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…..
A last reward after a long hike in northern Arizona…a view of the San Francisco Peaks from the shore of Marshall Lake (marsh) in the Coconino National Forest, just south and east of Flagstaff. Wouldn’t it be wonderful to live in that cabin in the distance….?
It’s been a while since I posted anything…and it’s been another while since I have been out on any trails, especially mountain trails….but here we are again. This particular trail has been on my radar for several months. Someone had told me that hiking through the mountains of Flagstaff was very similar to hiking in Utah…the trails and the vegetation were supposed to be very similar….
And I would have to agree…they were very similar…and still very different to my discerning and and probably very biased or prejudiced eye. That spot of blue near the center of the below image was the first person that I saw during my hike…the first of so very many people…..
That aside, it was truly wonderful being back in the chilly mountains, smelling the mulch and other forest smells, feeling the trail and rocks beneath my feet again, and finding comfort and shade from the afternoon sun beneath the pine, fir, and aspen canopy on my way back to the truck.
The below image caused me to remember a particular hike that I made with two of my sons in Utah…my younger son and I were telling my older son that “we’re almost there,” and found that we really didn’t know squat about the trail and where we were going…and the substance of the words “false summit” became a reality to us…several times. Some passers-by, or fellow hikers on this trail to Humphreys Peak, were talking about false summits and how the “peak” in the below image was nowhere near our destination. You can see another spot of blue just down from the highest point near the center of the image…it’s a smallish person…or maybe a regular-sized person made smallish by the grandness of the surroundings.
Humphreys Peak (no apostrophe anywhere) is the highest point in the State of Arizona at 12,633 feet in elevation. The trail-head is somewhere near 9,300 feet…so it’s a vertical gain of roughly 3,300 feet and takes the hiker 4.8 miles to get there. I made the below image at some open spot along the trail, some little saddle between rises, that allowed a fairly clear view of what things looked like toward the east.
And this is what they looked like when facing north, toward our destination….above the tree-line…along the ridge of what is part of the remaining structure of a massive, extinct volcano that knew its glory-days some 250 million years ago…give or take a millennium or two…or more.
The on-line literature about the trail said that after reaching this point, if you lost sight of the trail, just keep an eye out for the trail markers…which turned-out to be tree branches carved and trimmed and marked with “TRAIL” and jabbed into the rocks along the way. There were places where the trail was not visible, where it really didn’t exist because of the multitude of boulders…places where one could only intuit where it was heading because it was visible again several yards further along.
The on-line literature also stated that this is the only “tundra” region in the whole of Arizona…a place where trees do not grow because the climate and soils preclude it. There’s another person in the below image…just right of center on the ridge-line.
We’re getting closer, but the end of the trail seemed like it was still pretty damn far away in the below photo….
More people below…four or more….
The final ascent, in the below image…
Taking a breather and looking east over the golden aspen before the final climb to the summit….
I joined six or seven other hikers on the peak before another handful arrived. It was very windy…and sweetly cool…it was the perfect setting to enjoy a chilled and crisp apple, a bottle of actually “cold” water, and some granola before feeling crowded to the point of needing to steer my tired self back down the trail.