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Friday, May 31, 2013

Flagstaff's Waterline Road re-opened

Coconino National Forest
the famous tunnel

Closed since the June 2010 Schultz Fire, this popular non-motorized Flagstaff trail has been RE-OPENED as of May 31, 2013. Although firefighters and recreation staff have spent more than 3600 hours removing hazards like burned trees, hikers are advised to be constantly aware of their surroundings and remain on the lookout for risks while using Waterline Road.  
The wide route, which  is used by forest service workers to maintain springs on the northeast slope of San Francisco Peaks,  makes for a pleasant stroll with exceptional views of northern Arizona’s cinder cone fields. The gradual ascent is a cinch to follow and can be hiked in segments using maps available on the Forest Service Web site. Although ambitious trekkers can opt to sprint the entire length in a day, a popular alternative is to make an out-and-back hike to a 25-foot-long tunnel blasted out of a rampart of volcanic rock.
LENGTH: 14 miles one-way or
4 miles roundtrip to the tunnel and back
ELEVATION: 8,000-10,400 feet or 9,400 to the tunnel
RATING: easy
DISTANCE FROM PHOENIX: 155 miles one-way
GETTING THERE: From Flagstaff, go north on US 180 to milepost 218.6 and turn right onto Schultz Pass Road (Forest
Road 420). Continue 6.5 miles to Forest Road 146, turn left and go 0.7 miles to a locked gate. Park in the pullouts long the road. Roads are maintained dirt/gravel and passable by sedan, however high clearance is recommended.
INFORMATION: Peaks Ranger District (928) 526-0866,

Tuesday, May 28, 2013

Upcoming fee-free days and work events in Red Rock Country

Palatki Heritage Site

Just in time for National Trails Day and Get Outdoors Day, the Coconino National Forest Red Rock Ranger District has announced that they will WAIVE FEES at most trailheads and day-use sites in the Sedona area on Saturday June 1 and Saturday June 8, 2013. This includes the archeological sites Palatki, Honanki, and V Bar V. Areas NOT included are Call of the Canyon (West Fork of Oak Creek), Grasshopper Point and Crescent Moon Ranch. ALSO, more fee-free day are coming up for National Public Lands Day (Sept 28) and Veterans Day weekend (Nov 9-11)
INFO: Red Rock Ranger District, 928-203-2900
Boynton Canyon

Forest service personnel are recruiting volunteers to assist with light trail maintenance at the Boynton Canyon and Cathedral Rock trailheads. Those who wish to participate should come prepared with helmet, gloves, protective eyewear, long-sleeved top, long pants, boots, water and sunscreen. Meet up time is 9 a.m.
CONTACT: Forrest Saville 928-203-7509.

Sunday, May 26, 2013

Marginalized mountain gets some love

Destination: O'Leary Peak in background

Hiding in plain sight between Sunset Crater National Monument and Arizona's loftiest mountain is O'Leary Peak--- a dormant lava dome volcano with a character unlike its geological neighbors.  Normally, this trail sees only little-to-moderate hiking traffic, but this week was different.  First, the annual Arizona Highways Summer Hiking Guide hit newsstands and features O'Leary as one of its favorite destinations (nice pick, Robert!). And, I selected this trail for my contribution to the Grape-Nuts Summit Sampler event.  So, good  'ol O'Leary is suddenly getting the recognition it deserves. What turns hikers off about this route is that it's on a closed gravel road (no, you cannot drive to the summit unless you're with the forest service) all the way to the top.  However, it's a big mistake to discount this hike because of that.  In fact, because this no-route-finding-no-worries trail eliminates the need for maps and GPS, hikers are freed up for unrestricted gawking at the surrounding San Francisco Volcanic Field.  It’s helpful to dust off your Geology 101 textbook prior to hitting this trail.  That's because you'll be treated to a mélange of volcanic formations included lava flows, cinder cones, a strato volcano (San Francisco Mountain/Humphreys Peak) and of course O'Leary itself which is comprised of mostly an igneous rock called dacite. The climb is an unmitigated haul up the mountain's south face.  Switchbacks transition from wide and gradual to short and abrupt near the summit.  The effort pays off though with birds eye views of Sunset Crater National Monument that could otherwise only be seen by helicopter.  As the trail reaches its high point, there are terrific views of the Painted Desert, Grand Canyon and the more than 600 volcanoes that populate the southern edge of the Colorado Plateau. On the summit, an official elevation sign beneath a fire tower makes for the perfect way to commemorate the climb with photos.  The tower is not ordinarily open to visitors, however on our visit, the forest service worker invited us up--and we, of course, handed her some Grape-Nuts Fit samples!
Taking a break on the summit

LENGTH: 10 miles roundtrip
RATING: difficult
ELEVATION: 6956' - 8916'
From Phoenix, go north on I-17 to the junction with I-40 just south of Flagstaff.
Head east (right) on I-40 and continue to the junction for AZ89 NORTH at exit 201.
Follow AZ89 north to the entrance for Sunset Crater at milepost 430.3.
Turn right onto Sunset Crater Road (FR545) and go 1.7 miles to FR545A, which is signed for O’Leary Group Campground. Turn left on FR545A and go 0.25 mile to the parking area on the right near the gate for O’Leary Lookout.

View of San Francisco Peaks from the trail

INFO: Flagstaff Ranger District, Coconino National Forest, 928-526-0866