FLAGSTAFF, Ariz. - The two-tailed swallowtail is Arizona's official state butterfly.
It's that big butterfly that appears to be yellow and black, but has other colors as well. Seeing one will bring a smile to anyone's face. Seeing two at one time is unusual. Seeing three or more at one time is unique and spectacular.
A recent hike to Schultz Tank paid off big time with the butterfly treasure. More than 10 gathered at one spot in the mud near the pond and more than 50 gathered around the lake. There were other butterflies as well. This is a paradise for butterfly lovers.
Lilly ponds with flowers sat on the water as Schultz Peak rose up across the pond.
Hiker Nelson Zarate said this hike offered the largest pine forest he had seen in the Arizona highlands. Making it to Schultz Tank was special.
"There was little water, but so many butterflies of different sizes and colors with some pretty blue dragonflies. They were gathering by the most mud near the water and I couldn't figure out the reason for this," he said.
After leaving Schultz Tank, Zarate enjoyed the Sunset Trail because this beautiful area was covered by extremely tall and large pines. The loop trail is in and out of shade, but there was plenty of shade on this portion of the trail.
"This makes the hike worth repeating," he said.
We started on the Sandy Seep Trail that goes only 2.7 miles, so we connected that to Little Elden Trail, down Sunset Trail, across and down Heart Trail back to Sandy Seep. This loop trail was more than 13 miles and climbed more than 2,000 feet. The trail starts at 6,800 feet and climbs close to 9,000 feet.
The joke that this loop plays on the hiker is after reaching about 9,000 feet you take in the wonderful view and think you are done climbing. Not. The trail drops back down to about 8,600 feet before it climbs back again to about 8,900 feet. More pain, more gain, another great view.
The Sandy Seep Trail starts on the eastern slope of Mt. Elden. Motor vehicles, interpret that to mean all terrain vehicles, are banned from the trail because mule deer are often found here. But on this day, the popular trail had more mountain bikers and horse riders on it than hikers so pay attention to see what's coming.
The bottom part of this trail has mostly oaks and some pine trees, but by the four mile mark the aspens start to pop up and the further up the trail the more aspens you see.
About the five mile mark, hikers start to come up on the burned area from the 1977 fire. The impact is obvious.
The Schultz Tank excitement comes up about the six mile mark.
This loop trail is full of flowers everything from firecracker penstemon to wild roses. The upper portion has lots of columbine and coming down the Heart Trail there is a number of penstemon.