When a secret is too well kept

On my journey to complete all the hikes listed in the Flagstaff trail guide map I came across a hidden trail.

While searching for a campground near a hike I was doing, my friend showed me the Fort Valley trail system which is in an unmarked road side camping area. It was there that I saw a trailhead that listed 3 trails, and one of those trails was the Secret Trail. It was on my to do list! I made a mental note to remember this spot and to return to it to soon!

A month or so later a friend asked to go on a hike with me and I immediately thought of this trail!

Her trail name is now ” compass “. I actually just made that up, but it suits her and you’ll soon find out why!

I had no trouble remembering where the side road turnout was so we soon found ourselves standing before the trailhead sign that read ” Secret Trail 3.6 miles” . Now some signs give you the trail mileage before you start so you know how long the trail is. Makes perfect sense. But this sign was just telling you the distance you had to go BEFORE you even get to the trail! A detail that would have been very helpful to know ahead of time,

Alas, we set off on in blissful ignorance of this fact.

A cloudy sky made the temperature perfect. Compass, her adorable dog Tinker-bell, and I happily began our nicely planned hike. The trail was relatively flat and easy as we set out. Very bright and easy to spot orange arrows mounted on the trees assured us of staying on the right trail.

Soon we reached a trail sign that read ” Damper Trail” hmmmm… we kept following the orange arrows and soon saw a trail sign for the “Flue Trail” at this point we figured out all these trails must be taken in order to reach our desired Secret Trail. We continued on to complete the Chimney trail, Moto Trail and the Newman Trail. Over 5 miles into this adventure we have yet to come across a sign for the Secret Trail. We are now laughing that this trail is really secret. So secret that maybe it doesn’t exist. But low and behold we come across a sign for the Secret Trail and it’s only 1.3 miles away! Hurray we are on course though the mileage is still a mystery. We picked up our pace to reach our destination. One reason for the speed ; we just wanted to prove it was real, and the other reason being dark clouds were rolling in and thunder in the distance was threatening to come closer. The 1.3 miles become another lie… we had gone further than 6 miles without a trace of this so called Secret. These beautifully marked trails had deceived us. Frustrated and running out of daylight we had to turn back. I mumbled for at least a mile about how I hated not finding it ,how the mileage was so wrongly marked, how I had to come back again to give it another go , and how we might be late for our other obligations that night.

Thankfully Tinker-Bell was a great mood lifter as she looked at us as if to say ” hey, it’s beautiful out here and we’ve done a lot of trails in a short time so be happy”.

To add to her charm she loves to chase squirrels up trees and then strut around the tree in great pride.

Compass spotted a really large and fluffy squirrel off to our right but Tinker was off to our left smelling bushes. So too get her attention Compass started calling out ” go get it, go get it Tinker” as she pointed to the fluffy cuteness Tinker somehow had not spotted. Finally with a little more pointing and coaxing Tinker bounded out after it. And then to our shock and great distress Tinker actually caught this squirrel that was almost as big as her! Compass was yelling let go, and amazingly she did, but darn if that squirrel didn’t just start running in circles around Tinker daring her to try again. Not a great choice on the squirrels part. Tinker couldn’t resist the challenge and grabbed the squirrel in her mouth and began to swing that poor creature like a washing machine set on fast spin. Now both Compass and I begin yelling at Tinker to have mercy and drop it! Tinker proceeded to ignore us until she had her fill of fun. Compass got a hold of Tinker and declared the squirrel was still alive. I breathed a sigh of relief , but it turns out I was the only one worried about the squirrel.. Compass was worried about Tinker picking up some disease from the wild squirrel! We laughed at our opposing concerns and continued on.

Then we came to a fork in the trail. Which way should we go? You guessed it, with a 50/50 chance of choosing correctly, we did not.

All the reassuring orange arrows had disappeared. We found ourselves walking in some sort of wildlife trail, bunny trails, and no trail at all.

Compass remained calm and suggested we just continue and hope to run into a main trail soon. Sure enough we came across a trail with a post that we knew would contain a map.. we had seen these on our way through all the trails we had taken. I’m pretty sure I clapped my hands in excitement and anticipation of learning where exactly we were!

Here is what we found on the post as we got closer …

Umm… this wasn’t helpful at all. I’m betting some other lost and panicked hikers ripped the map off so they could cling to it until they reached civilization. Thankfully Compass was neither panicked or feeling lost .

My amazing GPS watch couldn’t help us because the owner of such said watch has yet to learn to operate anything besides the time, distance, pace and elevation. 😳

Compass was beginning to mention how she was going to plan the next hike upon realizing I was woefully unprepared and unaware of the need for planning. I readily agreed with her. I just want to hike.

Compass fiddled with her smart phone and was able to input where we had parked her car and then the phone located us and provided us with a small arrow in the direction of the car.

We ignored all trails and just started bush whacking to keep the arrow pointing in the right direction. Somehow climbing over steep hills and transversing through thorn bushes turned this hike into a grand adventure. We were explorers discovering new lands.

Ultimately we found her car and even made it back in time for our other obligations that night.

When I got home I was able to

Sync my watch with my phone and see the path we took. You can clearly see where we took the wrong fork but you can also see Compass’s amazing skill in keeping us closer on track then we even realized. I was expecting to see some circles, crazy 8’s path, etc.

You’d never guess we had such a grand adventure by looking at this:

azing how close we were to the actual trail! Had we stayed on track it would have been just one red line. Funny enough I think the 1440 feet in elevation gain all happened on that last bit of bush whacking.

I still have to go find the Secret Trail so stay tuned!



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