Sunday, September 12, 2010

Flagstaff Excursion - 9/8/10 thru 9/12/10

Chris and Diane did a very fine job of organizing a Flagstaff Excursion for the Around the Bend Friends. The weather was perfect and the yellow flowers were abundant. Our mini-vacation is summarized in the following entry.

Day of Arrival - Wednesday

Walnut Canyon Island Trail

The group of approx- imately thirty- seven club members began assembling in Flagstaff, Arizona just before noon on Wednesday at the Comfort Inn located off of I-40 at exit 195. The hotel rooms were not yet ready for occupancy so a group of twenty-three hikers set off for a couple of small hikes to stretch our legs after a 4.5 hour drive from Las Vegas. We drove eastward on I-40 to exit 204 to see the Walnut Canyon National Monument and walk the Island Trail which is less than a mile around.

Wasting little time, we saw where the Sinagua (Spanish for "without water") people lived in the cliff dwellings on the sides of the canyon. They were farmers and hunted deer and small game. Living here for less than 100 years, they later moved on leaving us questioning why. We enjoyed the history lesson and re-gathered for a move to a different trail.

Anasazi Trail at Campbell Mesa

Our second trail of the afternoon was located off of I-40 at exit 201. A park called Campbell Mesa held a few small trails and we walked the Anasazi Loop, a 3.5 mile trail with little elevation change. It was a nice walk in the meadows of a Flagstaff residential community. When we returned to the hotel, they were ready for us to check in and then we re-assembled for a club meeting at 7pm. All 37 participants were there and plans were made for hikes to be done on Thursday and Friday.

Day 2 - Thursday
At 7:15am, Thursday morning, thirteen ambitious hikers left for an interesting hike up Mt. Humphreys, Arizona's highest peak standing at 12,633 feet. After the hike, the blogger received reports of the hike from several climbers. It seems that the weather, although clear and sunny, had winds up to 60 or 70 mph within a thirty foot elevation radius of the peak. The winds nearly swept two of our light-weight female hikers off the top along with one hiker's glasses and a hat or two. About half of the participants reached the peak and were able to sign the book. The others gave the mountain the respect it was demanding and decided to save the summit for another day.

The small group of six easy hikers, all of whom arrived late on Wednesday, left for Campbell Mesa to walk the Anasazi Trail at 8:30am. This hike turned out to be a tough endeavor for a few of these non-hikers.

Kachina Trail with Weatherford Trail added

At 8am, a large group of fifteen women and two lucky men left to spot cars for a point to point hike on the Kachina and Weather- ford Trails. After noting the lengthy car ride involved, a few women decided to do an out and back hike after we reached the trailhead. The original plan of hiking one way 7.4 miles was completed by eleven hikers. The other six hikers did an out and back totaling around five miles.

The Kachina Trail (the first 5 miles) rolled up and down through lava boulders and aspen forests mostly on the contours between elevations of 9200 and 8800 feet. There were views of the prairie below and the peaks above. The changes in elevation were challenging enough to get a good workout yet short-lived as most of the change was in a descent.

By far, the most beautiful aspect of this hike is in the endless aspen forests laid in a bed of waist high fern. This would be a great hike for fall color which should happen in the next 2 or 3 weeks. The peak we saw from an opening of the forest was not Mt. Humphreys as we had assumed. It was either Fremont or Doyle Peak.

After the six hikers turned back at 2.5 miles and we stopped for a quick snack, the pace picked up and we were able to move along through the scintillating beauty quickly enough to reach the Weatherford Trail by around 1pm. The Weatherford Trail began descending in elevation to around 8000 feet and we reached the cars around 2:15pm. Piling in the two cars that we had left at this end point, we drove out the dirt road and met the hikers that had turned back who were waiting in their cars on the paved road. They had only been waiting for around 15 minutes.

Day 3 - Friday
Friday morning, the easy hiking group left in their cars for an outing to Sedona which is only twenty miles away. A successful report of this trip was given the next morning.

Sycamore Canyon Rim Trail

Twenty- eight club members set off this morning at 8am for a hike on the Sycamore Canyon Rim Trail located a few miles south from exit 178 off of I-40. The rim trail covers almost twelve miles so there was a moderate group of sixteen hikers within this large group who would only hike an out and back of six miles total. Twelve hikers would complete the loop.

The rim trail began at Dow Springs where lazy water flowed down a shallow entrance to the graduating canyon. As we followed along the rim, the canyon got deeper and the sides got steeper. On the mesa around us, yellow flowers literally covered the terrain. The trail was flat with rare undulations for the first seven miles.

We saw many huachuca agave plants which were large and very healthy. One of them had bloomed with a stalk around twenty feet tall and five inches in diameter. HUGE! At the Sycamore Canyon Vista, the moderate hiking group turned back and, again, the pace picked up.

The next point of interest, was the Sycamore Falls. It was totally dry at this time, however, it was obvious that the cliff rocks were accustomed to heavy water flow during snow melt or torrential rains. We walked right up to the ledge of the dry falls inside a three foot "dip" in the rock surface, evidence of repeated rushing water events. The falls were around twenty feet wide and maybe fifty feet high. Standing at this precipice gave the blogger the "heebie jeebies" even though standing inside the rock dip was safe and secure from accidental falling.

Moving on, the twelve determined hikers took a lunch break at the Pomeroy Tanks, located at the 6.5 mile point. The tanks, like those in the desert, hold rainwater throughout the summer and help to sustain the wildlife in the area, including elk. The scene around the tanks was relaxing in spite of the three foot garter snake startled by the photographer at the edge of one of the tanks. The snake took a short swim then returned to its home of pond grass.

After our break, we began a slow gradual climb to the foot of K A Hill. Who is K A? We never found out but the hill is a 700 foot elevation climb on top of the flatland on which we had been hiking. The work required by our hamstrings was a welcome change in muscle usage as we made our way up the hill hoping for a wide open view at the top.

The view we found at the top was seen through trees and we hiked down to the bottom on a few switch- backs. There, we crossed another grassy field and entered into a large ponderosa forest. Many of the trees had been marked with orange paint. We assumed their destiny was to be cut down as they were not looking good. We passed the ruins of an old sawmill site and walked past more lazy water where the evidence of elk was extremely fresh. Finally, we reached the Dow Springs junction and got back into the cars for the ride back to the hotel. This was a great hike!

Evening Meeting
Some hikers had already left Flagstaff as they were unable, for different reasons, to stay for the full excursion. The attendance for this second and final meeting was cut to half of the original participants and plans were made for Saturday and Sunday hikes.

Day 4 - Saturday

Hotel in the Morning
The Comfort Inn in Flagstaff, Arizona welcomed the morning light in 40 degree weather. The temperature, again, rose quickly to a high of around 70 degrees.

Christmas Tree Trail
The remaining hikers joined together for a moderate combined hike beginning with the Christmas Tree Trail whose trailhead is located off of I-40 at exit 201. We hiked out the trail to two other trail junctions and returned for a total of 3.5 miles and 300 feet of elevation gain. The trail was uneventful in a white pine forest.

Fat Man's Loop Trail

The second trail of the morning was more interesting. We turned onto the Fat Man's Loop Trail at our return on the Christmas Tree Trail and began a 700 foot elevation climb through old growth trees and lava boulders. The large group spread out into smaller groups and we enjoyed having fun with our cameras among the large trees and hollowed out rocks.

It wasn't long before the trail squeezed through two large boulders. This was the fat man's squeeze for which the trail is named. None of us had a problem between the two rocks as we lithely danced through the two foot gap.

The trail looped up and around the side of Mt. Elden, where a fire tower was perched at the summit. There were many views of Flagstaff and beyond. The second half of the trail descended in sun. It appeared that many local residents use the trail for daily exercise.

We finished our morning hike around 11am and returned to the hotel where a few more participants checked out and began the drive back to Las Vegas. This blogger was among these. There were tentative plans for a hike on Sunday, but at the time of this write up, a report had not been heard.

Day 5 - Sunday
Flagstaff is a great place for a summer hiking excursion. Thank you Chris and Diane. This is Flagstaff saying "Over and out!"

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