Solo In A Doomed Forest


Old double track near the airport with Agassiz Peak on the horizon.

We just went through a long Thanksgiving weekend - extra long for me due to mandatory PTO. Five consecutive days off. I was on call for the first three but decided to go ahead and do some short hikes with a laptop in a backpack. I know it's ridiculous but it's better than sitting around at home.

One of the hikes was in an area of forest that is doomed, near the airport, where a major boulevard is disconnected by perhaps a couple of miles (see my previous post). One end is near a community college, the other goes by the airport and has an interchange with I-17. They plan to connect the two, which will cut through an area of pine forest and meadow typical of Northern Arizona.

Lonely single track. These trails are completely unmarked "social" trails. It felt pretty lonely and quiet. This path was well used but I eventually found myself on very faint trail that was hard to follow.

This time I branched out into some lonely forest. I've been hiking since I was a kid and probably more solo than with anyone else, so I'm confident most of the time. This time I got an eerie feeling like I was being watched. It didn't help that the air was nearly dead-calm, an unusual condition for the Flagstaff area at any time of year. I felt like I was being watched. Mountain lion? Maybe. I saw almost no birds and only a couple of squirrels but most of the loop I carved out was silent.

I was surprised to see a little bit of snow remaining from the previous storm, which was light and a week and a half old. Light snow tends not to last here due to the dry and thin air and usual daytime temps above freezing.
Upon reviewing my Strava track, I can see that I was never far from houses, but you can't tell when you are out there walking around on faint trail covered with pine needles. There was some deer spore and tracks, and possible some elk. I think that area is a crucial wildlife corridor that may be lost. Where there are elk and deer, there are mountain lions. I suspect there was a lion in there. I kept looking up in the trees, where lions often sleep, but saw nothing. I think something saw me.

The main indicator of civilization was the occasional arrival and departure of jets. As far as plane spotting, I saw a Honda Jet. I think it's he first time I've seen one. I wasn't fast enough with my phone camera. For some reason, there are relatively few propeller planes at the Flagstaff Airport, considering it is a relatively small, rural airport. I can't think of why that should be. But we have commercial service of a few flights a day and this is a place where wealthy people charter flights in, or even fly in on their own business jets. It seems like it's mostly jets here, and some military traffic practicing at a high altitude runway.

Of necessity, the boulevard will soon cut directly through the strip of forest I was exploring. It isn't spectacular or anything, but I still grieve the necessity of its destruction. Growth here is inevitable, with attendant infrastructure, because it is beautiful, it is close to Sedona and the Grand Canyon, and has a moderate climate compared to the rest of Arizona. Flagstaff is destined to become part of an urban corridor that will stretch from Twin Arrows Casino in the east, through Flagstaff, and as far as Williams in the west. There may also be city stretching south along I-17 for some distance. I think there may someday be hundreds of thousands of people living here. It will keep growing as long as there is water and land available. How much of the forest and prairie will be left? Hopefully most of it but probably not much in or near the city limits. I guess it's not my problem. I will probably be gone before the growth tops out - one way or another. I'm not getting any younger and will probably retire back east closer to family.

Walking through this lonely stretch of forest and meadow was poignant, knowing it will soon be gone forever.


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