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Saturday, September 7, 2013

The “Pluto” of Flagstaff’s volcanoes

Bill Williams Mtn as seen from the rim

Way back in 1930, from a telescope perched on Flagstaff's Observatory Mesa, Percival Lowell discovered the planet Pluto---er, the "trans-Neptunian object formerly known as Pluto".  Stripped of its solar system membership in 2006, the plutiod suffers the same ignoble status as the volcano that built the hill from which it was discovered. From space, the conical, volcanic form of A1 Mountain is clearly visible. However, because more impressive mountains and a coniferous cloak obscure the geological wonders of this 300,000-year-old cinder cone, it's considered a minor character in the Flagstaff volcanic field. Although it's small and often abused by target shooters and dirt bikes, the hill deserves more respect. A1 Mountain and its molten issue have made significant impacts on the surrounding landscape, birthing  many of west Flagstaff's gnarled lava formations including Observatory Mesa. A closed forest road (unsigned 9218D) serves as the trail for this hike.  Unmitigated by switchbacks, the route goes straight up the hill with the last 0.2-mile being quite steep with tricky footing.  At the crest of this final haul hikers emerge on the lip of the volcano's inner crater, but, due to its heavily forested condition, this is difficult to discern. The only clues are swales of vivid green grasses and tiny pools of rainwater in a ring of gigantic Ponderosa pines confined in a surround of vertical igneous walls. Within a few yards of the lip, the road splits, looping up to the summit, down into the crater's east face breach and back again.  From the high points, breaks in tree cover reveal views of Bill Williams Mountain, Wing Mountain and the western plains of Kaibab National Forest.  To the east, the white dome of Lowell Observatory resting on the ejecta of this beautiful massif opens nightly to survey the universe.
inside the crater

LENGTH: 2 miles roundtrip
RATING: moderate
ELEVATION: 7700' - 8302'
From Flagstaff, go west on I40 to exit 190, A1 Mountain Road (FR506). Follow FR506 for 2.6 miles to FR518B, veer left (set your odometer) and continue 1.4 miles to a culvert marked by 3 light-colored boulders on the left side of the road and reflector posts.  The trail begins a few yards beyond at an unsigned road on the left.    There's plentiful parking a few steps little farther up FR518B. A high-clearance vehicle is required.
A1 Mountain seen from FR506


Tuesday, September 3, 2013

Wildflower wetlands

Flagstaff Urban Trail System

Rio de Flag

Last weekend in Flagstaff, the morning air had a telling, damp crispness to it.  Shorter days and cooler temperatures mean the summer wildflower season is winding down. But, in the moist corridor of Rio de Flag, high country flora will be blooming through late September.  Sinclair Wash Trail, which begins at Fort Tuthill Park and ends at the Arizona Trail off Route 66, is a major artery of the Flagstaff Urban Trail System (FUTS).  Winding through a diverse mix of terrain and connecting with 8 other trails, the floral sweet spot of this wide, mostly flat trail is the wetland area near Sawmill County Park. A short but steep descent from the playground drops hikers in the middle of Rio de Flag---a waterway created as part of the town's water reclamation program. The mile-long segment follows the stream through a limestone canyon festooned with oak archways and climbing vines. Where the trail approaches the I40 underpass, a cattail-choked marsh fosters a plethora of plant and animal life.  Here, the late summer wildflower checklist includes: globemallow, wild chrysanthemum, sunflowers, clovers, wild geranium, Red-osier dogwood, coneflowers, aquatic buttercups, New Mexican vervain and alfalfa.


LENGTH: 5.7 miles one way. 2 miles roundtrip for the Rio de Flag section only.
RATING: easy
ELEVATION: 6805'- 6988"
Sawmill County Park (short hike):
In Flagstaff, go east on Butler Ave to Lone Tree, turn right, continue to Sawmill Road on the left and follow the signs to the park.
Fort Tuthill County Park (long hike):
From I17 south of Flagstaff, take exit 337 for AZ89A and "county fairgrounds". At the end of the off ramp, continue straight into Ft. Tuthill Park and follow the signs to trailhead parking.
Prairie coneflower
INFO: City of Flagstaff