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Monday, October 28, 2019

Kel Fox Trail

The highpoint saddle on Kel Fox trail

Kel Fox trail, quelle surprise. 
The under-the-radar outlier route located on the southern fringes of the Village of Oak Creek suffers from bland 2-star ratings. Its scenic qualities are often besmirched by online trail reviews because it shares space with a gas pipeline.

Kel Fox trail begins near Fuller Tank
View along FR 9500N near Fuller Tank
But those who buy into naysayers cracklings and visions of noxious fumes will be deprived of a perfectly fine trek with epic vistas and a pleasing backcountry mood.
View from the highpoint of Kel Fox trail
Truth be told, the moderate out-and-back trail does follow the course of an underground natural gas pipeline, but the only evidence of the buried utility feed are blaze-yellow posts placed every hundred yards or so along the two-part hike.  
The first part of the hike follows FR 9500L
Eroded FR 9500L leads to the Kel Fox trailhead
The first segment of the trek follows Forest Road 9500L, a rugged, 1.4-mile track that leads to Fuller Tank and the official Kel Fox trailhead in Coconino National Forest. 
Cacti-studded slopes on Kel Fox trail
Although the road is open to motorized travel, washouts, sandy sections and deep ruts require at least a high clearance vehicle.  Hikers will do better to park and walk the road instead.  Forest Road 9500L parallels Beaverhead Flat Road--a busy byway between State Route 179 and the communities of Cornville and Cottonwood--for roughly a quarter-mile before it swings north leaving the road rumble behind.  Wide and easy to navigate, the road plows north on an undulating course through yucca-studded rangeland and scoured gullies.
Only yellow posts betray the maligned pipeline location 
Directly ahead, colorful sandstone mesas and volcanic peaks dominate the landscape. At the 1-mile point, veer left onto Forest Road 9500N that traces the contours of the massive stone formations on its way to Fuller Tank and the start of the second leg of the hike.  
Approaching Fuller Tank
Built into a cleft at the foot of a mountain pass, the tank sits behind a weedy, earthen dam where a small patch of cottonwood trees soak up water that ebbs and expands with precipitation and snowmelt. 
Kel Fox trail ascends a scenic mountain pass
A sign points to the Kel Fox trail, but during times when the tank spills over the main entryway, the route may also be accessed by crossing the dam, passing through three metal posts and following the workaround path back to the main trail.  Beyond the tank, the route becomes a slender singletrack that heads up the pass through abundant cacti, ocotillo and mesquite trees.  In several spots where game trails and drainages muddle the way, the maligned gas pipeline posts redeem themselves as handy directional beacons. 
Fuller Tank (dry on 10-27-19) near the Kel Fox trailhead
As the trail climbs along forested edges and rocky cliffs, terrific views of the Verde Valley and Prescott National Forest mountain ranges open up to the south.  Just under a mile above the tank, the route emerges from the narrow canyons and enters a high meadow where views of Sedona-area rock formations begin to peek out over a grassy saddle. 
The breezy, grassy saddle on Kel Fox trail
Soon, the trail tops out on the hike’s premier attraction, a breezy mountain pass slung between high-desert plateaus with surprising, breath-taking vistas.  It’s here where the trail reveals its hidden charms and earns absolution from its ho-hum reviews.
FR 9500N leads to Fuller Tank
From the rewarding high point, the trail heads downhill swallowing up the views as it descends on a fairly steep and slippery path.  The trail ends at a nondescript gate in a residential community where very limited parking squashes any idea of making this a car-shuttle hike. That’s why many hikers prefer to call the scenic saddle the turnaround point for the hike.
Mesas and peaks along FR 9500L
Approaching the scenic pass on Kel Fox trail
LENGTH: 6.8 miles roundtrip
RATING: moderate
ELEVATION:  3,780 – 4,235 feet
From Interstate 17 north of Camp Verde, take the Sedona/Oak Creek exit 298 for State Route 179. Go 4 miles northwest on SR 179 (toward Sedona), turn left on Beaverhead Flat Road (County Road 78) and continue 0.8-mile to Forest Road 9500L on the right.  Cross the cattle guard and park in the pullouts along the road.
INFO: Coconino National Forest

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