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Schultz Creek Loop Day Hike
August 3, 2013
by Jim Buyens

You know how the Boy Scouts have, “Do a Good Turn Daily,” as their slogan? Well, we did a bunch of them and to top it off, we made a wrong turn as well!

Linda, Jim, Quy, Ed, Edith, Gary, Punya, and Wayne. [photo by Wayne]
Just beginning the hike. Note the well-maintained, clear, accurate sign on the right. [photo by Wayne]

The plan was simple enough: traverse the Schultz Creek, Sunset, Brookbank, and Rocky Ridge trails in a clockwise 12.2 mile loop. Although I’d hiked the Sunset and Brookbank trails once before, I hadn’t done the Schultz Creek or the Rocky Ridge.

But I knew that most trails in the area just north of Flagstaff were well-marked, and so with a good map and several GPS units we headed out.

How tough could it be?

The navigation committee evaluates our situation.
So far, so good. [photo by Wayne]
Wayne enjoys the early going. [photo by Quy]
Punya stops to enjoy the scenery.
Punya, Edith, Quy, Ed, Gary, and Linda take a break.

The Schultz Creek trail was very pleasant. In our direction the trail rose, but with enough ups and downs that we hardly noticed the overall effect. Temperatures were cool, the tall trees provided shade, and occasionally we heard and spotted the creek flowing. Life was good.

The Arizona Trail joins us from the left. Another outstanding directional marker! [photo by Quy]
Hmmm, an unmarked fork in the trail.
(We got this one right.) [photo by Quy]
Edith continues after taking a photo. Jim’s still
at it and Wayne’s thinking. [photo by Quy]

At one spot we spotted a butterfly and four of us surrounded it, all taking photos. He stayed on the same flower a long time, perhaps because we told him he’d be on Animal Planet.

Jim and Wayne on contract for Animal Planet.
Their object: a butterfly. [photo by Quy]
I believe it’s a Spring White (Pontia sisymbrii).
The flower is White Geranium. [photo by Wayne]
A trickle of water in Schultz Creek.
Edith pauses for a photo. [photo by Quy]

Trail markings on the Schultz Creek trail were generally good. Between that and a good map, we remained on-course throughout.

More water in Schultz Creek. [photo by Wayne]

Another fork, another navigation decision. The sign on the left points to the
Schultz Creek Trail, but the trail on the right is unidentified. [photo by Wayne]
I dunno, that tree is not on the map.
[photo by Wayne]
The sign points to the Schultz Creek Trail,
which is where we want to go. [photo by Quy]

The trail on the right, though, is still a mystery. (Mystery clue: we found out later it’s the Little Gnarly Trail. Remember that.)


This time of year Flagstaff gets a little rain almost every afternoon, and this produces occasional muddy spots, puddles, ponds, and tanks. This is so unlike southern Arizona that we stopped to take a look at almost every one.

Some large fungi growing on a fallen tree trunk. Hmmm, wonder if they’re mood-altering... Or disorienting... [photo by Wayne]

Water along the Schultz Creek Trail. This was just a naturally-formed tank, not part of the creek flow.
Me standing on my head. You can see my reflection at the top of the photo. [photo by Quy]

After about three and a half miles of hiking we reached the Schultz Tank Trailhead as planned. Here we discovered more of those puddles, ponds, and tanks. Total ascent was about 700 feet. We didn’t stop at the Schultz Tank itself, though.

This guy Schultz must have been some operator, eh? He got a creek, a trail, a tank, and two trailheads named after him. Just don’t ask anybody, “Which way is Schultz?”

Generally milling about at the Schultz Tank trailhead.
Another naturally-formed tank, this time at the Schultz Tank trailhead.
That’s not the Schultz Tank, though. [photo by Quy]

After a brief rest and some photo opportunities we followed some excellent signage to the Sunset trail. This leg was a little steeper, rising some twelve hundred feet in a distance of four miles. There weren’t many ups and down, though, just ups.

We also encountered about five minutes of very light rain, which wasn’t a problem at all. That’s the price you pay for greenery!

A young tree starts life in a rockin’ location.
OK, the Sunset Trail, leg two of our journey. Great signage, eh? [photo by Quy]
Pausing on the Sunset Trail. Traveling north to south, it was all uphill.
Baneberry berries, which are berry poisonous. They taste bad (I’m told) and eating more than five or six can cause death. Hmmm, I wonder if passing nearby can cause disorientation?

Navigation on the Sunset leg was a breeze. The trail was clear and well-travelled, the direction was consistently southeast, and there were almost no side trails to lure us off track.

The San Francisco Peaks, always a majestic sight. [photo by Wayne]
Stepping safely over a large fallen tree requires care. [photo by Quy]
Ah, mushrooms. No one ate this but maybe just the fumes? [photo by Wayne]

I knew the end of the Sunset leg would be our maximum elevation, and I’d planned to stop for lunch there before starting the gradual descent to the trailhead. But by 12:15 we still weren’t there, and several people were ready for a break, and it looked as if trees were going to obstruct the view from the top anyway. As a result, we stopped short at a nice shady spot with enough level rocks and tree trunks for everyone.

Munching bunches of lunches along the Sunset Trail. [photo by Quy]
Edith munching down Baneberry Jello. No wait, those are poisonous (Baneberries, not Jello). Must be sliced watermelon. [photo by Quy]
Here I am, a veritable tree of size and strength, with some guy who just finished lunch leaning against me. [photo by Quy]

Edith kept offering to share her ham and jalapeño pepper concoction, ensuring everyone that it wasn’t that hot. Right, but to the surprise of several people who tried it, it wasn’t!

More fungi with, hopefully, no disorienting vapors.
[photo by Wayne]
Beautiful mountains and trees.
[photo by Wayne]
Mahonia repens, commonly known as creeping mahonia. Do they make you dizzy?
For a dead tree and rocks this is a pretty cool composition. [photo by Quy]

After lunch and some photo snapping we resumed our trek upward. Fifteen or twenty minutes later we reached the high point and a completely unmarked intersection. The Forest Service had put a large sign there but it only explained forest fires and controlled burns, not which trail was which.

Here we are at the top of the Sunset Trail with more navigational choices. There’s a sign but it’s not a trail guide; it’s about forest management and controlled burns.

Getting directional assistance from some bikers going the opposite direction from us. [photo by Quy]
Too bad they didn’t have a sign like this at the fork at the summit. [photo by Quy]

Good things, however, do apparently come to those who wait. While we were checking GPS readings, consulting maps, and smelling the wind, some mountain bikers came through and said they’d just left the Brookbank trail. This was great news because the Brookbank was where we wanted to be! So thus encouraged, we set out accurately once again.

A look at the Mt. Elden Lookout and some trees. [photo by Quy]
Ed asked me to take his picture, so here we are. Quy took both of us, so Quy two, us one.
An official location marker so yup, there we were. Some map coordinates sure would have helped, though.
Doncha just hate it when the sign says, “You are here,” but doesn’t tell you where “here” is?
[photo by Quy]
The sign says this is a bearing tree. That doesn’t mean the tree bears leaves, though, or that it holds the weight of some suspended object, or that it produces round metallic berries. The sign is to mark your bearing. Once again, though, some map coordinates would have helped. [photo by Quy]

We followed the Brookbank trail for about two and a half fairly level miles, after which we reached a fairly large fork completely devoid of markings. Which to take, right or left?

We tried everything. We convened the navigation committee. We checked GPS readings. We consulted the map. I checked our direction with a compass. We smelt the wind, shot the sun, measured with outstretched thumbs, and scratched our heads. Meanwhile, of course, we also waited for mountain bikers.

Eventually another hiker passed by and assured us that the trail to the right led back to the Schultz Creek trailhead where we’d started. So we took the right trail. What could be more obvious than that?

Wrong! The trail on the right was actually the Little Gnarly trail, and while it did lead back to the trailhead, it only did so by connecting to the Schultz Creek trail we’d started on. So after a couple of miles, we found ourselves at a junction quite familiar from the trip out. (Slaps palm on forehead) So guess what? Both branches of the fork led back to the trailhead! I’d meant to take the Rocky Ridge trail back, but instead we’d taken the Little Gnarly to the Schultz Creek!

The Little Gnarly, BTW, doesn’t appear on all maps because it passes over private land and out of Forest Service jurisdiction. The trail is open to the public but even so the Forest Service omits it on their maps and signs.

But oh well. Our loop hike became a lollipop (or a figure six, or a figure nine, or whatever), but we got a bonus mile out of it and we still have the Rocky Ridge trail to explore next time!

Apparently, the Schultz Loop is different from the Schultz Creek Trail, and both of those are different from the Schultz Creek Trailhead, Schultz Creek itself, Schultz Tank, and the Schultz Tank Trailhead.
So it’s easy to get that Schultz wrong. [photo by Quy]
A chipmunk along the Little Gnarly Trail. At least there was this consolation. [photo by Wayne]
Linda and Punya hiking the Little Gnarly Trail by mistake. As did we all. If only we’d known at the time. [photo by Wayne]
A beautiful sunset on the way home. Which means yes, we did get back to the cars. Yippee!
[photo by Punya]

After the hike Linda, Ed, Edith, Gary, and I stopped at Beaver Street Brewery for some well-earned sustenance and refreshment. The rest headed straight back to Phoenix for home and family. It was a good hike that ended well. What could be better than that?

The hike statistics, according to my GPS, were:

Total Distance: 13.8 miles
Start Time: 9:38 AM
Finish time: 4:46 PM
Moving time: 4:59
Stopped time: 2:09
Max Speed: 5.7 mph
Moving Average: 2.8 mph
Overall Average 1.9 mph
Elevation at Trailhead: 6976 feet
Maximum Elevation: 8635 feet
Total Ascent: 1384 feet

I’m not sure how 8635 feet max minus 6976 at the trailhead can be a 1659-foot difference when total ascent was only 1384 but that’s what the machine says. Rounding, maybe, or echoes... Hmmm...

→   More pictures and commentary, by Quy Nguyen.
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updated August 14, 2013