Inner Basin and its Golden Forest


What better way to usher in late fall and early winter than with a hike into one of the most colorful areas around Flagstaff? Last weekend I visited the inner basin of the San Francisco Peaks, which is the remnant of the caldera and outflow of the mountain’s ancient past as a volcano. The valley starts ringed by the tallest peaks in the state and slopes down and eastward toward Sunset Crater, of which there are great views on the narrow road up. This was my first visit and I was unsure of what to expect, but it was well worth the exploration.

The basin is home to one of the largest solid stands of aspen I’ve seen anywhere around the peaks, and to see it in its best autumn regalia was amazing. The trees were tall and stretched as far as you could see, while the ground was free from any clutter besides green grass, fallen leaves, and young spruce and fir trees. Though the way up was steep, the beautiful scenery, cool air, and clear sky did much to lessen the physical impact.

This being my first view of the area, you’ll find I took less pictures than you (or I) might expect. I’ve found that my initial trips to new areas often turn out this way, and I suppose I can chalk it up to more of a “scouting” mindset. I’d love to return in the spring and summer to see the trees in a new light, as I could tell right away that the basin is ripe with photogenic scenery.

At the top of the trail was a long open meadow surrounding a well-house, one of several along the ascent. The peaks are somewhat unique in that they host no perennial springs, instead holding the water deep within the volcanic rock and sandstone. The wells drill into these aquifers and supply some percentage of the water used in Flagstaff, though I’m unsure of their total contribution. Regardless, the little huts were an interesting contrast to the otherwise wild scenery filling the basin. This meadow marked the main destination of the trail, though it did wander upward and south to eventually circle around the peak east of Agassiz (I’ve misplaced my map) and continue down the south face of the mountain.

Altogether the trail provided a challenge and unbeatable scenery together, and I look forward to seeing it again when the road opens next year. As always, the pictures above are linked to their new gallery, so give that a look-through and let me know what you think. Until next time!


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