Twig Adventures

AZT Day 7: The San Francisco Peaks

October 13th, 2019

Cedar Ranch Trailhead mm 163 to Moto/Chimney Trail Junction mm 194.2

Distance in miles: 31.2


It’s a good campsite overnight. The road is quiet, it’s a lot warmer than previous nights and coyotes sing in the distance. We start the morning by climbing out of the desert scrub, back into the ponderosa forests. We’re on the flanks of the San Francisco Peaks, a chain of mountains that are the highest in Arizona (12,600′) and may have once stood 16,000′ before the super-volcano blew its top. The most recent eruption was about 900 years ago, according to a pamphlet I read later. That’s not long ago by geologic time.

The sides of the mountains are speckled with aspen, all red, yellow and green. From far away, they look like multi-colored lichen growing on a rock. As we get closer, we run into tons of people out leaf-peeping. There are also many mountain bikers. All this is not surprising given it’s a gorgeous fall Sunday.

We take a side trail to the Snowbowl, the local ski area. From there, a spur trail goes to the top of Mt Humphreys, the tallest peak. We had contemplated doing this climb but it’s 5 miles one-way and it’s already 3 pm when we arrive. We wouldn’t have enough time to make it back before dark. Plus, the trail is packed with people.

We were at least hoping that there would be a restaurant open at the resort but it’s dead quiet. So our side trip is a bust. We continue along the main trail and find a cache of water, the last until reaching town in the morning. We walk for another hour, looking for a good site. In my search, I see a porcupine climbing a tree. I think it’s the first one I’ve ever seen while hiking.

We find a site just as it’s getting dark. I have to spend a long time cleaning my legs and feet before I can crawl in my tent. This has been the case many nights so far. The trail is so dry and dusty that my feet are black at the end of the day. Trail running shoes are designed to breathe…a good thing but they also let in a lot of dirt. I’m very much looking forward to a shower and laundry the next day.

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