Westerners Visit the San Francisco Peaks

October 07, 2022

By Lou Sideris

Although normally we frown upon graffiti and tree carvings, sometimes they have historical significance. This image, perhaps a self portrait, is probably the work of Mexican or Spanish farmers in the late 1800’s who raised sheep in the area.

Today’s hike was a loop combining the Bear Jaw and Abineau trails on the slopes of the San Francisco Peaks in Flagstaff. I am new to the Westerners, and find myself well matched with the Mustangs hiking group, which is second only to the Rough Riders in level of challenge.  I am enjoying the exertion and comradery. 

After meeting in Sedona and reviewing the hiking and Covid safety messages, we organized our car pools and headed up Oak Creek Canyon. Due to road construction that reduced the highway to one lane, we waited quite a while at an automated traffic light that took the place of flagmen (another job lost to automation!) After negotiating heavy traffic in Flagstaff, north and west of town we found ourselves on a remote forest road, passing quite a few “off the grid” homesteads.  Curiously, many of them looked like large compounds, with multiple vehicles including construction vehicles.

Reaching the trailhead, we headed out with Jim Kemper as our leader and Tom Yagerrounding up the group tailgater. As usual, they swapped responsibilities mid-hike to visit with more of the hikers. This trail is what we call a “lollipop.” We hike straight up a trail, and then come to a trail junction where one could go left or right on a loop. On a map such an arrangement looks like a lollipop – a circle with a straight stick below it. 

By going right and hiking the loop in a counter-clockwise direction, we were able to go uphill through a very steep and rocky section that would have been a bit slippery and difficult for a descent. We enjoyed a beautiful sunny day and delightful alpine coolness.Climbing 2,000 feet in elevation the Ponderosa Pines gave way to Fir and Spruce. We passed a huge area of tumbled rocks and downed trees, the result of a massive avalanche that occurred in 2005. Reaching our high point of 10,200 feet, we had expansive views to the north. Looking over a volcanic landscape of cinder cones, we could see the Grand Canyon in the far distance, about ninety miles away.

Although we had completed the entirety of our climb, we had only completed about one third of our total distance of seven miles. The rest of the hike would be a very enjoyable, gradual descent through beautiful groves of aspen. These are some of Arizona’s most beautiful aspen groves.

We began to notice that many of the trees had old and artistic carvings. Normally I would not be happy to see trees defaced, but these carvings have an interesting history. They were the work of Spanish and Mexican sheep farmers who were active here in the late 1800s. Sheep grazing in the Southwest was introduced by the Spanish in the late 1500s. Navajos and Americans expanded upon this sheep grazing tradition, and by the late 1800s over 500,000 sheep could be seen grazing in Arizona. I was intrigued by one carving (see photograph) that looked to me very much like a Mexican cowboy.

After finishing a hike well done, most of the group broke the return trip home with a stop in Flagstaff for some well-deserved pizza and beer. It was still sunny and we enjoyed sitting at an outside table. During the hot time of the year in Sedona, it is wonderful to have Flagstaff close by and three thousand feet higher to provide a more temperate environment. It made sense to linger before heading home.

The Sedona Westerners always welcome new members, and we have hikes multiple days of the week for all abilities. If you are interested in joining the club, please visit our website at sedonawesterners.org.  You will find an interesting history, the whole season’s list of planned hikes, and a handy membership link. It only takes five minutes to sign and start your new adventures here in the Red Rocks.

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