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Monday, May 6, 2019


Vista point on Passage 31 of the Arizona Trail
Arizona Trail Passage 31 runs for 17.9 miles between Marshall Lake and Interstate 40 southeast of Flagstaff.  Because it’s one of the shorter of the 43 passages that make up the 800-mile, state-traversing route, strong hikers can complete it in a day. Blasting through the entire section in a day makes for an epic trek, but numerous access points along the route provide ways to create abbreviated hikes that sample some of the most gorgeous slices of this high-country path.
Arizona valerian grow on moist slopes
The hike traces the rim of Walnut Canyon in Flagstaff
One to try begins at dirt parking apron along Old Walnut Canyon Road.
The moderate trek in Coconino National Forest links wildflower meadows, pine-oak woodlands, a dip into a tapered canyon and amazing vista points overlooking Walnut Canyon National Monument-- a 3600-acre site that protects archeological and natural resources--for a varied, moderate hike. 
The trek begins on a wide, flat path that weaves among pine groves and meadows with glimpses of antenna-cluttered Mount Elden (9298’) to the north.  
The rich soil and sun exposure foster acres of colorful wildflowers like stemless daisies, lupine and paintbrush.
At the 0.4-mile point, turn right at the Campbell Mesa Trails sign and continue on a mild uphill path. Just beyond a wildlife water hole, the trail meets a set of switchbacks carved from limestone escarpments that mitigate a descent along the canyon walls.  Hanging close to the edge, the slim trail passes among rock overhangs and clusters of yucca that cling precariously to cracks in the stony substrate. As the trail dives deeper into the canyon, enormous “yellow bellies” (mature Ponderosa pines that have developed a scaly, yellowish-brown bark) filter sunlight while rangy snags (dead, standing trees) attract insect-seeking birds and nesting critters. While passing through this enchanted forest, be sure to stop and smell the yellow bellies. 
A lupine about to bloom on the Arizona Trail
Their sap has an aroma that’s been described as butterscotch, vanilla and cherry. (My personal take on this fragrance is a top note of sugared cedar, a heart of moss and a base note of patchouli.)   In moist areas under the trees, look for tiny pink Arizona valerian flowers.  The tubular clusters can be seen poking out from blankets of pine needles through early summer.
Brilliant paintbrush are common bloomers along the AZT
Several spur paths lead to scenic points above Walnut Cny.
The short canyon section ends with a climb back up to the rim where the first vista point junction appears at 2.2-miles. To visit the scenic ledge, head left and hike the 0.2-mile spur to a promontory at the western edge of the national monument. Here, a fringe of conifers frame views of a heavily-forested bend in the meandering canyon. It’s a 300-foot drop from the breezy rim to the canyon floor with no guardrails to stymie a stumble.
Stemless daisies bloom in sunny meadows
So, explore carefully before retracing your steps back to the junction and continuing 1.1 mile on to the next vista detour where a 0.6-mile spur leads to more big sky panoramas and impressive canyon views. 
A pine shaded meadow along the route.
If you’re up for more, there are two more vista points before the trail moves off the rim.
Switchbacks mitigate a descent into the canyon
A wildlife water hole on the Arizona Trail
One is located another 1.1 miles down the trail while Fisher Point, the most famous of them all, marks the end of the tour 6.4 miles from the trailhead.
Stop and smell the yellow bellies
Yucca sprout from the craggy canyon walls
Limestone slabs and overhangs line the route
The trail hugs the canyon edge
To the first vista point and back: 4.8 miles
To the second vista point and back: 7.8 miles
To Fisher Point and back: 12.8 miles
RATING: moderate
ELEVATION: 6613 - 6920 feet  to second vista point, (7033' to Fisher Point)
From the Interstate 17/40 junction in Flagstaff, go 5.4 miles east on I 40 to exit 201 (Country Club Road). Turn right and  go 0.9-mile south to Old Walnut Canyon Road (Forest Road 303, turn left and continue 2.7 miles to the parking area on the right.
Snags (dead, standing trees) attract wildlife
The hike begins at the small Arizona Trail sign on the south side of the road. The last 0.3-mile is on rough dirt best suited for high-clearance vehicles.
INFO: Arizona Trail Association

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