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Wednesday, November 12, 2008


INNER BASIN TRAIL Coconino National Forest
The robust conifer forests that thrive in the inhospitable volcanic bowl of San Francisco Mountain can be partly attributed to an industrious and vocal bird called Clark’s Nutcracker. Easy to identify by their black-and-white feathers and sharp khaaa-khaaa-khaaa cry, the birds are consummate seed collectors. It’s common for them to store up to 100,000 pine seeds per season (many times more than they could possibly eat) in shallow underground caches. Uneaten seeds sprout and grow into trees--replenishing the birds’ food supply. The pine canopy above the Inner Basin trail is a favorite hang-out for the birds as they go about their “accidental environmentalism” by propagating the trees that slow erosion and protect an important source of water for the city of Flagstaff. Snowmelt from San Francisco mountain runs downhill and feeds springs in the Inner Basin (the collapsed crater of the 1.5 million-year-old volcano) below the peaks. As the pleasant mountain trail glides uphill, it passes several pump stations. You’ll want to tote an empty water bottle on this hike because at about the 9,400-foot point, there’s a pump house with a spigot that dispenses fresh, ice-cold spring water. Farther up the trail, another pump station has a covered viewing bench overlooking an aspen-framed alpine meadow which makes a good place to catch your breath along this high-altitude path. From there, the combination of a steep grade and thin air taxes the lungs as the path heads up to the 10,200-foot-point and the intersection with the Weatherford trail--the turnaround point for this hike. At the junction, you’ll want to linger a few moments to take in views of the surrounding Colorado Plateau where patches of trees damaged by wildfires and bark beetles are dwarfed by verdant old-growth conifers and spindly saplings—courtesy of Clark’s Nutcracker. LENGTH: 8 miles round-trip RATING: moderate ELEVATION: 8,800 – 10,220 feet GETTING THERE: From the junction of Interstates 17 and 40 just south of Flagstaff, go east on I-40 to the turnoff for Highway 89 north. Follow Highway 89 to just past milepost 431 (across from the entrance to Sunset Crater). Turn left onto Forest Road 552 and follow the signs to Lockett Meadow. Turn right at the Lockett Meadow sign and continue on FR-522 to the signed trailhead. The road is a winding dirt mountain road passable by sedan.
INFO:  Flagstaff Ranger Distict, Coconino National Forest

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