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Monday, July 15, 2019

Little Elden Trail to Schultz Tank

FIRE NOTICE: August 6, 2019. This area is now back OPEN for use following the Museum Fire closure. Wildflower season is in full bloom in Flagstaff’s Dry Lake Hills area.
San Francisco Peaks dominate the northern vistas.
Yellow Columbine bloom in moist areas on Little Elden Trl.
Recent forest logging and clearing operations that had closed many of the trails that meander through the diverse terrains of the Coconino National Forest north of 9299-foot Mount Elden are gradually finishing up and several paths are now open.
Stormy San Francisco Peaks reflected in Schultz Tank.
One particularly productive wildflower trail that’s outside of the closure area is the Little Elden Trail to Schultz Tank.  This multi-faceted gem traces the north flanks of 9018-foot Little Elden Mountain through a mix of deep, mixed-conifer woodlands, aspen glens, sunny meadows and a variety of blooming plant communities.
Western blue flax grows in sunny meadows along the route.
From the trailhead, follow the 0.3-mile access path to the Little Elden Trail which doubles as part of the Arizona Trail Passage 32. The route heads right (west) at the sign and begins with a shady walk among pines and firs with a smattering of aspens tucked into clearings. Where the trail crosses drainages, plots of rich-green ferns swaying over the narrow footpath gently brush the shoulders of passing hikers. Roughly 0.8-miles in, reminders of the 2010 Schultz Fire begin to appear in the form of charred logs and gangly snags.
The spur path to Schultz Tank.
Ripe berries on a Fendler's ceanothus shrub.
A woodsy corridor near the beginning of the hike.
Soon, the devastating effects of the human-caused blaze that burned 15,075 acres over 10 days and also caused massive, monsoon-driven erosion come into full view.  Although only a short section of the trail passes directly through the fire scar, evidence of its havoc on the landscape  are clearly seen in the surrounding hills. The formerly dense pine-oak forests that defined the trail’s mid-section were toasted down to ash. Nine-years removed from the fire, this section is now a sprawling meadow flush with wildflowers and brambles that have taken root among blackened, matchstick-like stumps. The loss of the tree cover has revealed previously obscured views of O’Leary Peak and Sunset Crater to the northeast and the scorched edge of the Kachina Peaks Wilderness to the northwest.  The recovering meadows of hip-high grasses foster a botanical garden of blooming plants and shrubs.
Thorny fruits on a gooseberry shrub.
Look for fruity raspberry shrubs and the frothy cream-colored blooms and dark fruits of blueberry elder tree that grow sporadically in bright fields.  Delicate Western blue flax twines around Fendler’s ceanothus bushes and acres of paintbrush, butter and eggs, thistle, mountain parsley, common mullien, lupines, purple locoweed, gooseberry shrubs and other sun-loving varieties splatter vivid colors on the forest floor.
O'Leary Peak and Sunset Crater on the northeast horizon.
Richardson's geranium pokes through a bramble.
New Mexican vervain thrive in exposed meadows.
Dense coniferous forests near Schultz Tank.
Pollinators are attracted to Fendler's ceanothus shrubs.
Silver lupine add splashes of color to alpine meadows.
After about a mile of exposed grassland hiking, the trail heads uphill and ducks into moist, canyon-bound woodlands in the drainage areas near Schultz Tank. This beautiful segment features slopes with sprouting aspen saplings as well as ravines cluttered with old-growth conifers draped in moss. The wetter micro climate here supports a whole other type of wildflower habitat.
Purple locoweed is a common plant along the trail.
An understory of spreading dogbane, yellow columbine, Richardson’s geranium, curly dock, wild roses and fragrant wild geranium grow profusely in damp slivers of space among roots, boulders and gigantic trees. 
Little Elden Trail is part of the 800+-mile Arizona Trail.
Immature blueberry elder fruits follow frothy white flowers.
The Little Elden Trail ends at a signed junction where several classic Dry Lake Hills routes take off in all directions.
Ferns grow shoulder-high along the Little Elden Trail.
If you want to create a longer loop hike, check with the forest service before heading out to be sure your selected trails are open for use.
Fire damage visible on the edge of Kachina Peaks Wilderness
Schultz Tank is the turn around point for the hike.
Otherwise, follow the signs 0.2-mile to Schultz Tank, meander around the peak-reflecting pool and popular recreation hub then return the way you came.
Wild bergamot grows in moist pine woodlands.
Pale lavender aspen fleabane attract insects.
The 2019 Schultz Fire burned over 15,000 acres of forest.
Aspen saplings take root in the burn scar of the Schultz Fire.
Juicy wild raspberries grown in drainage areas.
LENGTH:  5.6 miles out-and-back
RATING: 7180 - 8000 feet
ELEVATION: 7320 – 8000 feet
In Flagstaff, go north on U.S. 89 to Forest Road 556 (Elden Spring Road, just past mile post 429) turn left and continue 2.4 miles to the Little Elden trailhead on the right. The hike begins at the trailhead kiosk.
INFO: Coconino National Forest

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