Wednesday, July 29, 2020

Skunk Canyon and 47

(This was written on 7/28/2020)

Obviously I have been struggling with my birthday, but today I got past it. I'm 47 years old today, and things can always be better, but I suppose they could be worse too.

I took the day off work and decided that I was in the mood to explore new terrain. I have been curious about an unmarked trail head parking lot off Lake Mary Road for a few years now so I decided that this was the time to explore. From a careful examination of topographic and trail maps, I expected the parking lot provided trail access to Skunk Canyon, a tributary of Walnut Canyon.

The unsigned, innocuous parking lot is easy to miss, and indeed, I missed it for the severalth time, made a u-turn, and went back. There were three trails there, the rightmost labeled with the simple maker "702," the others unsigned. I assume 702 is a fire road number, though I couldn't find much on the internet, but it apparently ran along Lake Mary Road so I took the middle option, which was unlabeled but headed in the right direction.

Social trail off Lake Mary Road.

Soon I was hiking fast through relatively flat, smooth single track into the great ponderosa pine forest of Northern Arizona. This didn't last long though, and the trail joined into an unmarked forest road/fire road that apparently was 702 again. This soon descended on a primitive cinder route into a shallow canyon (dry wash) that exibited the typical Northern Arizona pattern: pines on the edges, grass in the bottom. For the first couple of miles it followed double track that seems to be decades old.

For a long ways, the trail was a little boring, merely open prairie and a cycle of repeating flood control structures, including what I presumed to be a lonely and dry stream gauge.

I think this was a stream gauge.

The canyon narrowed into a defile and featured cool, shady slopes, underbrush, and some plant species more common at higher altitudes.

Eventually the trail became more interesting, as it descended into a narrow, shady defile. You could feel the difference in air temperature and humidity, and the biodiversity of the forest increased. This segment is a true microclimate, featuring dense undergrowth and high altitude tree species.

Undercut rock in the narrow section of the canyon. I propose to call it "The Narrows."

The hillsides are undercut in places. I believe this reveals where the water level was in the past. These undercuts frequently extended deeply enough to be called a cave and provoked my curiosity, but they also looked like possible lairs for bears and mountain lions so I resisted the urge to get too close to them.

Eventually the trail drops into a wider canyon and intersects with the Arizona Trail, though it was unmarked. I never saw a single sign marking Skunk Canyon all day, and would not have been certain I was in the right canyon if I had not asked a passing couple hiking. It isn't a great trail although neither is it terrible. I think the unsigned, relatively unmaintained character of the trail represents the past of Arizona to a certain extent. Newer trails tend to receive signage, but we still have tons of unofficial, unsigned trails that beckon to the curious.

A view from the Arizona Trail. The ridge in the distance marks the confluence with Walnut Canyon near Fisher Point.

After I eventually came upon a sign that confirmed I was on the Arizona Trail, I considered going all the way to Fisher Point, but the day was getting warm and I developed an unpleasant pain on top of my left foot in a place I have injured before, so I turned back. It seemed a relatively short return hike, though over 3 miles. Skunk Canyon is a pretty easy hike.

The foot injury has me limping now and I think I should have loosened my laces when it first started hurting. Too late now. Based upon past experience it should be well again by the weekend.

Skunk Canyon is an okay hike, but not great. I'd possibly roll it on a bicycle next time, or use it for a short out and back trail run, but for hiking there are other places near Flagstaff that I'd rather go.

I'm 47 years old today. I can't believe it.

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