Talk about a steep hike. The Elden Lookout trail winds up the slopes of Mt. Elden in Flagstaff, Arizona. The mountain is an ancient lava dome formed long long ago from magma rising to the surface. The highest point is at about 9,200 feet and includes a magnificent view of northern Arizona. And the trails Elden provides makes enjoying this beautiful area that much easier. The path starts out relatively flat, but then gets steeper and steeper and steeper. All the sudden you’re climbing rock stairs and your legs are on fire! But it truly is worth every step. As you ascend this rocky terrain, you’ll notice multiple Juniper trees and might encounter some wildlife. This area is stocked with deer, elk, and your occasional cougar. However, I have yet to see one. I’ve been hiking this mountain for over 5 years and I have never encountered a mountain lion/cougar. But that could be a good thing. I’ve heard stories of hikers and their dogs being attacked by mountain lions on Mt. Elden in the past. The city actually has sent hunters to kill these animals. From what I’ve heard, over a dozen of these cougars have been killed in the past few decades. But these stealthy cats are rare. I’ve been told if you see a mountain lion, chances are they’ve been following you for awhile.
Now let’s stay on path here.. The trail can be very thin in some spots, in addition to the jagged rocks along the way. However, it is very well maintained. The trail is only about 3 miles to the summit, but it feels like a lifetime. Each step gets harder and harder and the elevation keeps you huffin’ and puffin.’ Nonetheless, its a great workout and the views are spectacular. Once you get near the summit, you’ll notice gorgeous aspen trees. These trees thrive in the Fall with epic autumn colors. In this location you have an incredible view of the San Fransisco Peaks, the city of Flagstaff, and eastern Arizona. And if you’re familiar with the area, you can spot some beautiful landmarks. To the northwest, The Grand Canyon is visible, to the south you catch a glimpse of Oak Creek Canyon, and to the east we have the vast painted desert. As you’re still catching your breath, take a look at the eastern slopes of Mt. Elden. This area is accompanied by some huge jagged rocks. These features look like a scene from Jurassic Park. However, this area isn’t perfect. The eastern and southern slopes are nearly completely wiped out by a human-caused fire that devastated the area in 1977. This tragic fire named, Radio Fire, destroyed 4,600 acres and set the beautiful Ponderosa pine trees ablaze.
As you reach the summit of Mt. Elden, the view is fantastic. Your steep and tiring trek rewards you with a 360 degree view of this spectacular area. The winds can be pretty strong so don’t get too close to the edge. From here it’s obvious how much damage the Radio Fire actually caused. However, the way nature rebuilds itself is also visible. Trees and vegetation is slowing growing back and nature has a way of getting back on track. The view from here is one of the best in the state in my opinion. Large towers accompany you at the summit. One of these is used to detect fires in the area and catches smoke from miles away. After you soak in the view, enjoy your much much more relaxing descent down the steep, staggering slopes.
I believe Mt. Elden symbolizes the lives we live. Yeah it has a rough past and isn’t perfect by any means, but it still lives on, standing strong, adapting, rebuilding, and shows us that although the path might be steep, we must keep climbing.