Backpacking the Amazing Arizona Trail: Dry Lake Hills to Flagstaff (Passage 33, Flagstaff)

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

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

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

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

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

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

“The Arizona Trail,” Dale R Shewalter

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

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

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

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

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To Thruhike or Section Hike, That is the Question

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

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

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

Logistics, trail journal, and magnificent mountain scenery.

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Arizona Trail Backpacking Logistics – AZT Gateway Communities: Tonto Basin

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

Logistics, trail journal, and magnificent mountain scenery.

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

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

Logistics, trail journal, and magnificent mountain scenery.

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

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

Logistics, trail journal, and magnificent mountain scenery.

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



Common herbaceous plants* fringed brome
* Geyer’s sedge/elk sedge
* Ross’ sedge
* Bronze sedge/dry land sedge/hillside sedge/hay sedge/Fernald’s hay sedge
* screwleaf muhly
* bluebunch wheatgrass
* Spruce-fir fleabane
* wild strawberry/Virginia strawberry
* Small-flowered woodrush
* mountain sweet Cicely
* bittercress ragwort
* western meadow-rue
* Fendler’s meadow-rue
Passage 31 & 33 Ecology (source: Arizona Trail Association AZT Guide & NatureServe). Only California and Texas are more diverse ecologically than Arizona.
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Arizona Trail, Day 22: Flagstaff, Part 2 (Trans-Arizona/Utah Hike Day 28)

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

(Note: If you enjoy this blog, please help support it by clicking separately on each post. Follow along for accounts of national park, public land, hiking, and cycling travels across the country!)

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.

The trail continues through forest that opens up as it heads south. The forest here looks younger, possibly impacted by fires more recently. Indeed, a fire – possibly the one I saw yesterday, or a different one – appears to be burning to the southwest, possibly in the Bradshaw Mountains. Flagstaff can be seen in the immediate foreground; the fire is on the horizon across a mountain ridgeline. Appears to possibly be in the general direction of Prescott. Again, could be a prescribed burn given the showers and virga that passed through recently.

Hiking out the west side of Schultz Pass, the trail enters and wraps around the west and south sides of the Dry Lake Hills, and immense burn piles appear beside the trail, obvious preparations for future prescribed burns that add to the more open views and young trees, as well as the burn marks on trees (living and dead) to project a general impression of a more fire-impacted landscape. There was a large fire in this general vicinity this summer, the Museum Fire, but it’s unclear if this was an area impacted by that. It’s quite possible, however. The gambel oaks are glorious with the light passing through the leaves, and the views of Elden Mountain – the other side of which was “apocalyptically burned” in the 1970s Radio Fire, according to my AZT guidebook – are spectacular. Mule deer graze among the rice grass and trees. The gambel oaks continue to look incredible. It’s amazing how as I progress south I seem to be seeing the progression of the foliage across different tree species as well as within the species. Makes for an ever changing and spectacular color display.

Gambel oaks and ponderosa hiking the Arizona Trail in the Dry Lake Hills
AZT Passage 33 (Flagstaff)
Coconino National Forest
Gambel oaks and ponderosa backpacking the Arizona Trail in the Dry Lake Hills
AZT Passage 33 (Flagstaff)
Coconino National Forest
Hiking through gambel oaks in the Dry Lake Hills on the AZT
Arizona Trail, Passage 33 (Flagstaff)
Coconino National Forest
Backpacking through gambel oaks in the Dry Lake Hills on the AZT
Arizona Trail, Passage 33 (Flagstaff)
Coconino National Forest
Flagstaff with a fire burning on the horizon, viewed from the Dry Lake Hills hiking on the Arizona Trail
AZT Passage 33 (Flagstaff)
Coconino National Forest
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Burn piles stacked to dry for use in prescribed burns in the future. One of the largest I’ve ever seen!
Arizona Trail, Passage 33 (Flagstaff)
Coconino National Forest
Hiking through gambel oaks in the Dry Lake Hills on the AZT
Arizona Trail, Passage 33 (Flagstaff)
Coconino National Forest
Backpacking through gambel oaks in the Dry Lake Hills on the AZT. Fire impacts also visible.
Arizona Trail, Passage 33 (Flagstaff)
Coconino National Forest
Hiking through gambel oaks in the Dry Lake Hills on the AZT
Arizona Trail, Passage 33 (Flagstaff)
Coconino National Forest
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Backpacking through gambel oaks & ponderosa pines in the Dry Lake Hills on the AZT
Arizona Trail, Passage 33 (Flagstaff)
Coconino National Forest
Hiking through gambel oaks & ponderosa pines in the Dry Lake Hills on the AZT
Arizona Trail, Passage 33 (Flagstaff)
Coconino National Forest
Backpacking through gambel oaks & ponderosa pines in the Dry Lake Hills on the AZT
Arizona Trail, Passage 33 (Flagstaff)
Coconino National Forest
Hiking through gambel oaks & ponderosa pines in the Dry Lake Hills on the AZT
Arizona Trail, Passage 33 (Flagstaff)
Coconino National Forest
Hiking through gambel oaks & ponderosa pines in the rocky Dry Lake Hills on the AZT
Arizona Trail, Passage 33 (Flagstaff)
Coconino National Forest
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Elden Mountain, seen from hiking on the AZT in the Dry Lake Hills
Arizona Trail, Passage 33 (Flagstaff)
Coconino National Forest
Juniper, gambel oaks, and ponderosa on the Dry Lake Hills, seen hiking the AZT. Elden Mountain above, mule deer grazing below.
Arizona Trail (Passage 33, Flagstaff)
Coconino National Forest
Hiking through gambel oaks & ponderosa pines in the rocky Dry Lake Hills on the AZT
Arizona Trail, Passage 33 (Flagstaff)
Coconino National Forest
Mule deer graze in the Dry Lake Hills while hiking the AZT
Arizona Trail, Passage 33 (Flagstaff)
Coconino National Forest
Elden Mountain, seen from backpacking on the AZT in the Dry Lake Hills. Fire impacts, possibly from the recent Museum Fire, visible in the foreground.
Arizona Trail, Passage 33 (Flagstaff)
Coconino National Forest

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

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

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

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

Backpacking the Arizona Trail, Day 47: Red Hills, Part II/II

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

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

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

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

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

Pink ribbons spread across the bluish/purple sky at sunset

Fossil Springs Wilderness – FR 708

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

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Passage 33 (Flagstaff)
Trail SurfaceMostly dirt singletrack. Short paved stretch crossing through downtown Flagstaff
Length (Mi)15.5
SeasonApril-October
Potential Water SourcesFlagstaff
TrailheadsNorth: AZT Passages 34/32 at Schultz Pass
Middle: Downtown Flagstaff
South: AZT Passage 31 at Fisher Point
Trailhead AccessNorth: Graded dirt road
Middle: Paved
South: Foot access only
WildernessNo
Possible resupply pointsFlagstaff
ATA-Rated DifficultyModerate
Potential campsites (mileages S to N)Few at best. There are good spots near the ends of the adjacent passages
HazardsHeat – wear a cotton shirt so you can soak it. Synthetics aren’t great in the desert.

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

Dehydration
Ecosystems TraversedRocky Mountain Montane Conifer Woodland
HighlightsViews of San Francisco Peaks
Views of Elden Mountain
Dry Lake Hills
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Rocky Mountain Montane Conifer Woodland
Common Trees/Shrubs* Ponderosa Pine
* Southwestern white pine
* Subalpine fir
* White fir
* Rocky Mountain maple
* Bigtooth maple
* Grey alder
* Red birch
* Red osier dogwood
* Cliffbush
* Mallow ninebark
* New Mexican locust
* huckleberry
* bilberries



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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“The Arizona Trail,” Dale R Shewalter

Today, day 22 on the AZT and 28 overall, takes me down the entirety of Passage 33 into Flagstaff. I leave my camp here and hike into town in order to resupply and visit a friend, then I plan to continue on the main Arizona Trail route around Flagstaff to east, possibly using the town as a base so I don’t have to carry as much weight as I do so, until I reach the south side of the town and continue south toward Mormon Lake.

The day starts among the towering ponderosas of the lower slopes of the San Francisco Peaks, around 7500 ft in elevation. I know I’ve said this before, by I do love ponderosas – they have an incredible vanilla/butterscotch aroma, a great way to start a visit to any park or forest that have them, After a short distance, the trail splits. The main Arizona Trail – my route for the future day – heads left towards Schultz Pass between the Peaks and Dry Lake Hills. I take the trail to the right, which quickly drops past more gambel oaks in peak foliage, along with some more aspens as well. The trail crosses the road and turns to the southwest along a creekbed running through the pass. Hiking on, there’s a low foundation made of concrete visible along the trail after a moderate distance. No marker for what it was, but there is a sign regarding the Antiquities Act nearby, encouraging visitors to protect their American heritage by not disturbing archeological sites nearby. Perhaps the foundation is one of those? It would be nice to have some kind of interpretive sign here regarding the significance of the site, and why the foundation has obviously been left as a reminder of whatever used to be here.

Heading out through the ponderosa forest of the San Francisco Peaks
Arizona Trail (Passage 34, San Francisco Peaks)
Coconino National Forest
Aspens along the Arizona Trail hiking in Schultz Pass
Arizona Trail (Passage 33, Flagstaff)
Coconino National Forest
AZT backpacking in Schultz Pass
Arizona Trail (Passage 33, Flagstaff)
Coconino National Forest
AZT hiking in Schultz Pass
Arizona Trail (Passage 33, Flagstaff)
Coconino National Forest
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AZT backpacking in Schultz Pass
Arizona Trail (Passage 33, Flagstaff)
Coconino National Forest
AZT hiking in Schultz Pass
Arizona Trail (Passage 33, Flagstaff)
Coconino National Forest
AZT backpacking in Schultz Pass
Arizona Trail (Passage 33, Flagstaff)
Coconino National Forest
AZT hiking in Schultz Pass
Arizona Trail (Passage 33, Flagstaff)
Coconino National Forest
AZT backpacking in Schultz Pass
Arizona Trail (Passage 33, Flagstaff)
Coconino National Forest
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AZT backpacking in Schultz Pass
Arizona Trail (Passage 33, Flagstaff)
Coconino National Forest
AZT hiking in Schultz Pass
Arizona Trail (Passage 33, Flagstaff)
Coconino National Forest
AZT backpacking in Schultz Pass
Arizona Trail (Passage 33, Flagstaff)
Coconino National Forest
Hiking the AZT in Schultz Pass
Arizona Trail (Passage 33, Flagstaff)
Coconino National Forest
Backpacking the AZT in Schultz Pass
Arizona Trail (Passage 33, Flagstaff)
Coconino National Forest
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Hiking the AZT in Schultz Pass
Arizona Trail (Passage 33, Flagstaff)
Coconino National Forest
Antiquities Act resources along the Arizona Trail in Schultz Pass
Arizona Trail (Passage 33, Flagstaff
Coconino National Forest

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Fossil Springs Wilderness – Waterfall Trail

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

Fossil Springs Wilderness – Fossil Springs Trail

Take a virtual hike through the Fossil Creek Wilderness! Fossil Creek Wilderness is one of the most spectacular areas in Arizona – so much so that permits are required from April 1-October 1. The Wilderness has 11,550 acres with 30 species of trees and shrubs and over 100 species of birds. Fossil Creek itself is one of two Wild & Scenic Rivers in Arizona as well, designated by Congress in 2009 after the Fossil Springs Dam was decommissioned by Arizona in 2005. Fossil Springs, the source of the creek, release 30 million gallons of water per day, incredibly prolific for its location in Arizona.

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Backpacking the Arizona Trail – Pine Ridge to FR 194 (Passage 26, Whiterock Mesa)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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



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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“The Arizona Trail,” Dale R Shewalter

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Arizona Trail, Day 33 – Mormon Lake Zero

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

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

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

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

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

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

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



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

(Note: If you enjoy this blog, please help support it by clicking separately on each post. Follow along for account of national park, public land, hiking, and cycling travels across the country!)

The Arizona Trail continues through massive groves of mature aspen and across rice grass meadows below the San Francisco Peaks. Contouring around below Humphreys and Agassiz Peaks, the two highest in Arizona, the view of the Peaks themselves and the western San Francisco Volcanic Field, over to Kendrick Peak and Bill Williams Mountain near Williams, is wide-open and magnificent. The quality of the aspens seems to be growing. I will again allow these magnificent trees to speak for themselves.

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

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

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

Logistics for Today’s Stretch:

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

Logistics for Full Passage Length:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Backpacking the Amazing Arizona Trail: Dry Lake Hills to Flagstaff (Passage 33, Flagstaff)

The trail crosses to the flanks of Elden Mountain and continues to drop down toward Flagstaff. It crosses the Coconino National Forest border onto McMillan Mesa and into Buffalo Park, managed by Flagstaff. A wide rice grass meadow composes much of the park, crisscrossed with wide paths providing magnificent views of the San Francisco Peaks. Just magnificent, especially seen now in the late afternoon.

Arizona Trail, Day 22: Flagstaff, Part 2 (Trans-Arizona/Utah Hike Day 28)

The gambel oaks are glorious with the light passing through the leaves, and the views of Elden Mountain – the other side of which was “apocalyptically burned” in the 1970s Radio Fire, according to my AZT guidebook – are spectacular. Mule deer graze among the rice grass and trees. The gambel oaks continue to look incredible. It’s amazing how as I progress south I seem to be seeing the progression of the foliage across different tree species as well as within the species. Makes for an ever changing and spectacular color display.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“The Arizona Trail,” Dale R Shewalter

Welcome back to Aspen’s Tracks, thruhiking the Arizona Trail.

Chilly start this morning. Camp is surrounded by dry ferns and aspens on the lower slopes of the mighty San Francisco Peaks. It wasn’t evident last night, but getting up this morning as I pack up and the light filters through the branches that there are quite a few aspens around. These are much more mature and larger than most I saw on the Kaibab Plateau. A bikepacker comes through on the trail, and we talk for a while. Like the one I encountered hiking across Grand Canyon in May, he too carried his bike across the canyon on his back. That never ceases to amaze me. Also like the one from May, he estimates it probably adds about 20 pounds to his weight to disassemble and hike the bike across, which is really quite remarkable to consider.

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

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

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

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Aspens and mixed conifers along the Arizona Trail, Passage 34 (San Francisco Peaks)
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Aspens along the Arizona Trail, Passage 34 (San Francisco Peaks)
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Aspens along the Arizona Trail, Passage 34 (San Francisco Peaks)
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Aspens along the Arizona Trail, Passage 34 (San Francisco Peaks)
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Aspens along the Arizona Trail, Passage 34 (San Francisco Peaks)
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Aspens along the Arizona Trail, Passage 34 (San Francisco Peaks)
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Aspens along the Arizona Trail, Passage 34 (San Francisco Peaks)
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Aspens along the Arizona Trail, Passage 34 (San Francisco Peaks)
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Aspens along the Arizona Trail, Passage 34 (San Francisco Peaks)
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Aspens along the Arizona Trail, Passage 34 (San Francisco Peaks)
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Aspens and mixed conifers along the Arizona Trail, Passage 34 (San Francisco Peaks)
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Aspens and mixed conifers along the Arizona Trail, Passage 34 (San Francisco Peaks)
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Aspens and mixed conifers along the Arizona Trail, Passage 34 (San Francisco Peaks)
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Aspens and mixed conifers along the Arizona Trail, Passage 34 (San Francisco Peaks)
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Aspens and mixed conifers along the Arizona Trail, Passage 34 (San Francisco Peaks)
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Aspens and mixed conifers along the Arizona Trail, Passage 34 (San Francisco Peaks)
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Aspens and mixed conifers along the Arizona Trail, Passage 34 (San Francisco Peaks)
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Aspens and mixed conifers along the Arizona Trail, Passage 34 (San Francisco Peaks)
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The Arizona Trail passing through mixed conifer forest on the slopes of the San Francisco Peaks on Passage 34
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Aspens among mixed conifers along the Arizona Trail, Passage 34 (San Francisco Peaks)
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Aspens among mixed conifers along the Arizona Trail, Passage 34: San Francisco Peaks
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Aspens among mixed conifers along the Arizona Trail, Passage 34: San Francisco Peaks
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Aspens among mixed conifers along the Arizona Trail, Passage 34: San Francisco Peaks
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Aspens among mixed conifers along the Arizona Trail, Passage 34: San Francisco Peaks
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Aspens among mixed conifers along the Arizona Trail, Passage 34: San Francisco Peaks
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Aspens among mixed conifers along the Arizona Trail, Passage 34: San Francisco Peaks
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Aspens among mixed conifers along the Arizona Trail, Passage 34: San Francisco Peaks
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Aspens among mixed conifers along the Arizona Trail, Passage 34: San Francisco Peaks
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Aspens among mixed conifers along the Arizona Trail, Passage 34: San Francisco Peaks
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Aspens among mixed conifers along the Arizona Trail, Passage 34: San Francisco Peaks
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Aspens among mixed conifers along the Arizona Trail, Passage 34: San Francisco Peaks
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Aspens among mixed conifers along the Arizona Trail, Passage 34: San Francisco Peaks
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Aspens among mixed conifers along the Arizona Trail, Passage 34: San Francisco Peaks
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Aspens among mixed conifers along the Arizona Trail, Passage 34: San Francisco Peaks
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611 miles to Mexico! Arizona Trail, Passage 34 (San Francisco Peaks)
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Aspens among mixed conifers along the Arizona Trail, Passage 34: San Francisco Peaks
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Aspens among mixed conifers along the Arizona Trail, Passage 34: San Francisco Peaks
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Aspens among mixed conifers along the Arizona Trail, Passage 34: San Francisco Peaks
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Aspens among mixed conifers along the Arizona Trail, Passage 34: San Francisco Peaks
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Aspens among mixed conifers along the Arizona Trail, Passage 34: San Francisco Peaks
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Aspens among mixed conifers along the Arizona Trail, Passage 34: San Francisco Peaks
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Aspens among mixed conifers along the Arizona Trail, Passage 34: San Francisco Peaks
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Aspens among mixed conifers along the Arizona Trail, Passage 34: San Francisco Peaks
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Aspens among mixed conifers along the Arizona Trail, Passage 34: San Francisco Peaks
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Aspens among mixed conifers along the Arizona Trail, Passage 34: San Francisco Peaks
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Aspens among mixed conifers along the Arizona Trail, Passage 34: San Francisco Peaks
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Aspens among mixed conifers along the Arizona Trail, Passage 34: San Francisco Peaks
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Aspens among mixed conifers along the Arizona Trail, Passage 34: San Francisco Peaks
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Aspens among mixed conifers along the Arizona Trail, Passage 34: San Francisco Peaks

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Arizona Trail, Day 21, Part 2: Heart of the San Francisco Peaks (Trans-Arizona/Utah Hike Day 27)

The Arizona Trail continues through massive groves of mature aspen and across rice grass meadows below the San Francisco Peaks. Contouring around below Humphreys and Agassiz Peaks, the two highest in Arizona, the view of the Peaks themselves and the western San Francisco Volcanic Field, over to Kendrick Peak and Bill Williams Mountain near Williams, is wide-open and magnificent.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Backpacking the Amazing Arizona Trail: North Kaibab Trail, Roaring Springs to Ribbon Falls (Day 8 – Passage 38, Grand Canyon Inner Canyon)

In the land of ArizonaThrough desert heat or snowWinds a trail for folks to followFrom Utah to Old MexicoIt’s the Arizona TrailA pathway through the great SouthwestA diverse track through wood and stoneYour spirit it will testOh, sure you’ll sweat and blisterYou’ll feel the miles every dayYou’ll shiver at the lonelinessYour feet and seat will … Continue reading Backpacking the Amazing Arizona Trail: North Kaibab Trail, Roaring Springs to Ribbon Falls (Day 8 – Passage 38, Grand Canyon Inner Canyon)

Backpacking the Arizona Trail, Day 8: Passage 38, Grand Canyon Inner Canyon, Part 1 (Trans-Arizona/Utah Day 15)

Grabbed a few things at the general store on the North Rim of Grand Canyon today, then packed up camp. The park has a number of special sites at the campground, available first-come, first-served, to those who hike or bike into the park. I then proceed over to the Backcountry Information Center, and get put … Continue reading Backpacking the Arizona Trail, Day 8: Passage 38, Grand Canyon Inner Canyon, Part 1 (Trans-Arizona/Utah Day 15)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Backpacking the Arizona Trail: Buckskin Mountain to Kaibab Plateau North (AZT Day 2, Passages 43 & 42; Arizona/Utah Day 9)

Another early start. I make it off Passage 43 (Buckskin Mountain) by mid morning and break into the northern Kaibab Plateau (Passage 42). The land shifts from BLM land at the start and enters the Kaibab National Forest south of the Passage boundary. I’m having some issues charging given the intermittent shade cast by the … Continue reading Backpacking the Arizona Trail: Buckskin Mountain to Kaibab Plateau North (AZT Day 2, Passages 43 & 42; Arizona/Utah Day 9)

Backpacking the Arizona Trail, Day 1 (AZ/UT Day 8, Part 4)

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

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

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

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

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

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

Backpacking Paria Canyon-Vermilion Cliffs Wilderness – Buckskin Gulch to the Arizona Trail (AZT Approach Day 8, Part 1)

Broke camp early in Buckskin Gulch this morning and headed out. I make better time than I expect, and encounter the Dragoos from Oklahoma about 1.5 mi from Wire Pass. I’m surprised that I’m that close to the Pass, since I hadn’t expected to make it for several miles. We have breakfast together and hike … Continue reading Backpacking Paria Canyon-Vermilion Cliffs Wilderness – Buckskin Gulch to the Arizona Trail (AZT Approach Day 8, Part 1)

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Backpacking Buckskin Gulch, Paría Canyon-Vermilion Cliffs Wilderness (Vermilion Cliffs National Monument, AZT Approach Day 7)

I begin backpacking up Buckskin Gulch. After dragging my pack over the boulder jam – a much more difficult undertaking than yesterday without the pack – I start upcanyon (see photos). It’s an incredible journey that photos will tell better than words, heading westbound through the canyon and gazing up at the narrow strips of sky, icing light and rare deeper light penetrations. No quicksand, which can form here at this time of year but has not this year with how dry it has been. There are places where you can reach out and touch both sides of the canyon at once.

Plus, logistics for the hike through the entire wilderness area.

Backpacking Paría Canyon-Vermilion Cliffs Wilderness (Arizona Trail Approach Day 5, Vermilion Cliffs National Monument)

Dawn finds me encamped at Big Springs. I get another slow start than I’d like, this time due to weather. Expecting potential rain and knowing about remnants of Tropical Storm Lorena in area, and in relatively safe spot with gear prepped for rain, I opt to wait. Flash floods are the top weather-related killer in … Continue reading Backpacking Paría Canyon-Vermilion Cliffs Wilderness (Arizona Trail Approach Day 5, Vermilion Cliffs National Monument)

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What is Wilderness?

As I enter the Paria Canyon-Vermilion Cliffs Wilderness Area, I think that it’s important to take a moment to discuss the concept of wilderness.

The 1964 Wilderness Act, signed by President Lyndon Johnson, states “a wilderness in contrast with those areas where man and his own works dominate the landscape, is hereby recognized as an area where the earth and its community of life are untrammeled by man, where man himself is a visitor who does not remain.“ It was signed on September 3rd, 1964 and gives Congress the authority to create wilderness areas within public lands where things that are associated with manmade civilization – such as mechanized transportation, developed campgrounds, etc. – are prohibited and the area is allowed to remain in as natural a state as possible.

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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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South Rim to Lee’s Ferry

First day description, traveling from the South Rim of Grand Canyon to Marble Canyon and Lee’s Ferry in preparation for beginning the southbound trek to Mexico.

Prologue: The Arizona Trail

I finally bit the bullet on a thruhike. Since I arrived at Grand Canyon National Park in March, I have been considering thruhiking the Arizona Trail across the state. For those who don’t know, the Arizona Trail is an 800 mile long hiking trail across Arizona. It starts at the Utah state line, skirts Buckskin … Continue reading Prologue: The Arizona Trail

The Journey Begins

Thanks for joining me! Good company in a journey makes the way seem shorter. — Izaak Walton

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Arizona Trail, Day 19: Passage 35, Babbitt Ranch & 34, San Francisco Peaks (Trans-Arizona/Utah Hike Day 25)

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

(Note: If you enjoy this blog, please help support it by clicking separately on each post. Follow along for account of national park, public land, hiking, and cycling travels across the country!)

Heading down the trail from the central Ranch provides more of the same early on – great views of the Peaks, but little else. I stop for a break and water at Tub Ranch, the first water source since Lockwood Tank (where I hadn’t stopped) and then continue south.

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Crossing through Babbitt Ranch among hills of the San Francisco Volcanic Field, Arizona Trail
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San Francisco Peaks, including Humphreys Peak, highest in Arizona at 12633 ft, from the Arizona Trail
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The Arizona Trail winds through pinyon-juniper scrubland toward the San Francisco Peaks, including the highest in Arizona, Humphreys Peak at 12633 ft

A note about the Peaks, since the views are so good of them here. 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.

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The Arizona Trail crosses ranchland toward the northern segment of the San Francisco Volcanic Field, cinder cones that are a legacy of the hotspot that created the iconic San Francisco Peaks. SP Crater is the leftmost (northernmost) in the image.
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The San Francisco Peaks tower above the Arizona Trail on the plateau to the north. From this angle, the blown-out northeastern side can start to be made out. The former San Francisco Mountain erupted in a lateral blast about 400,000 years ago, much like Mt St Helens. The mountain lost up to 6K ft in elevation in the eruption (meaning at one time it could have been the highest in the modern contiguous United States.)
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Rabbitbush blooms in front of the San Francisco Peaks and northern segment of the San Francisco Volcanic Field. Arizona Trail, Passage 35.
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Virga, a desert phenomena where moisture precipitates from clouds but evaporates before reaching the ground. Also known as “jellyfish clouds.” Arizona Trail, Passage 35 (Babbitt Ranch)
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Virga and showers in the evening light over the San Francisco Volcanic Field. Arizona Trail, Passage 35 (Babbitt Ranch).
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Virga and showers over the northeastern San Francisco Volcanic Field in the afternoon light. Arizona Trail Passage 35.

Late afternoon finds me entering Passage 34, the San Francisco Peaks, and finally off the Ranch roads. The trailhead also marks the entry to the Coconino National Forest. Some trail angel left beer and candy at the resupply box here, much appreciated. The Peaks are just towering above at this point. I encounter Timmy, a friend of Boates from the Canyon, and we talk and hike together for a while. I leave first (for once) but he catches me speaking with some day trippers heading out and we hike together for much of the rest of the evening. Showers pass along with virga, a desert phenomenon where precipitation falls but evaporates before reaching the ground, comes in the evening, ultimately making for a spectacular sunset as we head into the thick of the northern San Francisco Volcanic Field. I leave him to climb Missouri Bill in the hopes of seeing the sunrise from the top. In the dark, clusters of lights become evident on the reservation to the west – Kayenta, Cameron, Tuba City. It’s that dark, individual towns can be identified with just a rudimentary knowledge of the area.

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Virga illuminating crepuscular solar rays as the Arizona Trail enters Passage 34, the San Francisco Peaks.
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Crepuscular rays on virga along Arizona Trail Passage 34, the San Francisco Peaks.
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Jackrabbit at dusk along the Arizona Trail (Passage 34, San Francisco Peaks)
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Jackrabbit at dusk along the Arizona Trail (Passage 34, San Francisco Peaks)

Water availability and access varies over this stretch.

Passage 35 (Babbitt Ranch)Passage 34 (San Francisco Peaks)
Trail SurfaceGravel RoadDirt Road
Water Sources (Potential)Cedar Ranch (supply box)
Rabbit Canyon (unnamed tank)
Cedar Ranch (supply box)
East Cedar Tank
TrailheadsCedar RanchCedar Ranch
ATA-Rated DifficultyModerateModerate
Logistical info for stretch hiked today
Passage 35 (Babbitt Ranch)Passage 34 (San Francisco Peaks)
Trail SurfaceMixed, mostly gravel roadMixed, dirt road and singletrack
Length24.5 miles35.3 miles
SeasonAll yearSpring-fall primarily
Potential Water SourcesCedar Ranch trailhead supply box
Rabbit Canyon
Tub Ranch water tank
Lockwood Tank
Cedar Ranch Trailhead supply box
East Cedar Tank
Kelly Tank
Alfa Fia Tank
Schultz Tank
TrailheadsCedar RanchCedar Ranch
ATA-Rated DifficultyModerateModerate
Logistical details for full length of all passages involved today (whether hiked today or not)
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Arizona Trail, Day 18: Passage 35, Babbitt Ranch (Trans-Arizona/Utah Hike Day 24)

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

Well, I’ve officially found my least favorite part of the trail so far. The first 5 miles today from Moqui Stage Station to the border of the Kaibab National Forest are nice…and then the views disappear and a long roadwalk down a valley begins where one crosses into the Babbit Ranch Passage (Passage 35). The views disappear until after Upper Lockwood Tank. From there it gets marginally better with nice views of the Peaks returning, but with a full moon I choose to hike a few extra hours at night to cut down on tomorrow’s distance on this passage. I meet Coyote, another sobo thru-hiker, on the trail twice today, first just after breakfast and again and he tells me about seeing some coyotes and a mountain lion fight over an elk that he saw that morning. Very cool wildlife encounter, maybe I’ll get to see something like that?

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The Arizona Trail heads through the pinyon-juniper forest of the Coconino Plateau
AZT Passage 35, Babbitt Ranch
Kaibab National Forest
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The Arizona Trail heads through the pinyon-juniper forest of the Coconino Plateau
AZT Passage 35, Babbitt Ranch
Kaibab National Forest
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The San Francisco Peaks rise above the pinyon-juniper woodland of the Coconino Plateau
Arizona Trail Passage 35 (Babbitt Ranch)
Kaibab National Forest
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The San Francisco Peaks rise above the pinyon-juniper woodland of the Coconino Plateau
Arizona Trail Passage 35 (Babbitt Ranch)
Kaibab National Forest
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Juniper beside the Arizona Trail
AZT Passage 35 (Babbitt Ranch)
Kaibab National Forest
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The Arizona Trail exits the Kaibab National Forest
Arizona Trail Passage 35, Babbitt Ranch.
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Entering Babbitt Ranch after exiting the Kaibab National Forest
Arizona Trail Passage 35 (Babbitt Ranch)

Water along this stretch of trail is pretty limited. There was a cache at Moqui Stage Station and a tank that is open to hikers to use at Tub Ranch. Other than that, its hot, dry, and exposed. The only access point passed today was Moqui Stage Station off FR-301 at the start.

Section Details:

Water SourcesMoqui Stage Station (potential caches, no natural source)
Tub Ranch water tank
TrailheadMoqui Stage Station (accessed via FR-301 in the Kaibab National Forest)
Section details for today’s stretch of trail as hiked
Length24.5 miles
Water SourcesMoqui Stage Station (potential caches, no natural source)
Tub Ranch water tank
Cedar Ranch (supply box)
TrailheadMoqui Stage Station (accessed via FR-301 in the Kaibab National Forest)
Cedar Ranch
Full passage details
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The Arizona Trail passes through rabbitbrush meadows heading south
AZT Passage 35 (Babbitt Ranch)
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The San Francisco Peaks and San Francisco Volcanic Field rise out of the Colorado Plateau among pinyon-juniper woods and rice grass meadows. Arizona Trail Passage 35 (Babbitt Ranch)
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The San Francisco Peaks rise out of the Coconino Plateau among pinyon-juniper woods and rice grass meadows.
Arizona Trail Passage 35 (Babbitt Ranch)
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Hills of the San Francisco Volcanic Field rise out of the Coconino Plateau among pinyon-juniper woods and rice grass/rabbitbrush meadows. Arizona Trail Passage 35 (Babbitt Ranch).
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The San Francisco Peaks and the hills and mountains of the San Francisco Volcanic Field rise out of the Coconino Plateau among pinyon-juniper woods and rice grass/rabbitbrush meadows.
Arizona Trail Passage 35 (Babbitt Ranch)
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The San Francisco Peaks and the hills and mountains of the San Francisco Volcanic Field rise out of the Coconino Plateau among pinyon-juniper woods and rice grass/rabbitbrush meadows.
Arizona Trail Passage 35 (Babbitt Ranch).
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The San Francisco Peaks (center) and the hills and mountains of the San Francisco Volcanic Field, such as Kendrick Peak (right), rise out of the Coconino Plateau among pinyon-juniper woods and rice grass/rabbitbrush meadows.
Arizona Trail Passage 35 (Babbitt Ranch).
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The AZT curves towards the San Francisco Peaks (left) and the eastern hills and mountains of the San Francisco Volcanic Field, such as Kendrick Peak (center), rise out of the Colorado Plateau among pinyon-juniper woods and rice grass/rabbitbrush meadows.
Arizona Trail Passage 35 (Babbitt Ranch).
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Full Moon Hiking
Arizona Trail, Passage 35 (Babbitt Ranch)
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