Originally Published: May 27, 2012 3:57 p.m.
Convenience, however, comes at a price. The highway noise off the freeway is persistent for the first mile of the hike and you must walk the last half mile on a dirt road. In spite of these civilized aspects, this hike is a great candidate for Arizona's best summer day hike. Hiking in the Southwest in the summer, begins at 9,000 feet because you can't find a cool spot outdoors unless you reach for high terrain. Bill Williams Mountain delivers and provides a good supply of great vistas, beautiful flowers, and a trail that is well maintained and well used.
To reach the trailhead, take Interstate 40 west of Flagstaff to exit 161 on the west side of Williams. On the south side of the interstate, take the first right (frontage road) southwest about half a mile to a left turn off of the frontage road. This takes you a couple of hundred yards to the Ranger Station and parking lot. There are no facilities at the trailhead except for an outhouse. There is no surface water on the trail under normal conditions and don't forget that reaching the summit involves an elevation gain of 2,000 feet. There are no motorized vehicles allowed on the trail, but expect to see folks on mountain bikes.
Expect also to see a wide range of plants on the way to the top, including rare buttercups, common wildflowers, and prickly shrubs, under a canopy of ponderosa pine (near the base) and mixed conifers (at the top). Happy hiking.
Indian paintbrush, Castilleja integra, (Foxglove Family)
I can't think of a better name for this most widespread of western wildflowers. All in all, there are some 90 species of Castilleja to be seen across the Southwest. Imagine dipping this small plant into a blotter of cosmic paint and with the entire landscape as your canvas, dabbing it across places like the Painted Desert, Bryce Canyon, and Death Valley to color our world with all the reds, pinks, blues, yellows, and greens of the spectrum. Now that the painting is finished, this little paintbrush stands erect and grows across the West in order to keep the painting alive and ever new. Each spring, a new crop of colorful paintbrushes appear with splashes of color from deserts to mountain meadows. Humming birds whiz by, drinking in the color and nectar as they display their own palette. Isn't the land grand? What a delight to drink it all in. We are so blessed. The most colorful parts of these wildflowers are sterile bracts beneath the flowers rather than the petals you are likely to be familiar with. No matter, the structure of the flowers in this group from the Foxglove or Snapdraggon Family make the plants no less lovely, though they are most likely to be attractive as a group rather than by themselves. Most species flower over a period of many weeks and with so many species in our floristic region, we can enjoy these beauties for months every year. The leaves of this species are narrow, grayish, and alternately arranged on the stems. It is often seen on rocky soils in open areas from 4,000 feet to 8,000 feet from Arizona to Texas and north to Colorado. Several varieties are also recognized. All in all, a diverse, exciting, widespread, beautiful member of our floristic communities. Some species are known for concentrating Selenium in their herbage, making them poisonous. Therefore, look but don't eat.
Arizona Bugbane, Cimicifuga arizonica, (Buttercup Family)
According to the Southwest Environmental Information Network (SEINET), Cimicifuga arizonica is known from only a few localities in central Arizona. Therefore, it is of conservation concern. It grows in moist, loamy soil of the ecotone between the coniferous forest and the riparian habitat and does not spread into the forest. It appears to be adapted to deep shade where the forest duff is thick around 8,000 feet above sea level. It flowers in summer (Jul-Aug) It is a member of the Buttercup Family, recognized for their many floral parts. You know, lots of things like sepals, petals, stamens, etc. In this case, the sepals and petals look alike and are not particularly noticeable. The stamens, though, are many. It's the stamens you are likely to notice. Also, the flowers are arranged high on tall stalks above large, divided, bright green leaves. The flowers are white. Other members of the Buttercup Family with which you might be familiar include, Larkspurs, Buttercups, and Columbines. This is a very colorful group with showy flowers and leaves. Many are poisonous too. Look but don't touch. Due to the limited distribution of this species, you are not likely to see it. However, if you are fortunate enough to observe it, treat it gently. Remember the spelunkers motto? Leave nothing but footprints, take nothing but pictures. Let's do our part to "do no harm" to this member of God's creation. Rare and unusual organisms are like a delicate treasure. Once gone, they are gone forever. The easiest way to help them, is to leave them alone.
New Mexico Locust, Robinia neomexicana, (Pea Family)
Unfortunately, this widespread, beautiful shrub bears pairs of very robust (nasty) prickles all along its branches. In winter, when the stems are bare, the prickles threaten to shred apart anyone coming too close. It's probably not as unpleasant as running into a catclaw shrub, but it's close. Standing 2-3 meters tall, these shrubs often grow in thickets in pine forests. The butterfly-like flowers are pink-purple and grow in thick clusters. They are truly beautiful as well as fragrant. The leaves are typical Pea Family leaves, divided into about a dozen leaflets, hiding those hideous prickles. Like all legumes, New Mexico Locust bears bean pods, which are hairy, flat, brown, and 10 cm long. According to Epple in plants of Arizona, the seeds, bark, and roots are poisonous to people, though Indians in New Mexico ate the flowers raw and the Hopis used this plant for medicinal purposes. I have yet to try the flowers. I wonder what they taste like.
Arizona Valerian, Valeriana arizonica, (Valerian Family)
Valerian is also called Tobacco-root. When dried it stinks. Perhaps that's why it got this name, though many types of tobacco do not stink. Some species of this group were used by Native Americans for food, though I don't know just how it was used. It is quite common in pine forests where there is plenty of shade and moisture. It's common on stream banks. It stands about as high as half way up your shins. Each plant is a lovely bouquet in its own right with a relatively large cluster of white to pinkish purple flowers atop a single stalk. It is not particularly fragrant but it is beautiful to behold. It usually grows in scattered stands, so you are likely to see a small community of Valerian plants if you see any at all. There are only some dozen species across the Southwest and they are members of their own small plant family. So, they are unusual. The flowers are tubular and the leaves divided. Most of the leaves grow near the base of the plant. Leaves further up the stem often clasp the stem and the divisions of the leaf are often pointed at the tips. Like so many wildflowers, Valerian could be described as eye-candy.
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