Saturday, June 27, 2009

Hike #41: Bill Williams Mountain Trail, Kaibab National Forest

Length: 6 miles

Although most people think of Williams as little more than a pit-stop on the way to the Grand Canyon, the beautiful Bill Williams Mountain Trail, just west of town, is well worth the time and effort (and trust me, the 2200 ft incline will take some effort.)

Built in 1902, the trail was originally used as a toll-road for horse riders passing through the area. Today, the trail leads to a collection of cell towers and a fire tower atop the mountain. From the extremely nice trailhead, the trail begins with a pleasant walk along the base of the mountain; however, don't be fooled - the trail quickly begins its ascent and continues climbing towards the mountain's peak! For the first mile, the trail passes through some fairly thin forest, which does little to cool and block the sun. However, within the second mile, the trail levels for awhile, and eventually leads to a much denser forest.

As you continue to the higher elevations, the forest continues to grow thicker and more lush - at points it almost feels as though the trail is going to be swallowed by the surrounding plant life! The final mile of the hike is an exhausting series of switchbacks, which can be quite challenging at times. Fortunately, this segment of the trail provides an abundance of wildflowers; in fact, I believe I saw more varieties of wildflowers along this mile, and along any other hike I've ever taken!

Finally, the trail joins a rather nice forest road which leads the final ¼ mile to the mountain's peak. At the top is a rather smelly pit latrine, a collection of utility buildings, and a lone fire tower. Visitors are welcome to climb the tower's rickety steps for an amazing panoramic view of the surrounding area. If you're lucky, a fire watcher will be manning the tower and can point out the surrounding landmarks (the San Francisco Peaks, the Grand Canyon, and Mingus Mountain.) After a rest at the top, the descent back the the trailhead is a quick and easy re-tracing of your original path.

To view more photos of the Bill Williams Mountain Trail, click here.

Saturday, June 20, 2009

Hike #40: Inner Basin Trail, Coconino National Forest

Length: 4 miles

With the return of warmer summer temperatures in the Valley, I decided that it was time to return to the north country for some much needed relief from the heat (and judging by the number of cars on the road, I wasn't the only one with this idea!)

The Inner Basin Trail, which is 12 miles north of Flagstaff, begins at the campgrounds around the beautiful Lockett Meadow. From here the trail begins a study, but uneventful, climb through a rather thick aspen forest. Although the trees are beautiful and often accompanied by scatterings of colorful wildflowers, the denseness of the forest denies views of the surrounding landscape.

After 1.5 miles, the trail approaches a small cabin owned by the Forestry Department; the trail then turns sharply and begins a much more dramatic ascent. Almost immediately, you'll encounter the first of several pump station still used to provide water to the town of Flagstaff; after passing this, the forest finally begins to open up so that the first glimpses of the majestic San Francisco Peaks become visible.

As the four tallest mountains in Arizona appear around you, the trail flattens and opens to a wide meadow, the Inner Basin. The ancient remains of massive volcano, the Inner Basin is now a peaceful, wind-swept meadow. Although I chose to turn around at the western edge of the Basin, the trail does apparently continue for another mile to the Doyle Springs at the base of the mountains. From the Basin, it's an easy downhill trip back along the original path to Lockett Meadow.

To view more photos of the Inner Basin Trail, click here.