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Sunday, April 29, 2012

Hiking Flagstaff's plateau lakes


HORSE LAKE
Mormon Lake Arizona Trail Passage 30
Elk skeleton in Horse Lake: April 28, 2012

Pinion pines and junipers on Anderson Mesa
Triple digit heat has arrived in the Valley and with it comes the annual hiking exodus to higher elevations.  From October through April, we desert dwellers tend to frequent hiking trails in an elevation range of 1,000-4,000 feet.  Come May--we migrate.  I don't know about you, but my first few high elevation (7,000'+) hikes of the year leave me more breathless and more tired than expected.  That's why I like to do a couple of easy ones first.  The mostly flat "plateau lakes" section of the Arizona Trail-- commonly known as “Horse Lake”--fits this objective perfectly.  Part of 33.9-mile passage #30 of the Arizona Trail (AZT), this easy-to-access route wanders past three ponds (Vail, Prime and Horse) on the pine-pinion-juniper shaded meadows of Anderson Mesa northeast of Mormon Lake. These fugitive "lakes" vacillate between hip-deep pools and soggy swales in sync with rainfall.  Regardless of water levels, the mesa manages to stay moist enough to support plenty of flora and fauna.  In late April, the meadows begin blooming and yesterday, we found lots of Woodhouse phlox, stem-less daisies and yellow spiny daisies. Most hikers prefer to do this as key-exchange trek, parking vehicles at both the Marshall Lake and Horse Lake trailheads meeting in the middle for a 10.5-mile one-way hike.  For our one-car day trip, we began at Horse Lake trailhead, hiked out to Horse Lake and then doubled back.  Easy. 
Hazy view of Flagstaff's  San Francisco Peaks

LENGTH: 7.6 miles roundtrip (as described here)
RATING: easy
ELEVATION: 7,090' - 7,142'
DOGS: leashed dogs allowed
BEST SEASON: Mid-April thru October
DISTANCE FROM PHOENIX: 160 miles one way
GETTING THERE:
Horse Lake (south) trailhead:
From Phoenix, travel north on I-17 to exit 339 for Lake Mary Road located south of the I-40 junction
just before entering Flagstaff. Turn right and continue to the bottom of the off ramp where there's a Circle store.  Turn right again and go 16.3 miles south on Lake Mary Road (FR3) to milepost 327 and turn right on FR82E (Ashurst Lake/Pine Grove).  The Horse Lake trailhead is 0.7 mile ahead on the left.
Marshall Lake (north) trailhead:
From Phoenix, travel north on I-17 to exit 339 for Lake Mary Road located south of the I-40 junction
just before entering Flagstaff. Turn right and continue to the bottom of the off ramp where there's a CircleK store.  Turn right again and go 10.5 miles to FR 128 on the left (signs say observatory--it's easy to miss).  Follow curvy FR 128 2 miles to the big Marshall Lake sign/fence, turn left and continue less than a mile to the signed AZT parking area.
INFO:
Arizona Trail Association:
Coconino National Forest, Flagstaff Ranger District: 928-526-0866

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