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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Exiting the shadow of Elden Mountain, I hike across US-89 through a tunnel, entering the Painted Canyon Preserve. Sunset clouds glow in the sky as I hike south. I’ll return for the petroglyphs here tomorrow. The trail continues through scrubland to a small trailhead off of old Route 66 east of Flagstaff. After 14.3 miles in about 4-5 hours, one of my best paces yet, I Uber back to Flag for dinner. I’ll come back out here afterwards, or in the early morning if I opt to spend the night at the Grand Canyon Hostel in downtown, which given the time, might be likely.

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

Arizona Trail Passage 32, Elden Mountain
Arizona Trail Passage 32, Elden Mountain
Juniper berries along the Arizona Trail, Passage 32 (Elden Mountain)
Sunset on the Arizona Trail in Picture Canyon Preserve. Passage 32, Elden Mountain.
Sunset on the Arizona Trail in Picture Canyon Preserve. Passage 32, Elden Mountain.
Sunset on the Arizona Trail in Picture Canyon Preserve. Passage 32, Elden Mountain.
Sunset panorama on the Arizona Trail in Picture Canyon Preserve. Passage 32, Elden Mountain.

Arizona Trail, Day 24: Elden Mountain, Part 2 (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.

The Arizona Trail wraps past golden oaks and aspens through Schultz Pass and innumerable drainages. Expansive views of the San Francisco Peaks from the south are incredible, including Agassiz and Fremont Peaks. On the east end of the Pass, the trail opens out to areas potentially impacted by the 2010 Schultz Fire, which burned the area north of the AZT and east of Schultz Peak (fourth highest point in Arizona) and 1977 Radio Fire, which torched the east and south faces of Elden Mountain.

On the east side of Schultz Pass, the trail skirts Little Elden Mountain and I notice while I’m hiking that the the trail passes a small foundation, unmarked like the earlier one in Schultz Pass. This one is more circular, and looks something like the foundation visible at Moqui Stage Station back on the Coconino Rim passage. Perhaps a remnant of another stage station, or John Elden’s (the mountain’s namesake) homestead?

Views of Elden Mountain open up as the trail turns south around Little Elden. Geologically speaking, Elden is a silicic volcanic feature, part of the San Francisco Volcanic Field, a lava dome formed from several vents. It’s one of the largest features in the area aside from the San Francisco Peaks stratovolcano, along with the Dry Lake Hills that I passed through on Passage 33, as well as the Hochderffer and White Horse Hills and O’Leary Peak. It’s likely they are all subsidiary features of the Peaks (itself a remnant of San Francisco Mountain).

There was some great foliage and views of the eastern San Francisco Volcanic Field on this stretch, so I’ll let those speak for themselves here and pick up with the remainder of the day tomorrow.

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

Gambel oaks and ponderosa pines along the Arizona Trail, Passage 32 (Elden Mountain)
Gambel oaks and ponderosa pines along the Arizona Trail, Passage 32 (Elden Mountain)
Gambel oaks and ponderosa pines among rock outcrops along the Arizona Trail, Passage 32 (Elden Mountain)
Little Elden Mountain from the Arizona Trail (Passage 32, Elden Mountain)
Gambel oaks and ponderosa along the Arizona Trail (Passage 32, Elden Mountain)
Little Elden Mountain from the Arizona Trail (Passage 32, Elden Mountain)
Elden Mountain through the ponderosas and oaks along the Arizona Trail, Passage 32 (Elden Mountain)
Little Elden Mountain from the Arizona Trail (Passage 32, Elden Mountain)
Foothills of the San Francisco Peaks, and the southeastern San Francisco Volcanic Field. To the left are the Turkey Hills, Apache Butte, Cinder Mountain, Merrill Crater, O’Neill Crater, and Edge Butte. View from Passage 32 of the Arizona Trail (Elden Mountain).

Arizona Trail, Day 24: Elden Mountain (Trans-Arizona/Utah Hike Day 30)

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.

Oscar gives me a ride to Macy’s for breakfast and run into some section hikers. We reminisce about some days on the trail, they have 40 miles to go. Then it is off to Schultz Pass to get back on the trail. My shin is feeling much better after the zero yesterday. I Uber up to the trailhead and pack up my tent here, talking with more section hikers heading north to Kelly Tank, then hike south along the trail. As usual, the ponderosa forest smells amazing, and I have to stop and smell the vanilla-butterscotch aroma that the bark puts out.

The Arizona Trail wraps past golden oaks and aspens through Schultz Pass and innumerable drainages. Expansive views of the San Francisco Peaks from the south are incredible, including Agassiz and Fremont Peaks. On the east end of the Pass, the trail opens out to areas potentially impacted by the 2010 Schultz Fire, which burned the area north of the AZT and east of Schultz Peak (fourth highest point in Arizona) and 1977 Radio Fire, which torched the east and south faces of Elden Mountain.

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

The Arizona Trail ascends through the ponderosas on the lower slopes of the San Francisco Peaks, eastbound in Schultz Pass. Passage 32 (Elden Mountain)
Golden ferns from a dry summer mix with ponderosa pines on the Arizona Trail, passage 32 (Elden Mountain)
The San Francisco Peaks from Schultz Pass. Burn piles left from the Museum Fire are in the foreground, while aspens color the lower slopes. Agassiz Peak is on the left, Fremont Peak on the far right. Arizona Trail, Passage 32 (Elden Mountain).
The Arizona Trail runs through ponderosa forest and rice grass meadows in Schultz Pass. Passage 32 (Elden Mountain).
Aspens and ponderosa among rice grass in Schultz Pass. Arizona Trail, Passage 32 (Elden Mountain)
Aspens along the Arizona Trail in Schultz Pass. AZT Passage 32, Elden Mountain.
Aspens along the Arizona Trail in Schultz Pass. AZT Passage 32, Elden Mountain.
Deer Hill or Schultz Peak rises above the ponderosas and aspens in Schultz Pass. Arizona Trail Passage 32, Elden Mountain.
Deer Hill or Schultz Peak from the Arizona Trail in Schultz Pass. Impacts of the 2010 Schultz Fire clearly visible. Passage 32, Elden Mountain.
Aspens add a splash of beautiful color to the burn scar of the 2010 Schultz or 1977 Radio Fires. Arizona Trail, Passage 32 (Elden Mountain)
Aspens add a splash of beautiful color to the burn scar of the 2010 Schultz or 1977 Radio Fires. Arizona Trail, Passage 32 (Elden Mountain)
Deer Hill or Schultz Peak from the Arizona Trail in Schultz Pass. Impacts of the 2010 Schultz Fire clearly visible. Passage 32, Elden Mountain.

Prologue: The Arizona Trail

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

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

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

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

Aspens along the Arizona Trail, Kaibab National Forest



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

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

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

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Arizona Trail, Day 49: Whiterock Mesa

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.

Arizona Trail, Passage 25: Whiterock Mesa, Part 2

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

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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