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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“The Arizona Trail,” Dale R Shewalter

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 well as, more controversially among some, bikes are prohibited. The Mazatzal Wilderness, which the trail will remain within 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.

If today is any indication, the Mazatzals are one of the best examples of wilderness around.

The Arizona Trail heads south from the Red Hills trail junction and through an area known as “The Park” in the shadow of North Peak where remnant ponderosa pines survived the Willow Fire. The Park provides a welcome source of shade and landscape shift from the primarily scrubland coverage that had lasted from the East Verde River. Hiking on from the The Park, the trail winds and climbs out of Maverick Basin to the top of Rocky Ridge as the day wears on.

Red Hills, hiking view from the AZT
Arizona Trail, Passage 23 (Mazatzal Divide)
Mazatzal Wilderness
Tonto National Forest
Red Hills panorama, backpacking view from the AZT
Arizona Trail, Passage 23 (Mazatzal Divide)
Mazatzal Wilderness
Tonto National Forest
Northwest view hiking across the Red Hills and East Verde River valley to the Mogollon Rim and beyond. The shadow of the San Francisco Peaks near Flagstaff is on the horizon.
Arizona Trail, Passage 23 (Mazatzal Divide)
Mazatzal Wilderness
Tonto National Forest
San Francisco Peaks from the Arizona Trail hiking out of the Red Hills
Arizona Trail, Passage 23 (Mazatzal Divide)
Mazatzal Wilderness
Tonto National Forest
North Peak and the spine of the Mazatzal Mountains from the Arizona Trail backpacking through the Red Hills
Arizona Trail, Passage 23 (Mazatzal Divide)
Mazatzal Wilderness
Tonto National Forest
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The red rock that gives the Red Hills their name, seen backpacking the Arizona Trail
Arizona Trail, Passage 23 (Mazatzal Divide)
Mazatzal Wilderness
Tonto National Forest
Northeast view across to the Mogollon Rim, seen hiking the AZT in the Red Hills
Arizona Trail, Passage 23 (Mazatzal Divide)
Mazatzal Wilderness
Tonto National Forest
North Peak and Rocky Ridge in the Mazatzal Mountains from the Arizona Trail backpacking through the Red Hills
Arizona Trail, Passage 23 (Mazatzal Divide)
Mazatzal Wilderness
Tonto National Forest
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Backpacking along the AZT through the Red Hills toward North Peak and the Mazatzal Mountains
Arizona Trail, Passage 23 (Mazatzal Divide)
Mazatzal Wilderness
Tonto National Forest
Outcrops of red rock tinted with green scrubs show off the Red Hills, seen hiking the Arizona Trail
Arizona Trail, Passage 23 (Mazatzal Divide)
Mazatzal Wilderness
Tonto National Forest
North panorama from the Arizona Trail hiking through the Red Hills
Arizona Trail, Passage 23 (Mazatzal Divide)
Mazatzal Wilderness
Tonto National Forest
North Peak (left) and Rocky Ridge panorama from The Park, backpacking the Arizona Trail
Arizona Trail, Passage 23 (Mazatzal Divide)
Mazatzal Wilderness
Tonto National Forest
Rocky Ridge from the Arizona Trail hiking out of The Park & the Red Hills and into the Mazatzal Mountains
Arizona Trail, Passage 23 (Mazatzal Divide)
Mazatzal Wilderness
Tonto National Forest
Rock samples in the northern Mazatzal Mountains, seen hiking the AZT
Arizona Trail, Passage 23 (Mazatzal Divide)
Mazatzal Wilderness
Tonto National Forest
Fall colors seen hiking the Arizona Trail climbing into the Mazatzal Mountains
Arizona Trail, Passage 23 (Mazatzal Divide)
Mazatzal Wilderness
Tonto National Forest

Hiking through afternoon and into evening, Rocky Ridge provides the most memorable experience of the day. The silence and solitude are incredible – I could hear the wings of a raven flap as it flew in front of me, and one could hear single birds cry and echo among the hills. Magnificent. Sunset proved epic too. The colors alone were great, but you could also see the crepuscular rays coming up from the horizon. It looked like someone stretched the Arizona flag across the sky – only the second time I’ve used that description, and first in 5 years. Just magnificent. Needing water, I push on to Horse Camp Seep and filter some from a pothole there. Interview tomorrow, then on southbound.

North view from hiking the Arizona Trail ascending Rocky Ridge, entering the Mazatzal Mountains
Arizona Trail, Passage 23 (Mazatzal Divide)
Mazatzal Wilderness
Tonto National Forest
Arizona Trail leading the hiker toward the summit of Rocky Ridge
Arizona Trail, Passage 23 (Mazatzal Divide)
Mazatzal Wilderness
Tonto National Forest
North view from summit of Rocky Ridge. Red Hills in the foreground; Mogollon Rim & San Francisco Peaks in the background.
Arizona Trail, Passage 23 (Mazatzal Divide)
Mazatzal Wilderness
Tonto National Forest
San Francisco Peaks, view from hiking Rocky Ridge on the Arizona Trail entering the Mazatzal Mountains
Arizona Trail, Passage 23 (Mazatzal Divide)
Mazatzal Wilderness
Tonto National Forest
Panorama of Rocky Ridge and the spine of the Mazatzal Mountains in evening light, seen backpacking the Arizona Trail
Arizona Trail, Passage 23 (Mazatzal Divide)
Mazatzal Wilderness
Tonto National Forest
Crepuscular rays at sunset from Rocky Ridge hiking the Arizona Trail in the Mazatzal Mountains
Arizona Trail, Passage 23 (Mazatzal Divide)
Mazatzal Wilderness
Tonto National Forest

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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.

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Arizona Trail Backpacking Logistics – AZT Gateway Communities: Tonto Basin

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

Logistics, trail journal, and magnificent mountain scenery.

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

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

Logistics, trail journal, and magnificent mountain scenery.

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

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

Logistics, trail journal, and magnificent mountain scenery.

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Passage 23 (Mazatzal Divide)
Trail SurfaceDirt trail
Length (Mi)24.3
SeasonAll year, but snow can make sections impassable in winter.
Potential Water SourcesHorse Camp Seep
Hopi Spring
Chilson Spring
Bear Spring
TrailheadsNorth: Red Hills Trail Junction
South: Mount Peeley Trailhead
Trailhead AccessNorth: Foot only. 5.75 mi from City Creek Trailhead
South: Foot & 0.5 mi hike on Cornucopia Trail from trailhead.
WildernessMost
Possible resupply pointsNone
ATA-Rated DifficultyModerate
Potential campsites (mileages S to N)6.7, 9.4, 19.4, 22
HazardsHeat – wear a cotton shirt so you can soak it. Synthetics aren’t great in the desert.

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

Dehydration
Ecosystems TraversedInterior Chaparral
Great Basin Conifer Woodland
Rocky Mountain Montane Conifer Woodland
Relict Conifer Woodland
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Interior Chaparral Great Basin Conifer WoodlandRocky Mountain Montane Conifer Woodland
Common Trees/Shrubs* Birchleaf Mahogany
* Ceanothus
* Holly-leaf buckthorn
* Manzanita
* Shrub live oak
* Silktassels
* Stansbury cliffrose
* 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* Agaves – golden flowered, Parry’s, Toumey’s
* Banana & soap tree yucca
* Barrel cactus
* beargrass
* beehive cactus
* buckhorn cholla
* Cane Cholla
* hedgehog cacti
* prickly pear cacti
* Rock echeveria
* Sotol
* Whipple’s cholla
* 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 47: Red Hills, Part II/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

Job application day starts. I hike further along the trail to get service and encounter Jake (trail name, Don’t Panic). We talk for a while, and then I get the applications in that I can over lunch. The second third of the climb commences, but I seem to have gotten my mountain legs under me somewhat. Combined with a lesser grade, the climbing portion of today’s hike takes a matter of hours rather than the better part of a day that yesterday’s hike took. The trail rolls through the Hills, which aren’t exactly shy about the reason for their name.

Setting out today, hiking through the Red Hills
Arizona Trail, Passage 24 (Red Hills)
Tonto National Forest
Can you see where the Hills get their name?
Arizona Trail, Passage 24 (Red Hills)
Tonto National Forest
Toomey century plants in the Red Hills
Arizona Trail, Passage 24 (Red Hills)
Tonto National Forest
Emory Oak
Arizona Trail, Passage 24 (Red Hills)
Tonto National Forest

Most of the trail passes through scrubland but there are remnants of the ponderosa forest that existed in the vicinity before the Willow Fire (2004) and Sunflower Fire (2012) burned through the area. The Willow Fire burned 119,500 acres; the Sunflower burned 17,618. Dominant vegetation in parts of the area impacted by the fires has been transformed from ponderosa pines to primarily desert scrubland and pinyon juniper forest due in part to disturbance and increased solar exposure, changing the hiking experience through it, though some parts, particularly on the south end of the passage, were not impacted and retain legacy pines. Some more northerly plants like blue spruce can be found in shadier drainages. Views are extensive of both the Hills themselves and of the mesas and Mogollon Rim to the north, where another fire appears to be burning. The Red Hills passage ultimately concludes at the Red Hills Trail junction, where the Arizona Trail hiker (or backpacker) imperceptibly enters Passage 23, the Mazatzal Divide – the heart of the Mazatzal Wilderness, one of the most incredible passages on the trail, and the topic for the next entry.

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Juniper in the Red Hills
Arizona Trail, Passage 24 (Red Hills)
Tonto National Forest
Pinyon pine in the Red Hills
Arizona Trail, Passage 24 (Red Hills)
Tonto National Forest
Panoramic view of the Red Hills, seen backpacking the AZT
Arizona Trail, Passage 24 (Red Hills)
Tonto National Forest
Cacti in the Red Hills, seen hiking the AZT
Arizona Trail, Passage 24 (Red Hills)
Tonto National Forest
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Clusters of Toomey’s century plants seen backpacking the AZT in the Red Hills
Arizona Trail, Passage 24 (Red Hills)
Tonto National Forest
Blue spruce seen hiking the AZT in the Red Hills
Arizona Trail, Passage 24 (Red Hills)
Tonto National Forest
Diverse vegetation in the Red Hills, including legacy ponderosa pines, survivors of past wildfires, seen backpacking the AZT
Arizona Trail, Passage 24 (Red Hills)
Tonto National Forest
Wildflowers (mock vervain) seen hiking the AZT in the Red Hills
Arizona Trail, Passage 24 (Red Hills)
Tonto National Forest
Wildflowers (mock vervain) & cacti in the Red Hills
Arizona Trail, Passage 24 (Red Hills)
Tonto National Forest
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Reminders of past fires in the Red Hills, such as the Willow and Sunflower Fires, seen backpacking the AZT
Arizona Trail, Passage 24 (Red Hills)
Tonto National Forest
Arizona Tail leading the hiker ahead through scrubland in the Red Hills
Arizona Trail, Passage 24 (Red Hills)
Tonto National Forest
View back through the Red Hills to the Mogollon Rim. Wildfire smoke on the horizon. Backpacking south, just past this point, the AZT passes the Red Hills trail junction and enters Passage 23, the Mazatzal Divide.
Arizona Trail, Passage 24 (Red Hills)
Tonto National Forest
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Backpacking the Arizona Trail, Day 51: Mazatzal Divide (Passage 23), Part II

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Pink ribbons spread across the bluish/purple sky at sunset

Fossil Springs Wilderness – FR 708

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

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Passage 24 (Red Hills)
Trail SurfaceDirt singletrack
Length (Mi)10.9
SeasonAll year but snow may impact higher elevations in winter and heat can impact lower elevations in summer.
Potential Water SourcesEast Verde River
Brush Springs
Seeps
TrailheadsNorth: East Verde River (north). Inaccessible to cars (4 mile hike from accessible Doll Baby Ranch TH)
South: Red Hills Trail Junction. Foot access only.
Trailhead AccessNorth: Foot only. 4 miles from vehicular access at Doll Baby Ranch
South: Foot only. 5.75 mi from vehicular access at City Creek
Wilderness?Yes
Possible Resupply PointsNone
Potential campsites (mileages S to N)Precipitous terrain limits options, but there are some spots above the climb/descent into the East Verde Valley, on the ridge traverse; and in the basin and south end near the Red Hills Trail junction
ATA-Rated DifficultyModerate
Ecosystems TraversedInterior Chaparral (north end)
Great Basin Conifer Woodland
Relict Conifer Woodland
HighlightsViews of the northern Mazatzal Mountains
Sunsets
Red rocks
Ecological diversity
Passage logistics
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Interior Chaparral Great Basin Conifer WoodlandRocky Mountain Montane Conifer Woodland
Common Trees/Shrubs* Birchleaf Mahogany
* Ceanothus
* Holly-leaf buckthorn
* Manzanita
* Shrub live oak
* Silktassels
* Stansbury cliffrose
* 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* Agaves – golden flowered, Parry’s, Toumey’s
* Banana & soap tree yucca
* Barrel cactus
* beargrass
* beehive cactus
* buckhorn cholla
* Cane Cholla
* hedgehog cacti
* prickly pear cacti
* Rock echeveria
* Sotol
* Whipple’s cholla
* 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 49: Whiterock Mesa, Part III

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

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

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

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

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

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

“The Arizona Trail,” Dale R Shewalter

I camped at Polk Spring last night and woke up for sunrise this morning. A clearing with only scattered mesquite trees proved a good spot; on the far side, a little stream trickles down from the spring beneath towering sycamore trees golden with their fall plumage. Mesquite trees are really cool – their leaves are incredibly photosensitive. They actually fold up overnight (see below) and then open during the day as light levels increase until radiation peaks before beginning to close again and repeating the cycle the following day.

Mesquite trees with leaves folded, spotted camping at Polk Spring
Arizona Trail, Passage 25 (Whiterock Mesa)
Mazatzal Wilderness
Tonto National Forest
Mesquite trees at Polk Spring, camping along the AZT
Arizona Trail, Passage 25 (Whiterock Mesa)
Mazatzal Wilderness
Tonto National Forest
Polk Spring, a great camping spot along the AZT
Arizona Trail, Passage 25 (Whiterock Mesa)
Mazatzal Wilderness
Tonto National Forest

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.

North Peak (ahead) and Red Hills (right) viewed from Arizona Trail hiking down to East Verde River
Arizona Trail, Passage 25 (Whiterock Mesa)
Mazatzal Wilderness
Tonto National Forest
North Peak, Mazatzal Mountains (left) & Red Hills (ahead), viewed from Arizona Trail backpacking toward East Verde River
Arizona Trail, Passage 25 (Whiterock Mesa)
Mazatzal Wilderness
Tonto National Forest
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Bear scat. No bears seen yet on this backpacking trip, though.
Arizona Trail, Passage 25 (Whiterock Mesa)
Mazatzal Wilderness
Tonto National Forest
Panorama of North Peak, Mazatzal Mountains (left) and Red Hills (ahead) above East Verde Valley, hiking toward the river
Arizona Trail, Passage 25 (Whiterock Mesa)
Mazatzal Wilderness
Tonto National Forest

On reaching the East Verde River valley, there’s a sign pointing the way to the otherwise unmarked crossing. Quite faded from the Arizona sun, the sign gives the distance to Mexico now as 440 miles. (Note: for someone heading nobo, the crossing point might be easier to identify since there is more of a bank on the north side and thus the point where the trail climbs the bank to begin the ascent up Whiterock Mesa). I greet two hikers going north as they cross, then do likewise. Note: this is the same river that I crossed several times and backpacked along the banks of during the descent off the Mogollon Rim to meet the Highline Trail at Washington Park. Needless to say, the River is much bigger here, and since there’s no fixed crossing as there is for the other three rivers that the Arizona Trail crosses, care must be made in the crossing.

Hiking across the East Verde River – 440 miles to Mexico
Arizona Trail, Passage 24 (Red Hills)
Mazatzal Wilderness
Tonto National Forest
East Verde River Reflections
Arizona Trail, Passage 24 (Red Hills)
Mazatzal Wilderness
Tonto National Forest
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East Verde River panorama
Arizona Trail, Passage 24 (Red Hills)
Mazatzal Wilderness
Tonto National Forest
Arizona sycamores glow in the morning light backpacking south on the AZT after crossing the East Verde River
Arizona Trail, Passage 24 (Red Hills)
Mazatzal Wilderness
Tonto National Forest

New plants crop up as well as the AZT follows the sandy floodplain of the East Verde River before winding its way through a tricky stretch (from a navigational perspective) and beginning to climb up into the foothills. The rest of the day will be spent climbing. I pass a trail volunteer out working on rebuilding a stretch, who says he gets out here twice a year to work, fall and spring, avoiding the summer. As we look up into the Red Hills, you can see the trail climbing up to the ridge line above. In addition to being steep, it’s also very exposed. Some exposed conglomerate rock is around, too, though I suspect that geology may change as we climb higher. Well, nothing to do but get hiking! Next time, we’ll see the ascent into the Red Hills and get ready for the backpacking traverse through them into the heart of the Mazatzal Wilderness.

Arizona Trail, Passage 24 (Red Hills)
Mazatzal Wilderness
Tonto National Forest
Hiking out of the East Verde River valley toward the foothills of the Red Hills
Arizona Trail, Passage 24 (Red Hills)
Mazatzal Wilderness
Tonto National Forest
Backpacking into the Red Hills & looking back toward the East Verde River valley, tip of Whiterock Mesa, and the Mogollon Rim beyond, through the juniper and prickly pear
Arizona Trail, Passage 24 (Red Hills)
Mazatzal Wilderness
Tonto National Forest
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Red Hills, seen hiking out of the East Verde River valley
Arizona Trail, Passage 24 (Red Hills)
Mazatzal Wilderness
Tonto National Forest
Brilliant fall foliage seen backpacking the Arizona Trail in the Red Hills
Arizona Trail, Passage 24 (Red Hills)
Mazatzal Wilderness
Tonto National Forest
Geology of the area – representative rocks of the East Verde River valley & Red Hills foothills
Arizona Trail, Passage 24 (Red Hills)
Mazatzal Wilderness
Tonto National Forest

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Fossil Springs Wilderness – Waterfall Trail

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

Fossil Springs Wilderness – Fossil Springs Trail

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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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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Passage 25Passage 24
Trail SurfaceDirt trailDirt trail
Length (Mi)22.710.9
Elevation Change (ft)2411 ft
SeasonOctober-AprilOctober-April
Potential Water SourcesBradshaw Tank
Oak Spring Canyon
Whiterock Spring
Polk Spring
East Verde River
East Verde River
TrailheadsNorth: Passage 26 at Pine Trailhead (AZ-87)
Midpoint: FR 194
South: East Verde River (south). Inaccessible to cars
North: East Verde River (north). Inaccessible to cars (4 mile hike from accessible Doll Baby Ranch TH)
South: Red Hills Trail Junction
Trailhead AccessibilityNorth: Vehicular
Midpoint: Vehicular
South: Hiking only (4 mile hike from accessible Doll Baby Ranch TH)
North: Hiking only (4 mile hike from accessible Doll Baby Ranch TH)
South: Hiking only (5.75 mi hike from vehicle-accessible City Creek TH)
Ecosystems traversedRiparian
Great Basin Conifer Woodland, primarily
Rocky Mountain montane conifer forest (north end)
Riparian
Interior Chaparral (north end)
Great Basin Conifer Woodland
Relict Conifer Woodland
HighlightsViews of Mazatzal Mountains & Mogollon Rim
Sunsets
Views of the northern Mazatzal Mountains
Sunsets
Red rocks
Ecological diversity
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Backpacking the Arizona Trail – Pine to Pine Ridge (Passage 25, Whiterock Mesa)

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

Day 43 on the Arizona Trail. Late start after an immense and slow breakfast at Early Bird Cafe. I retrace my steps to the Pine Trailhead and then turn south. 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. Dikes are volcanic intrusions – formed when magma forced into cracks in surrounding rock and then cools in place. Yet more examples of the little-known volcanic history of the area. The unfortunate part? It’s followed by a steady climb out to the top of Whiterock Mesa (namesake of the passage). The basalt returns as the trail ascends and the trail is again covered in loose rock. I ultimately find a somewhat flat spot to camp and then return to the bottom to get some water from Oak Spring before heading to bed. The breakfast was so filling, in fact, that I can get by with a relatively light dinner, at most. May not even need much of any dinner.

AZT Passage 25 (Whiterock Mesa) Relive Video
Heading back into the pines, hiking south on the AZT
Arizona Trail, Passage 25 (Whiterock Mesa)
Tonto National Forest
Mogollon Rim from Hardscrabble Mesa, backpacking south on the AZT
Arizona Trail, Passage 25 (Whiterock Mesa)
Tonto National Forest
View down Oak Spring Canyon, hiking south on the AZT
Arizona Trail, Passage 25 (Whiterock Mesa)
Tonto National Forest
View across Oak Spring Canyon, backpacking south on the AZT
Arizona Trail, Passage 25 (Whiterock Mesa)
Tonto National Forest
Foliage in Oak Spring Canyon, hiking south on the AZT
Arizona Trail, Passage 25 (Whiterock Mesa)
Tonto National Forest
Dikes (volcanic intrusions) in rocks, Oak Spring Canyon, backpacking south on the AZT
Arizona Trail, Passage 25 (Whiterock Mesa)
Tonto National Forest
Foliage in Oak Spring Canyon, hiking south on the AZT
Arizona Trail, Passage 25 (Whiterock Mesa)
Tonto National Forest
Foliage in Oak Spring Canyon, backpacking south on the AZT
Arizona Trail, Passage 25 (Whiterock Mesa)
Tonto National Forest
Ironwood berries, hiking south on the AZT
Arizona Trail, Passage 25 (Whiterock Mesa)
Tonto National Forest
Mogollon Rim from Whiterock Mesa ascent, backpacking south on the AZT
Arizona Trail, Passage 25 (Whiterock Mesa)
Tonto National Forest
Foliage in Oak Spring Canyon ascending Whiterock Mesa hiking south on the AZT
Arizona Trail, Passage 25 (Whiterock Mesa)
Tonto National Forest
Moon at sunset over Oak Spring Canyon & the Mogollon Rim, backpacking south on the AZT
Arizona Trail, Passage 25 (Whiterock Mesa)
Tonto National Forest
Moon at sunset over Oak Spring Canyon & the Mogollon Rim, hiking south on the AZT
Arizona Trail, Passage 25 (Whiterock Mesa)
Tonto National Forest
Sunset near top of Whiterock Mesa ascent, backpacking south on the AZT
Arizona Trail, Passage 25 (Whiterock Mesa)
Tonto National Forest

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

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

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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Passage 25 (Whiterock Mesa)
Trail SurfaceVaries
Pine to Hardscrabble Mesa: Dirt singletrack
Hardscrabble Mesa: Rocky
FR 194: Packed gravel
Whiterock Mesa to descent: Dirt singletrack
Length (mi)22.7
Elevation Change (ft), north to southWhiterock Mesa: 2661 up, 87 down
Hardscrabble Mesa: 1745 up, 1263 down
SeasonSeptember-April
Potential Water SourcesOak Canyon Spring
Whiterock Spring
Polk Spring
TrailheadsNorth: Pine
Twin Buttes (FR 194)
South: East Verde River (inaccessible by car)
Doll Baby
Trailhead AccessNorth: Paved road (AZ-87)
Middle: Graded dirt road (FR 194)
South: Foot access only
Doll Baby Trailhead accessible by car, 4 mi hike to East Verde River
Possible Resupply PointsPine
ATA-Rated DifficultyWhiterock Mesa: Easy
Hardscrabble Mesa: Moderate
ThreatsHeat – wear a cotton shirt so you can soak it. Synthetics aren’t great in the desert.

Hypothermia – nights are generally about 30°F cooler than days in Arizona regardless of the time of year. Consider this in packing gear. Mornings can be cool year-round.

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

Lightning
Permits Required?No
Cell Service?Decent for area
Ecosystems TraversedRocky Mountain Montane Conifer Forest (north of Oak Spring Canyon)
Great Basin Conifer Woodland
HighlightsOak Spring Canyon
Views of Mazatzal Mountains
Logistical details
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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
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 41, Part II – Highline Trail (Passage 27, Highline)

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

The Highline Trail began as a way of connecting remote ranching areas below the Mogollon Rim. It continues to serve as a major transportation corridor today, stretching 54.7 miles. The Arizona Trail doesn’t overlap the entire length but it does overlap more than half. The Mogollon Rim, as perhaps noted previously, is the southern border of the Colorado Plateau and the driver of phenomena such as the southwest monsoon in the same way that the Tibetan Plateau drives the Indian Monsoon – albeit with less dramatic effects since the Tibetan Plateau and the Himalayas are much higher than the Mogollon is. More to come on this in a separate entry, perhaps.

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. Basalt outcrops emerge, a contrast to the red soil of the passage to this point. The tread on this stretch is more similar to the area above the Mogollon than it is to the prior stretch of the Highline below it, in a sense.

Green ferns still remain along the Highline on the Mogollon Rim, backpacking south on the AZT
Arizona Trail, Passage 27 (Highline)
Tonto National Forest
Gambel oaks seen among ponderosa pines hiking along the AZT
Arizona Trail, Passage 27 (Highline)
Tonto National Forest
Gambel oaks seen among ponderosa pines backpacking along the AZT
Arizona Trail, Passage 27 (Highline)
Tonto National Forest
Gambel oaks seen among ponderosa pines hiking along the AZT
Arizona Trail, Passage 27 (Highline)
Tonto National Forest
Gambel oaks seen among ponderosa pines backpacking along the AZT
Arizona Trail, Passage 27 (Highline)
Tonto National Forest
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Gambel oaks seen among ponderosa pines hiking along the AZT
Arizona Trail, Passage 27 (Highline)
Tonto National Forest
Gambel oaks seen among ponderosa pines backpacking along the AZT
Arizona Trail, Passage 27 (Highline)
Tonto National Forest
Basalt Outcrops, seen hiking south on the AZT
Arizona Trail, Passage 27 (Highline)
Tonto National Forest
Rock outcrops and Gambel oaks among ponderosa pines seen backpacking along the AZT
Arizona Trail, Passage 27 (Highline)
Tonto National Forest
Gambel oaks seen hiking the AZT
Arizona Trail, Passage 27 (Highline)
Tonto National Forest

As the trail winds toward the southernmost reach of Milk Ranch Point, it passes by Pine and Red Rock Springs, two unreliable sources. Views open of the Mogollon to the East, and both agave and yucca reappear in places. There are also continually improving views of the Mogollon to the East, looking directly down the rim. The greater sheltering of these areas from recent wildfires is evident as well; unburned areas present in immense ponderosa and mature oaks in full fall color.

Mogollon Rim, east view near Milk Ranch Point, view backpacking the AZT
Arizona Trail, Passage 27 (Highline)
Tonto National Forest
Mogollon Rim, east view from near Milk Ranch Point, view hiking the AZT
Arizona Trail, Passage 27 (Highline)
Tonto National Forest
Agave Cactus growing among ponderosas, seen backpacking the AZT
Arizona Trail, Passage 27 (Highline)
Tonto National Forest
Fall foliage seen hiking along the AZT
Arizona Trail, Passage 27 (Highline)
Tonto National Forest
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Arizona sycamore in fall foliage, seen backpacking the AZT
Arizona Trail, Passage 27 (Highline)
Tonto National Forest
Mogollon Rim, view hiking the AZT
Arizona Trail, Passage 27 (Highline)
Tonto National Forest
Arizona Trail, Passage 27 (Highline)
Tonto National Forest
Mogollon Rim, east view from Milk Ranch Point backpacking the AZT
Arizona Trail, Passage 27 (Highline)
Tonto National Forest
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Mogollon Rim from Milk Ranch Point, view hiking the AZT
Arizona Trail, Passage 27 (Highline)
Tonto National Forest
Gambel oak, view hiking backpacking the AZT
Arizona Trail, Passage 27 (Highline)
Tonto National Forest
Fall foliage viewed hiking along the AZT
Arizona Trail, Passage 27 (Highline)
Tonto National Forest
Mogollon Rim from Milk Ranch Point, east view backpacking the AZT
Arizona Trail, Passage 27 (Highline)
Tonto National Forest
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Mazatzal Mountains from Milk Ranch Point, Mogollon Rim, hiking the AZT
Arizona Trail, Passage 27 (Highline)
Tonto National Forest
Milk Ranch Point, Mogollon Rim, viewed backpacking the AZT
Arizona Trail, Passage 27 (Highline)
Tonto National Forest
Milk Ranch Point, Mogollon Rim, view hiking the AZT
Arizona Trail, Passage 27 (Highline)
Tonto National Forest
Fall foliage in draws, seen hiking along the AZT
Arizona Trail, Passage 27 (Highline)
Tonto National Forest
Arizona Trail, Passage 27 (Highline)
Tonto National Forest
Fall foliage seen backpacking the AZT below the Mogollon Rim
Arizona Trail, Passage 27 (Highline)
Tonto National Forest
Fall foliage amid rock outcrops below the Mogollon Rim hiking along the AZT Arizona Trail, Passage 27 (Highline)
Tonto National Forest
Fall foliage amid pines below the Mogollon Rim backpacking the AZT Arizona Trail, Passage 27 (Highline)
Tonto National Forest

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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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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Passage 26 (Highline)
Trail SurfaceDirt singletrack
Length (Mi)20.2
SeasonSpring-Fall
Potential Water SourcesEast Verde River (mi 309.2 SOBO/479.6 NOBO)
Creek (mi 311.9 SOBO/476.8 NOBO)
Chase Creek (mi 312.6 SOBO/476.1 NOBO)
North Sycamore Creek (314.1 SOBO/474.7 NOBO)
Bray Creek (mi 315.4 SOBO/473.3 NOBO)
Bear Spring (mi 316.8 SOBO/472.0 NOBO)
Pine Spring (mi 322.1 SOBO/466.6 NOBO)
Red Rock Spring (mi 323.2 SOBO/465.6 NOBO)
TrailheadsNorth: Mogollon Rim (mi 292.1 SOBO, 496.7 NOBO)
South: AZ-87 near Pine (mi 328.1 SOBO, 460.6 NOBO)
Trailhead AccessNorth: Graded dirt road
South: Paved road
WildernessNo
Possible resupply pointsPine
DifficultyModerate
Potential campsites (mileages S to N)Various LNT-compatible locations throughout
ThreatsHeat – wear a cotton shirt so you can soak it. Synthetics aren’t great in the desert.

Hypothermia – nights are generally about 30°F cooler than days in Arizona regardless of the time of year. Consider this in packing gear. Mornings can be cool year-round.

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

Lightning
Permits Required? No
Cell service?Limited
Ecosystems traversedRocky Mountain Montane Conifer Forest
HighlightsMogollon Rim, southern boundary of Colorado Plateau
Fall foliage
Ecological diversity
Extensive views
Sources: Personal experience, Guthook Guides & ATA Guide to the Arizona Trail.
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Interior Chaparral Great Basin Conifer WoodlandRocky Mountain Montane Conifer Woodland
Common Trees/Shrubs* Birchleaf Mahogany
* Ceanothus
* Holly-leaf buckthorn
* Manzanita
* Shrub live oak
* Silktassels
* Stansbury cliffrose
* 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* Agaves – golden flowered, Parry’s, Toumey’s
* Banana & soap tree yucca
* Barrel cactus
* beargrass
* beehive cactus
* buckhorn cholla
* Cane Cholla
* hedgehog cacti
* prickly pear cacti
* Rock echeveria
* Sotol
* Whipple’s cholla
* beehive cactus
* Claret cup hedgehog cacti
* Golden-flowered agave
* Parry’s agave
* Prickly pear cacti
* Whipple cholla
* Tonto Basin agave
Ecology (source: Arizona Trail Association AZT Guide & NatureServe). Only California and Texas are more diverse ecologically than Arizona.
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Arizona Trail, Day 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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Arizona Trail, Day 24: Elden Mountain, Part 3 (Trans-Arizona/Utah Hike Day 31)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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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: Passage 31 – Walnut Canyon (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.

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 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

I get back to where I camped and pick up a few things I had left there while I was at Walnut Canyon National Monument. 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. 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.

A peek into Walnut Canyon from the rim. Arizona Trail Passage 31 (Walnut Canyon), Coconino National Forest
View back down Walnut Canyon from the Arizona Trail skirting the rim on Passage 31 (Walnut Canyon), Coconino National Forest
The Arizona Trail passes peaking gambel oaks and toomey’s century plants – characteristic of a south-facing slope at this elevation – amid green 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 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 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 peaking gambel oaks amid green ponderosa in the filtered forest light. Passage 31 (Walnut Canyon), Coconino National Forest
The Arizona Trail passes stands of mature ponderosa, with their classic reddish-tinted bark. I can almost smell their butterscotch aroma in the picture….(Passage 31 (Walnut Canyon), Coconino National Forest)
The Arizona Trail passes stands of mature ponderosa in a classic northern Arizona drainage, with their classic reddish-tinted bark. I can almost smell their butterscotch aroma in the picture….(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 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 peaking gambel oaks amid green ponderosa in the filtered forest light. Passage 31 (Walnut Canyon), Coconino National Forest

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“The Arizona Trail,” Dale R Shewalter

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.

Wrapping up at Walnut Canyon National Monument. After finishing up the fantastic Island Trail, the Rim Trail yields some great sites as well, including an unexcavated site and several pueblos. The views of the canyon itself are pretty amazing too. Some kind visitors in the parking lot also give me some snacks when they hear about my attempt to hike across Arizona. One can always trust fellow parkies to help out! All in all, well worth the side trip here. I underestimated this stop and I am now running a little behind schedule, so it is time to head back and pick up the trail toward Flagstaff again.

Archeological site on the rim of Walnut Canyon
Walnut Canyon National Monument (one of 22 national parks in Arizona)
Archeological pueblo on the rim of Walnut Canyon
Walnut Canyon National Monument (one of 22 national parks in Arizona)
An unexcavated archeological site on the rim of Walnut Canyon. Leaving such sites in place helps preserve the artifacts in as close to natural condition as possible. Walnut Canyon National Monument, one of 22 national parks in Arizona.
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Cliff dwellings visible from the Island Trail
Walnut Canyon National Monument (one of 22 national parks in Arizona)
Cliff dwellings visible from the Island Trail
Walnut Canyon National Monument (one of 22 national parks in Arizona)
Cliff dwellings visible from the Island Trail
Walnut Canyon National Monument (one of 22 national parks in Arizona)

About the area: 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.

Today, 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. The 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. Views from the canyon rim include the volcanic peaks around Flagstaff, including Elden Mountain and the San Francisco Peaks, as well as landmarks such as Mormon Mountain to the south, all rising out of the extensive ponderosa forest covering the Mogollon Plateau.

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

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

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

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

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Rim TrailIsland Trail
Type of hikeOut & backLoop
Trail SurfacePaved trailPaved Trail
Length (Mi)0.71
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 Canyon. Rim-top pueblo.Loop 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’ elevation.
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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Rocky Mountain Montane Conifer Woodland
Common Trees/Shrubs* Ponderosa Pine
* Southwestern white pine
* Subalpine fir
* White fir
* Rocky Mountain maple
* Bigtooth maple
* Grey alder
* Red birch
* Red osier dogwood
* Cliffbush
* Mallow ninebark
* New Mexican locust
* huckleberry
* bilberries



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