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 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.

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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).