Arizona Trail Passage 12 hike, Arizona - September 12, 2015

Added 1 January 2017

Saturday, September 12, 2015, Arizona Trail Passage 12: Oracle Ridge - Romero Pass (Marshall Gulch) to American Flag TH, Arizona

Upper Sabino Creek at Marshall Gulch.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.

The beginning of the Oracle Ridge Trail portion of the AZT. Only 13.2 miles to go! 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.

Cheetah and Jerry hiking along the lush trail. Aspen fleabane (Erigeron speciosus) along the AZT on Mount Lemmon. A Pineywoods Geranium (Geranium caespitosum) on AZT Passage 12.

A Hooker's Evening Primrose (Oenothera elata hookeri) on Mount Lemmon. The footprint of the fire can be seen off in the distance due to the stubble like trees. I think this is an Arizona Lupine (Lupinus arizonicus).

A Birdbill Dayflower (Commelina dianthifolia) on AZT Passage 12. Aspen fleabane (Erigeron speciosus) along the AZT on Mount Lemmon. Low growing plants are profuse after the Aspen fire in 2003.

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 . . .

Wildflowers abound amidst the burnt out trees of the Aspen Fire. View from AZT Passage 12. Biosphere II can be seen way down below the AZT.

The emblem of the fabled unicorn hiker. Cheetah moves through a sea of wildflowers. View to the north from AZT Passage 12.

View of the upper Santa Catalina Mountains from AZT Passage 12. Cheetah, Shaun and Jerry ridgewalk along an old road. Cheetah, Shaun and Jerry descending the north side of the Santa Catalina Mountains.

A Fendler's Globemallow (Sphaeralcea fendleri). White Prairie Clover (Dalea candida) on AZT Passage 12. An unknown insect on an unknown wildflower.

Another mystery flower. Where's Shauno?  The trail was really overgrown in places. Shaun doing his world famous teapot impression as Jerry and Andrea hike on.

I love how the impression of the outer blades of the agave remains on the outside of the inner blades. Sing with me:  'The hills are alive, with the sound of music!' A Scarlet Hedgenettle (Stachys coccinea).

AZT Passage 12 affords long views. The growth was so lush on our hike that you could hardly tell where the trail was at times. We dropped through the fire scarred (but still pretty) section fairly quickly and continued our relatively moderate descent. A photo of Jerry taken from the Kintla-cam. 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.

Looking back up into the high country of the Santa Catalina Mountains. Did I mention that there were a lot of wildflowers??? Shaun and Cheetah shushing through the grass along AZT Passage 12.

Weather brewing off in the distance. A Greater Short-horned Lizard (Phrynosoma hernandesi) trying to blend in to the rocks. Who says Arizona isn't green?

Jerry and Kintla trying to blend in. Jerry and Kintla demonstrate their mastery of disquise. Cheetahs kind of stand out here though.

A photogenic Tarantula Hawk Wasp (Pepsis grossa). It was cool to get a chance to watch this Tarantula Hawk Wasp (Pepsis grossa) ply its less deadly trade. An idyllic scene along AZT Passage 12.

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.

Jerry and Kintla descending out of the Santa Catalina Mountains. Siyeh took the lead for the last part of the hike. There is both a trail and a dog in this photo.  Find them.

And just when you thought the trail couldn't get any prettier . . . A type of Jack-O'-Lantern Mushroom on AZT Passage 12. Jerry, Cheetah and Shaun descending towards American Flag.

Jerry descending a bouldery slope near the end of AZT Passage 12. The late afternoon light on the boulders was magical. Needless to say, the day ended well.

American Flag peeks out above the trees down below. American Flag and the trails end. Colorado Four O'Clock (Mirabilis multiflora) at the American Flag trailhead.

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.

The American Flag trailhead. What I think is the historic post office at American Flag. Do we look scared?  Heck no!  We just finished an amazing hike and have drinks in hand! I guess Shaun was a little tired after our 14 mile hike . . .