Added 1 January 2017
Saturday, September 12, 2015, Arizona Trail Passage 12: Oracle Ridge - Romero Pass (Marshall Gulch) to American Flag TH, Arizona
NOTE: This trip report is for the second part of Arizona Trail Passage 12, from Marshall Gulch to American Flag Trailhead. To view the trip report for the first half of Passage 12, see my AZT Passage 11/12 trip report.
After having set up a vehicle at the American Flag trailhead last night, and having previously hiked the first half of Arizona Trail Passage 12 up to Marshall Gulch by tacking it onto the end of Passage 11 back in May, all we had to do this morning to finish off Passage 12 was drive up to the top of Mount Lemmon and hike about 14 miles, mostly downhill.
Jerry, Andrea (Cheetah), Shaun, the dogs and I got to the Marshall Gulch Trailhead a little after eight o'clock and were hiking before 9. The first part of this section goes up the paved road into Summerhaven, which was still waking up when we walked through. Just north of town the passage veers to the north and drops off the northern flank of the Santa Catalina Mountains. We were immediately immersed in a riot of wildflowers of all types. It was gorgeous, and I stopped frequently to take pictures of them.
In fact, I stopped frequently to take pictures of a lot of things on this hike, as it's a beautiful passage. And since I really have more pictures than words for this passage, without further adieu, more pictures . . .
We dropped through the fire scarred (but still pretty) section fairly quickly and continued our relatively moderate descent. Further down, the passage transitions from a singletrack trail into a two-track road and portions of that road are very steep and loose. Those sections were a bit sketchy even with just daypacks on. Going down them with backpacks on would require even more care. Since the dogs are energetic hikers and can pull a bit, I took over Kintla's leash.
The treacherous section really slowed Cheetah and Shaun down so Jerry and I pulled well ahead of them. It was during this time that we were treated to a cool sighting. At the top of one of the treacherous descents we looked down and there was a large dark animal on the road well below us. Jerry's first thought was cow. My first thought was bear. I scrambled for my camera but as I was zooming in it bolted into the brush and I got a picture only of empty road. Though it's shape and the way it darted away confirmed to me that it was indeed a bear.
When we got down to the spot where the bear had been, we stopped to wait for Cheetah and Shaun, and I did a bit of patrolling around to see if I could find the bear again. Not surprisingly, I had no luck. We all hung out for a bit for a snack, then continued on our way. The passage became generally less steep after that, and eventually left the road and returned to a single track trail for the rest of the trip to American Flag.
At this point Jerry and I swapped dogs, and I took the lead with Siyeh. The trail started moving through a lush grassland that was so thick that sometimes I could barely see her! (Of course, she's also a really short dog.) It was funny though, because she was hiking through what amounted to a tunnel of grass overhanging the trail. The grassland was also well populated with granite boulders and outcrops that was very picturesque. When the low evening sun broke through the clouds onto the landscape, it was pretty magical.
The trail continued on like this all the way down to American Flag, which is now basically just an historical post office and a residence. It was nearly six o'clock by the time we got to the trailhead. We hung out there for our usual post passage libation, then started the long drive back around and up the mountain to pick up the vehicle left at Marshall Gulch.