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

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

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.

Elk Tank, hiking south on the AZT
Arizona Trail Passage 28, Blue Ridge
Coconino National Forest
Burn area, seen backpacking south on the AZT
Arizona Trail Passage 28, Blue Ridge
Coconino National Forest
Arizona Trail heading into the pines again, hiking south on the AZT
Arizona Trail Passage 28, Blue Ridge
Coconino National Forest
Elk are a bit more shy here! Herd spotted backpacking south on the AZT
Arizona Trail Passage 28, Blue Ridge
Coconino National Forest
AZT passing through a burn area, hiking south on the AZT
Arizona Trail Passage 28, Blue Ridge
Coconino National Forest
AZT passing through a burn area, backpacking south on the AZT
Arizona Trail Passage 28, Blue Ridge
Coconino National Forest
AZT passing through a burn area, hiking south on the AZT
Arizona Trail Passage 28, Blue Ridge
Coconino National Forest
AZT passing through a burn area, backpacking south on the AZT
Arizona Trail Passage 28, Blue Ridge
Coconino National Forest
AZT passing through a burn area, hiking south on the AZT
Arizona Trail Passage 28, Blue Ridge
Coconino National Forest
AZT passing through a burn area, backpacking south on the AZT
Arizona Trail Passage 28, Blue Ridge
Coconino National Forest
Hiking up Blue Ridge, first major climb of day
AZT passing through a burn area
Arizona Trail Passage 28, Blue Ridge
Coconino National Forest
View back north to San Francisco Peaks from Blue Ridge
Arizona Trail Passage 28, Blue Ridge
Coconino National Forest
North view from Blue Ridge with wildfire smoke drifting across sky
Arizona Trail Passage 28, Blue Ridge
Coconino National Forest
Backpacking across Blue Ridge on the AZT
Arizona Trail Passage 28, Blue Ridge
Coconino National Forest
South view at hiking break, toward Mogollon Rim and Mazatzal Mountains
Arizona Trail Passage 28, Blue Ridge
Coconino National Forest
Horned Lizard spotted backpacking south on AZT
Arizona Trail Passage 28, Blue Ridge
Coconino National Forest
Traversing Blue Ridge through ponderosa, hiking south on the AZT
Arizona Trail Passage 28, Blue Ridge
Coconino National Forest
Ponderosa forests atop Blue Ridge, backpacking south on the AZT
Recent burn came through here (evidenced by burn marks on lower portions of trunk – normal for healthy ponderosa forests, clearing out underbrush).
Arizona Trail Passage 28, Blue Ridge
Coconino National Forest
Giant ponderosa atop Blue Ridge, hiking south on the AZT
Recent burn came through here (evidenced by burn marks on lower portions of trunk – normal for healthy ponderosa forests, clearing out underbrush).
Arizona Trail Passage 28, Blue Ridge
Coconino National Forest
Ponderosa forests atop Blue Ridge, hiking south on the AZT
Recent burn came through here (evidenced by burn marks on lower portions of trunk – normal for healthy ponderosa forests, clearing out underbrush).
Arizona Trail Passage 28, Blue Ridge
Coconino National Forest
Ponderosa forests atop Blue Ridge, backpacking south on the AZT
Recent burn came through here (evidenced by burn marks on lower portions of trunk – normal for healthy ponderosa forests, clearing out underbrush).
Arizona Trail Passage 28, Blue Ridge
Coconino National Forest
Ponderosa forests atop Blue Ridge, hiking south on the AZT
Recent burn came through here (evidenced by burn marks on lower portions of trunk – normal for healthy ponderosa forests, clearing out underbrush).
Arizona Trail Passage 28, Blue Ridge
Coconino National Forest
Gamble oaks in fall foliage, descending off Blue Ridge to Clear Creek Reservoir
Arizona Trail Passage 28, Blue Ridge
Coconino National Forest
Clear Creek Reservoir crossing
Arizona Trail Passage 28, Blue Ridge
Coconino National Forest

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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 27 (Blue Ridge)
Trail SurfaceDirt singletrack
Length (Mi)15.4
SeasonSpring-Fall
Potential Water SourcesBlue Ridge Ranger Station (mi 292.0 SOBO/496.7 NOBO)
Elk Tank/FR 135D (mi 266.7 SOBO/495.9 NOBO)
Blue Ridge Campground (mi 293.4 SOBO/495.3 NOBO)
Rock Crossing Campground (297.0 SOBO/491.7 NOBO)
East Clear Creek (mi 298.7 SOBO/490 NOBO)
Stock Tank (mi 299.6 SOBO/489.2 NOBO)
General Springs Canyon (mi 306.0 SOBO/482.7 NOBO)
TrailheadsNorth: AZ-87 (mi 262.6 SOBO/526.1 NOBO)
South: Mogollon Rim (mi 292.1 SOBO, 496.7 NOBO)
Trailhead AccessNorth: Paved road
South: Graded dirt road
WildernessNo
Possible resupply pointsNone
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
HighlightsLargest ponderosa forest in world
Mogollon Rim, southern boundary of Colorado Plateau
Ecological diversity on slopes of Clear Creek
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
Passage 31 & 33 Ecology (source: Arizona Trail Association AZT Guide & NatureServe). Only California and Texas are more diverse ecologically than Arizona.
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Backpacking the Amazing Arizona Trail: Dry Lake Hills to Flagstaff (Passage 33, Flagstaff)

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

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

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

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

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

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

“The Arizona Trail,” Dale R Shewalter

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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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.

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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.

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.

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



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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“The Arizona Trail,” Dale R Shewalter

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

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

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

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

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

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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.

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.

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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.

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

The Arizona Trail continues west toward Pine, curving around parts of the Mogollon Rim that reach out, and segments that sit farther back, rolling across the eroded foothills beneath the parapets that’s tower overhead. The diverse plants continue to amaze. How often do you find blue spruce growing next to agave cactus!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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



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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“The Arizona Trail,” Dale R Shewalter

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

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

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

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

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

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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.

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.

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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?

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.

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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.

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.

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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.

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.

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



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