The perfect days of a Northern Arizona autumn are here, yet I am reflecting upon one of my favorite summer hikes. When the temperatures rise in Ash Fork, I take the boy up to Williams, where it’s 5-10 degrees cooler, with a lot more shade. Bill Williams Mountain Trail #21, is the main trailhead located at the Williams Ranger Station. Several other trails can be accessed from it, including Clover Spring and City of Williams Link Trail. Bill Williams Mountain is a great day hike, though there are some fairly steep patches on the way up. For a beginning to intermediate hiker, this will just mean a few extra rest stops and a reminder that the return trip is all downhill.
This trail wanders through ponderosa pines, oak, aspen and fir, with a bit of rock climbing thrown in. Well, not actually climbing, but for a 10 year old boy, we call it that. There are dozens of small dens to observe, most will be empty during the day, but have caution lest you come upon a sleeping critter or a new mother with her litter. Several viewpoints offer a glimpse of the town of Williams. You will likely hear the train whistle at some point, if you make the entire 6 mile round trip. The Grand Canyon Railway leaves Williams for the Canyon at 9:30a.m. and returns at 5:45p.m. daily.
The reward at the top of the trail is the Bill Williams Lookout tower, still occasionally manned by the Forest Service. If you’re lucky, maybe you’ll get invited up to take in the spectacular view, as a friend of mine did. One thing this same friend mentioned is that it is also possible to drive to the top on Forest Road 111, so if hiking is not for you, or if you just want to make the one way trip, you can still enjoy the mountain.
Though the trail is very clear, we still saw a few of these marking tapes (pink ribbon on the tree) along the way, hmm…
The yellow plate on this tree identifies it as a “bearing tree”, a part of the Public Lands Survey System, identifying land boundaries and locations long before the GPS was even conceived.
As you can see here, Yak is carrying his walking stick. We don’t always use them, but they are very helpful. He’s also got water and gatorade easily accessible from the outside pockets of his daypack. Inside, I happen to know, are an apple, chips, a granola bar and a camera, notebook and pen. He also has a hoodie and hat stowed in there. Even if you think you’re just going on a short hike, it’s a good idea to be prepared. You never know what’s up around the bend…
Junction: Whitehorse Lake Trail and Sycamore Canyon Overlook Trail #70
While the government shut-down is affecting many services, including the National Parks and Forests, there are still a lot of activities available, if you’re willing to walk just a little bit farther from your car, and pack a few snacks and a bottle of water in your daypack. The Sycamore Canyon Overlook Trail, #70, just outside of Williams, Arizona, meets up with the Whitehorse Lake Trail, #33. Another easy day-hike, it has a brief uphill climb, and is difficult to see in some spots. For me, this only added to the adventure. At trail marker 9 on the Whitehorse Lake Trail, take the trail to Sycamore Canyon View. This will make your hike a total of just over 3 miles, unless you have to park outside the Whitehorse Lake Campground and walk in to the trailhead. The reward is a mostly easy, fairly level trail, with abundant opportunities for wildlife viewing (especially with fewer people about) and interesting obstacles, such as these cattle gates, to negotiate.
I was standing right here, when a large hawk rose out of the canyon below and hovered in front of me. Noting his audience, he began to soar high overhead, dipping and rising on the air currents. My heart thrilled and I forgot to breathe for a moment. I sat and watched a small group of hawks dance on the winds for the better part of an hour.
The Dragon Tree
My mind, thus freed from its carefully constructed restraints, discovered this Dragon, cleverly disguised as a tree, apparently waiting either for its rider, or for some hobbit to try to steal its treasure. I was not going to fall for its tricks. The sun was setting, so I reluctantly returned down to the trailhead, mindful of the couple of spots where the trail was not very clear. 10 year old Yak would have enjoyed this hike, but at the time, the guys were in Colorado, so I had to go solo.
If you decide to take this hike, keep in mind that at the top, there are steep dropoffs and no safety rails. Keep young children close. Also, wildlife is not always friendly. Know how to protect yourself. Especially with Forest Rangers not on duty due to budget constraints, make sure somebody expects you back, so someone can alert authorities if you don’t show up.
That said, Happy Trails!
Late in May, I found myself in Williams, with my car pointed down the “south road” (aka 4th Street) out of town. The warm sun, the brilliant blue sky and the seductive scent of pine lured me on to where 4th Street becomes Perkinsville Rd. past the back side of Bill Williams Mountain. At the signpost for Overland Trails and Whitehorse Lake, I made a left. Another left into Whitehorse Lake campground, passed through to the day use area and parked.
After changing into my trusty hiking boots, I grabbed walking stick, hat, camera, water and snacks. Okay, so it’s only 1 mile from the parking area to the end of the trail and 1 mile back. My out of shape self was taking no chances. Part of my strategy in choosing this trail was that it is easy. The terrain is fairly level, no boulders to climb or streams to cross. It meanders through Ponderosa pine and oaks, so is mostly shady, and stays near the lake. If you’re lucky, you might catch a glimpse of elk or deer, but be cautious of other wildlife. Puma have also been spotted, along with the occasional bear. I didn’t even spot a fish on the day I went, but then, I didn’t spot many people, either.
Don’t plan on cooling off in the lake after your hike, as it is not aerated for swimming. Fish and Game does keep Whitehorse Lake stocked with trout, so bring your pole and license. Barbeques and tables are available for day use, for a fee, and the campground is right there. You might want to plan a few days at this spot, fishing, exploring the trails and relaxing and enjoying the tall pines, gazillion stars and spectacular sunrises and sunsets. Best time to go is May-October.
This trail is great for families, children, adults getting in shape/back in shape, older adults and experienced walkers. It also joins up with the Sycamore Canyon Overlook Trail which joins several other trails, for a change of scenery and more of a challenge. More info and maps are available at the Williams Ranger District office, right off Interstate 40 at exit 161 map.
|The Grand Canyon Railway runs the Polar Express every Thanksgiving through New Year’s|
Ever wonder where the Polar Express goes during the summer? The Grand Canyon! Actually, we stumbled upon the Polar Express at National Train Day in Williams, Arizona. Every year the Grand Canyon Railway plays host to train buffs of all sizes. Model railways are set up on display, the Harvey Girls come down from Winslow and a round-trip ride from Williams to Cataract Creek is only $15 for adults, $10 for children. A grand adventure if you don’t want to do the all-day trip to the Grand Canyon and back or if you’ve never been on a train before.
|Ladie’s fainting couch|
I could not resist snapping shots of the “fainting couch” in the ladies room of the “Williams Flyer”. The men’s room only had a single chair, but both facilities were far roomier than the current offerings on Amtrak. The Flyer was Max and Thelma Biegert’s personal railcar, when they owned the Grand Canyon Railway (now owned by Xanterra). On this day it was the display area for the Fred Harvey china collection, complete with live Harvey Girls, who were more than happy to give commentary and answer questions about the china, the Harvey Company and the hotels it built along the railway.
|Harvey Girls and Fred Harvey china|
Winslow Harvey Girls
P. O. Box 1
Winslow, AZ 86047 (928) 289-9110
The Winslow Harvey Girls are dedicated volunteers committed to preserving the history of Fred Harvey, the famous Harvey Girls, Mary Colter and the Santa Fe Railroad. They serve as meeters and greeters and ambassadors of goodwill for Winslow and Historic La Posada.
For tour information call Chris at (928) 289-9110 or Marie (detour agent) at (928) 289-3737. http://www.winslowarizona.org/Members.htm