Arizona's Favorite Playground: The Coconino National Forest
May 29th, 2020
FOREST OF THE "SPIRITUALLY INNOCENT"
The Coconino National Forest is one of six national forests in the state of Arizona. The name Coconino means “spiritually innocent” in the Hopi language. It was the Hopi name for the Hualapai tribe that lived in the tall pines along the rim of the Colorado Plateau. The area around Flagstaff was designated as U.S. National Forest in 1898, then expanded ten years later in 1908, at which time the name Coconino was chosen.
The Coconino covers 1.8 million acres, making it one of the largest national forests in the U.S. The entire state of Rhode Island could fit into this forest -- not just once, but twice! It contains diverse landscapes, including deserts, ponderosa-grassland forests, subalpine spruce and fir forests, pinon and juniper forests, chaparral vegetation, riparian habitat, flatlands, mesas, alpine tundra, and over 600 volcanic peaks. The Coconino also contains the highest point (Humphreys Peak), the largest natural lake (Mormon Lake), and the second largest canyon (Sycamore Canyon) in the state of Arizona.
The Coconino contains all or parts of ten designated wilderness areas including the Red Rock-Secret Mountain Wilderness, the Munds Mountain Wilderness, the Sycamore Canyon Wilderness, the Wet Beaver Wilderness, the West Clear Creek Wilderness, the Fossil Creek Wilderness and the Kachina Peaks Wilderness. All of these wilderness areas are within an hour's drive of Sedona.
Because of the elevation range that it covers, from about 2,500 ft to over 12,600 feet,the Coconino gets a lot of orographic lift, which in turn creates one of the most biologically diverse national forests in the country. It’s home to over 500 vertebrate species, 300 bird species, and an incredible array of plant species, including numerous types of cactus, wildflowers, grasses and medicinal herbs. In the lower elevations you will find Javalina and rattlesnakes, while the higher elevations are home to deer and elk.
The forest is divided into three ranger districts, with offices in Flagstaff, Sedona and Happy Jack. The forest completely surrounds the towns of Sedona and Flagstaff, and borders four other national forests; the Kaibab to the west and northwest, the Prescott to the southwest, the Tonto to the south, and the Apache-Sitgreaves to the southeast. Sedona, widely regarded as one of the most scenic destinations in the United States, is located in the Red Rock Ranger District.
When it comes to outdoor recreation, the Coconino is Arizona's favorite place to play. There's literally something for everyone. The higher elevations near Flagstaff and the creeks near Sedona offer residents from the southern part of the state a place to escape from the blistering heat of the Sonoran desert. In the spring and fall visitors from all over world flock to the area to explore thousands of miles of hiking and biking trails. In the winter months there is skiing and snowmobiling. Nature photographers will never run out of places to explore.
As if all that weren't enough, the Coconino is also packed with archaeological sites, the most spectacular of which have been designated as Montezuma Castle, Tuzigoot and Walnut Canyon National Monuments, as well as the Honanki and Palatki Heritage Sites.
Written by Ed Preston
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