Hiking the Kachina and Weatherford Trails

The Kachina Trail runs along the southern side of the San Francisco Peaks, shown here, at the 9800 foot line. The highest Peak is Humphrey's Peak at 12, 633 feet. (3851 m) This is the highest point in Arizona.

The Kachina Trail runs along the southern side of the San Francisco Peaks, shown here, at the 9800 foot line. The highest Peak is Humphreys Peak at 12, 643 feet. This is the highest point in Arizona. This photo was taken from Schultz Pass Road at about 7000 feet elevation. Flatlanders planning on hiking the area should allow time for acclimation.

Kachina Trail sign 1

The Kachina trail is named for the Kachina Peaks Wilderness through which it runs. The San Francisco Peaks, or Kachina Peaks are sacred to many tribes including the Havasupai, Hopi, Navajo and Zuni. The trail head shown here is located just below the Snowbowl ski area outside of Flagstaff, Arizona.

Kachina Trail winds through the aspen groves

For much of the 6.8 miles, the Kachina Trail winds through massive groves of Aspen trees.

Kachina trail enters wilderness area

The Kachina Peaks Wilderness area covers over 18,000 acres. and only foot travel is allowed. The ecosystem is fragile, and hikers are encouraged to stay on the trail.

Quaking Aspens and big meadow

Quaking Aspen trees line the edges of the many grass and fern covered meadows.

Hanging garden on layered lava wall

Everywhere are reminders of the violent origin of this mountain, a stratovolcano, which last erupted 1.4 million years ago.The original 16,000 foot summit collapsed, maybe in a blast such as Mt. St. Helens, creating the caldera now named the Inner Basin. Ice ages have passed this way previously, and glaciers scarred the slopes. These peaks are the centerpiece for a huge volcanic field which was last active in AD 1100, when indigenous peoples inhabited the area. Here you can see various layers of lava flows now hung with delicate greenery.

 Long View from clear area

Looking south from the high elevation you can see far into the northern Arizona countryside, spotting some of the 500 cinder cones of the volcanic field.

Ferny slope leads up to peaks

Looking north you can see the tips of several of the San Francisco Peaks, which are above tree line.  Here are Agassiz, Fremont, and Doyle Peaks. The tallest, Humphreys, lies hidden behind the others. If you imagine drawing a line to connect the sides of these slopes up in the air, you can get a picture of how large this volcano once was.

Sunny start

Summer weather around the San Francisco Peaks can change rapidly. What starts out as a sunny day with a low chance of precipitation can change quickly. Do remember to bring plenty of drinking water on your hike. Elevation sickness can be eased by staying hydrated.

Kachina Trail, Rain coming!

The sunny sky can suddenly darken with rain-laden clouds.  Hail is a common occurrence. Come prepared for heavy summer monsoon storms with possible lighting and loud thunder.

Verbena macdougalii

Fields of wildflowers join the ferns in the meadows. These are Verbena macdougalii.

Forest of ferns

The ferns are huge and grow tall in the sunlight. Can you spot the trail? It’s there…

Hiker lost in ferns

Luckily, we hike with our dog, so staying on the trail was easier.

Here's the trail!

Can you see me now? Here’s the trail!

The slope

There are some long uphill slopes and some very rocky passages.

Narrow passage

Some of the trail leads over and through huge boulders.

Ridges and ravines

Eventually the Kachina Trail begins to lead downward towards Schultz Pass and the Weatherford Trail. The trail dips into several ravines carved long ago in the volcanic slopes.

Kachina rain drops on ponderosa

The Weatherford trailhead is located at Schultz Tank at 8800 feet elevation. As you descend toward it, the vegetation changes and you find dense stands of spruce, fir and Ponderosa Pines.

Fine tall ponderosa

Some of the tallest and healthiest Ponderosas along the trail are a good reminder of why these pine trees own that name. The tallest known pine on record is a Ponderosa. Arizona hosts the world’s largest contiguous stand of these trees. Mature trees have orange-brown bark, and some say they smell like vanilla.

After the rain, the insects are visible

After the rain, the insects come out of hiding, and go back to work. This fly is on a Lupine flower.

Weatherford Trail sign

The Kachina Trail intersects with the Weatherford Trail and the Freidlein Prairie Trail.

Weatherford trail is an old road

The Weatherford Trail is an old road that once was an enterprise to take Model T Fords to the mountain top. It has been closed to vehicular traffic. It must have been quite an adventurous ride in a car, back in the day.

A stand of aspen seen from Weatherford

Looking back toward the Peaks from the Weatherford Trail, you get another nice view of a dense grove of Aspen.

Approaching Schultz Tank

Since the Weatherford Trail itself leads uphill again, we take the lower section that leads down to Schultz Tank where it is possible to park a car. There are also bathrooms at Schultz Tank. We left a car at the Snowbowl, hiked one way, and used the second car at Schultz to retrieve the first one.

End of trail, or beginning, depending on your plans

The end of the trail, or perhaps the beginning, if you choose to hike up to the Snowbowl trailhead, or take the Weatherford trail to up Doyle Saddle.

Built of Stone

Built of Stone Moenkopi exposed

Moenkopi Formation mudstone and sandstone

About 237 million years ago theMoenkopi Formation rocks were deposited in a coastal plain that covered what is now northern Arizona and surrounding states. The plain ended at the shoreline of a sea in Utah. Seasonal stream beds crossing that plain deposited thick sheets of sand. Over millions of years, “another 10,000 feet of Mesozoic sedimentary rocks accumulated.”


Stone Landmarks,Flagstaff's Geology and Historic Building Stones

Quote and details from Stone Landmarks,Flagstaff’s Geology and Historic Building Stones



Built of Stone lava flow and cinders

A lava flow and black cinders in the San Francisco volcanic field.

Exposed Moenkopi sandstone with overlaying cinders

Exposed Moenkopi sandstone with overlaying cinders

All of these sedimentary layers have been warped, twisted and eroded, ending up being uplifted by molten lava between 70 million and 30 million years ago as a huge chunk of thick crust. This was the origin of the Colorado Plateau, a 130000 square-mile block.  In time, that molten base began to erupt in the San Francisco volcanic field, creating thousands of cinder cones, long lava flows, the stratovolcano known as San Francisco Mountain, and lava domes like Mount Elden near present day Flagstaff. Volcanic activity continued, with the most recent eruption occurring in AD 1064. At that time, the Sinaguan people found that the loose cinders made a good mulch for growing crops, and they created Wupatki. They used the red Moenkopi sandstone exposed in the area along with Kaibab limestone and black basalt from the volcanic field to build substantial buildings.

Built of Stone Wupatki and Moenkopi

Wupatki and the surrounding Moenkopi sandstone building material

Built of Stone Wupatki

Wupatki was built directly on the exposed layers of Moenkopi.

Centuries later, when the railroads necessitated the creation of the town of Flagstaff, the buildings were made of wood.  However, over the years the citizens learned the same lesson that many cities of the day learned, as fires consumed the town.  When reconstructed, the materials of choice were identical to those of the ancients, Moenkopi sandstone, Kaibab Formation limestone and volcanic basalt.


Built of Stone Babbit Bldg p 42

The Babbitt Brothers Building was constructed in 1888 of Moenkopi sandstone.


Built of Stone - Coconino County Courthouse

The landmark Coconino County Courthouse was constructed in 1895 of “Arizona Red” Moenkopi sandstone.

The Bank Hotel 1886

The Bank Hotel 1886

The Bank Hotel  completed in is built of a combination of local sandstones of different colors.

The Bank Hotel is built of a combination of local sandstones of different colors.

The David Babbitt Building was built in 1907 of split-faced blocks of volcanic rock.

The David Babbitt Building was built in 1907 of split-faced blocks of volcanic rock.

The Raymond Building was built in 1907

The Raymond Building was built in 1911.

The Raymond building uses carved Moenkopi Sandstone.

The Raymond building uses carved Moenkopi sandstone.

The ornate 1906 wall that used to surround the grand home of Charles J. Babbit, which was destroyed by fire. Wall is 265 million year old limestone.

The ornate 1906 wall that used to surround the grand home of Charles J. Babbitt, which was destroyed by fire. Wall is 265 million year old limestone.

The Nativity Chapel was built in 1929 of basalt chunks collected by parishioners from local lava flows.

The Nativity Chapel was built in 1929 of basalt chunks collected by parishioners from local lava flows.


New offices occupy Flagstaff's old Ice House, built in 1946 of Limestone filled with impressions or molds of fossilized shells.

New offices occupy Flagstaff’s old Ice House, built in 1946 of limestone filled with impressions or molds of fossilized shells.

Molds and casts of fossilized clams, snails, brachiopods and sea  urchins are found in the limestone chunks of which the old Ice House was built.

Molds and casts of fossilized clams, snails, brachiopods and sea urchins are found in the limestone chunks of which the old Ice House was built.


Used copies of the Stone Landmarks are available for purchase at various booksellers.  Photos are my own.




Prospectors and investors moved into Arizona after the Gadsden Purchase of 1853. To obtain the silver and gold they hunted, miners dug into the sides of hills and into shafts dug down into the earth.  Boom towns like Tombstone called to talented hard-rock miners world-wide, who came to Arizona to find work and a future underground.

My father, my grandfather and my great-grandfather all worked underground in the mines of Bisbee, Arizona. I grew up listening to tales of the dangers and excitement of the mines.  The near-misses, the rescues, the mammoth roaches and the temperatures. Two thousand miles of underground tunnels hollow the earth beneath Bisbee and the surrounding countryside. Sometimes Dad worked the night shift and we would go pick him up after work still in the dark.  The daily afternoon blast siren was a normal occurrence. Every Bisbee child was well-versed in blasting cap safety.

I recently taught several groups of first graders a bit about Arizona geology, and was surprised to realize how little students today know about mining.  “Who can tell me what a mine is?” I asked.  The quick response was, “like Mine-Craft?” I realized it will be a large task, helping Arizona’s future know about Arizona’s past.

Please take time to enjoy this terrific video presented by the City of Bisbee, the Bisbee Mining and Historical Museum and the Bisbee Queen Mine Tour. Watch the video here.

Underground miners were certainly aware of the monetary value of the silver, gold and copper that they mined, but they also were awed by the beautiful caverns formed deep underground and covered with the secondary forms of the ore they blasted, shoveled and hauled up from the mines.  These often take the form of delicate crystals with wonderful colors. As a child I was lucky to visit one such crystalline cave.  In 1997 the Smithsonian Museum in Washington recreated one of these Bisbee caverns in the Museum. I keep a copy of the book commemorating it in my rock case,  Treasures of the Queen by Richard Graeme.


Bisbee samples with the Smithsonian book on their display from the Bisbee mines.

Bisbee samples

Bisbee Collection

Aurichalcite, a coopper mineral, Bisbee, Arizona

Aurichalcite, a copper mineral, Bisbee, Arizona

Macachite (green) and Azurite (blue) secondary copper minerals

Malachite (green) and Azurite (blue) secondary copper minerals

Native Copper, Bisbee, Arizona

Native Copper, Bisbee, Arizona

Malachite, Bisbee, Arizona

Malachite, Bisbee, Arizona


My Dad's Carbide Lamp

My Dad’s Carbide Lamp

Collecting Arizona, a great resource

Collecting Arizona, a great resource


T is for Texas Canyon, Tombstone and The Thing

If you drive a car on I10 in southern Arizona, you will undoubtedly see sign after sign asking “The Thing?”  In fact, a miracle in advertising, the first signs begin near El Paso, TX, traveling west. By the time you arrive at exit 322, in the middle of the desert between Willcox and Benson, Arizona, your curiosity should be aroused.  For a whole dollar, you can find out just what The Thing, the Mystery in the Desert, is.  And you can buy an ice cream cone, or other tourist delights.

In the same southeastern corner of the state you will encounter beautiful Texas Canyon, rich in the history of Arizona Territory, the Butterfield Stage Route, ranching, and Apache country.

Entrance to the historic Adams Ranch in Texas Canyon

Entrance to the historic Adams Ranch in Texas Canyon

Fascinating rock sculptures in Texas Canyon

Fascinating rock sculptures in Texas Canyon

Mesquites in Texas Canyon

Mesquites in Texas Canyon

Balanced rocks in Texas Canyon, Arizona

Balanced rocks in Texas Canyon, Arizona

Texas Canyon, Arizona

Texas Canyon, Arizona

A few minutes driving will take you to famous Tombstone, Arizona. In 1877 Ed Schieffelin announced to cavalry stationed in Fort Huachuca, Arizona, that he intended prospecting in the valley of the San Pedro River.  He was warned that he would only “find his tombstone there.” It was a dangerous time in Arizona Territory because this was Apache country.  But he persisted, found silver and staked the Tombstone and Graveyard claims.  Soon other rich deposits were discovered and more prospectors came and the town of Tombstone blossomed. It was a rough, tough boomtown until 1886 when fire destroyed the pump works and the mines flooded.  Tombstone remains as a thriving tourist attraction, complete with shootouts in the streets, busy saloons, stagecoaches and people dressed in the best of western wear.

Tombstone gunfighters

Tombstone gunfighters

Tombstone retains some of its rough and tough attitude

Tombstone retains some of its rough and tough attitude

Last stage to Tombstone

Last stage to Tombstone


Just take the Detour

I know, today was supposed to be all about “T” on this A to Z Challenge, but sometimes a road block stops all progress.
We were driving along I17 north toward Flagstaff yesterday. As we topped the steep hill near Sunset Point, all traffic began to slow and we could see that it came to a standstill not far ahead. Knowing about the old back road from the Bumblebee exit to the town of Mayer and hence back to the I17, we took the exit and enjoyed the drive. You never know quite what surprises you will find on a detour.

A lot of history here if only they could tell us.

A lot of history here if only they could tell us.


Well, sometimes a dirt road is dusty.

Well, sometimes a dirt road is dusty.

Just take the long view and enjoy.

Just take the long view and enjoy.

M is for Mesquite

Mesquite Bosque in Tucson

Mesquite Bosque in Tucson

Known as the Tree of Life to the Pima Indians, the Mesquite (mess-KEET) is common in the deserts of Arizona.  There are three native species in Arizona, the Honey Mesquite, the Velvet Mesquite and the Screwbean Mesquite.  Mesquites can grow into large, shady trees and are used in landscaping as well as found growing wild.

Mesquites are members of the Fabaceae Family, one of the largest plant families. A familiar member of this family is the pea plant. The unifying characteristic of these plants is the seed pod they create, called a legume. Many legumes are able to convert atmospheric nitrogen into compounds useful to plants, through the nodules they have on their roots.  Mesquites are able to do this and this makes them valuable to the other plants in the poor growing conditions of a desert.  They also act as nurse trees for slow-growing plants.  Birds, insects and other animals rely on the Mesquite beans as a food source and for shade and nesting. Often the Mesquites found throughout the desert are no more than a shrub, but under good conditions, they become large trees. Mesquites bloom in the Spring with creamy yellow dense, narrow clusters.

Mesquite flowers

Mesquite in bloom, North Mountain Preserve, Phoenix.

Historic records show that every part of the Mesquite had a use to the native peoples, for wood, for flour made of ground pods (pinole), the bark for baskets, medicines, and fabric. Today they are used in much the same ways. Mesquite burns slowly and is nearly smokeless, so it is popular as fuelwood. It makes an aromatic charcoal for barbecuing. Mesquite honey is very popular.

The Velvet Mesquite, Prosopis velutina, is very common in the southern part of Arizona.  It is remarkable in appearance because of fuzzy, short hairs that cover the entire tree and pods, making it look velvety.  The pods when ripe are narrow and brown and up to 8 inches long. This tree can grow a very long taproot, allowing it to access water deep underground. The Velvet Mesquite can get quite large, with a two-foot trunk and 30 feet tall or more. They can be found along streams or washes in shady thickets. Along some desert rivers, like the Verde and the San Pedro, dense mesquite bosques (forest in Spanish) can be found.

The Honey Mesquite, Prosopis glandulosa, has large spikes or thorns of up to three and a half inches and a sweet taste that make its beans delicious. The bean pods are mostly straight and up to 8 inches long. Its flower is a favorite of bees.  It is a smaller tree than the Velvet Mesquite.

The Screwbean Mesquite, Prosopis pubesens, like the Velvet Mesquite, has rough bark that separates into long, narrow strips. The bean pod on this tree gives it the name, Screwbean, because instead of a long straight pod, the pod is tightly coiled and spirals to 2 inches.

Mesquites growing on the shore at Lake Pleasant, with wild burros.

Mesquites growing on the shore at Lake Pleasant, with wild burros.

Historic: Wild West


Wild West

For many, the southern Arizona town of Tombstone embodies Arizona’s frontier days. That would be true.  Tombstone was once bigger than San Francisco.  In the 1880s it had quite a reputation as a boomtown of the West.  But Tombstone wasn’t alone in its notoriety.  Around the same time as Tombstone’s heyday, other towns in Arizona were equally lively.  Just 24 miles from Tombstone is Bisbee, my home town.

Just as gold and silver had motivated the Spaniards to search for mineral wealth in southern Arizona, it seemed that everyone was a prospector after the discovery of gold in California.  The Mule Mountains where Bisbee is located first gave a hint of a wealth to a cavalry scout.  Just as other boomtowns were doing, Bisbee attracted prospectors and investors from the 1880s on and  grew and prospered. At the turn of the century Bisbee housed 20,000 inhabitants and Brewery Gulch hosted  50 saloons, gambling establishments and brothels. It even had its own Stock Market Exchange.  Its reputation as the wildest city between St. Louis and San Francisco was well-earned.

Bisbee was built along two canyons. The main canyon came to be called Tombstone Canyon, and the other was Brewery Gulch.

Brewery Gulch 2

Brewery Gulch


The original mineral exploration in Bisbee was for silver and gold.  But as the demand for copper grew, Bisbee’s rich copper ore built large mining corporations and Bisbee was one of the biggest cities in Arizona.  The copper ore was accessed deep underground. Immense bodies of high grade ore made Bisbee mines some of the richest in the world.

Headframe of the Campbell Shaft.

Headframe of the Campbell Shaft.

Sacramento Pit

Open pit mining became feasible during WWI. In 1917 tons of explosives were used to blast the top of Sacramento Hill in Bisbee and terracing began to get to the copper ore.

Lavender Pit

By the mid-1950s Sacramento Hill was a hole in the ground, and the pit was expanded to become the Lavender Pit. This necessitated the removal of roads, homes and businesses that lay in the path of the proposed open pit copper mine.

By 1915, times had changed.  Families lived in Bisbee, and the brothels and gambling had been shut down.  Prohibition had been declared in Arizona and the bars in Brewery Gulch disappeared.  Bisbee had a railroad, street cars, churches, schools and celebrations.  There were hard rock drilling contests between  miners from all over the West. Every fourth of July there were coaster races down Tombstone Canyon, parades and fireworks.

Coaster Race

The mines closed in the 1970s and Bisbee avoided becoming a ghost town because its wonderful climate made it attractive to retirees and artists. A visit to Arizona should include a trip to Bisbee.  Much of the Main Street and surrounding homes on steep hillsides have been well-preserved and you have choices of great places to stay.  The Copper Queen Hotel pictured in the Cuprite photo above, other historic inns and bed and breakfasts, even an old jail!  The Queen Mine tour is not to be missed.  The mine opened in 1877 and will give you a tiny taste of what made the Bisbee miners such well-thought of workers:

Bisbee's Iron Man statue has been painted copper.

Bisbee’s Iron Man statue has been painted copper.

The plaque at the foot of the Copper Miners Statue at the top of this page.

The dedication for the Copper Miners Statue.





Historic: Spanish and Mexican Periods

San Xavier Mission is a National Historic Landmark in Tucson.

San Xavier del Bac is a National Historic Landmark in Tucson.

The Spanish Period 1528-1821

The Mexican Period 1821-1848

Nearly two centuries after the decline of the large Archaic cities, when the first Europeans arrived, most of the natives were living in simple shelters in fertile river valleys, dependent on hunting, gathering, and small-scale farming for subsistence. (More at link.) Spanish explorer, Cabeza de Vaca, and a dwindling number of would-be settlers roamed the desert of the southwest from 1528-1536. Cabeza de Vaca became one of the first Europeans to encounter the indigenous peoples of North America.  He found those nomadic groups who spoke of the magnificent cities built to the north of Mexico. Upon his return to Spain, his writings stirred interest in further explorations of the land he had travelled because an old Portuguese legend spoke of lost cities of gold. The expeditions of Fray Marcos de Niza, and Coronado followed, all in pursuit of the riches they imagined from the tales told by the indigenous for whom the pueblos of the Zuni seemed marvelously rich.

The Arizona Indians they encountered belonged to three linguistic families: Uto-Aztecan (Hopi, Paiute, Chemehuevi, Pima-Papago), Yuman (Yuma, Mohave, Cocopa, Maricopa, Yavapai, Walapai, Havasupai), and Athapaskan (Navaho-Apache). The Hopi were the oldest group, their roots reaching back to the Ancestral Puebloan (Anasazi); the youngest were the Navaho-Apache, migrants from the Plains, who were not considered separate tribes until the early 18th century.

The first Europeans to live in Arizona were Franciscans, who in 1629 established a mission to the Hopi at the village of Awatovi in northeastern Arizona.  This did not end well for the Franciscans and it wasn’t until 1692 that San Xavier Mission was founded by Father Eusebio Kino in southern Arizona. The Spanish quest for riches continued and in 1736  silver was reportedly found near a Pima Indian village southwest of present-day Nogales.  This brought more settlers and Spanish prospectors north out of Mexico.  The Pima people were uneasy with the Spanish incursion and as a result, Spain created a military outpost at Tubac. The garrison was moved to the new fort at Tucson in 1776.

As missions, ranching and mining prospered, Spanish troops campaigned against the Apache in southern Arizona and eventually worked out a peace.  The attention of the Spaniards turned to the Revolution and in 1821 Mexico gained independence.  Most of modern-day Arizona was part of Mexico at that time.  The 1835 Texas war against Mexico weakened its hold over the land in the southwest.  The US Army of the West fought the Mexican War and the US took control over New Mexico (including Arizona) and California.  With the 1848 Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo, the war ended and the US gained title to Texas, California and New Mexico.


In 1910 a devastating wildfire tore through Idaho and Montana. In just two days’ time, the Big Blowup consumed almost three million acres of forested hillsides. Drought and high winds created the perfect conditions for a firestorm. The National Forest Service had recently been created, but fighting the fire required additional help from the US Army and the local miners. At last, a cold front brought a rain storm that put the fire out. Eight-nine lives were lost and the horrifying stories of the survivors motivated the country to create a fire suppression policy.

For most of the last century, the Forest Service put out almost every fire.  The result, unfortunately, has been severely increased forest density. The first settlers in northern Arizona described the forest as possible to ride a horse through at a full gallop.

Thick forest

Today riding at a gallop through the woods around Flagstaff would not be advisable. According to turn of the century reports from the early 1900’s, northern Arizona was mixed conifer forest with grassy undergrowth and large, open areas.  Because of the distance between the large old growth trees, when a wildfire occurred, it burned along the ground, not in the crown of the tree as today.  This allowed the trees to survive a fire, whereas today, everything is killed.

Burned hillside

You can see a burned off area at the top of this hill, with standing snags. The area below the hill was saved by fire-fighting efforts.

Arizona has a dry climate.  Arizona has experienced long drought periods in the past. When the Ponderosa Pines are distressed by lack of moisture, they are prone to the Pine Bark Beetle.  In 2010, 9.2 million acres (Out of 749 million acres of forest land in the United States) of tree mortality was caused by insects and disease. 74 % of that damage was done by the Bark Beetle. Once these stands of trees die, they are tinder waiting for the next lightning strike, careless camper, or tossed cigarette.

The problem is compounded by the number of homes built in the interface area between the forest and the urban areas.  Firefighters are put at risk to save homes from the fast-moving fires.  Much has been learned about caring for our wild lands, and one of the projects now underway is 4FRI. This is the Four Forests Restoration Initiative, working to restore the structure, pattern and composition of fire-adapted ecosystems, which will provide for fuels reduction, forest health, and wildlife and plant diversity. 4FRI aims to implement comprehensive restoration over the next twenty years, including thinning of predominantly small trees across one million acres, and safe controlled burning and natural fire management on much of the landscape.

Downed Ponderosas

Bark Beetle-downed trees

Dry slash pile

Slash piles ready for burning

Fire from car

A controlled burn

Hopefully 4FRI is a solution for implementing landscape-scale forest restoration. It is a problem that will take twenty years or more to solve, with new fires happening each year.  Home owners in the urban interface areas attempt to clear areas around their homes, and create emergency plans for escape should a fire start.