Merriam Mountain • San Francisco Volcanic Field
• Southeast Coconino County

Date Climbed
September 11, 2010

Elevation
6,813 feet

Distance
4 miles

Time
1 hour, 50 minutes

Gain
1,450 feet

Conditions
Dry, breezy, lovely

Prominence
1,163 feet

Click on the thumbnail to see a full-size version


Merriam Mountain and its crater as seen from Leupp Road
 

The lower road, where the gradient is not as steep
 

The slopes were covered in golden tickseed flowers
 

At the North Bench, the gradient gets very steep
 

From the summit, looking south at the North and South Sheba cones
 

Now looking west at Humphreys and O'Leary
 

The actual summit cairn
 

Looking east, it's miles and miles of high desert and mesa country
 

There's my truck!
 

A parting shot

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Merriam Mountain is one of the many cinder cones that dot the San Francisco Volcanic Field surrounding Humphreys Peak in Northern Arizona. It is located on the far east extreme of the field, literally the last big hill of cinder rubble before the land gives way to the expansive mesa and sandstone country of the Navajo Nation. The peak's shape is typical for cinder cones: nearly perfect symmetry with smooth contours. No trees grow here; the peak is covered in low shrub and fields of wildflowers. It's treeless terrain, smooth lines and lack of foothills, plus the usual wind that is almost always a given up here, makes Merriam Mountain a popular jump-off point for hang gliders. Most of Merriam Mountain lies within a square mile of BLM land, surrounded by a checkerboard of private and state-land sections. However, access is not restricted.

I only found out about Merriam Mountain while researching some camping and hiking options for this section of Arizona. Notably, the Grand Falls are the main attraction out this way, roughly 40 miles east-northeast of Flagstaff near the Navajo community of Leupp (pronounced "loop"). The Grand Falls is a thousand-foot wide series of ledges within the Little Colorado River. If it has been raining in the high country, the flow of the Grand Falls is tremendous, a sort of muddy-colored Niagara Falls. The problem is, no one knows for sure when flows will be like this. You have to get lucky. Beth and I made plans to visit this region, with me taking a couple hours out to hike Merriam, and to see what the Grand Falls were like, and also to see what was in Leupp. We left our home on Friday evening, arriving in Flagstaff where we took a hotel. This night proved to be a waste as we were kept up by a barking dog until 3 a.m., its owner finally arriving back, a young lady who had been out drinking. We just got moving the next morning, determined to not let this bring us down.

From Flag, we followed Interstate-40 about 12 miles to the Cosnino exit (#207), north up Cosnino Road through the little town of—yes—Cosnino, catching Thompson-Winona Road after two miles. We went east three miles on T-W road, then left where the signed pointed to Leupp. We followed this road about a dozen miles through cinder hills and low pinon-juniper woodlands, slowly losing elevation (and the trees) until finally coming upon a pass with big Merriam Mountain to our left, and North Sheba Mountain to our right.

We zoomed right by the turn-off but only went an extra mile or so, to the Navajo Nation boundary. There, we went north on Indian Road 70 north a mile to a small church, then hard-left onto a smaller road back onto state land about a mile to our "proper" road. This road went north about a mile also, skirting Merriam on its east. The road is rough in spots as it surmounts a couple of lava ridges. We parked at a junction, where a side road goes west up to the summit of Merriam. This is where the hang gliders would drive to launch their craft. We arrived about 12:30 p.m. in pleasant conditions, bone-dry with no clouds forever. We were well-hidden where we were, so I set Beth up with her camp chair and sodas and she was good to go. Me, I got my shoes and hiking clothes on, and within minutes started up the road to the top. It was about 12:45 when I started my walk.

The route is brainless: follow the road about two miles to the top, a gain of about 1,450 feet. The initial portion was kind of steep, following a fence-line, then it gained onto a flattish bench, the fields covered in beautiful yellow flowers called golden tickseed. For about a half mile, the road is mostly level, or gains with very lenient grades. The lack of trees means the views are unobstructed, and the higher I climbed, the more amazing the views became. About half-way up the road splits (the split is not shown on the map). The hang glider people call this the First Bench and use it as one jump-off point. I noted that to here the road was fairly solid and never too steep, maybe a 10% gradient at worst and only for short stretches, so that most stock 4-wheel drive vehicles could come to this point without much trouble. I rested here for a few minutes. The weather was just spectacular, a fall-like day after a long summer of brutal heat. There was a soft breeze, and I had million-mile views to the north, east and south.

The remainder of the hike is up a much steeper slope, probably pushing a 20-25% gradient. The rubbly cinder made the going slippery, so I tried to walk on the exposed solid hard-pack whenever possible. This section gained about 800 feet in slightly less than a mile, pretty much charging right to the top. I arrived on the summit at 1:50 p.m. The top is mostly bare and large enough to accommodate a few vehicles. The summit cairn is set toward the west of the hump, and I walked past it down the other side for some photos of the San Francisco Peaks, including mighty Humphreys Peak, of course. I also inspected the Merriam Crater from above, but chose not to hike its perimeter. I would imagine some of those slopes would be brutal with the loose cinders. To the south were the two Sheba Peaks, which are apparently also used for hang-gliding. West were the many hills and peaks of the San Franciscos. Looking down east there were a few scattered homesteads on the greener state lands, then the starker, more pinkish high-deserts of the Navajo Nation, with interesting volcanic plugs and mesa way way off to the east. The hike had been quick and simple, but the views were astounding. I stayed up top maybe 10 minutes before starting down.

The hike down went well. The steep upper portion was very slippery, but I am happy to report I didn't slid onto my arse at all. But at times I felt like I was skiing on ball-bearings. Obviously once I got to the lower slopes near the First Bench, the going was much friendlier. The whole hike out took about 30 minutes, and I was back to the truck in just less than two hours. Beth had conked out in the cab, so I woke her and got myself dressed for the drive out. The area was just lovely, but yes, it was buggy, and we wanted to get moving. We exited south along the road, actually coming out to the paved Leupp Road directly without following all the turns we took coming in.

It was about 3 p.m. when we were back on pavement, and we decided to put off Grand Falls for another day. Instead, we drove east into Leupp, just to check it out. The community has about 1,000 residents, a fairly typical pre-fab Navajo town laid out in a grid, with a school and some other administrative buildings. Leupp is the biggest Navajo town for many miles and has a boarding school. It's not a place you'd pass through since it's not on the way to anywhere (unless you're going to or from Dilkon*).

From Leupp, we followed highway AZ-99 toward Interstate-40 and stayed the night in Winslow. We celebrated with Subway sandwiches and an early night. Beth recalls staying in Winslow on her first trip west just out of college in 1989. We were here together for New Years of 2006. Winslow is famous for a corner featured in the Eagles' song Take It Easy. The city even has such a corner, with commemorative signs. It's something to do when in town, but it takes all of five minutes. Then you realize what a dump Winslow is. But the hotel was clean, so we were fine. The next day we drove home via Payson.







* This is a weak attempt at humor. See, while it is true that Leupp is on the main route between Dilkon and Flagstaff, it's unlikely anyone has ever heard of Dilkon and rarer to actually be in Dilkon and then need to go to Flagstaff. However, I realize that it is possible that someone reading this page may live in Dilkon and may actually pass through Leupp when traveling to and from Flagstaff, and thus would not find the above the least bit humorous, but instead find it blandly factual.

(c) 2010 Scott Surgent. For entertainment purposes only. This report is not meant to replace maps, compass, gps and other common sense hiking/navigation items. Neither I nor the webhost can be held responsible for unfortunate situations that may arise based on these trip reports. Conditions (physical and legal) change over time! Some of these hikes are major mountaineering or backpacking endeavors that require skill, proper gear, proper fitness and general experience.