A Visit to “Mystery Mountain”


October 16, 2020-

It wasn’t a long absence from Home Base, especially in light of a wildfire that may require some attention, this weekend. I did, however, make good on a visit to northern Arizona’s “other” Red Mountain-this one about halfway between Valle and Flagstaff, on US Highway 180.

I began the day with a run to Tusayan, the service town that lies just outside Grand Canyon National Park. That was entirely to get some cash, which I had neglected to do in Williams, yesterday afternoon. With cash comes a gratuity for the motel maid, who has things extra difficult-dealing with the POSSIBILITY that some guests may not be conscientious regarding traveling whilst ill.

Saying good bye to Grand Canyon Inn, I headed southeast and found Red Mountain to be quite popular, on this tail end of Fall Break. An easy 1.2 mile walk, from the trailhead to a short ladder, leads to a mini-wonderland, not unlike the larger area of spires, hoodoos and expansive sandstone cliffs found in Bryce Canyon, Utah.

Red Mountain is a cinder cone, with volcanic ash covering the cinders, thus forming many of the hoodoos which grace its northern base. Slippery volcanic dust and pebbles form the groundcover, making it important to mind one’s steps. It was understood, by everyone present, to stay off the rocks themselves, which are clearly delicate.

Here are several scenes of the trail and of the Volcanic Park.

The 1.5 mile trail begins in this juniper grove.
A southward view of Red Mountain.
Red Mountain is the westernmost peak in the San Francisco Volcanic Field. Abineau Peak neighbours it to the southeast.
This scene points out the rugged nature of the terrain. Volcanic soil is rich, but is not thick.
Kids of all ages may be tempted to go up, and slide down, here, It is a very treacherous ledge and climbing is forbidden.
Cinder hoodoos, covered in black ash.
Ponderosa pines, the tallest trees in Arizona, sometimes have fallen victim to volcanic dust clouds that get whipped up in storms. Fire is also a danger.
Some of the stones evoke elephant images.
This volcanic box canyon is lined with basalt spires like these.
Every path has its guardians.
Sand, piled up in the box canyon, gradually hardened and formed these “busts”.
These crevices, as yet, do not go very far.
Older crevices, though, present a temptation to get oneself stuck.
Here is one end of the box canyon.
Here is a ledge of hoodoos, representing the other end of the canyon.

On my way out, I met a young family who were exploring the approaches to the box canyon, at the child’s own pace. The little girl asked me how to get up “Mystery Mountain”. I told her the ledge she was trying to get up could be the first Mystery Mountain and there were many more. (She was, with Mommy’s help, about two feet up.)

It is for moments like this, as much as anything else, that I go forth to see my own Mystery places.

Surprises, Challenging and Delightful


January 13, 2019, Happy Jack, AZ-

I woke this morning, to find six inches of freshly-fallen snow covering the area outside my room at Delta Motel, Winslow.  It is a high desert community, and the residents were as surprised as I was, that the serenity brought by snow had descended upon their environs.  I’ve liked the Delta, for several years, because of its unpretentious yet immaculate rooms, a few of which had rockabilly themes, under a former owner.   The rooms now have a distinctly Southwestern flavour to them.

The snow did leave me to ponder the rest of my day.  Having said that I wanted to visit friends on the Hopi Nation, ninety minutes northeast of Winslow, I had to consider the weather and road conditions, plus the fact that I have to be in Phoenix, for an appointment, tomorrow morning.



I opted to head for home, primarily because between Winslow and Prescott there lies high country, regardless of route.  There was poor reception for both phone and wifi, so discerning road conditions, later in the day, was problematic.   After breakfast, and wishing the caring and efficient motel staff a fine day, I filled my car’s tank at a station across the street.  Winslow is famous for  the late Glenn Frey’s reminiscence of a girl “slowing down to take a look” at him, whilst he was standing on a corner there.  It was rather ironic, that a sweet-faced young lady sat in her car and smilingly watched as I filled up the tank.  We never spoke, but her smile was a comfort.

I headed south, as she headed north, and found the road, to this little village on AZ Route 87, very well-plowed and free of ice.  This high country town has a small cafe- Tall Pines Cafe, named for the largest contiguous Ponderosa pine forest in North America.  Fresh chicken noodle soup and delectable quesadillas were my filling lunch.  The snow was as fresh here as it was in Winslow, and would cover the ground as far as 2/3 of the way down the rim to Camp Verde.



P.S.-The rest of the drive was uneventful, with bare ground from Camp Verde until I was just about back in Prescott.  I take comfort in that farmers will have a leg up, come spring, if the precipitation continues at the level it has fallen, thus far this winter.  I will make time to go up to Hopi, later in the Spring, and certainly at some points during Summer.

Nonetheless, surprises from the Universe are part of what keeps me going strong.


The Road to 65, Mile 23: A Very Full Solstice, Part 1


December 21, 2014, El Morro, NM- I don’t think I’ve made such a big deal about the December Solstice before.    Penny and I would have chai and watch the moon rise, with a group of Phoenix- area or Prescott- area Wiccans, but since her passing, it took me until this year to include the occasion in my life, in a meaningful way.  (I use the term December Solstice, because the longest day is a great celebration for the indigenous people across the Southern Hemisphere, and I tire of seeing them left out of the celebratory messages.)

Today started with a marvelous shower and gradual wakening, by 7:30 AM, in my comfortable cabin, “Deer Cabin”.  I was informed that breakfast would be served from 9-12, so there was plenty of time for me to take a few winter photos and pray for many people and situations.  I posted a few of these on FB, but here are some scenes of the El Morro Lodge and Ancient Way Cafe.

First, here is the interior of Deer Cabin.


Here’s the exterior.SAM_3257

Ancient Way Cafe was founded by a spiritual mentor who is known as Red Wulf.  He paid us a visit at breakfast, but stressed “I’m not here”, as he is officially on sabbatical, until April, 2015.  Several other local characters also gathered for breakfast.  I selected “Donald’s Breakfast”, a hearty farmer’s breakfast ,which is fitting, since Donald is a self-sufficient organic farmer.  He was present this morning, at the table next to mine, along with several members of Red Wulf’s spiritual circle, Wave Riders of the Ancient Way.  They’ve been here since the 1970’s, as have many counterculture groups, around the Southwest.



SAM_3261Hanging chilis are a symbol of welcome in New Mexico, and I certainly felt welcome.  The Wave Riders did not wish to be photographed.  Many of them were quite exhausted from having attended an event at a gallery across the highway, until 2 AM. Our cook was one of them but fortunately he was rested enough to do a good job.

I checked out at 10:30, and headed up the road to El Morro National Monument.  The place is distinctive in three aspects:  Geologically, archaeologically and graphically. I will show photos of the geological aspect first. El Morro, Spanish for “The Headland”, is made of largely striated sandstone.  Wind, water and lichen are breaking the sandstone down.  Many, like the NPS film’s narrator, the actor, Edward James Olmos, bemoan this process.  The National Park Service is trying to shore up the ruins, as we’ll see.  The big picture, though, is that nature was here first, and will fulfill her mission, one way or another.  Notice that there are pinon pines, and one-seed junipers, mixed throughout the park.  A smattering of Ponderosa pines have grown on top of El Morro Mesa.  The trees also break down the rock, by sending out roots.




SAM_3279SAM_3285SAM_3286SAM_3290 So, you can see the majesty of the sandstone massif,  plus the effects of  wind, water, lichen and tree roots, on the great structure.  In the next post, “Mile 23.5”, I will address the human legacy of El Morro.

Trailheads and Trails, Volume 1, Issue 22: Sunset Crater


September 28, 2014-  Flagstaff has always been friendly to me.  So, on a Sunday afternoon, I drove up for a brief visit with some Hopis who were in town for a Native American Arts and Crafts Fair, which the Hopi Tribe was sponsoring.  Flag has worked at being more welcoming to Native Americans, over the past twenty years or so, and the mural seen across the street is one small example of the change in attitude.


There had been a terrific downpour, from Casa Grande to Tuba City, the day before, and Flagstaff had seen its share of the threat of flood waters.  It looked, on that Sunday however, that all was well, in the end. The sandbags were still in place, in front of the municipal courthouse.


After a latte at Macy’s, one of my favourites in Flagstaff, I headed out to Sunset Crater.  It’s near Wupatki, which I had visited a few weeks earlier.  Sunset is the remnant of a much larger volcano, which erupted full-blast in the 1060’s. The Lava Beds extend for ten miles or so.  Here is a Lava Flow trail, with a view of the San Francisco Peaks in the background.


From the same trail, Strawberry Crater, five miles to the northeast, is visible.


The scenery in volcanic parks tends to like like something straight out of JRR Tolkien’s Mordor.  It is an object lesson in the lingering power of volcanic activity.  In the long run, though, the soil is renewed.  That’s important to remember, when encountering scenes like this.  In fact, I learned that the Sinagua people chose Wupatki as a place to build angular pueblos, as a symbol of persistence, in the wake of the Sunset Crater eruptions.  The Hopi believe their Kana-a kachinas (spirits) are associated with the crater and its eruptions.  Navajos and Zuni also revere this peak, as well as all the mountains nearby. Settlers cherished the volcano as well, and actively thwarted a film company’s attempt to blow up the crater in 1929, during the making of “Avalanche”.  As a result, President Herbert Hoover set aside 3,000 acres for the present Sunset Crater National Monument.

The trails in Sunset Crater National Monument tend to be benign and flat. The exception is the cardiopulmonary fitness experience known as Lenox Crater Trail- 300 feet straight up.  The Ponderosa pine regrowth is about 30 years old.


From the top of Lenox, Sunset Crater is visible, to the east.


Much more in the way of igneous rock is visible, along the Long Trail, which is less than a mile in length, actually.


This little crater comes with a “No playing inside” warning.  It is actually quite fragile.


Some iron deposit is visible, in this broken-off piece of lava.


Here is a long pit, on the west side of Long Trail.


Lightning had hit the cracked rock below.


From Cinder Hills overlook, at the eastern end of the Monument, copper and iron-inflected soil is visible, atop the cones for which the overlook is named.


With its eponym on the way, I got one last shot of Sunset Crater.  The peak cannot be hiked, due to its sensitive condition.  This is true of a great many volcanoes, both active and dormant.  The danger to peak and climber alike is just too real.  DO HEED THE RANGERS’ INSTRUCTIONS!SAM_2893