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Monday, August 7, 2017


Hiking among hoodoos
Few things in life are certain but what we know for sure is; wet dogs stink, Star Trek is great, some hikers think beer is the fifth food group and Red Mountain is one of the most magical places on earth.  Okay, those first three might be dubious, but the last one---an atypical volcano north of Flagstaff--- offers a singular hike that supports the claim.  If you’re looking for a mind-boggling, surreal experience, forget theme park attractions--Red Mountain is the real deal.
View of Red Mountain from the access trail
Located just off Highway 180 north of Flagstaff, the 740,000-year-old cinder cone offers a rare opportunity to walk inside the guts of a formerly explosive geological wonder.  Although the mountain’s fractured and fabulous form is a sight to behold, geologists aren’t certain about what caused its northeast face to slump away exposing the internal structure.
Inside the volcano
Thousands of years of wind and water erosion have sculpted the mountain’s multi-colored layers of volcanic ash and cinders into craggy pillars and honeycomb walls. Along the short, family-friendly access trail that winds through a pinion-juniper forest, views of the gaping U-shaped collapse give a taste of what’s to come. 
The ladder 
At the 1.24-mile point, the trail meets the inky black cinder slopes at the base of the volcano where a wooden ladder must be climbed to get to the good stuff.
Bizarre pillars of ash
Once inside the volcano, hikers are surrounded by 800-foot escarpments, stony passages and wildly contorted rock columns called “hoodoos”.
Hikers explore a stony passage
Footpaths wander among weather-blasted pinnacles, crevasses and pine trees and shrubs that somehow took root in the cracks.  There’s even a short trek through a tight passage where ongoing erosion washes out bits of shiny black hornblende minerals (often mistaken for obsidian) that collect in glinting streams underfoot. Look overhead to see chockstones (boulders caught in cracks) and lava caps that teeter atop grainy spires like fancy hats. Be sure to bring a fully-charged camera or phone to document the adventure in case you’re asked to prove what you know for sure about this Arizona natural treasure.

A hiker emerges from a tight spot
LENGTH: 3 miles roundtrip
RATING: moderate
ELEVATION: 6700’ – 7000’
From Flagstaff, go 30.5 miles north on US 180 and turn left at the sign for Red Mountain Trailhead near milepost 247. Dirt access road is passable by passenger vehicle when dry.
INFO: Coconino National Forest

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