Monday, October 27, 2008
O’LEARY LOOKOUT TRAIL Coconino National Forest A “middle child”, O’Leary Peak often plays second fiddle to its more famous siblings—the San Francisco Peaks and Sunset Crater. In comparison to the rival peaks, O’Leary is truly middling in height, age and relative location. The 250,000-year-old lava dome volcano rises to an impressive 8,916 feet and although it lacks the star quality that draws hordes of tourists and hikers to the other two peaks, O’Leary is anything but the ugly step sister. The trail up O’Leary Peak is just a 4x4 road that’s still used by forest service workers to get to the fire lookout on the summit. The hike begins by flanking a thick, inky-black lava flow with views of the distinctive rust-colored slopes of Sunset Crater in the distance. The lower path is mostly made of black and red cinders that crunch under foot. The first 3 miles are easy going, gaining elevation gradually, but the grunt work begins where the road meets the mountain and becomes much steeper. Crystalline cliffs of dacite, the volcanic rock that pushed up from the earth’s core to build O’Leary Peak, line the trail that’s little more than a narrow cut in the mountainside. On the top, there are amazing aerial views of Sunset Crater and the Bonito Lava Flow. To the north, the Painted Desert shimmers in the haze and to the west; Arizona’s grandest peaks get up close and personal. While taking in the 360-degree smorgasbord of sights, you’ll wonder why all the little cars on the roads below are zooming right past O’Leary Peak. LENGTH: 10 miles round trip RATING: Moderate ELEVATION: 6,930 – 8,916 feet GETTING THERE: From Phoenix, take I-17 North to Flagstaff. In Flagstaff, take I-40 east and then connect to Highway 89 north. Continue north on Highway 89 to the signed exit for Sunset Crater National Monument (FR 545) and turn right. Continue for less than a mile and then turn left at the “O’Leary Group Campground” sign onto FR 545A. Drive a short distance past the fee area campground to the gate and signed trailhead for “O’Leary Lookout”. There are restrooms and running water at the campground. The dirt roads are accessible by sedan.