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Monday, August 19, 2019

GREENS PEAK: Hike to the High Point of the Springerville Volcanic Field

The beastly profile of Greens Peak near Greer.
From a distance, the lopsided hump of Greens Peak with its sparsely vegetated south face and top fringe of conifers resembles the shaggy profile of an African wildebeest.
Escudilla Mountain (horizon on right) seen from Greens Pk.
The funny-looking hill sits a few miles north of State Route 260 near the town of Greer, between the lofty peaks of eastern Arizona’s White Mountains and the colorful badlands of the Petrified Forest National Park and offers a unique vantage point in the ecoregion between alpine forests and high-desert plains.
Looking toward Springerville from Greens Peak
Mima mounds dot the meadows around Greens Peak
The hike climbs to the top of a cinder cone volcano
Fleabane grow in dense clumps along the route
Aspens thrive on the north face of Greens Peak
The 10,134-foot extinct cinder cone volcano is the highest point of the Springerville Volcanic Field-- a swath of hundreds of diverse geological wonders that runs roughly between the towns of McNary and Alpine. Surrounded by miles of open rangeland, meandering creeks and sweet-smelling fir-spruce woodlands, the area is also home to dozens of easy-to-explore volcanic elements and glacial imprints. For an in-depth but approachable read about this fascinating corner of Arizona, check out A Guide to the Geology of the White Mountains and the Springerville Volcanic Field, Arizona by John V. Bezy and Arthur S. Trevena. It’s available as a free download on the Arizona Geological Survey website. 
Hundreds of geological features are visible from Greens Pk
The book describes several field trips to some of the area’s most interesting peculiarities. The keynote trip is a hike up to Greens Peak.  
Summit of Greens Peak has great views in all directions
With its beastly appearance and half bald, half forested slopes, the mountain is a natural draw for curious visitors in search of an off-the-radar summit hike with primo views. Although it’s short in length and ascends on a gradual, undulating grade, the trek is not for the faint-of-heart. It begins at over 9,000 feet in elevation where thin air will tax the lungs of unacclimated Valley dwellers. If you’re not up to the 600-foot haul to the summit, there are plenty of curiosities to explore around the mountain’s base including the mima (pronounced may-muh) mounds.
Sunrise ski area and Fence Tank seen from Greens Peak
One of the enduring mysteries of White Mountain geology, is the origin of the mounds.
Harebells bloom in alpine meadows through September
Rodents, imbedded root systems and creatures from outer space all have been credited with making these roundish, lumps of gravel that average 2 feet high in the breezy meadows below the peak.
Summit marker on 10,134-foot Greens Peak
The prevailing theory is that these odd lumps are remnants of a glacial ice field that receded some 25,000 years ago leaving behind a landscape that smacks more of Iceland than Arizona.   
A pollinator alights on a Western yarrow plant.
Don’t be intimidated by the hill’s steep, stark appearance. Following an edge-hugging road that makes a 180-degree swing along the mountain’s west and south flanks, the steady uphill slog is easier than it looks.  Along the lung-pumping climb, vista points appear around every kink in the road.
North view from the summit of Greens Peak
Look for surrounding hike hubs like Pole Knoll, Mount Baldy (11,420 feet) and the trails around Big Lake. Near the top, the distinctive profile of Escudilla Mountain (10,912 feet) that sits near the New Mexico border shows a frenzy of aspen resurgence in the scar of the 2011Wallow Fire.  On the summit, a fire lookout and communication towers rise above the coniferous woodlands that cover the mountain’s northeast flanks.
Greens Peak seen from nearby Fence Tank corral.
To the south, the web-like patterns of ski runs at Sunrise Park Resort near Greer stand out above a landscape of misshapen volcanic bluffs, mounds and eroded cones.
Cattle graze in meadows at the base of the mountain.
The mountain’s breezy high-elevation edges are also ideal for birdwatching or spotting herds of pronghorn, elk and ubiquitous cattle roaming among lumpy grasslands and watering holes below.
A fire lookout and communication towers on the summit
LENGTH: 2 or 4 miles roundtrip
RATING: moderate
ELEVATION: 9,520 – 10,134 feet
From Pinetop-Lakeside, travel east on State Route 260 (toward McNary).  Continue to roughly 3 miles past State Route 273 to Forest Road 117 near milepost 380 on the left (about a mile past the Railroad Grade trailhead).  Follow FR117 north for 3 miles to a "Y" junction at Forest Road 61 where a sign reads “Greens Peak 2 miles”. You can park here for a 4-mile roundtrip hike or veer left and drive another mile to the next “Y” intersection at FR61/61C
for a 2-mile hike.  Roads are maintained dirt and cinder and passable by sedan.
INFO: Arizona Geological Survey
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Monday, August 12, 2019

Fain Park Trails

Shoreline Trail traces the edge of Fain Lake
A grotto on Lynx Creek
There's much to see and do at Fain Park.
A Great blue heron wades in Fain Lake
Juniper and scrub oaks shade the hillside trails
Observation deck above the dam has great views
Huge cottonwood trees thrive around the water
Tucked into a ravine between industrial parks and subdivisions five miles downstream from Lynx Lake in Prescott Valley, Fain Lake offers a diverse menu of outdoor recreation opportunities. 
Lynx Creek Loop is a core route in the 6-trail system.
The lake is the center piece of a 100-acre park that’s named for the Fain family—one of the original settlers in the area—who donated the land to the Town of Prescott Valley in 1997. The tiny oasis located less than a mile off busy State Route 69 provides easy access to fishing, gold panning, picnicking and hiking while embracing its multi-faceted heritage and natural resources with educational components.  The mineral-rich, creek-side property has been explored, hunted, mined and homesteaded since prehistoric times. 
Silverleaf nightshade blooms along the trails
The discovery of gold in the nearby Bradshaw Mountains in the mid 1800s brought on a boom of mining activity and several historic artifacts and buildings from this profitable era are preserved in and around the park. 
A restored stamp mill in the park's mining artifact display 
Noteworthy among the many points of interest is a collection of defunct mining equipment on display along the Lynx Creek Loop Trail.
Old fence on the Calvary Trl frames views of Glassford Hill 
Relics including rusty gears, cogs, jacks and a magnificently-restored stamp mill---a kind of crushing machine used in the processing of ore— are outfitted with signs that explain their function in the laborious pursuit of extracting gold from rock and water. The hills above the 3-acre lake are outfitted with a convoluted system of loopy trails.  Two primary routes—the Lynx Creek Loop and the Cavalry Trail combine for a 1.6-mile circumference tour while the Canyon, Chapel, Overlook and Shoreline trails provide scenic detours.
A bridge spans a finger cove on Fain Lake.
Although there are no official mileages given for the secondary trails, my GPS recorded 3.6 miles for the entire system. 
A sacred datura plant on the Lynx Lake Loop trail
The trails wind among scrubby highlands, slender canyons, leafy backwaters behind the lake’s dam, calm shorelines, a created waterfall and stony grottos along Lynx Creek.  Although the trails are well-marked, seasonal flooding and washouts can make certain areas inaccessible, but the system’s interconnected layout makes it easy to circumvent the sporadic obstacles. 
Lush riparian habitats along the Calvary Trail
The popular community fishing lake is stocked regularly with rainbow trout (except in July and August) by Arizona Game and Fish Department. A fishing dock, bridge, dam observation platform, picnic ramadas, restrooms and a barrier-free lakeside path round out the family-friendly amenities of this compact gem.
View from the Overlook Trail in Fain Park
LENGTH: 3.6 miles
RATING: easy - moderate
ELEVATION: 4954 - 5133 feet
2215 N. 5th Street, Prescott Valley.
From State Route 69 in Prescott Valley, go 0.1-mile south on Prescott East Highway to 2nd Street.  Turn left and go 0.1-mile to 5th Street, turn right and continue 0.4 mile downhill to the park. Park hours are 7 a.m. to 10 p.m. October – March and 5 a.m. to 10 p.m. April – September.
INFO: Prescott Valley Parks and Recreation Dept.

Wednesday, July 31, 2019

Berry Road

Berry Road is an apt moniker for this Mormon Lake hike
A drive along Lake Mary Road that runs between Flagstaff and State Route 87 at the edge of the Mogollon Rim south of the community of Happy Jack is a dramatic tour of  Arizona’s plateau lakes region and the high-country woodlands of Coconino National Forest. A particularly scenic section passes by Upper and Lower Lake Mary and Mormon Lake.
Mormon Lake is a sometimes marsh, sometimes lake
At roughly 2-miles across, Mormon Lake is Arizona’s largest natural lake. Fed mostly by snow melt, the lake’s surface area vacillates between a substantial pool and swampy swales depending on seasonal precipitation. This year has been a pretty good one for the lake. Even now, in late summer, the watery basin is a collection of deep ponds, reedy puddles and emerald wetlands.
Berry Road traces the cliffs below Lake Mary Road.
Wildlife feed on skunk bush fruits that grow along Berry Rd.
The easiest way to view this natural wonder is to make a stop and one or both of the scenic lookout points on Lake Mary Road. The northern most overlook near milepost 322 that's named for wildlife conservationist  Douglas C. Morrison, Jr., sits on a rise at the lake’s northeast corner while a second point two miles to the south offers dizzying lake vistas from the top of vertical cliffs of volcanic stone.
Both sites have interpretive signs that describe land features and wildlife to look for while visiting the area. If you have a sharp eye, you might notice a rough road below the lookouts that traces a ledge above the lake.  This is the old Lake Mary frontage road—better known as Berry Road.
A grasshopper blends in with grasses around Mormon Lake.
Trail visible below the north roadside overlook site.
If you’re intrigued by the cliff-top vistas and want to get a closer look; take this low road.
The easy trek begins at a gate where the old road has been closed to motorized use. Open to hikers, equestrians and mountain bikers, the  route offers excellent opportunities for wildlife viewing and exploring a bounty of fruit-bearing native plants.
Oak trees and fruit-bearing shrubs line Berry Road.
It’s not called Berry Road for naught.  
The hike follows an old frontage road above Mormon Lake
The crumbling byway—with remnants of the chrome-colored paint that marked the median-- reads like a lush wildlife buffet. Arizona walnut trees, Utah service berry, wax currents, skunk bush and Blueberry elders drip with fruits in late summer.  The abundance of wild foods attract swarms of wildlife.  If you walk quietly and gaze over the lake, you’re almost certain to see waterfowl, hawks, pronghorn and elk foraging among bull rushes.
A bumper crop of wax currents ripen along Berry Road.
Late summer and early fall are the best times to observe Rocky Mountain elk. For a primer in how best to observe these impressive beasts in their native habitats, sign up to attend the Arizona Game and Fish Department viewing workshop at Mormon Lake Lodge on August 17th.
A herd of Rocky Mountain elk wallow in Mormon Lake.
When hiking Berry Road, it’s handy to have a pair of binoculars in tow to spot the shy Great blue herons, egrets and osprey that are quick to scurry into cover when startled. 
Between shady stands of Ponderosa pines, Gambel oaks, junipers, cottonwoods and aspens, great views of Mormon Mountain that rises to 8,456 feet above the lake’s western shore fill the horizon.  To the northwest, the San Francisco Peaks appear as a hazy purple silhouette.
At the 1.4-mile point, the road bumps up against stony escarpments below the south lookout site. Here, a jungle of Arizona Walnut trees brushing against columns of basalt cinch the road and clouds of pollinators hover around dozens of wildflower species including poison milkweed, globemallow and wild geraniums that sprout from cracks in the pavement.
View from the south overlook point on Lake Mary Road.
Deer, birds and rodents feast on Utah serviceberry fruits.
The first substantial group of aspens appear at around the 3-mile point where the north lookout site is just barely visible ahead on a prominent ridge above the road.
Berry Road is open year-round for non-motorized use.
Across the pond, lake-side homes and structures of the major recreation hub surrounding Mormon Lake Village peek out from thick tree cover. This popular summer getaway destination is a huge draw for visitors interested in the area’s boating, fishing, picnicking, camping, hiking and eclectic mix of restaurants, trail ride outfitters, cabin rentals and events. It’s a worthy post-hike side trip, too.
Reedy wetlands at Mormon Lake attract wildlife
Pollinators swarm around poison milkweed plants.
San Francisco Peaks seen from Berry Road at Mormon Lake
Mormon Mountain looms above the lake's west shore.
What’s left of the old frontage road fades into a murky contour of the lake just beyond the north lookout site.
You may choose to follow the weed-encroached path a little farther, but it’s best to leave this feral terminus and its fruits and nuts to the birds and beasts and backtrack to the lodge for pizza and beer instead. 
An Arizona walnut tree shades Berry Road at Mormon Lake
Wild geranium grow in tangled clusters along the trail.
Aspens frame views of Mormon Mountain.
Squirrels love the Arizona walnuts that grow on Berry Road
LENGTH: 6.4 miles out-and-back
RATING: easy
ELEVATION: 7,182 – 7,031 feet
From Flagstaff, go 24.8 miles south on Lake Mary Road (Forest Road 3) to an unsigned road on the right  just past milepost 319 where there’s a sign that reads “no vehicle turnaround”.  Low clearance vehicles should park along the pullouts here, otherwise drive the road 0.2-mile, cross a cattle guard, turn right at a fork, continue 0.1-mile uphill and park near a locked gate.
INFO:  Coconino National Forest
Arizona Game and Fish Department  Elk Viewing Workshop: August 17, 2019
Arizona Watchable Wildlife Experience
Mormon Lake Lodge