North and east of Lake Pleasant and just inside of the Agua Fria National Monument, trespassing again, in a near marsh-like drainage from the surround of desert hills, I found this unexpected microcosm thriving after the year’s abundance of winter and spring rains….
I wouldn’t bet any vital body parts on it, but I could swear that I heard the guy on the far left whisper that phrase to the person on his immediate left when I asked them out loud if they were all related. Nobody responded…they just looked at me…like I was the ass….
The morning started with the alarm and coffee and then a neighborhood street that led to Bell Road, to the Sonoran Desert Parkway, to Lake Pleasant Parkway, to the Carefree Highway and west past Lake Pleasant, then to Castle Hot Springs Road, and finally, five miles north to a trail-head in a parking lot that has been re-fenced with silver wire that is new against the morning, untarnished and unvarnished with desert sun and windblown sand, unrusted in the elements, bright and confining, restricting of early hikers looking for familiar portals that ride now in memory alone.
Common and uncommon things mix in a November sunrise.
Somewhere between light enough and yet not enough…we see destinations unfolding with the trail…like the white caps on the tips of the many saguaros’ arms with their densely packed and unfolding new spines…things to come.
One of many crossings of Cottonwood Creek…a familiar place with wild burros, great horned owls, and collared peccaries….
and lying on the desert floor, looking east…and finding that “distant fairyland of wonder and bright alarm.”
A creosote frame leaving an aromatic resin on fingertips….
…and the tiny treasures of desert wildflowers….
Still heading west…with the destination in the upper right corner…after many winding turns, hills, valleys, dips, and desert meadows….
A distant spot of white in a green and brown world….
Gaining elevation and looking east…we can see a bit of Lake Pleasant tucked into the haze covered hills…
…and south…faint waves of them…green, purple, blue…white…and gone….
Higher now, more of the lake…and the landmark of Castle Hot Springs Road. You might remember that the haze is from California’s wild fires back in October/November.
The stark contrast of yellow against the greens and browns of the desert is a welcome change…it is even a surprise sometimes.
Walkin’ Jim Trail follows Cottonwood Creek up into the mountains, all the way from Castle Hot Springs Road…when the occasional mis-adventurer loses the trail on the way down the mountain, all he has to do is locate the proper drainage down from that mountain and follow it back into the stream-bed…and back to the parking lot where he started….
There were tadpoles larger than jellybeans in the pools along the way…more desert mysteries…marvels…Sonoran Desert surprises….
An image from early August of the year past…bounty from summer rains…Agua Fria riverbed…muddy crossing of the Black Canyon Trail.
Looking east on the Walkin’ Jim Trail at 7:06 a.m. this Sunday past…five miles north of the Carefree Highway…about half a mile west of Castle Hot Springs Road…which is just west of Lake Pleasant Regional Park, Maricopa County, Arizona.
It seems that any worthwhile hike in Arizona is going to start with something like what we find in the above image…waking a couple of hours before dawn and driving for those same hours to make it to the trail-head before the potential swarm of other humans and the known and persistent presence of the warming/heating/baking sun….
It was 4:37 am in the first image and then 7:12 am with this next one…145 miles later….
In my estimation, nothing compares with the sunrise on a forest trail…or a forest trail at sunrise…a most wonderful place to be on a September Sunday morning.
Many people know of the Pacific Crest Trail and the Appalachian Trail…but maybe not so many know about the local version of those adventures, The Arizona Trail. This is a cross-state trek that literally goes from the US/Mexico border in the south, all the way up to the Arizona/Utah border in the north…800 miles of trail broken into 43 segments that can be accessed from various locations and hiked individually…as simple out and back day hikes, or as overnight backpacking treks…or however else one might desire to experience them. You can click on each of the above trail names to be taken to their internet home pages.
For those of you who have been following/visiting the blog for at least the last four years, you might remember various posts about Marshall Lake, Fisher Point, hiking in the Coconino National Forest, etc. The majority of those posts came from my hikes along the segment of the Arizona Trail that goes north from Marshall Lake to beyond Fisher Point…a stretch of the trail that is known as Passage 31: Walnut Canyon.
While it would be something of a dream to be able to thru-hike the entirety of the trail, the constraints of my life as it currently exists only allow for occasional forays. That said, I have hiked the southern part of Passage 31 four times over the last four years, so it seemed like it was time to try another segment…and for simplicity’s sake, I chose the one that heads south from the same trail-head at Marshall Lake…Passage 30: Anderson Mesa. For those interested, the numbering of the passages goes from south to north…Mexico to Utah.
If I’m going to be especially honest about this particular adventure, there was nothing thrilling about it…the only landscape change was going from my parking location down closer to Marshall Lake, up through a couple hundred yards of oak and pine forest, and then onto the plain of the mesa.
There was a lot of open sky…and prairie grass that was much greener than one can see in these photos…. Again with the honesty thing, I should include that it was still interesting…largely because it was different and unknown.
The middle “peak” in the above image of the San Francisco Peaks is actually the highest point in Arizona…Humphrey’s Peak…at 12,633 feet in elevation. I spent the better part of a Sunday climbing up and down that mountain three Septembers past…a wonderful and crowded adventure that you might remember from this post.
As I hiked and as the hours pressed onward, I kept waiting for something “more,” which didn’t and couldn’t really happen, given that I was hiking on the top of an essentially flat mesa…I had to look closely…to consciously view things with “new” eyes….open ones…watching eyes…even then it became a bit……..monotonous.
If I had had unlimited time and endurance, I could have gone the entire length of this particular segment, which was something like 17 miles…and I would have encountered scenery that would have been less…….monotonous.
But…the mountains were there, behind me, the temperature was in the 50s at the start of the hike and only in the mid-70s toward the end…so it was still a good…pleasant adventure.
Less than a mile from the trail-head, the trail passed the Lowell Observatory…and then it passed Prime Lake and Vail Lake. From what I could see, only Prime Lake contained water. Both bodies weren’t “lakes” as we often imagine them, but were more of marshes whose water levels would raise with the seasons. They were also both fenced and posted with signs identifying them as preserves or refuges for wildlife and migrating birds.
The open space in the above image is Lower Lake Mary…not holding any water when I was there…but which contained some during my visit last year which allowed me to capture this image…something I was hoping to duplicate on the morning of this hike.
Hiking across the open plains of the mesa did bring a couple of “firsts” with this adventure…the first time I saw antelope and a coyote while out on a hike. I have seen them plenty of other times, mostly while driving, but this was the first occasion of actually encountering them out in the “wild.”
The first image of the San Francisco Peaks above was from 8:26 am…and the one below was from 11:23 am…three busy hours in the jet-stream hauling clouds from their wherever places to the high desert and mountains of Northern Arizona.
Thank you for visiting. I hope you enjoyed this brief glimpse into The Arizona Trail…..
The storm woke me at 3:45 that morning with rain slashing sideways into the bedroom windows…bolts of light flashed through the curtains and thunder sounded from its near, though distant home. I had purposed the night before to rise early and head into the desert’s mountains because I wanted to see and hear the water flowing from the previous day’s showers. The early morning rain was still alive in the mountains’ waterways when I found myself there only hours later…tiny tinklings of life running slowly down the canyons…resting in small pools mid-trail…and rising in surprising excess atop delicate blades of grass….
Fifty miles north of the city, give or take, a pleasant obstacle in the Black Canyon Trail…a treasure from the desert’s summer rains….
The wildflowers were blooming along Lake Mary Road on the southeast side of Flagstaff this past weekend…too beautiful to resist…too compelling to keep driving past without capturing a few images…furthermore, it was 80 degrees in the mountains…and close to 110 down in the desert…so it was a Sunday morning/afternoon well spent up north.