Friday, October 9, 2009

Flagstaff Leaves A Changin'

Flagstaff, AZ -- The San Francisco Peaks are alive with color this weekend. You can expect an illuminating car ride or hike as turning Aspen trees are dressed in glowing shades of golds and greens.

The Arizona Daily Sun reported that "none could remember a better fall day of cycling to the Inner Basin than Saturday." So I decided to hike up the Kachina Trail just outside the Arizona Snowbowl yesterday. The trail is relatively flat - considering you're on the side of mountains that contain Arizona's highest peak, Mount Humphreys at 12,637 feet (3,852 m).

But even at the lower trail, the 9500 ft above sea level elevation put a cramp in my breathing. Once I blew the spider webs out of my lungs, I was entering The Kachina Peaks Wilderness Area. I was inspired to bound from rock to rock by the doe prancing through the terrain ahead of me. As she bounded up the steep slope to the left, I got a glimpse of her twin fawns. They looked hardly big enough to survive the soon upcoming snows of winter. When the doe stopped to look at me over her back, both fawns mimicked her, duplicating her pose.

"I need my camera mounted to my forehead," I sigh my favorite last words before the picture of the bull elk, herd of mulies or gaggle of turkeys disappear into the underbrush. This time, all three pictures disappeared before I could get my Lumix out of the day pack slung over my shoulder.

The photo below is all I got of the Mule deer doe and her babies, that I named Ray and Mi as I sprinted along making up stories in my head.

As you can see, the colors were disappointing on the Kachina Trail. The gold Aspens on the road to Snowbowl were more memorable. I zoomed by them in my truck as photographers were straightening their tri-pods and making quite a fuss in front of the glowing plumage. That was at about 3:30 on Thursday.

I was surprised to see so many wind-downed trees on the Kachina Trail. The forest service has cut paths through those fallen across the trail. It looked to me that a heavy wind came down the mountain from the northeast and snapped many of the tall Aspens. The winds usually come from the west here. Perhaps the trees had grown strong against the westerly winds, but when one came from the northeast, snapper-rooney! I'm no forester, but I'd like to check out my theory. Looks like it happened some time since late spring, since the broken trees had plenty of leaves. The forest service had time to clean up the trail, so it must have happened over four weeks ago, I am surmising. So my guess is that the wind storm happened sometime between July 1 and September 8. Anyone know? Leave a comment below.

Kachina Trail's varied terrain makes it a personal favorite. You start out on a well-worn, serpentine trail that gradually climbs through tall ferns. Later you step over igneous rock blown off the top of the volcanic peaks above. The trail snakes around some huge boulders and you can wonder at the force of that volcanic explosion. Kachina Trail eventually breaks out of the forest and takes you across wildflower-covered meadows where you can get good views of Arizona below. The ferns are crumpled brown by night-time frosts and the only fall wildflowers-- hearty lavender-colored asters and something small and yellow -- can be seen now.

I recommend that you head out to Lockett Meadow this weekend. There will probably still be color left along the Water Line Trail. I'm going to go look for it. Maybe I'll see you out there. I'll definitely check out the Waterline Road Extension toward Bear Jaw Canyon as recommended by Randy Wilson of the Arizona Daily Sun. On second thought, maybe I'll just park at the Bear Jaw Trailhead and hike from there. I remember a lot of aspen trees in that area. Let's go for the gold!

Vagabonding Lulu is an Arizona travel writer based in Flagstaff, AZ. The trippy journalist loves to share free travel tips and insider information. "Subscribe" on the right side of this page and you won't miss any of her wacky travel advice or Arizona traveler's secrets.

Photo at right: Strong bicyclist enjoys fall colors along SnowBowl Road.

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