Sunday, November 8, 2009

Parson's Spring at Sycamore Canyon Wilderness, Coconino NF, Arizona

Distance: 3.7 miles one way (6 km)
Elevation: 3700 feet (1128 meters)
Difficulty: Moderately Easy
Season: Year Round

Amongst the mesquite, creosote bush, and cactus there was a herd of pronghorns

Just a short drive from Dead Horse Ranch State Park, at the meeting place of the Verde Valley and Mogollon Rim is the Sycamore Canyon Wilderness in the Coconino National Forest. The beautiful perennial stream creates a verdant oasis in this otherwise stark desert landscape.

Sycamore Canyon Wilderness can be reached by following signs for Tuzigoot National Monument just west of Cottonwood, AZ. After turning on the Tuzigoot NM road, turn left just after the bridge onto Sycamore Canyon Road. The road starts out paved and then becomes dirt while following the Verde River for some distance past slag piles and old mining ruins. Stay on this main road across the flats and then it will climb up toward the red rock cliffs ahead. This last section of the road is very rocky and rough. 2WD vehicles can make it, but it'll be bumpy. The Parson's Spring Trail begins on the ridge above the creek and then descends 0.2 miles down to the creek.

This is the view from the trailhead in November

The snows and rain that fall on the top of the rim at 7000 feet percolate through the lava beds, coconino sandstone, and supai shales to the bottom of the Colorado Plateau sedimentary layers. Here, in the redwall limestone springs emerge at the bottom of this canyon to supply this oasis with water.

This lush riparian forest consists primarily of cottonwoods, Arizona ash, walnut, willows, box elder, grape, and the namesake sycamores contast with the reds and oranges of the canyon walls. The alders remain green the longest and had not started dropping their leaves.

Slightly further back hackberries, acacias and mesquites provide slightly different shades of green and brown.

Just a few feet above the water table, the landscape changes to mid-desert vegetation of prickly-pear and cholla cactus, yucca, palo verde, agave, and junipers.

The trail is easy to follow as it heads upstream. It meanders back and forth into the riparian forest and then onto the arid rocky ledges above. While there are rocky stretches that may take some effort, for the most part, this route is a pleasant stroll with lots of shade in the first couple of miles.

The trail crosses the riverbed just before reaching the "swimming hole" where deep waters go right up against a tall red cliff. The trail will continue along the stream and will criss-cross a total of 6 times before reaching the Parson's Spring. A rather unimpressive pool of water near where the perennial stream ends.

View from the trailhead in summer

While any time of year is a great time to visit the canyon, a visit in early November at the peak of the fall colors is a real treat. The bright yellows of the various trees make for a brilliant sight.

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Kaibab Trail to Cedar Ridge, Grand Canyon National Park, AZ

Distance: 3-5 miles round trip (4.8 - 8.0 km)

Elevation: 7300 - 5500 feet (2225 - 1670 m)

Difficulty: Strenuous

Season: March-November

Want to have a sample experience of the Grand Canyon without descending the full 5000 feet to the river?

Jeff and Hilina in the Coconino Sandstone Layer

The Kaibab trail down to Cedar Ridge is the trail for you. The trail starts at the Kaibab Trailhead near Yaki Point and requires you to get on the park shuttle to access. The trail desends through several of the sedimentary layers that makes up the Grand Canyon. It starts on the South Rim in Kaibab Limestone and quickly switchbacks down several times before reaching a more level area as it heads out toward the Cedar Ridge.

The trail soon descends through ledgy Toroweap limestone and then into the Coconino Sandstone. The Coconino sandstone is obvious as it is the primary material that makes up the light colored vertical cliffs of the upper portion of the canyon. Up close it is obvious by the angled cross-bedding typical of ancient sand dunes. This is the same formation that makes up Walnut Canyon National Monument near Flagstaff.

The trail is in good condition, except for the large juniper logs you have to climb over every few feet. These logs are designed to prevent erosion from eating away the trail. This is particular true due to the mules that use this trail to get people and equipment to the bottom of the canyon.

The Taylor-Lenz Family at Ooh Ahh Point

At about 1 mile, the trail comes to a major switchback where the first views to the east up the canyon are visible. This site is known as Ooh Ahh Point. There is no sign, but you will know when you are there. This is a turn around point for many people, as you have already descended 600 feet in elevation.

View from Ooh Ahh Point: the red area below is Cedar Ridge and the butte further out is O'Neil Butte

But, if you have it in you, Ooh Ahh Point is not where to stop! The trail soon descends down to a shelter on a red colored, wide, flat ledge below. This is Cedar Ridge and the expansive views, available water and toilets make this a worthwhile place to eat lunch.

The red shaly rocks of this ridge are in the Supai Formation. This formation also happens to be the same material that the red rock country of Sedona is made of! Cedar Ridge offers spectacular views down to the inner rim and the 1.8 billion year old Vishnu Schist of the inner canyon. Unfortunately, you can not see the river from here. But, Cedar Ridge gives you an amazing feel of what its like to be IN Grand Canyon!

View into the Inner Gorge from O'Neill Butte - notice the dark Vishnu Schist and white granite dikes

If you have not had enough of descending into the canyon, there is another nice spot another half mile of so called O'Neil Butte. This tall butte is obvious and there is a saddle with even nicer views of the inner rim, which is made up of light Tapeat Sandstone. The saddle sits on top of the next most obvious layer of the Grand Canyon, which is the Red Wall Limestone. This is the second major vertical cliff formation of the canyon.

O'Neill Butte

Ironically, the Redwall Limestone is not actually red like it appears, but white. The red color comes from staining of the surface from erosion of the red Supai formation above it. Another 30 minutes further down and another 1000 feet is where the first great views of the river occur at Skeleton Point at the end of the ridge in the light colored Muav Limstone.

Linda and Hilina at Cedar Ridge

Basically, you can turn back any time you want. But, keep this in mind...What goes down, must come back up! It is a strenuous hike back up. So, while the canyon may be calling you down, you may be dreading the haul back up! Also, remember it gets hotter the further down you go, with temps approaching 100 degrees in the lower canyon in summer. So, be prepared with plenty of water and hike outside the heat of the day.

The climb back up from Cedar Ridge to the South Rim

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