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Bill Williams and Benham Trails
Exploratory Day Hike
August 27, 2011
by Wendy Rennert
  GPS Map 
At the fire lookout tower (From the top down):
Ajay, Ed, Andy, Chuck, Olga, Monika, Wendy K.,
Wendy R., Jim B #1, Gary, Arturo, Quy, Jim B #2, Wayne

When most of us left our homes to drive to the carpool location, it was still a little dark out. But since we’re still in the midst of monsoon season, it’s always a wise idea to get an early start. Especially since our destination was Williams, AZ, about 30 minutes west of Flagstaff.

Armed with directions, maps and each other’s phone numbers for this exploratory hike, we split into two groups of seven people, with one group driving to the Bill Williams trailhead, and the other group driving to the Benham trailhead.

Since we would be doing a key exchange at the top, the drivers made sure they knew which car they would be driving once they finished the hike, and who they needed to swap keys with.

The two trails had different challenges. The Bill Williams trail was steeper and had more of an elevation gain, but was also a lot more shaded. The Benham trail had less of an elevation gain, but was a little bit longer and more exposed to the toasty sun.

Either way, we would get a good workout!

Team Benham: Ajay, Wayne, Ed, Quy, Gary, Jim and Wendy R.
Our warm and sunny start on the Benham trail.
Near the Bill Williams trailhead.
Should we just hop on the passing Polaris? Nah!
Welcome to the jungle! Mile 3 of the Benham hike.

The Benham trail crossed an old forest road several times, which of course jokingly begged the question from some tired hikers “Why didn’t we just drive up to the top??” Because this is a HIKING club, of course! ; )

There were a few small glimpses of the San Francisco Peaks in the distance on the Benham, but where the Bill Williams was lacking in views, it made up for in the lushness of the beautiful forest.

The two groups successfully meet up at the top and swap car keys before sitting down for a nice relaxing lunch. We swap stories about our separate trails and enjoy being together as one group. The views from the forest lookout tower were impressive.

The payoff begins – a gorgeous meadow near the top of the trail.
Interesting rock formations jut out from the forest.
The San Francisco Peaks
dominate the distant skyline.
Kendrick Peak off to the
northeast in the background.
We made it to the top!
Wendy gives the Osborne Fire Finder a try.

Forest ranger Don was happy to have visitors. We took turns, four at a time getting our chance to check out the views in the tiny tower. It was incredibly windy as we neared the top of the steps. The tower is so small that the trap door entrance makes up about 1/4 of the floor of the tower when the door is closed.

Ranger Don’s perch during lightning storms.
Ladybugs keep Ranger Don company at the top.

We recognized the Osborne Fire Finder tool from other fire tower visits – Kendrick Peak and Wilderness of Rocks on Mt. Lemmon, two of the most recent. Many of the people on this weeks hike had also attended last week’s Kendrick Peak hike, so Ranger Don pointed out the mountain they had climbed the week before. He also pointed out the stool with rubber legs he stands on during lightning storms. He said though not entirely necessary, it does provide some extra peace of mind for him. Hats off to Don! He spends 40 hours a week up here. Thankfully, he doesn’t sleep in the tower, as there really is no room to do so. There is a bunkhouse and communication station on the ground below.

A budding fire ranger.
Guess how many steps up to the tower?.....61!
D’oh! The work of a nearsighted hawk, perhaps.
Bird’s eye view of Williams, Arizona.

With a few clouds starting to roll in, we say our temporary goodbyes to the other group and start heading back down the mountain.

Our lungs are enjoying the trek downhill.
Even going downhill it’s important to take a break.
Rain cooled us off before we headed back.

The two groups finish the hike at almost the same time, and we head into Williams for a well deserved bite at a local restaurant. We see some impressive lightning bolts as we dine, and by the time we were through, it was pouring rain. We race to the cars and quickly switch our gear back to the car we came up in. We are thankful we started as early as we did today, or we would have been out on the mountain in the deluge!

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Arizona Trailblazers Hiking Club, Phoenix, Arizona
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updated January 20, 2020