A Little Trip Around Northern Arizona

It’s been a weird year, right? I think everyone’s plans have been thrown askew this year, and my normal yearly backpacking trip was no different. This year I was ready to do a solo backpacking trip but events conspired against me and it just wasn’t going to work. I still felt like I need some time outdoors in the woods, so I decided to take off on a little car camping trip around Northern Az and just find a few cool things to do!

I headed out on Monday, up towards Flagstaff. I left Phoenix around 9am and made pretty good time out towards Mormon Lake about 20 miles Southish of Flagstaff. I was able to get a really nice campsite at the Dairy Spring Campground, it always helps to show up early afternoon on a Monday! I planned on being there a few days so I set up my big tent to have a nice basecamp, it was great to have all that room and be able to stand up inside the tent but it’s a lot more work to put up!

Dairy Springs Campground

After I got my camp set up I headed out for a quick mountain bike ride, and man did the altitude kick my ass. The hills took it out of me and I just couldn’t get into a good rhythm. Really wasn’t enjoying myself, except for the excellent temps, so I headed back to camp. Still glad I went on this ride, I feel like it jump started my acclimation.

After getting back to camp I just chilled out the rest of the evening and enjoyed being outdoors. I was able to have a fire, and relax next to it enjoying a few beers. Dinner was a Mountain House Beef Stroganoff, one of my favorites and something nice and warm in the stomach because it got cold that night!

The next morning, after not the best night of sleep I’ve had in a tent, I woke up and lazed around camp for a bit while fixing breakfast. The goal for the day was to hike Mt Humphreys, the tallest peak in Az, and I want to get going at decent time. I grabbed my gear and headed towards the mountain!

Oatmeal, my favorite camping breakfast!

The trailhead is at the Arizona Snowbowl Ski Area base. There were a decent amount of cars in the parking lot, lots of people getting in one of a few cool hikes around there. You see some people for the first mile or so, and after that it’s a lot of walking alone in the woods, which was pretty peaceful.

Arizona Snowbowl

My favorite part begins once you go above treeline and get to the saddle between the peaks. From there you really feel like you’re up in the mountains as you climb the ridge towards the summit. If you do this hike always remember that the mountain tries to fool you with a few false summits. After a bit of hanging out and taking some pics on top it’s time to head down. Once your back below treeline the hike starts to kind of wear on and on and I’m usually ready to just be back to the truck! Overall it’s a cool hike that puts you at the highest point in AZ with some great views.

Humphreys Peak Summit Ridge
Humphreys Peak Summit

After my hike I headed back out to the campsite for another evening of relaxing by my fire and a few beers. This night it felt really cold, I’m willing to admit that I’ve become a wimp to the cold after 20 years in Phoenix, but it was a cold night all around, even wrapped up in the sleeping bag.

The next morning I decided to move on to places more warm. I’d never seen Horseshoe Bend and wanted to look into a little paddling on the Colorado River.

It was about a 2.5 hour drive over to Horseshoe Bend, and while it’s kind of touristy and more of a stroll over to the edge of the canyon, it is a really cool and beautiful thing to see. I took some pics and looked around, at one point I could see kayakers on the river below, that really cemented my desire to see the Bend from the river as well! So, after taking in the sights I got back in the truck and headed over to Lee’s Ferry about an hour away.

Horseshoe Bend

Lee’s Ferry is in the Glen Canyon National Recreation Area and very near Vermilion Cliffs National Monument, all places with some really cool stuff! It is also the spot where rafting trips start down the Colorado, if you pass Lee’s Ferry you’re committed at least a 2 week river trip and need a hard to get permit.

Pretty nice campground there, no problem getting a spot around 3pm, but it did fill up as the evening went on. Great views of the surrounding cliffs as the sun set. The coolest campsites seemed to be at the far low end, where they looked over the Colorado River.

Lee’s Ferry Campground

After getting set up I reserved my spot to get hauled up the river and rented a kayak from Kayak the Colorado for the next day. Got to hang out on the small beach area next to the river for a while, it was an overall beautiful night outdoors!

Colorado River – Beach

My kayak reservation the next day wasn’t until 12:30, so I took my time at camp in the morning, reorganized things in the truck and slowly packed up. Still having time to kill, I took a little drive around the general vicinity, lots of really cool cliffs and rock formations, and finally headed towards the put in area.

The paddle down the river was super cool, it’s completely flat water, you can pretty much just float if you’d like. I started off about 10 miles up river from Lee’s Ferry, there’s some really cool ancient petroglyphs to see (unfortunately some jerk named Trent felt the need to add his name).

I got to see Horseshoe Bend from the top and the river and the whole paddle was awesome, with the canyon walls soaring right out of the water to hundreds of feet above you! Took one off river hike up a canyon, it had some really cool rock formations but the walking in the deep soft sand was not my favorite.

It took me about 3.5 hours to do the paddle, I’d love to go all the way to the dam and paddle back, there are a few spots that are designated campsites, it would be awesome to spend a night on the river!

After returning my kayak it was time to head home to Phoenix, it was a great time overall and I got to see somethings I never had, it wasn’t the trip I thought I’d have this summer, but this year you take what you can get!

Humphreys Peak Hike

As the Colorado backpacking trip approaches it’s always nice to get in a little high-altitude training, so we headed up to Flagstaff to hike Humphreys Peak, the highest point in Arizona.

We left Phoenix just after 6am, making it to the Snowbowl parking lot around 9. The I-17 75 mph speed limit helps make the miles pass by.

We pulled into the trail-head parking lot at Arizona Snowbowl and got ready for the stroll. The Forest Service has a pop-up set up with a couple of rangers there to advise people on the trail and strenuous nature of the hike, a nice service.

Here’s the Arizona Snowbowl Webcam to give you a good view of the mountain!

We hit the trail and across the first ski run and into the trees we went. There were a number of people we started off with who we would end up yo-yoing past for most of the hike. The first half of the hike is in a beautiful pine forest, you just have step over lots of roots and rocks. After just a bit you pass the sign marking the start of the wilderness area.

Sign that marks the wilderness boundary

About 1/3 of the way through the trees we started to run into some patches of snow, they were a little slippery but are easily crossed with the help of the trekking poles!

Definitely still some snow on the trail

The steepness increases as you get closer to Agassiz Saddle, between Humphreys and Agassiz Peaks, but I love to get above treeline. It really feels like you’re in the big mountains once you get out of the trees. As long as I can remember I’ve always just trudged through the part of a hike in the trees but really get the stoke going once I’m up high!

We had lunch and took a break at Agassiz Saddle
Our resting and lunch spot

We stopped at the saddle for lunch and a good rest break before heading up the ridge towards the summit. One thing about Humphreys is, never believe your looking at the summit until you’re standing on the top. My friend Bill was calling it Mt Liar because of all the false summits!

View south from the saddle
Contemplating Mountains
Last bit to the summit

We hung out on top for a bit, talking with some other people up there. We all got a pic with the sign and headed out for the trek back to the truck. We saw quite a few people starting out in the later afternoon, still in the trees asking how far to the peak. I told them it was far.

Aaay! Summit pose!

It was a fun day in the mountains, unfortunately my Garmin said unsupported file format when I tried to upload, so no maps or cool data to pass along. I really wish if that was going to happen it would be on a short run around my house, not on a cool mountain adventure that took 8 hours! Overall, awesome day but it’s a haul up and back from Phoenix all in one day. Left my house at 5:30 AM, got back at 9:45 PM.

High Altitude Training Days

While I had planned to go on RAGBRAI for vacation this year, I just couldn’t make it happen.  Since I had already scheduled my vacation time and wanted to get some good miles on the bike, my friend Len and I headed up to Flagstaff.   It’s a great place to go for some riding in nice weather and the altitude.

We headed out Wednesday morning, the drive wasn’t too bad just a little rain on the way up.  We made the turn out Lake Mary Road and settled on the Dairy Springs Campground.  It’s a few miles in on the Mormon Lake Rd.  After choosing a campsite towards the back we got the trucks unloaded and started to move in!

Here’s a pic of the campsite all set-up:

Knowing that we would get rained on during our stay, we set ourselves up pretty well.  We had a tarp over the picnic table and an easy-up to give us a dry area for the bikes.  The first few days the campground was completely empty, it was great to have the whole area!  One great bonus, as I was looking around for a suitable fire poking stick I found the Arizona Trail not but 100 ft from our campsite.  Trail  running all taken care of!

Around 2:30 we were all moved in and it was time to ride!  We just rode a quick loop around Mormon Lake and a little more, about 18 miles.  I really felt the altitude on the hills climbs, it was nice to do a short ride to help with the acclimatization.  After that we got in a nice 4 miles on the Arizona Trail, some really nice single track running.  While there were a few places that were kind of rocky, most of it was nice soft dirt in a beautiful ponderosa pine forest!

That night we built a nice fire cooked up some food and had a few beers.  When car camping I’m a fan of living well, after we entertained ourselves with the fire for a bit we busted out Len’s laptop and watched a movie.  Better Off Dead was the night’s movie, a classic with the best skiing advice ever: “Go that way really fast, if something gets in your way – TURN!”

The next morning we woke up to clear skies, but they wouldn’t last all day.  We started the day with another 4 miles on the Arizona Trail, cooked breakfast and chilled for a bit.  After some nice campsite relaxing we headed out for a ride down Lake Mary Rd.

Lake Mary Rd is a great ride rolling hills and an excellent bike lane.  Especially headed back towards camp there are some quality climbs!  That night we went to the Mormon Lake Saloon for a couple of drinks then back to the campsite.

Friday we woke up to a pretty good thunderstorm and just hunkered down in the tents until it passed.  After that is was back out on Lake Mary road for another 50 or so miles, got rained on pretty good but it didn’t bother me at all!  Later that afternoon we headed in to Flag, met up with some friends of Len’s for a drink.  It was nice to cruise around the town, I really like Flagstaff!

Saturday was our last day, after cooking some breakfast we tore down camp and loaded up the trucks.  The last ride of the trip was a fun one, the climb up to Arizona Snowbowl Ski Area!
We drove into town, parked the trucks at Len’s friends house and hopped on the bikes.  It was 5 miles of rolling hills out to the ski area road and then 7 miles and over 2400 ft of climbing to the ski area.  The road isn’t that steep, it just doesn’t let up the whole way!  I was feeling the past few days of riding and my heart rate was pretty high but I just kept on pedaling until I finally saw the Snowbowl sign.  Unfortunately, Len popped a spoke on his back wheel half way up, so he chilled by the side of the road while i finished the climb.  After I got to the top and caught my breath, it was back down the hill to the truck and back out to pick Len up.  It ended up being a great trip, I had hoped to get a few more miles in but all in all it worked out well and I had fun!

Had to take a bike pic up there:

And a nice pic of the road we got to ride:

After grabbing a bite to eat in Flag, it was back down the hill to spend my last few vacation days with Amy!