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Arizona Trail Day 44 – Flagstaff, AZ | Average Hiker

Humboldt Mountain north of Flagstaff, AZ

April 23, 2022

The weather on the Arizona Trail makes it one of my favorite long-distance hiking trails. Throughout the entire hike, I had one day with rain showers. The trail was colder than I expected, especially up on the plateau after Pine, AZ, but I prefer sleeping in colder temperatures. Burrowing down under my quilt in a small envelope of warm air is much better than thrashing around and sweating in the heat.

I awoke to clear skies, cold temperatures, and staring Farside Elk outside my shelter. Robin Egg blue skies with dry, clear air was going to make this a classic Arizona hiking day.

It would also be a long day, so I woke up a little before first light. The excitement of a town day – mostly town food, flooded my brain as soon as my eyes cracked open. I only had a liter of water, so I ate a bar, packed, and started hiking. The hiking was flat, and the morning was cold, so I was moving out of the gate with about 27 miles to reach the turn-off to Flagstaff.

I was originally going to take the AZT around Flagstaff and hitch back in from the city’s northern side, but the Tunnel wildfire closure required I take the “other official AZT route” through town.

I usually try to hike the trail as intended. There are always alternate routes like Cirque of the Towers on the CDT or Eagle Creek on the PCT, but mostly I hike the trails. People have called me a purist in the past, but I’m not sure that really applies since I don’t feel the need to cover every single step of an “official” trail.

Much of the morning took me along single track across a grassy, rocky plateau, weaving in and out of Ponderosa trees and Chaparral shrubs. The hiking was fairly flat and easy until I transitioned to miles of flat, rocky forest service roads.

Rocky forest service roads on the hike into Flagstaff, AZ

The rocky forest service roads were brutal, with large and small rocks so thick that I mostly had to walk across them. My shoes were already rubbing my feet, and the added pounding of the constant rocks had my feet screaming. By mid-afternoon, I found myself taking breaks about every 5 miles and even popping Advil, which I had not done on this trail except one other time.

Humboldt Mountain broke up the relentless pounding rocks as it rose above the treeline in the distance. I was captivated by its jagged snow-covered ridges, and the seemingly lone mountain rose sharply into the sky. It was a beautiful scene as I hiked.

Across the plateau, I could see some type of building complex, and as I approached, I pulled out my phone. This was the Lowell Observatory, and I was fascinated with anything Science/Space related. If there had been some type of tour, I would have been at the front of the line, but instead, I stood like a kid with my face pressed to the fence studying the complex array of systems. If there was a trail to the stars, I would be the first hiker in Space, and if I ever disappear, you will know I told them yes, I would go.

I was out of the water as I approached what I thought was Forest Road 128. I had planned poorly, and it looked like the next water source was a “tank” (cow poo water) about .7 miles off the trail. This was frustrating, and I had resolved to go on a water hunt as I rounded a corner and saw something orange under the overpass ahead.

Someone had set a five-gallon orange water cooler under the bridge with a sharpie marker taped to the side. I was sure it would be empty and let out a yelp as I nudged it with my foot, and it didn’t budge. The cooler was full, and there was ice water in it! This was the best type of trail magic – when you most needed it and least expected it!

I still had about 7.5 miles to the Urban Route turn-off, so I drank a liter of water and carried out one more, which was more than enough for me in these temperatures over this terrain.

I reached the turn-off for Flagstaff late afternoon, and my feet were fussing after 27 rocky miles. It was late, but mountain bikers were everywhere in what felt like a suburb of Flagstaff. All the riders were friendly, and I stopped to chat with a few as I hiked the five miles toward my hotel. I only stopped to talk with those in the vicinity of a good log or sitting rock since chatting gave me a good excuse for a break.

Arizona Trail sign listing miles to both borders

By the time I reached the outskirts of town, I was done. My feet were sore, and pavement and concrete were the last things they wanted to deal with these last few miles. I checked my phone, found the shortest route, and proceeded to use no crosswalks and many back lots and allys as I made my way directly towards my hotel.

Home for the night was a brand new Holiday Inn Express. Thanks to technology, I could find the densest concentration of restaurants on a map and then find the best-priced hotel in their midst. This hotel seemed new, and I got a good three-night rate. I had some work to do and would be here for two and a half days before returning to the trail.

I limped into my room, cursing at my damn shoes as I collapsed onto my soft cotton sheets. Rolling over slowly, I grabbed my phone and whispered “YES” as an Outback popped up within walking distance. Ten years ago, I would have buried my face in a Blooming Onion, but I’m healthier now and would settle for a giant steak and Thunder Down Under!

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