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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“The Arizona Trail,” Dale R Shewalter

Welcome back to Aspen’s Tracks, thruhiking the Arizona Trail as part of a 900 mile hike across Utah and Arizona to Mexico.

I’m on the trail by mid morning after unfortunately misplacing a tent stake that costs me some time. No more extra stakes now. I encounter two dayhikers and talk about my time on the trail with them. The trail exits ponderosa forest as it crests Anderson Mesa and then enters PJ scrub with some ponderosa mixed in.

The volcanic rocks from north of the Peaks has returned and covers nearly the entire top of the Mesa – looking at a geologic map of the area, my initial thought of basalt appears to be correct.

Gambel oaks in fall foliage
Arizona Trail, Passage 31 (Walnut Canyon)
Coconino National Forest
Arizona Trail through ponderosas on Anderson Mesa
AZT Passage 31 (Walnut Canyon), Coconino National Forest
Geologic Map of Arizona – South of Flagstaff; pin indicates my rough position at the start of the day, and the remainder traversed through the same geologic region.
Basalt rocks on Anderson Mesa
Arizona Trail Passage 31 (Walnut Canyon), Coconino National Forest

The trail passes numerous small lakes that serve as important waterfowl habitat and are managed as livestock exclosures. I spot a big tarantula – no doubt this time, unlike the one that I saw back on Passage 39 at Grand Canyon – on the trail just south of Marshall Lake where I pass from Passage 31 to Passage 30, Mormon Lake.

Arizona Trail sign entering Passage 30, Mormon Lake
Coconino National Forest
Marshall Lake, one of a number of natural wetlands along the Arizona Trail atop Anderson Mesa
AZT Passage 30, Coconino National Forest
Tarantula crossing Arizona Trail, Passage 30 (Mormon Lake)
Coconino National Forest
Basalt outcrop on Anderson Mesa
Arizona Trail, Passage 30 (Mormon Lake)
Coconino National Forest
Basalt outcrop on Anderson Mesa
Arizona Trail, Passage 30 (Mormon Lake)
Coconino National Forest

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. Hoping to make it to Mormon Lake tomorrow, I decided not to set up the tent tonight to have extra time in the morning. We shall see if that pays off.

Arizona Trail crossing Anderson Mesa through pinyon-juniper scrub
AZT Passage 30 (Mormon Lake), Coconino National Forest
Glimpse of Lowell Observatory’s NPOI through the pinyon-juniper scrub
Arizona Trail, Passage 30, Coconino National Forest

Price Lake along the Arizona Trail
Arizona Trail, Passage 30 (Anderson Mesa)
Coconino National Forest
San Francisco Peaks rise above Price Lake and Anderson Mesa
Arizona Trail, Passage 30 (Anderson Mesa)
Coconino National Forest
San Francisco Peaks from Arizona Trail at Price Lake on Anderson Mesa
Arizona Trail, Passage 30 (Anderson Mesa)
Coconino National Forest
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San Francisco Peaks rising over pinyon/juniper and Lowell Observatory’s NPOI on Anderson Mesa
Arizona Trail, Passage 30 (Anderson Mesa)
Coconino National Forest
Lowell Observatory’s NPOI
Arizona Trail, Passage 30 (Anderson Mesa)
Coconino National Forest
Lowell Observatory’s Navy Performance Optical Interferometer
Arizona Trail, Passage 30 (Anderson Mesa)
Coconino National Forest
Lake Mary valley overlook, Walnut Creek below, Upper Lake Mary at left and Mormon Mountain behind
Coconino National Forest
Wildflowers growing out of basalt on Anderson Mesa
Coconino National Forest
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Arizona Trail milepost on Anderson Mesa
243+ miles down, 558 to go!
Pinyon/juniper landscape on Anderson Mesa in evening along AZT
Arizona Trail, Passage 30 (Anderson Mesa)
Coconino National Forest
Sunset over Horse Thief Lake, Mormon Mountain behind
Arizona Trail, Passage 30 (Anderson Mesa)
Coconino National Forest
Sunset over Horse Thief Lake, Monmon Mountain at left
Arizona Trail, Passage 30 (Anderson Mesa)
Coconino National Forest
Twilight on the Arizona Trail at Horse Thief Lake
Belt of Venus and Umbra rising in sky
AZT Passage 30, Coconino National Forest
Today’s route map

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National Park Quest: Tonto National Monument

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

Logistics, trail journal, and magnificent mountain scenery.

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

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

Logistics, trail journal, and magnificent mountain scenery.

Arizona Trail Backpacking Logistics – AZT Gateway Communities: Tonto Basin

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

Logistics, trail journal, and magnificent mountain scenery.

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

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

Logistics, trail journal, and magnificent mountain scenery.

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 31 (Walnut Canyon)Passage 30: Anderson Mesa
Trail SurfaceDirt singletrack Singletrack. Basalt lava with soil covering.
Length (Mi)18.517.8
SeasonApril-October. Snow can be significant in winter.April-October. Snow can be significant in winter.
Potential Water SourcesWalnut Canyon Visitor Center
Wildlife Water Tank (217.5 SOBO, 571.2 NOBO)
Wildlife Water Tank (220.2 SOBO, 568.5 NOBO)
Marshall Lake & Lower Tank (230.2 SOBO, 558.5 NOBO)
Prime Lake (231.3 SOBO, 557.4 NOBO)
Vail Lake (232.7 SOBO, 556.0 NOBO
Lakeview Campground (mid-May to mid-October; 234.5 SOBO, 554.2 NOBO)
Horse Lake Tank (237.1 SOBO, 551.6 NOBO)
Pine Grove Campground (mid-May to mid-October; 241.3 SOBO, 547.4 NOBO)
Railroad Tank (242.7 SOBO, 545.9 NOBO)
Mayflower Spring (247.8 SOBO, 540.9 NOBO)
TrailheadsNorth: I-40 at Cosnino Road
South: Marshall Lake
North: Marshall Lake
South: Mayflower Spring
Trailhead AccessVehicular access North: Graded dirt road
South: Dirt road
WildernessNoNo
Possible resupply pointsEast Flagstaff
Flagstaff
None
ATA-Rated DifficultyEasy Moderate (rugged trail surface)
Potential campsites (mileages S to N)Various LNT-compatible points throughout; terrain is not a limitation here. However, camping is not allowed on the west end below Fisher Point or within Walnut Canyon National Monument.Various LNT-compatible sites throughout, especially on Mesa top. Basalt can prove challenging in places to find smooth spot. Developed Lakeview Campground and Pine Grove Campground.
Ecosystems TraversedRocky Mountain Montane Conifer WoodlandGreat Basin Conifer Woodland (Marshall Lake Trailhead to descent from Anderson Mesa just north of Lake Mary Road)
Rocky Mountain Montane Conifer Woodland (just north of Lake Mary Road to Mayflower Spring)
Sites of InterestWalnut Canyon National Monument
Fisher Point
Views of San Francisco Peaks & Mormon Mountain
Lowell Observatory’s NPOI (Naval Precision Optical Intterferometer)
Sources: Personal experience, Guthook Guides, ATA Guide to the Arizona Trail
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Great Basin Conifer WoodlandRocky Mountain Montane Conifer Woodland
Common Trees/Shrubs* Arizona alder
* Holly-leaf buckthorn
* Junipers
* Oaks, including Arizona oak, canyon live oak, Emory oak, Gambel oak, scrub-live oak
* Piñon pine
* Red barberry
* Serviceberry
* Silktassels
* Skunkbush
* sugar sumac
* 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* Buckwheats
* Globemallows
* Lupines
* Penstemons
* Sego-lily
* Wormwood
* 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
Common succulents* beehive cactus
* Claret cup hedgehog cacti
* Golden-flowered agave
* Parry’s agave
* Prickly pear cacti
* Whipple cholla
* Tonto Basin agave
Passage 23 & 22 Ecology (source: Arizona Trail Association AZT Guide & NatureServe). Only California and Texas are more diverse ecologically than Arizona.
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Backpacking the Arizona Trail, Day 29 – Flagstaff to Anderson Mesa (Passages 31 & 33, Flagstaff & Walnut Canyon)

Coconino Sandstone walls in upper Walnut Canyon, Coconino National Forest (Arizona Trail Passage 31, 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, which I wrote about in my last post as one of the best breakfast places in Flagstaff. The weather is going to cool off again in the next few days, dipping down into the 20s overnight.

We encounter Neil Bob, another SOBO thruhiker from Seattle. He’s staying in town the next few days recovering from some IT band soreness. Oscar drops me and my 75(!) lb pack off near the Trailhead and we say goodbye. I hike down the access trail and rejoin the main Arizona Trail, then start south again.

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Arizona Trail hiking through Upper Walnut Canyon
Passage 31, Walnut Canyon
Coconino National Forest
Coconino Sandstone walls in upper Walnut Canyon, view backpacking the AZT
Arizona Trail Passage 31, Walnut Canyon
Coconino National Forest

The trail passes through Walnut Canyon, beneath towering cliffs of Coconino Sandstone tinted gray and pink and highlighted with green ponderosa pines. Finally it climbs out and passes through a reroute in a burn area. It looks like the original trail here has been intentionally covered with logs on at least one end, and the reroute is marked with flags, so I’m guessing the reroute is permanent. Just shy of Marshall Mesa Tank I run out of daylight and stop for the night. Tomorrow will start the trek across Anderson Mesa toward Mormon Lake.

Fall as seen hiking on the slopes of Walnut Canyon
Arizona Trail Passage 31, Walnut Canyon
Coconino National Forest
San Francisco Peaks from Arizona Trail backpacking out of Walnut Canyon
AZT Passage 31, Walnut Canyon
Coconino National Forest
Hiking past Gambel oaks in fall on rim of Walnut Canyon
Arizona Trail Passage 31, Walnut Canyon
Coconino National Forest
Arizona Trail Passage 31, Walnut Canyon
Coconino National Forest
Backpacking past Gambel oaks
Arizona Trail Passage 31, Walnut Canyon
Coconino National Forest
Hiking through Gambel oaks
Arizona Trail Passage 31, Walnut Canyon
Coconino National Forest
Backpacking through Gambel oaks
Arizona Trail Passage 31, Walnut Canyon
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.

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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Passage 31 (Walnut Canyon)Passage 33 (Flagstaff)
Trail SurfaceDirt singletrack Dirt singletrack
Paved (through Flagstaff proper)
Length (Mi)18.515.5
SeasonApril-October. Snow can be significant in winter.April-October. Snow can be significant in winter.
Potential Water SourcesWalnut Canyon Visitor Center
Wildlife Water Tank (217.5 SOBO, 571.2 NOBO)
Wildlife Water Tank (220.2 SOBO, 568.5 NOBO)
Flagstaff
Marshall Mesa Tank (228.2 SOBO, 560.5 NOBO)
TrailheadsNorth: I-40 at Cosnino Road
South: Marshall Lake
North: Schultz Pass
South: Fisher Point
Trailhead AccessVehicular access North: Graded dirt/gravel road
Middle: Paved roads through Flagstaff
South: Foot/bike access
WildernessNoNo
Possible resupply pointsEast Flagstaff
Flagstaff
Flagstaff
ATA-Rated DifficultyEasy Moderate (south end is easier)
Potential campsites (mileages S to N)Various LNT-compatible points throughout; terrain is not a limitation here. However, camping is not allowed on the west end below Fisher Point or within Walnut Canyon National Monument.N/A
Ecosystems TraversedRocky Mountain Montane Conifer WoodlandRocky Mountain Montane Conifer Woodland
Sites of InterestWalnut Canyon National Monument
Fisher Point
Historic Flagstaff
Sources: Personal experience, Guthook Guides, ATA Guide to the Arizona Trail
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Rocky Mountain Montane Conifer Woodland
Common Trees/Shrubs* Ponderosa Pine
* Southwestern white pine
* Subalpine fir
* White fir
* Rocky Mountain maple
* Bigtooth maple
* Grey alder
* Red birch
* Red osier dogwood
* Cliffbush
* Mallow ninebark
* New Mexican locust
* huckleberry
* bilberries



Common herbaceous plants* fringed brome
* Geyer’s sedge/elk sedge
* Ross’ sedge
* Bronze sedge/dry land sedge/hillside sedge/hay sedge/Fernald’s hay sedge
* screwleaf muhly
* bluebunch wheatgrass
* Spruce-fir fleabane
* wild strawberry/Virginia strawberry
* Small-flowered woodrush
* mountain sweet Cicely
* bittercress ragwort
* western meadow-rue
* Fendler’s meadow-rue
Common succulents
Passage 23 & 22 Ecology (source: Arizona Trail Association AZT Guide & NatureServe). Only California and Texas are more diverse ecologically than Arizona.
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Arizona Trail Thruhike, Day 26: Passage 31 (Walnut Canyon), Part 2 (Arizona/Utah Day 33)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“The Arizona Trail,” Dale R Shewalter

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

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

Named for the historic Spanish name for the general region, Sierra de Sin Agua, or “mountains without water,” the Sinagua people built the dwellings between 1125 and 1250 CE. The dwellings are, as the name suggests, located in Walnut Canyon, a 20 mile long, 400 ft deep and quarter mile wide canyon carved by Walnut Creek in the Mogollon Plateau southeast of Flagstaff. Most are near the Island Trail that rings a peninsula of rock that Walnut Creek bends around, connected to the north rim of a canyon by a narrow ridge of rock, giving the peninsula the appearance of an island.

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

Prior to building the cliff dwellings, the Sinagua lived and cultivated areas on the rim of the canyon. In a dry, semi-arid landscape – though not as harsh as some found further south – the communities relied on the intermittent flow of water in Walnut Creek for sustenance. It is not clear why the dwellings were abandoned around 1250, but suspected reasons include drought and relations with neighboring tribes. National Monument also protects natural resources, including 387 species of plants as well as marine fossils remaining from when the area was located under a sea.

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

Starting in the 1880s, theft and looting became an issue at Walnut Canyon as construction of the Atchison, Topeka and Santa Fe Railroad brought more people to the region. By 1915, alarm among local citizens led President Wilson to establish Walnut Canyon National Monument, first under the US Forest Service as part of Coconino National Forest, then the National Park Service starting in 1934. In the 1930s, the Civilian Conservation Corps built trails and buildings, stabilized the walls of various cliff dwellings, and led guided tours. Further expansions of the site in 1938 by President Roosevelt and 1994 by President Clinton added additional stretches of the canyon into the monument, bringing it to its current 3600 acres of protected resources.

Panoramic view of Walnut Canyon from Island Trail in Walnut Canyon National Monument ((a national park, managed by the National Park Service, Arizona)
Unaccessible cliff dwellings in Walnut Canyon viewed from Island Trail, Walnut Canyon National Monument (a national park, managed by the National Park Service, Arizona)
Unaccessible cliff dwellings in Walnut Canyon viewed from Island Trail, Walnut Canyon National Monument (a national park, managed by the National Park Service, Arizona)
Upcanyon view of Walnut Canyon from Island Trail, Walnut Canyon National Monument (a national park, managed by the National Park Service, Arizona)
Unaccessible cliff dwellings in Walnut Canyon viewed from Island Trail, Walnut Canyon National Monument (a national park, managed by the National Park Service, Arizona)
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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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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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Rim TrailIsland Trail
Trail SurfacePaved trailPaved Trail
Length (Mi)0.751
SeasonAll yearAll year. Stairs may get icy in winter. Snowy & icy conditions can lead to closure of the trail.
Major attributesGood view of variety of cliff dwelling structure remains throughout the central portion of Walnut CanyonLoop trail providing close-up view of cliff dwellings in inner canyon
Potential Water SourcesWalnut Canyon Visitor CenterWalnut Canyon Visitor Center
TrailheadsVisitor CenterVisitor Center
Trailhead AccessVehicular (paved road)Vehicular (paved road)
WildernessNoNo
DifficultyEasyStrenuous. 185 feet descent into canyon at 7000’.
Potential campsites (mileages S to N)Hiking/Backpacking campsites available along Arizona Trail on borders of parkHiking/Backpacking campsites available along Arizona Trail on borders of park
Ecosystems TraversedRocky Mountain Montane Conifer WoodlandRocky Mountain Montane Conifer Woodland
Accessible?YesNo
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Arizona Trail, Day 26: Walnut Canyon National Monument, Part I

This morning starts with a stop at my last national park in northern Arizona, Walnut Canyon National Monument. Walnut Canyon National Monument protects over 80 cliff dwellings of the Northern Sinagua people. Named for the historic Spanish name for the general region, Sierra de Sin Agua, or “mountains without water,” the Sinagua people built the dwellings between 1125 and 1250 CE. The dwellings are, as the name suggests, located in Walnut Canyon, a 20 mile long, 400 ft deep and quarter mile wide canyon carved by Walnut Creek in the Mogollon Plateau southeast of Flagstaff. Most are near the Island Trail that rings a peninsula of rock that Walnut Creek bends around, connected to the north rim of a canyon by a narrow ridge of rock, giving the peninsula the appearance of an island. Each room, built under limestone ledges, might have housed a family. The ledges afforded protection from the elements – they kept the dwellings cool in the summer and warm in the winter. They were also easier to defend against invasion. Prior to building the cliff dwellings, the Sinagua lived and cultivated areas on the rim of the canyon. In a dry, semi-arid landscape – though not as harsh as some found further south – the communities relied on the intermittent flow of water in Walnut Creek for sustenance. It is not clear why the dwellings were abandoned around 1250, but suspected reasons include drought and relations with neighboring tribes. National Monument also protects natural resources, including 387 species of plants as well as marine fossils remaining from when the area was located under a sea.

Starting in the 1880s, theft and looting became an issue at Walnut Canyon as construction of the Atchison, Topeka and Santa Fe Railroad brought more people to the region. By 1915, alarm among local citizens led President Wilson to establish Walnut Canyon National Monument, first under the US Forest Service as part of Coconino National Forest, then the National Park Service starting in 1934. In the 1930s, the Civilian Conservation Corps built trails and buildings, stabilized the walls of various cliff dwellings, and led guided tours. Further expansions of the site in 1938 by President Roosevelt and 1994 by President Clinton added additional stretches of the canyon into the monument, bringing it to its current 3600 acres of protected resources.

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

Continuing to hike down the North Kaibab Trail at Grand Canyon National Park from Roaring Springs, one descends through Bright Angel Canyon, passing the Manzanita Resthouse and Cottonwood Campground while crossing and recrossing Bright Angel Creek. The trail flattens out around Cottonwood, halfway from the North Rim to the Colorado River and Bright Angel Campground. The bridge to Ribbon Falls is out, but I’m able to ford the creek – something that was not possible the last time that I hiked this trail, during the spring runoff. I’m able to identify a trail that leads to the falls and make it over to see them briefly before making it back to the main trail and continuing toward the River.

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

Continuing to hike down the North Kaibab Trail at Grand Canyon National Park from Roaring Springs, one descends through Bright Angel Canyon, passing the Manzanita Resthouse and Cottonwood Campground while crossing and recrossing Bright Angel Creek. The trail flattens out around Cottonwood, halfway from the North Rim to the Colorado River and Bright Angel Campground. The bridge to Ribbon Falls is out, but I’m able to ford the creek – something that was not possible the last time that I hiked this trail, during the spring runoff. I’m able to identify a trail that leads to the falls and make it over to see them briefly before making it back to the main trail and continuing toward the River.

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 on another thruhiker’s permit for Bright Angel Campground at the bottom, near the Colorado River. My pack weighs in at 46 pounds, not overly light but lighter than it has been. Obviously some of my efforts to cut weight before crossing the canyon paid off. After a side trip to see the aspens in Thompson Canyon, as recommended by the LE ranger that I spoke to yesterday, I head into the canyon.

This image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is img_2563.jpg
Aspens in Thompson Canyon
Grand Canyon National Park North Rim, Arizona
Aspens in Thompson Canyon
Grand Canyon National Park North Rim, Arizona
Aspens in Thompson Canyon
Grand Canyon National Park North Rim, Arizona
Aspens in Thompson Canyon
Grand Canyon National Park North Rim, Arizona
Aspens in Thompson Canyon
Grand Canyon National Park North Rim, Arizona
Aspens in Thompson Canyon
Grand Canyon National Park North Rim, Arizona
Aspens in Thompson Canyon
Grand Canyon National Park North Rim, Arizona
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Aspens in Thompson Canyon
Grand Canyon National Park North Rim, Arizona
Aspens in Thompson Canyon
Grand Canyon National Park North Rim, Arizona
Aspens in Thompson Canyon
Grand Canyon National Park North Rim, Arizona

This is the only part of the Arizona Trail that I have solid familiarity with, having hiked from the South Rim to the North Rim and back in May. If there’s anything I know, it’s to expect the unexpected. In May I ran into rain, hail, and snow between Cottonwood and the North Rim as elevations changed. I was also delayed heading back to the South Rim the following day by several hours due to a torrential rainstorm that blew through. Fortunately, none of that materializes today. It’s still going to be warm at the bottom, but not as warm as it would have been had I started right when my season ended, and the warmth is a welcome change from the Kaibab cold of the past few nights. The trail starts 8297 ft of elevation and drops to the Colorado River at 2480 ft.

The route heads down the legendary North Kaibab Trail, past the Coconino Overlook, where I have a long conversation with a park PSAR volunteer hoping to do the trail themselves in the spring, to the Supai Tunnel, around which the grade peaks at 25%, one of the steepest on the entire AZT. Fortunately, I’m going down. By this point, I have descended through the Kaibab Limestone, Toroweap Formation, Coconino Sandstone, and into the Supai Group.

Backpacking view down Roaring Springs Canyon from Coconino Overlook. Komo Point at junction of Roaring Springs and Bright Angel Canyons. South Rim can be seen in right-center, with San Francisco Peaks above
Arizona Trail, Passage 38 (Grand Canyon Inner Canyon)
Grand Canyon National Park
Hiking view down Roaring Springs Canyon from Coconino Overlook. Komo Point at junction of Roaring Springs and Bright Angel Canyons. South Rim can be seen in right-center, with San Francisco Peaks above
Arizona Trail Passage 38 (Grand Canyon Inner Canyon)
Grand Canyon National Park
North Rim layering above, seen backpacking the North Kaibab Trail. Kaibab Formation at top, sloping Toroweap, Coconino Cliffs, and sloping Hermit Shale lead down to the Supai Group
Arizona Trail, Passage 38 (Grand Canyon, Inner Canyon)
Grand Canyon National Park
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Hiking view through the Supai Tunnel on the North Kaibab Trail
Arizona Trail Passage 38 (Grand Canyon Inner Canyon)
Grand Canyon National Park
Backpacking view down Roaring Springs Canyon from the Supai Tunnel on the North Kaibab Trail. Redwall Bridge visible in shade, lower right of image.
Arizona Trail, Passage 38 (Grand Canyon, Inner Canyon)
Grand Canyon National Park
Hiking view down Roaring Springs Canyon from the Supai Tunnel on the North Kaibab Trail. Redwall Bridge visible in shade, lower right of image.
Arizona Trail, Passage 38 (Grand Canyon, Inner Canyon)
Grand Canyon National Park
Backpacking view down Roaring Springs Canyon from the Supai Tunnel on the North Kaibab Trail. Redwall Bridge visible in shade, lower right of image.
Arizona Trail, Passage 38 (Grand Canyon, Inner Canyon)
Grand Canyon National Park

The trail continues to descend. It enters the Redwall Limestone and drops through a series of switchbacks to the Redwall Bridge before beginning a more gradual traverse through the layer, a stretch where the trail was literally blasted out of the cliff, almost forming a half-tunnel. The trail continues through the Muav Limestone to Roaring Springs at the border with the Bright Angel Shale, the source of all of the drinking water for Grand Canyon National Park. The water from the springs is pumped to the North Rim and flows by gravity to Indian Gardens on the South Rim before being pumped to the rim itself from there. Entering Bright Angel Canyon, it passes through a segment of trail that was literally blown out of the side of the cliff by the Civilian Conservation Corps in the 1930s, the terrain was so rugged, forming a kind of half-tunnel above the trail in the side of the cliff.

View back toward Supai Tunnel, backpacking the North Kaibab Trail descending into Roaring Springs Canyon
Arizona Trail, Passage 38 (Grand Canyon, Inner Canyon)
Grand Canyon National Park
Hiking view down Roaring Springs Canyon from north side of Redwall Bridge.
Arizona Trail, Passage 38 (Grand Canyon, Inner Canyon)
Grand Canyon National Park
Backpacking view down Roaring Springs Canyon from Redwall Bridge
Arizona Trail, Passage 38 (Grand Canyon, Inner Canyon)
Grand Canyon National Park
Upcanyon view of Roaring Springs Canyon, Redwall Bridge in lower center. NK Trailhead is located in pine forest on upper left.
Arizona Trail, Passage 38 (Grand Canyon, Inner Canyon)
Grand Canyon National Park
North Rim seen hiking the North Kaibab Trail in Roaring Springs Canyon
Arizona Trail, Passage 38 (Grand Canyon, Inner Canyon)
Grand Canyon National Park
View down & across Roaring Springs Canyon from backpacking on the North Kaibab Trail. Uncle Jim Point at upper left. Rim in distance is in Bright Angel Canyon.
Arizona Trail, Passage 38 (Grand Canyon, Inner Canyon)
Grand Canyon National Park
Hiking the North Kaibab Trail in Roaring Springs Canyon. This section of trail, one of the most rugged and remote on the developed Corridor between the North and South Rims, was blown out of the cliff by the CCC in the 1930s.
Arizona Trail, Passage 38 (Grand Canyon, Inner Canyon)
Grand Canyon National Park
Upcanyon backpacking view of Roaring Springs Canyon. Redwall Bridge in lower center. NK Trailhead is located in pine forest on upper left.
Arizona Trail, Passage 38 (Grand Canyon, Inner Canyon)
Grand Canyon National Park
Roaring Springs, viewed from hiking the North Kaibab Trail.
Arizona Trail, Passage 38 (Grand Canyon, Inner Canyon)
Grand Canyon National Park
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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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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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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 on another thruhiker’s permit for Bright Angel Campground at the bottom, near the Colorado River. My pack weighs in at 46 pounds, not overly light but lighter than it has been. Obviously some of my efforts to cut weight before crossing the canyon paid off. After a side trip to see the aspens in Thompson Canyon, as recommended by the LE ranger that I spoke to yesterday, I head into the canyon.

Aspens in Thompson Canyon, Grand Canyon National Park North Rim, Arizona
Aspens in Thompson Canyon, Grand Canyon National Park North Rim, Arizona
Aspens in Thompson Canyon, Grand Canyon National Park North Rim, Arizona
Aspens in Thompson Canyon, Grand Canyon National Park North Rim, Arizona
Aspens in Thompson Canyon, Grand Canyon National Park North Rim, Arizona
View down Roaring Springs Canyon from Coconino Overlook. Komo Point at junction of Roaring Springs and Bright Angel Canyons. South Rim can be seen in right-center, with San Francisco Peaks above. Grand Canyon National Park, Arizona Trail Passage 38.
View down Roaring Springs Canyon from Coconino Overlook. Komo Point at junction of Roaring Springs and Bright Angel Canyons. South Rim can be seen in right-center, with San Francisco Peaks above. Grand Canyon National Park, Arizona Trail Passage 38.
North Rim layering above the North Kaibab Trail, Grand Canyon National Park, Arizona Trail Passage 38. Kaibab Formation at top, sloping Toroweap, Coconino Cliffs, and sloping Hermit Shale lead down to the Supai Group.
View through the Supai Tunnel on the North Kaibab Trail, Grand Canyon National Park, Arizona Trail Passage 38.
View down Roaring Springs Canyon from the Supai Tunnel on the North Kaibab Trail, Grand Canyon National Park, Arizona. Redwall Bridge visible in shade, lower right of image.
View down Roaring Springs Canyon from the Supai Tunnel on the North Kaibab Trail, Grand Canyon National Park, Arizona. Redwall Bridge visible in shade, lower right of image.
View down Roaring Springs Canyon from the Supai Tunnel on the North Kaibab Trail, Grand Canyon National Park, Arizona. Redwall Bridge visible on lower right-center of image in shade.
View back toward Supai Tunnel from North Kaibab Trail descending into Roaring Springs Canyon, Grand Canyon National Park, Arizona
View down Roaring Springs Canyon from north side of Redwall Bridge, Grand Canyon National Park, Arizona
View down Roaring Springs Canyon from Redwall Bridge, Grand Canyon National Park, Arizona.
North Rim from North Kaibab Trail in Roaring Springs Canyon, Grand Canyon National Park
Upcanyon view of Roaring Springs Canyon, Grand Canyon National Park. Redwall Bridge in lower center. NK Trailhead is located in pine forest on upper left.
Upcanyon view of Roaring Springs Canyon, Grand Canyon National Park. Redwall Bridge in lower center. NK Trailhead is located in pine forest on upper left.
View down & across Roaring Springs Canyon from North Kaibab Trail, Grand Canyon National Park, Arizona. Uncle Jim Point at upper left. Rim in distance is in Bright Angel Canyon.
North Kaibab Trail in Roaring Springs Canyon, Grand Canyon National Park, Arizona. This section of trail, one of the most rugged and remote on the developed Corridor between the North and South Rims, was blown out of the cliff by the CCC in the 1930s.
Komo Point on the North Rim rises above the junction of Roaring Springs Canyon and Bright Angel Canyon, Grand Canyon National Park, Arizona, AZT Passage 38.
Roaring Springs, viewed from the North Kaibab Trail, Grand Canyon National Park, Arizona.
Tarantula on the North Kaibab Trail, Grand Canyon National Park, Arizona
Tarantula on the North Kaibab Trail, Grand Canyon National Park, Arizona
Tarantula on the North Kaibab Trail, Grand Canyon National Park, Arizona
Tarantula on the North Kaibab Trail, Grand Canyon National Park, Arizona
Tarantula on the North Kaibab Trail, Grand Canyon National Park, Arizona
Bright Angel Creek from the North Kaibab Trail in upper Bright Angel Canyon, Grand Canyon National Park, Arizona. Arizona Trail Passage 38.
Bright Angel Creek from the North Kaibab Trail in upper Bright Angel Canyon, Grand Canyon National Park, Arizona. Arizona Trail Passage 38.
Cascade waterfall on Bright Angel Creek from the North Kaibab Trail in Grand Canyon National Park, Arizona. Arizona Trail Passage 38.
View toward the junction of Bright Angel Canyon (center) and Roaring Springs Canyon (left). Komo Point to right; Uncle Jim Point on upper left. View from North Kaibab Trail, Grand Canyon National Park, Arizona Trail Passage 38.
View down Bright Angel Canyon, North Kaibab Trail, Grand Canyon National Park, Arizona Trail Passage 38.
Remnant transcanyon telephone line built by the Civilian Conservation Corps during the Great Depression. North Kaibab Trail, Grand Canyon National Park, Arizona Trail Passage 38.
North Rim in Bright Angel Canyon from North Kaibab Trail, Grand Canyon National Park, Arizona Trail Passage 38.
North Rim in Bright Angel Canyon from North Kaibab Trail, Grand Canyon National Park, Arizona Trail Passage 38.
North Rim in Bright Angel Canyon from North Kaibab Trail, Grand Canyon National Park, Arizona Trail Passage 38.
Crescent moon above rim of Bright Angel Canyon, North Kaibab Trail, Grand Canyon National Park, Arizona Trail Passage 38
Bright Angel Canyon from North Kaibab Trail, Grand Canyon National Park, Arizona Trail Passage 38.
Bright Angel Canyon from North Kaibab Trail, Grand Canyon National Park, Arizona Trail Passage 38.
Bright Angel Canyon from North Kaibab Trail, Grand Canyon National Park, Arizona Trail Passage 38.
Yes, there is still water in the desert.
Ribbon Falls, Bright Angel Canyon, Grand Canyon National Park, Arizona Trail Passage 38.

Arizona Trail Approach Day 3: Paría Canyon-Vermilion Cliffs Wilderness (Vermilion Cliffs National Monument)

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Moon above Paria Canyon’s Wingate Sandstone walls in the morning
Paria Canyon-Vermilion Cliffs Wilderness, Vermilion Cliffs National Monument

Slow start this morning. The spring that I reached yesterday, the first on the trail, is little more than a trickle, and I have a lot of water to fill. It marks the border between the Chinle Formation and the Wingate Sandstone.

Panorama of the moon above the walls of Paría Canyon in the morning light
Paria Canyon-Vermilion Cliffs Wilderness, Vermilion Cliffs National Monument

As I begin to wind my way further up Paria Canyon, deeper and deeper into the wilderness, the gorgeous weather and cool breeze continues.

Hiking through Paria Canyon
Paria Canyon-Vermilion Cliffs Wilderness, Vermilion Cliffs National Monument
Backpacking through Paria Canyon
Paria Canyon-Vermilion Cliffs Wilderness, Vermilion Cliffs National Monument
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I pass a great gallery of petroglyphs, one of the largest I’ve ever seen. Every time I thought that I’d documented all of them I spotted more and had to go back up again. Just incredible. Canyon perils exist, too – I narrowly avoided injuring myself trying to (successfully) avoid stepping on a canyon tree frog. But after doing my program on those this summer at Grand Canyon, I couldn’t harm one here.

Petroglyphs spotted hiking through Paria Canyon
Paria Canyon-Vermilion Cliffs Wilderness, Vermilion Cliffs National Monument
Petroglyphs spotted backpacking through Paria Canyon
Paria Canyon-Vermilion Cliffs Wilderness, Vermilion Cliffs National Monument
Petroglyphs spotted hiking through Paria Canyon
Paria Canyon-Vermilion Cliffs Wilderness, Vermilion Cliffs National Monument
Petroglyphs spotted backpacking through Paria Canyon
Paria Canyon-Vermilion Cliffs Wilderness, Vermilion Cliffs National Monument
Petroglyphs spotted hiking through Paria Canyon
Paria Canyon-Vermilion Cliffs Wilderness, Vermilion Cliffs National Monument
Petroglyphs spotted backpacking through Paria Canyon
Paria Canyon-Vermilion Cliffs Wilderness, Vermilion Cliffs National Monument
Petroglyphs spotted hiking through Paria Canyon
Paria Canyon-Vermilion Cliffs Wilderness, Vermilion Cliffs National Monument
Petroglyphs spotted backpacking through Paria Canyon
Paria Canyon-Vermilion Cliffs Wilderness, Vermilion Cliffs National Monument
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Petroglyphs spotted hiking through Paria Canyon
Paria Canyon-Vermilion Cliffs Wilderness, Vermilion Cliffs National Monument
Petroglyphs spotted backpacking through Paria Canyon
Paria Canyon-Vermilion Cliffs Wilderness, Vermilion Cliffs National Monument
Petroglyphs spotted hiking through Paria Canyon
Paria Canyon-Vermilion Cliffs Wilderness, Vermilion Cliffs National Monument
Petroglyphs spotted backpacking through Paria Canyon
Paria Canyon-Vermilion Cliffs Wilderness, Vermilion Cliffs National Monument
Petroglyphs spotted hiking through Paria Canyon
Paria Canyon-Vermilion Cliffs Wilderness, Vermilion Cliffs National Monument
Petroglyphs spotted backpacking through Paria Canyon
Paria Canyon-Vermilion Cliffs Wilderness, Vermilion Cliffs National Monument
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Hiking through Paria Canyon
Paria Canyon-Vermilion Cliffs Wilderness, Vermilion Cliffs National Monument
Petroglyphs spotted backpacking through Paria Canyon
Paria Canyon-Vermilion Cliffs Wilderness, Vermilion Cliffs National Monument
Petroglyphs spotted hiking through Paria Canyon
Paria Canyon-Vermilion Cliffs Wilderness, Vermilion Cliffs National Monument
Petroglyphs spotted backpacking through Paria Canyon
Paria Canyon-Vermilion Cliffs Wilderness, Vermilion Cliffs National Monument
Petroglyphs spotted hiking through Paria Canyon
Paria Canyon-Vermilion Cliffs Wilderness, Vermilion Cliffs National Monument

As the canyon rises, the Wingate Formation gives way to the Kayenta Formation and the canyon enters a wider and more heavily vegetated stretch, where sediment has clearly been both deposited and eroded by severe flash flooding – the vegetation growing is evidence of the amount of water provided by the river and the thick rich silt it has deposited, but the current river channel is also in places feet below the level of the vegetation, with a bank that just drops off, evidence of the power of the floods that can sweep through here.

Backpacking through Paria Canyon
Paria Canyon-Vermilion Cliffs Wilderness
Vermilion Cliffs National Monument
Hiking through Paria Canyon
Paria Canyon-Vermilion Cliffs Wilderness
Vermilion Cliffs National Monument
Backpacking Paria Canyon
Paria Canyon-Vermilion Cliffs Wilderness
Vermilion Cliffs National Monument
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Hiking Paria Canyon
Paria Canyon-Vermilion Cliffs Wilderness
Vermilion Cliffs National Monument
Backpacking Paria Canyon
Paria Canyon-Vermilion Cliffs Wilderness
Vermilion Cliffs National Monument

But not today, thankfully.

I ultimately make it to just above Wrather Arch – a cave-type arch in Wrather Canyon. Beautiful regardless of the technical terminology involved. Hopefully I have time to hit it quickly in the morning before continuing upcanyon. The red rock is simply magnificent as it glows in the evening light.

Hiking Paria Canyon
Paria Canyon-Vermilion Cliffs Wilderness
Vermilion Cliffs National Monument
Backpacking Paria Canyon
Paria Canyon-Vermilion Cliffs Wilderness
Vermilion Cliffs National Monument
Hiking Paria Canyon
Paria Canyon-Vermilion Cliffs Wilderness
Vermilion Cliffs National Monument
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Backpacking Paria Canyon
Paria Canyon-Vermilion Cliffs Wilderness
Vermilion Cliffs National Monument
Hiking Paria Canyon
Paria Canyon-Vermilion Cliffs Wilderness
Vermilion Cliffs National Monument
Paria Canyon transition between Wingate Sandstone and Kayenta Formation
Paria Canyon-Vermilion Cliffs Wilderness
Vermilion Cliffs National Monument
Transition between Wingate Sandstone and Kayenta Formation in Paria Canyon
Paria Canyon-Vermilion Cliffs Wilderness
Vermilion Cliffs National Monument
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Transition between Wingate Sandstone and Kayenta Formation in Paria Canyon
Paria Canyon-Vermilion Cliffs Wilderness
Vermilion Cliffs National Monument
Paria Canyon
Paria Canyon-Vermilion Cliffs Wilderness
Vermilion Cliffs National Monument
Paria Canyon, wide angle panorama
Paria Canyon-Vermilion Cliffs Wilderness
Vermilion Cliffs National Monument
Paria Canyon
Paria Canyon-Vermilion Cliffs Wilderness
Vermilion Cliffs National Monument
Paria Canyon
Paria Canyon-Vermilion Cliffs Wilderness
Vermilion Cliffs National Monument
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Paria Canyon
Paria Canyon-Vermilion Cliffs Wilderness
Vermilion Cliffs National Monument
Paria Canyon
Paria Canyon-Vermilion Cliffs Wilderness
Vermilion Cliffs National Monument
Paria Canyon
Paria Canyon-Vermilion Cliffs Wilderness
Vermilion Cliffs National Monument
Paria Canyon
Paria Canyon-Vermilion Cliffs Wilderness
Vermilion Cliffs National Monument
Swiss cheese-style erosion in the Navajo Sandstone in Paria Canyon
Paria Canyon-Vermilion Cliffs Wilderness
Vermilion Cliffs National Monument

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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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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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Paria Canyon-Vermilion Cliffs Wilderness
Trail SurfaceRustic (the river is the trail)
Length (Mi)45 (Lee’s Ferry to Wire Pass via Buckskin Gulch)
38 (Paria Canyon, Lee’s Ferry to White House)
20 (Wire Pass to White House via Buckskin Gulch)
22, approx. (Buckskin Gulch to White House)
1.8 (Wire Pass to Buckskin Gulch)
SeasonFall-Spring. Brutally hot in summer.
Potential Water SourcesSprings. Unless informed otherwise by a BLM ranger, there is likely no water in Buckskin Gulch and the Paria River should be considered undrinkable even when filtered. Know how to recognize desert springs.
TrailheadsParia Canyon North: White House
Paria Canyon South: Lee’s Ferry
Buckskin Gulch Middle Exit
Buckskin Gulch West
Wire Pass
Trailhead AccessVehicular access to all trailheads
WildernessYes
Possible resupply pointsNone
DifficultyStrenuous
Potential campsites (mileages S to N)Best near springs. Some higher-water campsites in north, south of Buckskin Gulch-Paria Canyon confluence.
ThreatsFlash flooding – Extreme hazard here. Know the forecast daily (an inReach or other satellite communicator helps with this). Know how to recognize the signs of a flash flood and how to react. You cannot outrun a flash flood; you must climb above it. This is not possible in Buckskin Gulch – do not enter it if storms threaten.

Heat – 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

Because there is no trail, there are places where boulders must be climbed around or over and at least one spot where your pack must be hauled over a boulder jab. Flash floods change the trail, shifting obstacles around, removing some and adding others. Expect the unexpected.
Permits Required? Yes. 20 people max per night issued on BLM website.
Miscellaneous Leave No Trace is different in the desert. Know desert principles and carry wag bags. One will be provided with your permit.
Cell service?Nonexistent
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