29 November 2019

Granite Mountain

Quartzsite area BLM

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There's lots of Granite Mountains around and this one probably isn't a very impressive specimen. It certainly isn't as grand as the various other things I went after while I was here last. It's still an excellent excuse for a walk with a little challenge along the way. I could probably drive a bit closer, but then I would miss some small sites along the way and it's really too close to camp to bother with that. Anyway, it would only get the easy flat stuff out of the way and the sky is quite beautiful after the rain yesterday. Best to stretch the legs and enjoy it.

mountain at the end of a lot of flat
The goal, obscured a little by the desert vegetation.

black diamond above the rest of the peaks
Ibex does still make itself known on the other side of the valley.

bulging mountain
Signal is some 20 miles away, but I think that might be it anyway.

The first part is easy and flat and quick, but that is deceptive. As small as Granite is, it does have some foothills. Among the closest of these are some marked petroglyphs by a mine and a wash. The geocachers have helpfully pointed out some mortars on the far side of the wash and some fellow explorers point out the mine. Today the wash is running like a wide muddy river. I guess I could have got away without having to cross that, too, if I had driven around, but the petroglyphs and mine are on this side of it and the mortars and mountain are on that.

big wash running for the short time after the rain
Tyson Wash is running the day after the rain. It is a little less than knee deep now, but it won't last long.

25 November 2019

Medlar Mesa and Crater Mountain

Prescott National Forest

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I stayed at Powell Springs Campground, which is a free campground deep in some ponderosas that only exist in the canyon area. Outside the canyon, the area is chaparral. A trail heads out the back of the camp and I plotted out a loop of travel along it and some connecting trails, then increasingly large roads. The last little bit to the campground road would unfortunately be paved, but most the roads are rough and narrow and unlikely to see much traffic. There seems to be no parking specific for the trail, just a small loop for turning around. There's also no sign for the trail, just the suggestion that road once went further.

end of the road as the start of trail
No markers for the trail at the end of the campground, but if road once went here it should be easy to find.

Road did go further, and is pretty obvious as it crosses the creek and continues along it on the other side. The campground is surrounded by a fence and where the road encounters it, there is a slot to hike through and a ranch gate for horses. Then there is general confusion. One steep route goes up to a flat north of the creek where there is old road around the edge of the fence and some cairns that don't seem to actually be marking trail. There's something that looks like trail just a little up from the creek where the Forest Service map indicates it should be, but it ends abruptly. There's more old road around the outside of the fence heading south. I can't sort it and decide to head up the creek bed and see the spring at least.

mystery cairn
Cairns at the top seem to be marking game trail that goes nowhere. Perhaps they needed more investigation?

There's hints at a trail sometimes along the creek. I go up one side that seems to have trail, only to have it close up on me. I go up the other and find a pass through cut in a log. Mostly I'm just in the bed where it is sandy and there is only one little rock scramble and a few low bridges of vegetation to duck.

easy walking in this bit
Much of the creek is easy walking with very little mild obstacles.

I decide to climb out to the right where the trail is supposed to be and see what I can find. There do seem to be some candidates for trail, but all a little bit wrong. Actually, walking through this chaparral is rather easy. I pick one that seems most likely and go for it. It passes near a big and old manzanita that has never had a branch cut. That seems unlikely for a manzanita so close to a trail. This is definitely not it. Still, I get to look at more than the low valley of a dry creek.

Crater Mountain
Crater Mountain, on my list to maybe visit toward the end of the hike.

23 November 2019

Woodchute Mountain

Prescott National Forest

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I am off to a later start than expected. I had looked at the icy road just past where the snow plow stopped and found a parking spot, but a chat with a pair of women had managed to dare me onward. They had not even questioned my manhood or anything. They were simply encouraging. It didn't help that they were playing with their own 4WD and crawling up the hill in front of me, but for all I know that just meant I was a little lower down when everything started to slide backward. Then the poor Forest Service employees dealt with a little more than they bargained for when simply trying to clean the toilets and I was parked even further away in the picnic area across the highway. This location has the advantage of not being along the side of a road clearly marked tow away zone even if my parking had been well off of it. A little extra walking is no problem, especially when compared to trying to direct a short trailer while sliding backwards on a curved, icy road.

end of the plowed road
The end of the plowed road. It looks tame enough here, but it drops after this, then climbs again, and those parts have been in shadow.

The pavement ends for a nice, large graveled parking area with the aforesaid toilets. After this, dirt road continues on to the actual trailhead. This particular road is not recommended for low cars, but even in the wet mess that it is now, a few have made it. Most of those I see on the road are ATVs and judging by the bumper stickers and license plate holders of the trailers that brought them, they're a search and rescue crew out for an exercise in the first real snow of the season. They're definitely not working, at least not in the sense of bad news for someone.

soggy dirt road
Three trails start from here. Woodchute is still 0.7 miles off and the other two are two miles off.

tank of water
The tank in Powerline Meadow is still liquid.

actual trailhead
The real trailhead, which has some small cars parked nearby. They made it by not being too overloaded.

The trail is getting a bit of use through the snow, so it is clear of the stuff and a little bit muddy. It isn't bad. The Powerline Trail, missing from the sign because it's too new, breaks off quickly and encourages any bicycles to go that way because Woodchute is heading for wilderness. I'm just generally gleeful for snowy vistas and not wet toes, even in my trail runners.

22 November 2019

Dams of Stone and Steel

Kaibab National Forest

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The map says simply "Steel Dam Fishing Site", but the geocacher says it's the oldest and largest steel dam in the world. I resolved to go and see it and sorted out a looping route from exit 149. This does let me wander a piece of "Route 66", but I really should have used exit 148 for my starting point. The geocache description even says as much. From there, the dam is drivable in a sufficiently sturdy vehicle although all bets are off once the road gets wet as it is now. I wouldn't be driving it anyway.

an abandoned segment of former US-66
A piece of what was once "Route 66". Is it everything you expected?

prickly pear stretching into the asfault
The desert is taking back US-66.

southern hills
Flat Mesa and other points southeast.

There's supposed to be a mountain bike trail along this segment of US-66 with a second piece that drops off it near the edge of the forest, but I don't see that segment. Maybe they just like riding the old highway to bother with the other piece. I'm not long on the road because I'm looking for a dirt road going north. One map says it'll take me right where I want to go. The other says it'll split and neither section will go anywhere in particular. The pessimistic forest map wins as it comes to a power line and is marked as following that, but has a second piece that wanders in another direction. Neither goes particularly far. All of it is difficult to walk, which doesn't seem to have prevented someone trying to drive it. Maybe it was yesterday when it wasn't quite so wet yet.

21 November 2019

Circle Benchmark

Kaibab National Forest

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The weatherman was promising a day of possible rain followed by another of definite snow. I scuttled off and stopped 700 feet below the predicted snow level while the snowplows were mobilizing into position to be useful. I'm not sure how my position might be useful, but I'll at least get the nearby benchmark. I'd like to go up Bill Williams Mountain, but that's 10 miles back and 2700 feet above predicted snowline. And how did getting below the snow work? Well, when the sun went down, the rain turned to snow. Not as much as there will be for the second wave of storm, which will be a blanket of a few inches, but it's sticking a little.

nice road
The road south off mile post 151 has had some improvement, at least this far.

There's a road of sorts heading up my way, but it is just someone's camp site. It hasn't been used much and the dirt isn't compacted enough to make walking through the mud any easier. The mud here is very friendly and enthusiastic to come with me. I walked across this dirt a little when it was still dry and found that although it compacted under my feet a little, it was steady. Now it compacts a lot and some steps are uncertain. I have more rocks away from the road and they make for better footing, so I'm not sad to see the road end.

tufts of snow in the grass
Just little bits of snow all over.

a little snow on black rocks
Volcanic rocks and volcanic soils. These are funny things when wet.

So I wander into the morning sun through the juniper to the top. Plenty of room between them. Some small structure once stood near the top. Past it, there is the benchmark, perched on a small rise of volcanic rocks with half a grand view. They do tend to like to put these things such that there is a view.

18 November 2019

Lava River Cave

Coconino National Forest

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I have fond memories of getting lost in the lava tubes of Lava Beds National Monument, but not in any dangerous way because there's a lot of openings to just pop up out of and navigate above ground to where you need to be. I mentioned that to one guy and he said I didn't need to go to the lava river, then. It's just one short segment. It doesn't even go anywhere. Such nonsense. It goes for almost a mile of lava cave goodness! The roads in are rough, but they are well marked for this particular destination. I was coming from the unusual direction and still got a sign to point the way. This is one of Flagstaff's most popular destinations and can see hundreds of hikers in a day. It might have something to do with the fact it's always cold, even in the summer. Annoyingly, someone has gone and locked both bathrooms. Maybe they've decided it is out of season. There's still two other cars besides my own, although one is leaving and the other will soon.

trail sign nailed to a tree
A trail sign nailed to a tree. This doesn't look like that well used a trail.

I spot a trail sign nailed to a tree and follow it. It just leads to the road that is blocked off at the parking lot. The road used to circle around the cave opening where there are some picnic tables. That does seem mildly unwise and there is much more parking back where it stops now.

picnic tables and a sign
Picnic tables by the opening.

The sign at the entrance has some warnings and rules. Among them is "no smoking" pointing out that the air exchange is quite slow, especially to the very back. There's one to think about when the fabled crowds are around. A second metal sign embedded in the rock wall around the cave opening points out features and a few more warnings. I'm not sure if this is a feature or a warning, but the cave is usually 40°F at the far end and 32°F at this end. The map also has a little more to say about where you are: careful, the rocks are slippery just inside.

entry for the cave
The entry for the cave has a small rock wall built to direct people to the area where it is safe to walk in.

I walk down past the register and into the cave. They aren't kidding about the slippery rocks. The passage of so many people has worn them smooth so they're like ice. I guess they could be iced over since it is just cold enough, but they look dry. Just very very slick. It worries me about the rest of the cave, but the options for foot placement quickly increase so that no one area is quite as smooth as the entry. Once there is no more natural light, there is no more need to worry about that. There's plenty of other things to worry about in foot placement. There isn't actually a trail in the cave. At the start, there's a lot of broken up rocks to pick through carefully and some of them move a bit.

light, then dark
Entering into the cave. One won't get far without a light. Bring two just in case.

It does level and smooth out a little, but fallen rocks come back. There is no place where one does not need to watch one's step. And watch one's head. The ceiling goes high and low as it sees fit.

Wing Mountain

Coconino National Forest

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I seem to be collecting fire lookouts, but the inclusion of Wing Mountain on the list of Arizona lookouts on Peakbagger wasn't what got my notice. It was the simple fact that the quad west of Humphreys Peak is named for Wing Mountain. I'm a bit suspicious about it being a lookout because there is not so much as a trail going up it, much less a road that is common for such things. People who have climbed it seem to have just picked a side and gone for it. I picked the side where there is a shoulder called Little Wing Mountain so I could climb and get the benchmark, then move nearly halfway around the crater to the high point. It is a side that looked highly climbable from afar, which seems like another plus. Forest road 222 (Wing Mountain Road) in seems generally maintained, but 519 only happens to be passable for my little car by a bit of luck. I park at 9230C where someone has had a camp site. It is a little way down the hill from the high point of the road on the mountain, but I don't feel like passing up good parking for a couple fewer feet to walk.

lots of room under the trees
Plenty of parking at the road junction.

trees all the way to the top
Uphill from here.

I head out upward and westward, eventually gaining the shoulder and then joining up with 9230B. This is probably the choice start for the 4WD vehicles and has some nice camping at the end if that's something that is wanted. There's trail past where the road ends, winding around the fallen wood along the little ridge that reaches out to the shoulder. As the ridge merges with the mountain and everything is steep, it even swings to the side for a more gradual climb and there's a ribbon.

trail in the ridge line
The ridge line is a little less steep and has trail along it.

ribbon over more trail
Even a ribbon and it's not very faded.

There's no second ribbon or the trail doesn't switch back where I take it to do so. I am aiming at the benchmark rather than the high point and don't expect as many to do it that way. I'm back to finding my own way. There's still plenty of faint deer trails all over to follow. I quickly find that it is better to stay under the trees. Not only is the sun a little warm for climbing, but the needles really help hold the ground together. The meadows are unsteady.

17 November 2019

Old Caves Crater

Coconino National Forest

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Old Caves Crater boasts a different sort of ruin, from people who made their homes among the small "caves" of gas bubbles in the old lava rocks. Unfortunately, some of the different character of this one is "heavily disturbed", as the kiosk at the start warns me. This was the last known Sinagua settlement in the area, but there are a couple more "excavation-quarry settlements" like this one in the area to the east. Anyway, it's a short trail, so no harm in going to see. I'll tag the peak, too. The settlement is quite close to the top.

kiosk and trail register
Kiosk full of information and a trail register full of people who probably won't be getting lost.

It's a wide path through the cinders surrounded by ponderosa. There seem to be quite a few extra paths as well. It's generally clear which is the official one. There are signs for the loop around the bottom to the west and later the one to the east. I follow the arrow for the crater summit rather than the loop.

Old Caves Crater
Old Caves Crater up ahead. It only rises about 400 feet.

The climb is gradual at first, but then gets going in some long switchbacks. Never particularly steep, but it'll make you work a little.

scattered homes
A scattering of homes in the flats between volcanoes.

San Francisco Mountains
The San Francisco Mountains.

Near the top, I am struck by how completely the juniper have taken over leaving almost no ponderosa. This is particularly odd because the ponderosa are the ones that usually take over in the higher elevations. The rocks are undoubtedly to blame and they are changing too.

15 November 2019

Tom Moody Loop

Picture Canyon Natural and Cultural Preserve

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Picture Canyon is a little bit of open space developed jointly by the City of Flagstaff and Arizona State Parks. It boasts cultural artifacts and plenty of birding. The Tom Moody Trail makes a loop through the area to take in some of these. It sits at the edge of a couple bits of industry and my nose can't help but tell me that one of those is sewage treatment. Um, I mean "waste water". That won't dominate the whole area, but it is noticed in the wetter spots.

sign at the start of the trail area
A place to start with some parking. Signs include an area map.

trail and building
Ground zero for the stink up ahead, but certainly not the source. That is throughout the city.

Trail heads toward the smell past an "outdoor classroom" that is benches and a semicircle of educational signs, then the loop splits. I head left away from the smell and into the trees, but also away from the cultural artifacts. It's an old road through gentle hills, then developed trail although there is plenty more old road to follow. They might not have liked it much because it is showing a bit more erosion than is optimal.

gentle hills and trees
Off into the trees. They aren't very dense here either and still very little undergrowth.

trail junction
Don Weaver Trail to the right cuts across the loop along Picture Canyon on this side while Tom Moody takes the other side.

13 November 2019

O'Leary Peak and Lookout, Darton Dome, and Robinson Mountain

Coconino National Forest

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I almost went for O'Leary Peak instead of the wanderings I did on the fee free day, but it is actually just outside of the monument and requires no fee, so I came back for it. It didn't take long. Today I'll make my way to the lookout, which has road all the way up, then decide what I feel like stopping by on the way down of the various smaller peaks near the road. Three other cars have beaten me here.

gate on the road to the lookout
Gate and trail sign on the road to the lookout on O'Leary Peak.

The road rolls a little, first dropping and then rising, as it wanders the forest toward the base of the volcano that holds the lookout. Trees and cinder and only the slightest undergrowth stretch out every way. It swings northward as it comes to the edge of the Bonito Lava Flow. Little signs march along the imaginary line between forest and monument as it cuts through one corner of Sunset Crater National Monument.

traveling the road
Quite the nice road up to the lookout. In the distance are those beautiful black cinder hills. A little closer, one can just make out the low black cliff at the edge of the lava flow.

short trees by a shorter rock wall
The trees shorten drastically in the area of the lava flow. The high point of Sunset Crater is the point behind it all.

lookout on O'Leary Peak
The first look at the fire lookout on O'Leary Peak. It is just a tiny thing sticking up at the top from here. Darton Dome to the right is one of the possible peaks for the way down.

My map shows another road going up to a saddle and over to the north, but there is nothing there. The map even indicates that it might be the better road. Looking at the landscape, I expect that if it really exists, it leaves off much higher. Climbing gives ever greater views of black lava flow, black hills, black mountains among the rolling expanse of trees.

12 November 2019

Walker Lake, an evening volcano walk

Coconino National Forest

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There is not really anything about this spot, one of the 600+ volcanoes in the area, to set it apart. I wanted to find five geocaches today and it has five challenge caches I qualify for ringing its top. Although unnamed, its crater bears the name "Walker Lake" on the USGS map. A road once circled this little pond, but vehicles are no longer allowed. The roads to it are a little rough, but I could have driven my little car a bit closer. There just didn't seem to be any point to it since I have time and walking is good for me. The forest low down on the plain seems a little dark and brooding, but it brightens once I get climbing. It's not that far.

road in the trees
Following the road in the trees and almost to the top.

Faint paths break off right and a little later left as the road reaches the lowest spot on the lip of the crater. The track seems to vanish just past the top, but the rest of it can be seen below and circling the lake. It is really there, small and icy. I take the left path to start circling around the top.

peeking over the top of the lip
Peeking over the lip of the crater, there really is a lake. Well, pond.

flat with more volcanoes
The view to the other side is a plain with varying densities of volcanoes interrupting it. South is forest an north is grasslands.

climbing an easy trail
Shadows on the trail around the volcano lip.

These little volcanoes resemble a child's drawing from afar. The are round with a dip of a crater in the middle making the lip a big circle to walk around. A little closer up, they tend to favor one side heavily, so that big circle is not very flat. I walk upward, first at a gentle slope, then a bit more steeply, as I move toward the high point on the far side from the road.

Ecological Staircase to the Pygmy Forest

Jug Handle State Natural Preserve Click for map. I noticed an Earthcache that looked interesting as it asks for study of an area wi...