Adventures in Aridity Along the Arizona Trail

Arizona Daily Sun (July 14, 2020) by Sam McManis

Let’s face it, not all of the 800-mile Arizona Trail is Instagram-worthy. No, not even the Flagstaff segments. Jewel that it is in these parts, the AZT is not all stately Ponderosa pines and quaking aspens and brisk alpine ascents.

By necessity and design, some of the trail that runs through greater Flagstaff must be prosaic and utilitarian, serving as a means to get to the really pretty parts.

Today, we feature one of those less-heralded but well-traveled sections of the AZT, serving as a big chunk of a 13-mile loop of southeast Flagstaff that also includes trails in the Campbell Mesa system.

Much as I’d like to say that the 8 miles of the AZT covered on this trek was stunningly memorable, journalistic integrity mandates I tell the truth.

In reality, the really interesting parts of this wider segment of the AZT — Picture Canyon Preserve to the north-west; Walnut Canyon overlooks to the south-west — aren’t covered here. Rather, these are the miles that lead to the good stuff.

It is, though, kind of small-minded to dismiss it out of hand. What you experience on the first four miles of the journey that starts at the AZT Trailhead on Forest Road 303 (Old Walnut Canyon Road) is a terrain in transition — and that can be fascinating in a way.

Pine-shaded forest, along a path that dips and curves (a mountain biker’s dream) slowly becomes less lush and more arid. By the time you cross over the paved road that leads to the Walnut Canyon National Monument, the AZT becomes desert. Gone are the pines, replaced by cactus. Not bad, just different. For the next 2.1 miles, it’s a straight shot on dusty (with occasional rocks) singletrack with little elevation gain.

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