On the Kachina Trail, Flagstaff

On the Kachina Trail in Flagstaff – A Walk in the Woods

One of my favorite hikes in and around Flagstaff, the Kachina Trail winds through tall ponderosa pines and dazzling groves of aspens, with occasional openings through the trees for spectacular views of the surroundings.

The mountains in and around Flagstaff, known as a sky island, are a perfect destination year-round. They offer a respite from the high temperatures of the surrounding desert in the summer, wildflower shows in spring, spectacular fall colors in autumn, and skiing opportunities in the winters. Their proximity is the main reason we still live in the desert. We can enjoy this environment in under two hours drive from home.

It was our choice destination for a day trip and a weekend hike when we needed a break from the neverending summer in Phoenix.

A patch of aspens on the Kachina Trail in Flagstaff
A patch of aspens on the Kachina Trail in Flagstaff, our destination for the day.

A Daytrip to Flagstaff

On a hot September day in Phoenix we woke up dreaming about the woods around Flagstaff. With no specific plans for the day, we grabbed some snacks and water, put on our hiking shoes, and got on the road.

Since Flagstaff is the perfect day-trip destination from Phoenix, especially in the summer, we know that most Phoenicians have the same idea on a day like this. So we expected to hit traffic but hoped that our late start (we didn’t leave until close to lunch time) would help. We were right. Although we hit pockets of traffic, it never got too bad.

We were driving up towards Snowbowl in the shade of the forest shortly before noon. Although there are times when skies are too sunny for our comfort and temperatures high enough to feel like the drive isn’t worth it, this wasn’t the case a the time.

When we got out of the car in the Snowbowl parking lot at at the Kachina Trailhead, a few clouds rolled over and temperatures were perfect for a pleasant hike.

Hiking the Kachina Trail

This trail is my favorite in Flagstaff. The aspens and the ponderosa pines are much denser here than on most other trails even in this area. As soon as we stepped on the Kachina trail, the dark forest enveloped us.

The full trail is over 10 miles long, and to be honest, I’ve never done it all. (I’m a weekend warrior when it comes to hiking.) But even a few miles into it gives me a different perspective, a more relaxed attitude, a happier outlook.

Aspens and ferns
Aspens and ferns – forest therapy

I believe that forest therapy works. Even for me, even with the altitude-induced headaches I usually experience. Over the years I got used to it, and it no longer bothers me. I also realized that taking it slow and staying hydrated works for me. It’s still a mystery to me why I’m the only one in the family to experience this, but I’m glad no one else does. So, now, instead of trying to keep up with everyone, I stay behind.

Taking it slow also gives me a chance to enjoy the surroundings.

I stop in the deepest parts of the forest, where I feel thousands of miles from the desert.

A large patch of aspens makes me stop and enjoy the breeze, watching their leaves flutter.

Aspen colony on the trail
Aspen colony on the trail

An opening through the dense forest gives me an opportunity to look far into the distance, enjoying the view of Arizona’s high country.

View from the meadow on the Kachina Trail Flagstaff
View from the meadow on the Kachina Trail Flagstaff

Dense and bright ferns growing around the trail give me the illusion that I’m in the fairyland of my childhood dreams.

Watch out for those tree roots growing across the trail

Leave it to me to embarrass myself in front of my teenage daughter though. This time, she was nice enough to slow down and walk with me. As we were walking and talking (apparently I can’t multitask, even for these two simple activities), I tripped over a root growing across the trail.

This happened to me before, though usually I lose balance for a few seconds and recover. It seems to be pretty funny, at least from my daughter’s perspective. I do something she calls the mommy dance; some interesting moves that resemble dancing according to her. She caught it on camera by chance once and I had to agree with her, it looks funny; maybe not win-ten-thousand-dollars-on-AFV funny, but close.

However, this time the mommy dance didn’t work, though apparently I used it, and it was quite entertaining. But, in the process, I tripped on another tree-root and, instead of regaining my balance, I fell flat on my face. For a few seconds, I saw fear in my daughter’s eyes, as she was urging me to get up. But soon she was laughing at my expense. “I was going to help you, mom, after I stopped laughing,” she later said. Sure.

Now, before you think I have an insensitive daughter, I was laughing myself. Obviously, I wasn’t hurt. And no, my face didn’t hit the ground.

I got up as fast as I could and kept walking as if nothing had happened, trying to regain my dignity.

Only later, when we found a secluded spot and sat down for a while, I realized that I skinned my knee, and should probably wash it out. So I reluctantly used a few drops of our precious drinking water on it.

Then we sat there for a while, enjoying the solitude, wind in the aspens, and birdsong in the shade of Ponderosa pines.

Walk farther or turn around?

While we were debating whether we should go farther into the forest, we spotted the rest of our family coming back. We all spent a few more minutes sitting together in the shade of the pines before making our way towards the car.

Driving back to Phoenix – a rainy adventure

After stopping for dinner in town, we got on the road. It was almost dark by the time it started raining on the way back to Phoenix. And while we loved it, we also realized that our windshield wiper on the driver side wasn’t working properly. Then it stopped working altogether.

We were driving on a busy highway, in the twilight, in the pouring rain, with only one windshield wiper working – on the passenger side. And this storm was turning into a downpour. We drove with our hazard lights on, my husband leaning over me, trying to see out of my side until we reached the closest exit.

We spent about an hour in Verde Valley until the rain stopped. At first, we sat in the car in a parking lot near a gas station. Eventually, we managed to drive over to a Starbucks when the rain slowed down a bit. Though only one windshield wiper was broken, we had to wait out the storm.

But storms in the desert don’t last long. By the time we finished our drinks and cookies, the sky (and the roads) cleared and we drove home without further mishaps.

Still feeling fortunate that we have the sky island in Flagstaff to escape the desert heat, even for a day at a time.

On the Kachina Trail in Flagstaff, Arizona
on the Kachina Trail
A short walk on the Kachina Trail, Flagstaff, Arizona

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