Hiking in the Cool Country of Northern Arizona

A short, easy Summer loop hike from Snow Bowl Road on the San Francisco Peaks near Flagstaff leads to Alfa Fia Tank.

The Trailhead for Alfa Fia Tank

The Trailhead for Alfa Fia Tank begins at this post and rail fenced meadow. Parking a car is easy.

The San Francisco Peaks as seen from the shoulder of the mountain.

The San Francisco Peaks as seen from the shoulder of the mountain.

A butterfly on wild Iris.

A butterfly on wild Iris.

Deep ferns line the trail.

Deep ferns line the trail.

Aspen, Spruce and Ponderosa Pine trees.

Aspen, Spruce and Ponderosa Pine trees.

The first view of the meadow and the distant cinder cones of the San Francisco Volcanic Field.

The first view of the meadow and the distant cinder cones of the San Francisco Volcanic Field.

Alfa Fia Tank.

Alfa Fia Tank.

Tall Aspens surround the meadow.

Tall Aspens surround the meadow.

Aspen Corner -  Alfa Fia Tank don't fence me in-1

The meadow offers many great picnic spots.

The area once was fenced, but only the posts and a few strands of barbed wire remain.

The area once was fenced, but only the posts and a few strands of barbed wire remain.

Rain closes in on the trail.

Rain closes in on the trail. The Summer monsoon season typically lasts through July, with frequent showers and thunderstorms.

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.

There’s Fungus Among Us

Arizona’s monsoon rains in the mountains produce a summer crop of mushrooms, toadstools, slime molds and other delights.  Here are a few that have appeared already this 2014 season.  I don’t know enough about fungi to attempt to identify them for you.  Experts can determine if any are safe to eat, but many are deadly poison. Squirrels seem to eat some of them but I don’t know that is an indicator of human tolerance.I think they are fascinating to find.Coral Fungus Amarita Clusters Determined mushroom Earth Star, Astraeus hygrometricus fungus Squirrels seems to dig these up  Galerina Lycogala slime mold Lycogala terrestre slime mold More spikey ones Mushroom clumps Mushrooms around Aspen Mushrooms at base of tree Mushrooms Pinched face one Red Mushroom Spikey white mushroom Tan Mushroom coming thru pine needles Truly weird orange mushroom two stages same mushroom Yellow mushrooms Yellow slime mold

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.