Wind your way on the AZT: Arizona Trail between Marshall Lake and Fisher Point offers a quiet way to enjoy the return of warmer weather

Arizona Daily Sun (May 22, 2022) by Larry Hendricks

I lean back against a log and listen to the ponderosas tell stories to the land. The stellar jays and crows share secrets in a language I want to understand. I count flower petals and pine needles that bounce on the breeze. The dog pants and laps cool water from my hand.

I am here, at lease, and my worries burn away like morning fog.

Old friends of mine, the sections of the Arizona Trail that approach and pass through Flagstaff carry with them a yearning to, one day, hike the entire 790 miles from one end of the state to the other. My dream, like many hikers, is to trudge the whole trail before I’m too old to get it done. Some hikers decide to hike the entire trail in one go, taking more than a month to do so. Other hikers like to attack the trail piecemeal, bit by bit. Some hikers, like my good friend Bob Reynolds, schedule larger sections. His plan is to cover about 180 miles over the course of 10 days.

In between spring storms, I decided recently to start out from the Marshall Lake side and see what the trail offered. It’s not my usual fare. The section I regularly step onto are the sections between Walnut Canyon National Monument and Fisher Point to the south of the city. On that section are signs that cite the distance to Marshall Lake, and, over the years, I’ve considered hiking out that far, but have yet to do it.

Berta the herd dog is my regular hiking buddy, and she joined me for this bit of the Arizona Trail. My heart beats big for her when she stretches full stride across fields of rabbit brush and wild grass. Squirrels, rabbits and birds beware. Her eyes, blazing, tell a tale of the present moment. Toothy smile, flapping tongue and heaving lungs – her joy reminds me to sit content.

Big sky prevails when a hiker heads up Anderson Mesa to find the trailhead near Marshall Lake. The Peaks, in their full dominance of the landscape, pose themselves to the rear of the scene to offer a bit of humility to the rest of the beauty present. Weekend campers dot sites along the road and near the trailhead. The trailhead is marked with an iron sign that gives all hikers their first glimpse at a goal they didn’t even know they’d want to have: “Maybe I could, one day, take this trail from beginning to end.”

The trail starts off with typical Anderson Mesa views of wide spaces in between the pine and juniper, with the peaks teasing a view between breaks in the trees. Prints of elk, deer and pronghorn fill the soft soil and leave solid evidence of their passing. Less than a mile in, the trail drops into the hilly ravines and drainages for the Lake Mary basin. The air become quiet. Long stretches of time spread blankets of silence from the human story. Berta and I can sit and listen for the sounds of humans and – not find any. Such an absence is rare in this world, and I enjoy them when I find them. Here, the sound of nature gets interrupted by human sounds with the occasional drone of an airplane, but those, too, pass, and the hiker is left with that beautiful sound of birds, wind in trees, the metronome crunch of boots on the trail – that magical hum of the universe that calms a soul of the concerns of modern life.

The 6-mile section from Marshall Lake to Fisher Point would typically take me more than two and a half hours one way, so I decided to cut the journey in half for an out-and-back hump of three hours. The views of the landscape on the edge of the mesa descending into Sandy’s Canyon on the way to Walnut Canyon and, eventually, Fisher Point, are magnificent and easily accessed from the Sandy’s Canyon trailhead without all the work of making it to Marshall Lake – unless one seeks a visual reward for a hearty haul. On the way, signs of spring revealed themselves with buds of new growth and yellow and white petals of flowering brilliance. On this hike, the green seemed greener and the browns dug deeper into the pool of vivid reflection.

Memories of spring ready a soul for release from winter’s cold embrace. And an old friend reminds me that time continues to pass, I’m not getting any younger, and before the last bell has rung, I should hike down a trail that fills my dreams of living fully and leaving nothing on the table when the last breath dissolves into the song of eternity.

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