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Saturday, October 6, 2012

Flagstaff fall color update, Oct. 6, 2012: HURRY!

Flagstaff fall color has arrived fast and furious for 2012.  What a difference from 2011 when peak foliage color dilly-dallied until mid-October.  Not so this year.  The high elevations (above 10,000')  are already past peak in many spots, while mid-high locations (8,000'-9,000') are at peak NOW.  We drove Hart Prairie Road (7,000') today and observed that it's approaching peak color.  Hurry.
Bear Jaw Trail, 8,600', Oct 6, 2012

Past prime aspens at 10,000', Oct 6, 2012
An October drive up Flagstaff's Highway 180 reveals views of golden aspens on the lofty slopes of the San Francisco Peaks.  Yes, the first showings of autumnal color bloom up high, so to hike among leaves that blaze like day-glo paint you must climb the north face below Humphreys Peak.  There's a, app trail for that---Abineau-Bear Jaw Loop.  This rugged route begins in an innocuous alpine meadow but soon enters avalanche-scarred coniferous-aspen woodlands for a steady climb (unmitigated by switchbacks) that leads to a both-kinds-of-breathtaking ridge (10,280') below Arizona's tallest peak.  Here, the wind-addled tundra-like landscape is dotted with stands of white firs framing views of Northern Arizona's volcanic highlands. Beyond this highpoint, the route follows the serpentine path of Waterline Road where willowy aspens rustle and flourish along its flanks.  Whereas the Abineau leg of the loop is mostly about pines, spruce and fir, the Bear Jaw return is all about aspens, with glens so thick they mimic whiteout conditions. Here, on the downhill trek, mountain-borne breezes kick up flurries of heart-shaped leaves from the canopies into eddies of gold that tickle the air and carpet the forest floor.  It's really an awesome spectacle. 
Hike 0.4 mile on the access trail and turn right to begin on the Abineau Trail---which gets the climbing over quickest. Hike 1.9 miles uphill to the junction with Waterline Road (sign says no access to Humphreys Peak). Turn left here and hike 2.1 miles to the signed turn off for Bear Jaw Trail on the left.  Follow Bear Jaw 2.4 miles back to the first junction and retrace your steps 0.4 mile back to the trailhead on the access path. 
Bear Jaw Trail, 8700', Oct. 6, 2012

LENGTH:  7.2-mile loop
RATING: difficult
ELEVATION:  8530' - 10,280'
From Flagstaff, travel north on US180 (Fort Valley Rd) to milepost 235.2 and turn right onto FR 151 (Hart Prairie Road, north access).  Continue 1.6 miles on FR 151 and connect to FR 418.  Drive 3.1 miles on FR418 to FR9123J  (signed for Abineau-Bear Jaw), turn right and go 0.6 mile to the trailhead.
Roads are semi-okay dirt, passable by carefully driven sedans. 
Near the top of Abineau Trail, Oct. 6, 2012
INFO:  Flagstaff Ranger District, Coconino National Forest, 928-526-0866

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