ponderosa pine) beside rice grass meadows
Arizona Trail, Passage 40
Kaibab National Forest
Backpacking the AZT, aspens in fall colors stand among mixed conifers (spruce, fir, ponderosa pine) beside rice grass meadows
Arizona Trail, Passage 40
Kaibab National Forest
Hiking the AZT, aspens in fall colors stand among mixed conifers (spruce, fir, ponderosa pine) beside rice grass meadows
Arizona Trail, Passage 40
Kaibab National Forest
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Backpacking the AZT, aspens in fall colors stand among mixed conifers (spruce, fir, ponderosa pine) beside rice grass meadows
Arizona Trail, Passage 40
Kaibab National Forest
Backpacking the AZT, aspens in fall colors stand among mixed conifers (spruce, fir, ponderosa pine) beside rice grass meadows
Arizona Trail, Passage 40
Kaibab National Forest
Hiking the AZT, aspens in fall colors stand among mixed conifers (spruce, fir, ponderosa pine) beside rice grass meadows
Arizona Trail, Passage 40
Kaibab National Forest
Hiking the AZT, aspens in fall colors stand among mixed conifers (spruce, fir, ponderosa pine) beside rice grass meadows
Arizona Trail, Passage 40
Kaibab National Forest
Backpacking the AZT, aspens in fall colors stand among mixed conifers (spruce, fir, ponderosa pine) beside rice grass meadows
Arizona Trail, Passage 40
Kaibab National Forest
Hiking the AZT, aspens in fall colors stand among mixed conifers (spruce, fir, ponderosa pine) beside rice grass meadows
Arizona Trail, Passage 40
Kaibab National Forest
Backpacking the AZT, aspens in fall colors stand among mixed conifers (spruce, fir, ponderosa pine) beside rice grass meadows
Arizona Trail, Passage 40
Kaibab National Forest

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

The ponderosas are dense throughout, and their reddish bark glows in the light that filters through the green needles. The gambel oaks continue to impress along the route as well, adding splashes of yellow, red, and orange to the green ponderosa woodlands. The trail crosses two spur trails leading to overlooks with more magnificent views of the canyon.

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

The trail crosses FR 303, Old Walnut Canyon Road, and heads west toward Flagstaff. Rolling in and out of drainages, It traces the rim of Walnut Canyon in places, and veers away into the woods in others. Heading west, the forest transitions back to the ponderosas, rolling up and down through drainages. The ponderosas are dense throughout, and their reddish bark glows in the light that filters through the green needles. The gambel oaks continue to impress along the route as well, adding splashes of yellow, red, and orange to the green ponderosa woodlands. The trail crosses two spur trails leading to overlooks with more magnificent views of the canyon. Both well worth the minor extra mileage and time.

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

This morning starts with a stop at my last national park in northern Arizona, Walnut Canyon National Monument. Walnut Canyon National Monument protects over 80 cliff dwellings of the Northern Sinagua people. Named for the historic Spanish name for the general region, Sierra de Sin Agua, or “mountains without water,” the Sinagua people built the dwellings between 1125 and 1250 CE. The dwellings are, as the name suggests, located in Walnut Canyon, a 20 mile long, 400 ft deep and quarter mile wide canyon carved by Walnut Creek in the Mogollon Plateau southeast of Flagstaff.

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Arizona Trail, Day 26: Walnut Canyon National Monument, Part 3

This morning starts with a stop at my last national park in northern Arizona, Walnut Canyon National Monument. Walnut Canyon National Monument protects over 80 cliff dwellings of the Northern Sinagua people. Named for the historic Spanish name for the general region, Sierra de Sin Agua, or “mountains without water,” the Sinagua people built the dwellings between 1125 and 1250 CE. The dwellings are, as the name suggests, located in Walnut Canyon, a 20 mile long, 400 ft deep and quarter mile wide canyon carved by Walnut Creek in the Mogollon Plateau southeast of Flagstaff.

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

Walnut Canyon National Monument, one of 420 national parks in the National Park System, protects over 80 cliff dwellings of the Northern Sinagua people. Named for the historic Spanish name for the general region, Sierra de Sin Agua, or “mountains without water,” the Sinagua people built the dwellings between 1125 and 1250 CE. The dwellings are, as the name suggests, located in Walnut Canyon, a 20 mile long, 400 ft deep and quarter mile wide canyon carved by Walnut Creek in the Mogollon Plateau southeast of Flagstaff.

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

Walnut Canyon National Monument protects over 80 cliff dwellings of the Northern Sinagua people. Named for the historic Spanish name for the general region, Sierra de Sin Agua, or “mountains without water,” the Sinagua people built the dwellings between 1125 and 1250 CE. The dwellings are, as the name suggests, located in Walnut Canyon, a 20 mile long, 400 ft deep and quarter mile wide canyon carved by Walnut Creek in the Mogollon Plateau southeast of Flagstaff.

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Arizona Trail, Day 24: Elden Mountain, Part 3 (Trans-Arizona/Utah Hike Day 31)

Welcome back to Aspen’s Tracks, thruhiking the Arizona Trail from Utah to Mexico. I want to note that this hike was completed before the coronavirus pandemic arrived, but it has left me with quite a bit of time in quarantine to write up my experiences on the trail. Exiting the shadow of Elden Mountain, I … Continue reading Arizona Trail, Day 24: Elden Mountain, Part 3 (Trans-Arizona/Utah Hike Day 31)

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

The Arizona Trail wraps past golden oaks and aspens through Schultz Pass and innumerable drainages, then opens out to areas potentially impacted by the 1977 Radio Fire. Views of Elden Mountain open up, and I hike across US-89 through a tunnel, entering the Painted Canyon Preserve. Sunset clouds glow in the sky as I continue hiking south.

Arizona Trail, Day 23: Flagstaff Zero (Trans-Arizona/Utah Hike Day 30)

Today is going to be a busy off day. I start it with a stop at Macy’s European Coffeehouse, an awesome breakfast place in downtown Flagstaff. They make particularly great waffles, but given the hiker hunger that all thruhikers suffer from, I add a smoothie and a breakfast sandwich for good measure today. I always make a point to stop here when I’m in Flag.

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Passage 40 (Kaibab Plateau South)
Trail SurfaceDirt trail
Length (Mi)24.3
SeasonSpring-fall. No vehicular access to this section December-mid May. Feet of snow in winter.
Potential Water SourcesCrane Lake (mi 46.5 SOBO, 742.2 NOBO)
Little Pleasant Valley Tank (mi 48.8 SOBO, 739.9 NOBO)
Wildlife Drinker (mi 56.5 SOBO, 732.2 NOBO)
Dog Lake (mi 56.6 SOBO, 732.1 NOBO)
North Canyon Spring (mi 58.9 SOBO, 729.8 NOBO)
Crystal Spring (mi 59.5 SOBO, 729.2 NOBO)
Sourdough Well (mi 62.1 SOBO, 726.6 NOBO)
Upper North Canyon Creek (mi 63.9 SOBO, 724.9 NOBO)
TrailheadsNorth: Telephone Hill
South: Grand Canyon National Park boundary
Trailhead AccessNorth: Vehicular access via FR 241 off AZ-67
South: Foot access only
WildernessNo, but it can feel like it. Most hikers in the area stick to the national park. Or are passing through to reach routes in the national park.
Possible resupply pointsNorth Rim Country Store & Meadow’s Edge
Accessed via FR 216 at AZT MM 54.6 S/734.1 N
ATA-Rated DifficultyEasy
Potential campsites (mileages S to N)Various
Ecosystems TraversedGreat Basin Subalpine Conifer Forest
Rocky Mountain Montane Conifer Woodland
Logistical details – sources include personal experience, Guthook Guides, ATA Guidebook
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Great Basin Subalpine Conifer Forest/Rocky Mountain Montane Conifer Forest
Common Trees/Shrubs* Corkbark fir
* Gambel oak
* Quaking aspen
* White fir
* Blue spruce
* Engelmann spruce
* Buckwheats
* Currants
* Dwarf juniper
* Elderberry
* Fendler’s ceanothus
* Greenleaf Manzanita
* New Mexican locust
* Perry’s rabbitbrush
* Raspberry
* smooth sumac
* Snowberry
Common herbaceous plants* Bracken Fern
* Buckwheats
* Cinquefoils
* Columbines
* Fleabane daisies
* Geraniums
* goldeneye
* Goldenrods
* Groundsels
* Hairy golden aster
* Indian paintbrush
* Lotus
* Lupines
* Meadow-rue
* Parry’s bellflower
* Peavine
* Penstemons
* Puccoon
* Pussytoes
* Thistles
* Western & white prairie asters
* Wild strawberry
* Wormwood
* Yarrow
* Yellow hawkweed
Common succulentsPrickly pear, occasionally
Aquatic* Bulrush
* Buttercups
* Rushes
* Sedges
* Water plantains
Passage 39-42 Ecology (source: Arizona Trail Association AZT Guide & NatureServe). Only California and Texas are more diverse ecologically than Arizona.
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