Wednesday, September 10, 2014

Day 38: Anderson Mesa and Walnut Canyon

Sunrise in the morning!
May 20: The extreme flatness of the Arizona Trail had been getting a little tedious, truth be told. I wasn't exactly complaining about the easy hiking, but it didn't provide as many scenic vistas as I had otherwise grown used to.

But today, the terrain got a little more challenging with some ups and downs around Walnut Canyon. The climbs and falls were less than a thousand feet--not much compared to other sections of the trail--but were significantly greater than anything I had seen since hiking over the Mogollon Rim. And there were a couple of such drops and climbs. A wrinkle in the earth.

In the early afternoon, I passed a burn area that was clearly very recent. After two or three years, burns areas tend to all look the same. But a burn area that's less than a year or two old has a lot of signs that it's more recent than most, and the burn area I was walking through was undoubtedly the most recent I'd seen anywhere on the trail. When I first started the trail, I had heard about a fire burning that had closed the Arizona Trail near Flagstaff and I had little doubt this was it. Ash and charred remains littered the area--you couldn't sit down without getting black marks all over you.

Late in the afternoon, I met an older couple from Colorado--Pete and Christine--who I spent the better part of an hour chatting with. They seemed pretty exciting to run into an actual thru-hiker of the Arizona Trail. I had to laugh: "You guys are really lucky--I haven't seen any thru-hikers on this trail and I've been walking on it for 5 weeks now! You've seen more thru-hikers on your day hike than I have living on the trail for five weeks!"

I mean, sure, technically, I was a thru-hiker and had seem myself, but it doesn't seem right to be counting oneself. That's kind of a gimmie.

I finally set up camp late in the day not far from the road into Walnut Canyon National Monument. I threw out my groundsheet and sleeping bag and was getting myself settled when I looked behind me to admire the sunset which is when I first noticed a dark cloud of smoke blowing across the horizon. It had to be a wildfire, I thought. It was too big to be anything else.

It didn't look like it was particularly far away either. I could almost see where the column of smoke was rising from the ground. If I had to guess, it was probably about 5 miles away, to the south and west of my location. Which I thought was really interesting because it seemed like that's exactly where I had been earlier in the day. Was the Arizona Trail on fire?! Behind me? If so, I must have made it through in the nick of time! I knew there was a campground not far off the trail and wondered if maybe a campfire had gotten out of control there.

But I had no way of checking. I couldn't turn on the TV to see the news, or pull up a Google search for wildfires burning near Flagstaff. I couldn't be certain exactly where the fire was burning or when it had started. Pretty much the only thing I could be certain of was that it was roughly to the southwest of my current location and not very far away, but I really wanted to find out more about the fire. The column of smoke that was blowing across the horizon was quite impressive!

I kept watching the smoke blow by as I cooked dinner and the sun set. Then I pulled out my headlamp and started reading The Concrete Blonde by Michael Connelly until I was ready to fall asleep.

Upper Lake Mary
My maps showed this area labeled as "USGS Observatory" and "Perkins Telescope."
I'd later learn that the Lowell Observatory had a station at Anderson Mesa
which, as it turns out, IS HERE! Even though the words "Anderson Mesa"
show up absolutely nowhere on my maps, that's what I was walking through.
Or else!
Since astronomers abhor light pollution while they're working,
they don't want people driving up with their headlights on. So
turn off your headlights around here! Stick to just your parking lights.
The San Francisco Peaks are getting closer!
Lots of cattle on the Anderson Mesa.
The trail near Marshall Lake.
Marshall Lake trailhead

You don't need an observatory to see the moon--even in broad daylight!
The San Francisco Peaks contain the highest peak in Arizona--Humphrey's Peak.
Probably that snow-covered one! =)

This area has clearly been burned very recently, and I suspected
it was the fire I had heard about when I first started the Arizona Trail that
closed the trail near Flagstaff.
The terrain was definitely getting a little rougher at this point!

Watch out! This bug is mooning us!

The Arizona Trail are the lines you see in the ground far below.
The trail actually splits into two there--one is the "resupply" route
that runs directly through Flagstaff while the other is the "equestrian route"
that runs around the east side of Flagstaff. I suspect most hikers take
the shorter route directly through Flagstaff, but I opted to take the run
around the city since it seemed more in spirit with the trail. I came in
from the left. The resupply route directly through Flagstaff is
the upper trail on the right while the equestrian route around Flagstaff
(the one I followed) is the lower trail on the right.

This is a "wildlife trick tank" built specifically to collect water for
wildlife to drink. I guess that includes thru-hikers too! =) It's a much
better alternative to dirt tanks which are usually muddy and have cattle
peeing and pooping in them. This water was is mostly protected under a roof
with the small access area to get the water and has a concrete lining
meaning NO MUD in the water!
View of Walnut Canyon
I spent the better part of an hour chatting with Pete and Christine!

Another wildlife trick tank.

This water cache also included a Clif bar! I didn't need the water
(already filled up at the wildlife trick tanks), but I took the Clif bar.
Better me than a squirrel!
There's a fire burning somewhere behind me.... Those brownish clouds
near the horizon is definitely smoke from a wildfire! And it doesn't
look like it's very far away!

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

You saw the Slide Fire! May 20 - May 24, 2014 "The Slide Fire has burned more than 10,600 acres and is now 5% contained. The wildfire is located north of Highway 89 near the Slide Rock State Park, according to officials.

Officials say 975 personnel are working the fire on Saturday, including 36 crews, 46 engines, three air tankers, nine helicopters, two air attack planes, and other resources. Air tankers were grounded Wednesday because of high winds.

The human-caused Slide Fire began Tuesday (May 20) and has burned at least 7.5 square miles in and around Oak Creek Canyon, a scenic recreation area along a highway between Sedona and Flagstaff."

You were in Walnut Canyon which had an 85 acre fire April 11, 2014! It's called the Fisher Fire because it was by Fisher Point in Walnut Canyon. There was also a fire there the year before.