It’s all Smiles on the AZT!

This morning we walked out of Grand Staircase-Escalante NM and into the next landscape and character change for the Hayduke: the Kaibab Plateau and 60 miles of the Arizona Trail. A real deal national scenic trail with signage, a nonprofit, an app, and honest to goodness super cushy, maintained trail. 

At first I was sad to say goodbye to the GSENM. It is spectacular. And with the current brouhaha in the other Washington it is under threat. Continuing to explore the national monument is a way I feel I can be an advocate for it. But it’s our time to move along. GSENM you are in my heart and on my mind!

And the Kaibab Plateau is home to ponderosa forests and the famous Kaibab squirrel!  

We walked into Arizona, then back into Utah, then back into Arizona again where we reached the northern terminus of the Arizona Trail (AZT). Exciting! I’ve been intrigued by the AZT for years (so many trails, so many mountains, so many canyons…).

Gently climbing up through sagebrush to juniper and pinyon studded hills. The sego lillies, larkspur, and phlox in full bloom. The cheatgrass (awful stuff), still green and suggesting a pretty grassy slope. Some ignorance is bliss.

Within a couple miles we started meeting AZTers all in the state of glee and contentment of just about to finish a long walk. We chatted with folks, now in the mindset of being on a popular trail. 

And just after our breakfast stop at the wildlife tank we met to young women with lots of Utah questions. While talking, we heard a voice call out, “Marmot?!” It was Smiles! Awesome woman who we crossed paths on the CDT with in towns and hung out with along with dear friends Smudge and Groceries. She was less than 10 miles from finishing the AZT. So fun to share info about routes and hear bits about adventures ahead.

Smiles is so cool to be around, very uplifting, and generous. If you mention your sunscreen is running low or your Platy has a leak, she’s ready to give you hers. Some day we better hike together! Or call for a gathering of those who love The Marshmallow (Smudge and Groceries camper). 

After much gleeful chatting, it was time to wish the three women well in completing their AZT journeys and for us to head south.

Ten to 13 miles of rolling pinyon-juniper woodland. Phlox, wallflower, paintbrush, and other flowers periodically interspersed amid the trees. The trail crunchy with the Kaibab limestone under foot. And trail markers and signs everywhere there was a hint of a jeep track or road. 

The going was a little monotonous, even for a pinyon and juniper lover. But that made it easier to cover miles. The shade helped too, as it was a warm day.

We met a few more AZTers. One from the UK, a couple from Enumclaw. Walked some woodland that looked liked it was cleared for cattle. Even the Kaibab National Forest is managing for cows.

But what got me super excited and motivated in the later afternoon was seeing the logo for this section of the AZT: it includes the tassle eared Kaibab squirrel!!!!

The last 5 miles or so of the day were in ponderosa pine forest. Old red pines, clusters of young ones, lovely duff, the occassional flowering current. And also thinning and fire treatment. A burn that looked good. Mixed severity with some dead trees and scorching to mineral soil, but mostly a light burn that left the bigger, older pines, culling many of the dense clusters. Cool to walk through. And in my notes to learn about.

While we could have pushed to Hwy 89 where we’d be hitting back into Kanab for our resupply and zero day to sync with our Grand Canyon permit, the beautiful forest and evening colors beckoned to camp. 

Just before we found camp, I saw a Kaibab squirrel out of the corner of my eye! Tassle ears and voluminous white plume of a tail. It scurried up a ponderosa. 

Another warm night, we cowboy came amid the pines. Leaning on lovely ponderosa while eating dinner and admiring the sunset.

The Kaibab Plateau is a nice place to be.

Day 36: 23.1 miles; 565.7 miles total. Wire Pass Trailhead to Ponderosa forest along AZT east of Orderville Canyon. 

GPS: not needed; people sighted: 9 Arizona Trail hikers and bikers including Smiles!!! and one day hiker; roads: we walked about 1.5 miles of road and crossed many.

Pictures to come, having data connection challenges. Maybe you aren’t supposed to be looking at a screen when you are in National Park?

A Marmot with Smiles!!!

Dinner time in the pines.

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