Johnson Canyon Railroad Hike

October 14th, 2017 by arewelostyet

Another Behind the Hike. This hike appears in Five Star Trails: Flagstaff and Sedona. The hike itself is a fair bit west of Williams, but before you get to Ash Fork.

JCRR W tunnel

DATE: 8/29/10


START TIME: 12:45p




TH COORDINATES: N 35° 14.626 / W 112° 21.755 / 5926’



NEED TO KNOW: No water. Bit of a drive. No official trailhead.

The hardest part about the hike is finding the trailhead in the maze of marginally marked forest roads. One of the few poor reviews I’ve had of this book griped specifically how they could not find the trailhead from my directions.

This is one of the few hikes where I encountered no one on the trail. It is also the hike where I encountered a rattlesnake.

Her are my video notes, edited somewhat for your sanity.


Sterling Pass / Vultee Arch

March 9th, 2017 by arewelostyet

Originally hiked October of 2010, solo, this was a straightforward hike where nothing really failed or went wrong. I started at 10am or so, and made it back before 5pm. You will not see my car in the video because I left it at Manzanita campground, where I was camping, about a quarter mile down the road.

All of this, of course, in research for Five Star Trails: Flagstaff and Sedona.

While I wrote the hike as combined trails, but that was for convenience. If you have to make a choice, suffer the climb and take the Sterling Pass trail. Sterling pass is steep on its way up and then down from its’ namesake, but it has by far the better scenery, and is more easily accessible by vehicle, having some limited parking right on the side of 89A.

Vultee Arch trail, in contrast, follows the drainage up the canyon, which is not unpleasant, but not really five star. Plus, you have to bump all the way down Dry Creek Road which test both patience and suspensions.

The Forest Service has this to say about the trail:

The trail dead ends at a bronze plaque placed in memorium for Gerard and Sylvia Vultee who lost their lives in an aircraft crash on January 29, 1938. The actual crash site is more than a mile north and at a much higher elevation, on East Picket Mesa.

There’s a You Tube Video:

Outdoor retailers vs the GOP

February 18th, 2017 by arewelostyet

The twice annual Outdoor Retailers Show has announced that it will pull out of its long time home in Salt Lake City Utah in protest of Utah officials support of eliminating federal lands by transferring them to the states.

Outdoor Retailers is the largest show of its kind, and has been held in the Salt Palace in Salt Lake City for two decades. It was however, facing boycotts by industry leaders such as Patagonia, North Face and REI should the show continue in Utah.


Photo by Outdoor Retailers

At issue are proposals by the Utah congressional delegation to cede large portions of federal land to the states, and Utah governor Gary Herbert’s vocal attempts to rescind the newly designated Big Ears National Monument.

The Outdoor Industry Association (the major organizer of the show) complains:

Despite Utah’s robust outdoor recreation opportunities, elected officials, in Utah from Governor Herbert and the state legislature to its congressional delegation, most notably Representative Bishop, the Chairman of the House Resources Committee, have all actively embraced the idea of transferring America’s public lands to the state. A move, that in many states, has already resulted in the outright sale or restricted access to the very public lands that have provided hunting, angling, hiking, skiing, and camping to generations of people seeking to skirt the urban hustle for the outdoors – a uniquely American experience.,policy


Gov. Herbert’s spokesman, Paul Edwards, said not letting Salt lake City even put in a bid for future shows is “offensive on many levels.”

“It suggests that the political agenda instead of merit and reason has taken over the decision making at the outdoor industry association,” Edwards said in a widely released e-mail.

In the first few days of this congress, House  republicans pushed through a rule change (on party line vote) that would disqualify federal land sales from consideration when calculating the federal budget or debt.  This would allow measures selling or ceding national forest or BLM land to states or other parties to bypass the more challenging voting requirements involved in budgetary bills.

Proposals of this nature have been floating around for years, gaining measurable juice since 2013. The Utah congressional delegation has indeed been leading the charge.

Utah Rep Rob Bishop claims in his op-ed:

For decades, unsettled land-use designations, such as wilderness study areas, have fueled distrust and acrimony. The uncertainty about the future of these lands created conflict amongst those favoring differing types of uses. The diverse uses of public lands have an important role in making Utah healthy, viable, and inviting. The future of the state depends on a responsible balance of both conservation and development.

He concludes:


Rep Bishop along the Arizona border, via his website.

There appears to be a growing consensus amongst county and state leaders, conservation groups, industry, non-governmental organizations, and the public, that Utah is ready to move away from the standard gridlock of the past and toward a sensible resolution. This begins with a reassessment of land management and ownership patterns in Utah.


If you were wondering, assigning and managing the various uses of public lands is the job of the Department of Interior. At least, for now.

Donald Trump has spoken against public land transfers – but he is also a vocal friend of the energy and mining industry – which is hotly promoting this sort of thing. So who knows.

Wyoming Governor Matt mead (not a liberal snowflake) is not a fan. He told the Caspar Star Tribune last December,

“Then you get into the policy,” the Republican said. “And I reflect back to 2012. We spent as a state $45 million fighting fires… If the federal lands that had fires on them would have been state lands, we would have spent another $45 million – in one summer. That’s a significant amount.”

As it stands, it is not hard to imagine big stoopid land cessions slithering through congress to his desk. I personally hope the president yields to his developer instincts to never give real-estate away. But I have been wrong about Trump – a lot.

Meanwhile, the Outdoor Retailers show has two more contracted appearances in Salt Lake City (the next one being in July 2017), and proposals to redistribute public lands are getting marked up in Bishop’s committee. We will watch the latter developments in this space.

Colorado is already lobbying to take over the giant outdoor show:


Little Bear Trail reopens

October 24th, 2016 by arewelostyet

Little Bear Trail was definitely a Five Star trail before the Schultz Fire. Now it’s at least open again.

From the Coconino National Forest:

Little Bear Trail reopens after being closed for 6 years

Flagstaff, Ariz., Oct. 20, 2016, For Immediate Release — The Flagstaff Ranger District of the Coconino National Forest is pleased to announce the re-opening of the Little Bear Trail in the Schultz Fire burn area after many donations and years of volunteer efforts.

The trail was closed in 2010, when the entire area was closed for public safety concerns after the Schultz Fire impacted the area. Following the Schultz Fire, numerous hazards along the trail such as falling trees, rolling rocks and unstable trail conditions kept the trail closed, and monsoon storms continued to severely erode and flood the trail.

“Without the amazing efforts of our Flagstaff trail volunteer community, this re-opening would not have been possible,” said Sean Murphy, Flagstaff Ranger District Trails and Wilderness Technician.  “It is a privilege to work for, and with, such a dedicated and involved community!”

The trail’s revitalization was a huge effort from multiple partners with the Forest Service. Individuals and businesses within the community stepped forward, and more than $40,000 was spent to employ American Conservation Experience (ACE) crews in the interest of seeing the trail stabilized and made safe for public enjoyment.

Flagstaff Biking Organization (FBO) and the U.S. Forest Service used grants and work days to repair treacherous rocky terrain to once again provide a safe trail for bikers, equestrians and hikers.  Not only did Flagstaff Biking Organization have three volunteer events in 2016 to work on Little Bear Trail, but they collected $10,000 in grants and funds garnered from events managed by the Mountain Bike Association of Arizona (MBAA). This allowed for additional ACE crews to help realign one of the most problematic spots on the trail. Additionally, the Flagstaff Ranger District obtained another $30,000 in grant funds to keep ACE working through the fall.

Other organizations assisted in repairs, sponsored trail events and helped provide refreshments to those working on the trail. This included the Coconino Horseman’s Alliance, Coconino Trail Riders, Cosmic Cycles, Flagstaff Bicycle Revolution and Run Flagstaff. Fratelli Pizza, Kickstand Coffee and Biff’s Bagels graciously provided refreshments.

“Some of the things that ACE has completed on the trail are, quite frankly, works of art,” said Deborah Soltesz, volunteer trail worker and Coconino National Forest webmaster. “The work involved not just major rehabilitation labor, or the moving of dirt and rock sloughed over the trail, but fixing some washed out drainages and trail rerouting by building new trail near the old one, where repairing the old eroded trail was unfeasible.”

During the last trail day sponsored by Flagstaff Biking Organization on Oct. 15, more than 45 people participated, representing all types of forest users and community volunteers.

“The trail closure is one of the little wounds left by the Schultz Fire,” said Soltesz, “and the process of reopening it has been part of the community’s healing following the [Schultz] fire’s devastation.”

Little Bear Trail climbs the Dry Lake Hills from Little Elden Trail to meet Sunset Trail in a quiet nook between the Dry Lake Hills and Mount Elden.

The trail climbs through the skeletons left behind by the Schultz Fire and patches of surviving ponderosa pine and Gambel oak. It gradually winds through Douglas-fir, limber pine, and pockets of aspen trees at the top. The trail offers outstanding views of the San Francisco Peaks, Sunset Crater, several prominent volcanic peaks, and in the distant background the Painted Desert acts as a colorful backdrop.

Many wildlife species make their home in this area including mule deer, elk, porcupine and black bear for which the trail is named. In addition, red-tailed hawks, raven and the occasional turkey vulture will dazzle you with their aerial acrobatics.

The Coconino National Forest would like to thank all of those who helped support this effort over the years it took to rehabilitate this trail.  “This was a true multi-partner effort!” said Murphy.

For images of the Oct. 15 Trail Day, please visit the Coconino National Forest Flickr site at

More information and a map showing the location of Little Bear Trail is located on the Coconino National Forest public website at



Lost in Light

September 15th, 2016 by arewelostyet

Elsewhere, I blogged about a time-lapse video demonstrating how proximity to civilization affects your view of the night sky. Seems relevant here.

Lost in Light

Wet and Dry Holes in the Ground

September 6th, 2016 by arewelostyet

There are two big tourist cave systems in Arizona, and while they both formed at around the same time, and are fairly close in size, they are best described by their differences. One is wet, and one is dry. One is recently discovered, and one has been known about for centuries. One is painstakingly preserved for future generations and the other one is … fun.

I visited both of them on the same day (3 September 2016) and learned a bit about caves and a lot about different approaches to tourist caves.

A disclaimer: I’ve done some recreational spelunking with actual cavers who Take This Seriously, so I had a deeper well of knowledge about caves and the difficulties in preserving them than the average tourist.

Both caves require you to pay for a guided tour to enter the place, and either guide will explain what the formations are called and how they formed, and we’re skipping all that here. In either cave, though, you’ll see big columns, long soda straws, stalactites and stalagmites, shields, flowstone and cave bacon. Both tours follow well lit walkways (at least by cave standards) up and down to the featured rooms. Both of those tours show only a small fraction of the expansive three-dimensional maze that makes up the whole (known) cavern system.

But they are really different.

Kartchner Caverns

The visitor center at Kartchner Caverns State Park is a mostly modern museum, with a corner gift shop, giant restrooms, and a cafe where you can buy ludicrously over-sugared prickly pear lemonade. It is far enough from the cave entrance that you ride a tram to get there.

They have lockers at the tram stop for your flashlights, cell phones, cameras and purses because they won’t allow you take those things into the cave, Because you might drop them, is the best reason we were given. If they go off the catwalk into the cave, some unlucky volunteer has to retrieve them, but you will not get them back.

Stolen from the State Parks website because they wouldn’t let me take my camera.

The tram takes you across elevated tramways to refrigerator doors in the side of the mountain.  The guide explained that before the state started developing the caverns for tourists, they went to other large tourist caves and asked what they would do differently. Most common answer: Don’t let people in. They let us in anyway.

Kartchner caverns is about 71 degrees F year round, but also 100% humidity. That’s right. Even with that, you walk through misters in one of the three airlocks, because damp clothes do not release as much lint. Somewhere in here the guide told us about the throat lozenge someone spit out, and was found a week later as a baseball sized wad of fuzzy ick.

These caves are alive, in that water still flows through and around them, and formations are still growing. You are touring mother earth’s small intestine. Sometimes water drips on tourists, and they call it a cave kiss.  In a thousand years, some of the soda straws could become columns. Makes me wonder what they’ll think of our refrigerator doors, carefully graded catwalks, and choreographed light shows a thousand years from now.

We saw the lesser tour, because bats are still nesting in the biggest chamber until October. Even so, the formations were, honestly, more impressive in size and color than the ones we saw later at Colossal. Some of that is because they are literally still forming. Most of that is because the cave was not discovered by humans of any color until the 1974 when it was discovered by cavers who Take This Seriously. They, along with the Kartchner family who owned the land, kept it all a Big Secret until some plan could be devised to preserve the place – which ended up with the most expensive, and highest revenue generating, state park in the system.

Yes. There was a time when the state of Arizona could be counted upon to preserve resources for the benefit of the general public. Which might be the greatest marvel of the entire tour.



Tour info


Colossal Cave

There is no visitor center at Colossal Cave Mountain Park (“Mountain” means county), but there is a gift shop carved out of the old admin building the CCC added when they developed the cave as a tourist attraction in the 1930’s. You could buy a rock in the gift shop, step out the door, and throw it through the iron gate that guards the cave. There are a few sad displays within the cave, but upon this hewn rock balcony there is only a statue of a CCC worker, some small restrooms, the gift shop, and an outdoor food cart that sells beer. Yes, beer.

No lockers; bring whatever you feel comfortable carrying (no food though). But, we were still warned, if you drop it down a hole, it might be down there for years. Our guide talked a little about how we didn’t want to touch the formations (skin oil stains them over time – just like Kartchner) but more time warning us how the stairs were built by hand in the 1930s, and the size depended on whatever rock they had available that day.

There are a lot of stairs.

Colossal Cave is 71 degrees F year round with almost no humidity.  Your throat lozenge will lay there and suck up dust. It is a dead  dormant  cave. Being a little higher altitude than Kartchner, the water table receded below the formation thousands of years ago. The formations are uniformly brown – not from fingers, but from dust. Nothing drips. Colossal Cave will not kiss you.

There is evidence that Colossal had been used by the natives long before is was used by bandits, long before the original owner gave tours to his friends via candlelight, a bit before it became a “mountain” park and the CCC built it up. Long before any of that, it had stopped dripping, and started to cover itself with dust. So  despite our guide being a caver who Took This Seriously, our tour lacked the sense of sacred mystery like they try to evoke at Kartchner.

The maze of stairs and ramps is every bit as impressive as Kartchner because it was all put in by hand, and made up as they went along. The wiring for the lighting is also essentially original. So don’t touch that either. They wind up and down and around through smaller, dimmer rooms.

But it does feel more like a cave, and less like a museum display. Even if Colossal Caves are the cautionary tale that Kartchner Caverns claims to have learned from.

The best part, though,  is you can sign up for a longer tour that goes up and down ladders. (This used to be the original tour, before insurance companies took over our civilization). Better yet (for me) there is a “wild tour” where they fit you out with miner’s helmet and pads and you can crawl around in the undeveloped portions of that cave. At Kartchner, you basically have to join a secret society to even get a chance to slither through the mud like a troglodyte and retrieve some tourist’s throat lozenge. At Colossal, you pay your money and sign the waiver.

I’ll let you know when I do that.



Northern Arizona wonder road trip

August 30th, 2016 by arewelostyet



That is all.

Time Lapse Monsson

August 17th, 2016 by arewelostyet

They don’t come on quite as fast as they do in this time-lapse film, but it sure seems like that when you’re on foot.

From filmmaker Mike Oblinski



The Pacific Northwest National scenic Trail is a thing

July 24th, 2016 by arewelostyet

The newly designated Pacific Northwest Trail is a 1200 mile march from Glacier National Park to the Pacific Ocean (just beyond Olympia National Park), effectively linking the Pacific Crest Trail with the Continental Divide Trail.

Photo from US Forest Service



Since I just stumbled onto this, I’ll let the official websites explain:

First proposed in the early 1970s, the Pacific Northwest Trail was designated by Congress as one of eleven National Scenic Trails in the Omnibus Public Lands Management Act of 2009. The National Trails System Act calls for these trails to be located to provide for maximum outdoor recreation potential as well as the conservation and enjoyment of the scenic, historic, natural, and cultural resources in the areas through which these trails pass.

US Forest Service

This carefully chosen path is high for the views and long on adventure, ranking among the most scenic trails in the world.

It includes the Rocky Mountains, Selkirk Mountains, Pasayten Wilderness, North Cascades, Olympic Mountains, and Wilderness Coast. The trail crosses 3 National Parks and 7 National Forests.

Pacific Northwest Trail Assosciation


I signed book at the Hiking Shack.

June 28th, 2016 by arewelostyet


Every once in awhile it’s just fun to be an author. Like when the marketing guy at Phoenix’s Hiking
takes a liking to your book, and then notices that the store sells them. Then he might essentially cold call you via Facebook (I’m sure the millennials have a specific term for this) and invite you to come sign them.


So I did. Today. Two copies each. Get ‘em while they last.



Old display at the Shack

These boots are not for sale.

While you’re there, check out the Grand Trunk hammocks they have – at good prices. That’s one (the air bivy shelter system) behind me in the photo. I like Eureka tents (you can see the top of a few) but I prefer to swing, and that shelter system costs less than the tents.

HikeShack book 1

The author standing proudly behind his product. The author standing proudly behind his work.

I haven’t tried the Grand Trunk, because the Emo I was gifted still swings fine under it’s Cabella tarp.

My Camp in Angel Basin

My Camp in Angel Basin. That’s the old hammock ( a Beyer) but I still use that tarp.









Hiker’s Shack is a higher end adventure store. They don’t have much for casual family car campers. They DO have good gear fro backpacking, rafting (and other expensive forms of drowning) and climbing. Poke around – they have all manner of cool toys.

And then buy the book. It looks like this if you can’t see it from the photo above. I don’t sign all that many, so this is a slightly rare opportunity.

And I’d really like to go back and sign some more.


Arizona Hiking Shack

3244 E Thomas Road in Phoenix.

800 964 1673

The book I'm holding