Monday, April 25, 2016
Heading west from Flagstaff on Interstate 40, the distinctive profile of Bill Williams Mountain juts over sprawling prairies criss-crossed with railroad tracks and remnants of Historic Route 66. The mountain's lumpy appearance is the result of multiple volcanic events that caused lava to accumulate in irregular heaps. The eruptions that occurred roughly 4.2 to 2.8 million years ago mark the western edge of the San Francisco Volcanic Field---an arc of molten rock relics that includes San Francisco Mountain (Humphreys Peak) stretching from Williams to north east of Flagstaff. Mountains like this one are just too tempting not to conquer. Because it's there, three ways to get to its summit have been established. You could drive to the top on the dirt road, but what fun is that? A more entertaining way up is to hike one of the single track trails. Although both routes are about the same length, each offers a unique experience. Bill William Mountain Trail makes a straight up climb on massif's lush, aspen and fern populated north face. An easier, albeit still challenging route is the Benham Trail which employs long switchbacks to take much of the sting out of its ascent of the mountain's dryer eastern flank. On the way up, look for expansive views of Garland Prairie, Sycamore Canyon Wilderness and a living slide show of Flagstaff-area peaks poking thru canopies of Gambel oak. Near the top, you'll encounter some aspens, fir, spruce and mossy rocks before the trail lands at a saddle with photogenic views of an impressive, pine-fleeced pinnacle called Finger Rock. From this scenic landing, head right on the dirt road for the final half mile trudge to the top. On the summit, an array of humming communication towers and a 1937 vintage fire lookout hover above swarms of brilliant red-orange ladybugs that congregate on shrubs and stony outcroppings. The best time to see the annual beetle convergence is from late spring thru summer.
LENGTH: 9 miles roundtrip
ELEVATION: 7,300' - 9,256'
From Interstate 40 in Williams, take exit 165 and follow Railroad Road 2.4 miles to 4th Street. Turn left and continue 3.6 miles south (4th St. becomes Perkinsville Road/County Road 73) to the trailhead turnoff past milepost 181. Roads are paved/gravel and sedan-friendly.
INFO: Williams Ranger District, Kaibab National Forest