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Friday, June 28, 2013

Too hot to hike!


Due to a statewide excessive heat warning for this weekend, I'll be staying off the trails.  There's really no place to hike without encountering high temperatures.  If you plan to hit the trail, please be extra cautious.  Hike early in the day.  Take at least a gallon of water.  Eat foods with sodium and potassium to keep hydrated. Lightweight, long sleeve shirt and long pants will actually keep you cooler than shorts and tanks because they help contain your body's natural cooling moisture on your skin as well as protecting against sun burn. Know the signs of heat exhaustion and heat stroke and what to do if you feel them.  Stay safe.


Wednesday, June 26, 2013

Step out at Aspen Corner

Aspen Corner to Bismarck Lake

Aspens on the Arizona Trail, June 22, 2013

There's something incredibly calming about aspen trees.  Populating mountain climes through subterranean colonial root systems, the elegant white-barked beauties sway in tight-knit groves above alpine meadows.  On the western slopes of Flagstaff’s San Francisco Peaks, canyon-born winds whip canopies of heart-shaped leaves into a symphony of whistles and whirs that only nature could score. It's usually on frantic summer Thursday afternoons when I start dreaming about hiking among the aspens on the weekend.  When I'm really in need of aspen overload (the same self-indulgent malady as a salsa binge or trip to the $30 shampoo store) there's one place that always satisfies---Passage 34 of the Arizona Trail.  Although the entire passage--which begins at Schultz Tank and ends at Cedar Ranch--- is just over 36 miles long, the very best aspens live in the 4-mile swath between Aspen Corner and the murky swale of Bismarck Lake.  For years, the meadows surrounding Bismarck Lake have been my go-to place to unwind and get a quick dose of brain-clearing high country air.  So, this week, I decided to hike to the lake by way of a slightly different route.  Aspen Corner is a small stop off marked by a split rail fence near the top of Snowbowl Road.  For years, hoards of visitors on summer drives have been pulling over to take in the sights, and since the completion of the San Francisco Peaks segment of Arizona Trail (AZT), this spot is now also a access point for the state's most iconic trek. The trickiest part of this hike is getting started.  Here's how: From the fence, take the wide trail heading north (go right).  Within 0.2 mile, go left (heading downhill) at an unsigned junction. Follow this closed 2-track roughly 0.1 mile to the AZT junction, turn right (heading north) and follow the AZT markers to the lake.  Well-signed and easy-to-follow, passage 34 features sweeping vistas, breezy open air fields, wildflowers galore and a mixture of aspen glens and pine-fir woodlands.  Bismarck Lake--which is all that remains of an extinct volcanic crater---was bone dry on our visit this week.  A wilderness "crime scene" of elk bones along the normally dusty banks whispered of either drought death or mountain lion encounter.  However, after summer monsoon rains, the shallow depression transforms into a glassy reflecting pool and (living) wildlife magnet.
View with Alfa Fia Tank

Local wildlife

LENGTH: 8.2 miles round trip  (9 miles with optional Nature Loop)
RATING: moderate
ELEVATION: 9020' - 8780'

From Phoenix, travel north on I17 to Flagstaff.  Connect with US180 and drive 7 miles north to Snowbowl Road and head 5.2 miles uphill to Aspen Corner.  There's a parking apron on the left near a split rail fence.  
Flagstaff Ranger District, Coconino National Forest, 928-526-0866
Arizona Trail Association:


Sunday, June 23, 2013

Left turn to Little Spring

Little Spring

Some of the best hiking places are stumbled-upon gems like Little Spring. Although this trail is too short to justify a drive from the Valley, it makes for a sweet add-on trek when combined with Bismarck Lake Trail, or, as we did this past weekend, a detour from the Arizona Trail.  Either way, the hike revolves around Bismarck Lake---which, on June 22, 2013, was bone dry.  In the eleventy-nine times I’ve hiked here, there’s always been at least some damp mud---not so this week.  Anyway, to find the Little Spring trail from the lake, just continue hiking on the slim, established footpath as it bends around the lake’s north berm, heads into a meadow (go left at all forks) and then makes a steep dive along an overgrown path-of-use.  Be prepared for a lot of log hopping, some route-finding and a short section of steep stuff before emerging into the lush green environ fostered by a tiny puddle aptly named, Little Spring.

Approaching the spring

LENGTH:  4 miles roundtrip from Bismarck trailhead
OR 2.8 miles roundtrip from No-Name trailhead
RATING:  moderate
ELEVATION:   8300’- 8800’
From Flagstaff, go 10 miles north on US180 to Hart Prairie Road (FR 151) near milepost 225.  Turn right and continue 5.6 miles to Bismarck Lake Road (Forest Road 627), turn right and go 0.6 mile to the trailhead. HIKE DIRECTIONS:
Follow the Bismarck Trail one mile to the signed turnoff for the lake.  Veer left and hike to another Bismarck Lake sign near a group of boulders.  From here, continue hiking north (straight ahead) on the footpath, which will swerve around the lake’s north berm.  Within a few hundred feet, the path will fork---go left.  At a second fork, go left again.  Now, follow the rudimentary trail downhill to the spring.
From Flagstaff, travel 19 miles north on US 180 to the upper loop of FR 151 (Hart Prairie Road) near milepost 235.  Turn right and drive 1.6 miles to FR418, veer right to stay on FR151, set your odometer and continue 2.4 miles to an unmarked road on the right.  You can drive it up to 0.2 mile, but it’s narrow and nasty.  HIKE DIRECTIONS: Find a place to park, pass the “road closed” gate and hike 0.4 mile to where there’s a split rail fence on the right.  Here, leave the road and hike into the meadow aiming for a pair of fallen logs lying parallel on the ground.  There’s a rough 2-track leading first to the historic marker and then the spring.  To pick up the trail to Bismarck Lake, climb above the washout directly behind the spring and hike 1 mile uphill to the lake. 


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