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(May 2nd - May 4th, 2008 - Flagstaff, Arizona)
Jim and his wife Ann drove me back up to the Mogollon Plateau and left me at the same spot on Forest Road 93 where Jim had taken me out three days earlier for the rest days in Phoenix. I was well fed, refreshed, and my shin splints felt like they had improved, so I was happy to hit the trail again. It seemed like a long shot because of the leg injury, but I hoped to reach Flagstaff in three days, a distance of about 65 miles according to the Data Book
Speaking of the Data Book, it has proven to be one of the more valuable navigation and planning aids I have used on the hike. The Data Book is a new offering from Arizona Trail Association and is available for download at http://www.aztrail.org/databook/databook.html . It is a tabular list of key points along the trail (trail junctions, road junctions, water sources, etc), organized south to north and grouped by trail passage number. Each key point includes the mileage from the beginning of the passage, the mileage from the Mexican border, the elevation, comments, and when available, a GPS waypoint number that corresponds to a waypoint database (also available from the Arizona Trail Association). I always had a printout of the Data Book in my pocket for immediate reference.
The walking on the Mogollon Plateau was much easier than I had experienced in the southern half of the state. The air whispering through the pines was cool and the elevation changes were very moderate. On the second and third days of this segment, I was able to walk 25+miles a day without too much difficulty. For the first time on the trip, I started to see people somewhat frequently – I learned quickly that Coconino National Forest is a magnet for outdoor users of all stripes: hikers, bicyclists, hunters, and ATV riders just to name a few.
Even though I was constantly on the move, I saw plenty of wildlife: elk, deer, ducks, blue herons, egrets, and even a beautiful tom turkey. The elk herd up here must be quite large; I saw more than a hundred of these large animals over the three days I hiked to Flagstaff.
As I was passing the quiet pond formed by Wild Horse Tank, I looked across the water and saw what appeared to be some large birds on the opposite shoreline. Turkey? Blue Heron? Whatever they were, these animals seemed amazingly tame, keeping their position as I crept slowly forward trying to get a good photograph.
Suddenly a pair of wildly waving human arms appeared above a pile of deadfall just a few yards left of these mystery birds. It looked like someone was trying to wave me off or warn me away. I stopped and took another careful look and sheepishly realized that the birds I had been stalking were in fact plastic turkey decoys, which explained why they didn’t budge as I had moved closer. The decoys were indifferent to my approach, but the hunter who had placed the decoys was clearly upset, so I retreated to the trail and started walking towards Flagstaff again.
Stalking Turkey Decoys
Closer to Flagstaff, I was reminded of the old aqueduct system that the Arizona Trail had followed near Kentucky Camp way back in the southern part of the state. Here, the trail follows old railway beds for miles on the way north towards Flagstaff. These rail lines were used by the Flagstaff Lumber Company to harvest timber from 1923 to 1927. The forest would have been noisy with the sounds of laboring steam engines and large gangs of loggers sawing and moving trees. On nice weekends the trains would haul tourists from Flagstaff for picnics and sightseeing at Mormon Lake. A slump in lumber prices brought all of this to an end, and now the old rail beds are slowly and quietly melting back into the forest.
Disintegrating Railroad Ties near Flagstaff
Well after sunset on the third day, I walked under I-40 in Flagstaff and rented a hotel room on Butler Avenue. I barely had time to get cleaned up before I was kidnapped from the room by my friend Chuck who lives in Flagstaff. Chuck and I have enjoyed several magnificent off-trail backpacking trips in the Grand Canyon through the years, and when he learned I was in town he insisted that I stay at his home. I enjoyed a wonderful evening with Chuck and his wife Jennifer before passing out on the warm and soft bed in their guest room.
San Francisco Peaks