Today is the Summer Solstice -- one of the most significant dates of the year in the Southwest, and perhaps the entire Northern Hemisphere. Summer Solstice is the longest day of the year (in terms of daylight), and it's also the day when the sun reaches its highest point in the sky. Today is the beginning of Summer, and an opportunity to celebrate.
Summer can be a very challenging season in Arizona, but there are plenty of destinations not far away that offer cooler climates, tall trees, trickling streams, and an opportunity to get out of the desert heat for a while.
If you're looking for some refreshing adventures on the Arizona Trail during the summer months, consider any of the Passages north of the Mogollon Rim. There's fresh singletrack to be explored on the Happy Jack Passage; rewarding volunteer opportunities near Flagstaff; and high-elevation relief waiting for you on the Kaibab Plateau north of Grand Canyon. Remember to throw a few extra frozen water bottles in your pack, too.
May your summer be filled with cool breezes, awe-inspiring sunsets, and wonderful memories created on the Arizona Trail.
Fire Season Is Upon Us
The Woodbury Fire in the Superstition Mountains continues to incinerate the landscape, and while firefighters report that it's now 42% contained the fire has grown to over 65,000 acres. The Arizona Trail remains closed due to the fire, and evacuations of the communities of Roosevelt, Top of the World and Reevis Mountain School are underway. A total of 8 miles of the AZT between Rogers Trough Trailhead and Reavis Creek have been scorched. And it's not over yet.
Some of the most important values identified near the Arizona Trail along the Superstition Wilderness Passage within the fire boundary are historic Reavis Ranch and its apple orchard, and the giant juniper tree known as Medusa. This is the most photographed tree along the entire 800-mile AZT, and Medusa has been the subject of poems, stories and trail lore. Once the Woodbury Fire began spreading northwest of Rogers Trough Trailhead, wildland firefighters backlit the vegetation around Reavis Ranch and Medusa. A recent aerial survey showed their strategy worked, and both remain intact despite the fire's devastating effects nearby.
The Arizona Trail will remain closed until the Tonto National Forest determines the area is safe for Arizona Trail Association staff and volunteers to enter the area and conduct a trail assessment. This will help inform the best way to preserve the tread and minimize erosion from impending summer monsoon storms. Our goal is to get the AZT open again as soon as it's safe to do so.
For a recent article in the Arizona Republic on burned area emergency response as it relates to the Arizona Trail, click here.
In addition to the Woodbury Fire, numerous prescribed burns are taking place throughout northern Arizona that may affect Arizona Trail users over the next few weeks, including: - Long Jim Rx Fire near South Rim of Grand Canyon Arizona Trail is re-routed on the paved Greenway between Center Road and Yaki Point. - Russell Rx Fire near Coconino Rim Trail users can expect to encounter smoke. - Kaibab North Zone Rx Fire near North Rim Country Store Trail users may encounter smoke, however the prescribed burn is west of the AZT. The best way to stay up-to-date about fires, both wild and prescribed, is through Inciweb.
Trailblazing 25 Events Offer a Chance to Celebrate the AZT and the 25th Anniversary of the ATA
A 25th anniversary only happens once, which is why we've teamed up with our friends and Business Partners statewide to put together 25 incredible fiestas this year. Please attend as many of these as you can, invite your friends, and help raise awareness, appreciation and some funds for the Arizona Trail Association.
The next event is happening this Saturday in the cool pines of Summerhaven when the Mt. Lemmon General Store & Gift Shop presents an Arizona Trail Benefit Day. Great things are happening all day long, and they'll have a raffle you won't want to miss. Head high into the Santa Catalina Mountains this weekend, hike one of the many trails under the canopy of pines and aspens, soak your feet in the cool creek, and stop in to visit our friends at the Mt. Lemmon General Store & Gift Shop!
ATA members will receive a complete list of Trailblazing 25 events in the mail within the next few weeks. More details will be available on the Calendar and through social media soon, too.
Gear Girls Build Fresh Singletrack
It takes a village to build, maintain and protect the Arizona National Scenic Trail, which is why we're inviting everyone to help build a portion of the Babbitt Ranch Singletrack this summer. This project will replace monotonous and dusty ranch roads between Flagstaff and Grand Canyon with sublime singletrack through high-elevation grasslands and juniper forests.
Over the past few days the Arizona Trail Gear Girls contributed their energy to the cause, resulting in almost 500 feet of fresh trail. Don't let their size fool you...what they may lack in mass they more than make up for in energy and enthusiasm.
In addition to helping chip away at the 13-mile project, the stewardship lessons learned during this outing will last a lifetime. Whenever any of these girls returns to this remote portion of the AZT on foot, mountain bike or horseback they'll be able to say, "I built that."
Want to help? Register for the Babbitt Ranch Trail Work Weekend on July 20-21 and/or keep an eye on the Calendar for upcoming opportunities. With your help we should be able to finish most of the trail construction this year.
Thanks to Unisource Energy Services and REI Co-op for their support of the Gear Girls program. And HUGE THANKS to Northern Region Steward Daniel Snyder and Matt Roberts of Flagline Trails LLC for their outstanding leadership.
AZT Rosemont Mine Re-Route Project to Begin in August
Over the last decade the Arizona Trail Association (ATA) has been in communication with the Coronado National Forest and Rosemont Copper about the proposed open pit copper mine in the Santa Rita Mountains. In addition, we have communicated with various conservation organizations; tribal representatives; federal agencies; and local Arizona Trail users to better understand the cumulative impacts of the project and to help inform all partners of the ATA’s concerns about the mine’s impacts to the Arizona Trail, the trail corridor, and associated resources on the Forest.
Once it became clear that the proposed mine would negatively impact 6 miles of the AZT, as well as the trail experience, we developed a scenic and sustainable route that crosses under Highway 83 and uses natural topography to block the mine’s visual impacts for almost 10 miles.
The ATA believes that any new project proposed on public land that has a potentially negative impact to the Arizona Trail must have a net gain to trail resources. That is why we designed a mitigation package to more than offset for the loss of trail resources along the current Arizona Trail alignment. That package included full funding for 11 miles of new trail construction; construction of 2 new trailheads; development of a water source; fencing to protect the trail from motorized trespassing; steel gates; trailhead kiosks; signs; rehabilitation of abandoned trail; and compensation for a project manager’s time.
We would like to avoid the Arizona Trail ever being closed due to mining, or any of Rosemont Copper’s operations negatively impacting the trail experience. Instead, our goal is to get the 11 miles of new trail built and old trail naturalized before Rosemont Copper begins any operations. The trail relocation and trailhead construction was included in the Rosemont Mine Environmental Impact Statement and approved by the Forest Service in the Record of Decision, and the ATA is authorized to begin work as soon as practical. Our current plan is to begin new trail construction toward the end of August and have it finished before the busy southbound thru-hiking and thru-biking season reaches this part of Arizona in early November.
The thought of losing 10 miles of existing Arizona Trail is painful to the individuals who have built, maintained, improved, and cared for it over the past 20 years…not to mention the thousands of individuals who have created lifelong memories along this spectacular segment. But with the decision from the Coronado National Forest and Army Corps of Engineers to allow the Rosemont Mine to begin operations, we are grateful to have a well-researched trail alignment in place and ample funding from Hudbay Minerals to construct the trail, trailheads and other amenities.
The ATA encourages everyone to experience the existing AZT between Box Canyon/Forest Road 62 (AZT mile 84) and Barrel Canyon (AZT mile 94) before it’s gone. Once the new trail is built, we’ll make an announcement and encourage hikers, runners, mountain bikers and equestrians to enjoy the new segment of trail, too.