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Saturday, April 21, 2012

Hike an underrated Flagstaff volcano


Snow at 8,500', April 20, 2012
Trails like this one "don't get no respect". In the grand promised land of Flagstaff-area hiking, it's easy to understand why a perfectly decent destination like Saddle Mountain would get lost in the fuss of more showy trails . Visible from US 180 just north of the Kendrick wildlife viewing area, the extinct cinder cone volcano rises 700 feet above woodlands recovering from the 2000 Pumpkin and 1996 Hochderffer fires.  In fact, several hiking books and online sources focus soooo much on the wildfires when describing this trail that they fail to fully respect its headliner attraction: fabulous views. Therefore, its B-list status persists. Certainly, unfortunate proximity to much more impressive mountain hikes (Kendrick Peak, Humphreys Peak) doesn’t help visitation either.  Get over it---I’m going out on a limb to highly recommend this trail. The hike itself is a moderate trudge on a service road that twists up the hill candy-cane-style, revealing sweeping, 360-degree landscape vistas that stretch all the way to the Grand Canyon and Painted Desert.  To the north, geological landmarks Red Mountain and Red Butte stand out on the flat plains of the Colorado Plateau while massive San Francisco Mountain commands the southern flank. On the summit, a visual spectacle of eroding cinder cones can be seen in northern Arizona’s volcanic field while communication transmitters hum in sync with alpine breezes. 
Volcanic field as seen from the summit

LENGTH:  5.8 miles roundtrip
RATING: moderate
ELEVATION: 8,100' - 8,800'
From Flagstaff, go 21 miles north on US 180 to FR 514 located at milepost 236.5 (at the now defunct White Buffalo place).  SET YOUR ODOMETER---trust me. Turn right and travel 2.5 miles east on FR 514 (stay straight, ignore all side roads) to FR 550, turn left (north) and drive 1.9 miles to where there’s a small loop turnaround road on the left. This is FR 550A, but it’s not signed.  The road climbing the mountain on the left is the trail.  Park anywhere along the road, or, there’s also a small (one car) dirt turn out roughly 0.2 mile up FR550A if you want to shorten the hike.
Flagstaff Ranger District, 928-526-0866


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