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Sunday, May 27, 2012

Hiking among aspens on the Arizona Trail

Bismarck Lake to Geyler Tank
Arizona Trail Passage #34
Bismarck Lake May 26, 2012

Although it's fun to hike previously untried trails, there are a few that have commandeered my soul---keeping me coming back again and again.  Bismarck Lake is one of those trails. A breathtaking, thin air trek beneath the San Francisco Peaks, the trail cuts through damp forests of Limber pines, aspens and Douglas firs with intermittent meadows splattered in manic wildflower colors.  Just before encountering the lake, the trail emerges abruptly from the woodlands onto an expansive prairie with views of the peaks soaring 3000 feet into the clouds.  Here, mountain-borne breezes muddled with crisp, coniferous perfumes rage over knee-high grasses prompting countless hat-holding photo moments.  I could stand here for hours, soaking up what is--for me--a perfect place.  Within a few yards after entering the prairie, a sign points to a short spur path leading to the lake. As with most volcanic lakes---Bismarck is an eroded cinder cone crater---this one vacillates from a medium-size pond to muddy puddle, and yesterday, it was virtually non-existent.  Still, the side trip pays off with patches of water-loving blooms and animal footprints including elk, deer, raccoons and bear.  To extend the hike, head back to the sign and continue 0.2 mile east to the Arizona Trail junction.  On past trips, we've headed right (south) and hiked through an aspen wonderland to Snowbowl Road, so this time, we headed left with the objective of hiking out-and-back to Geyler Tank. We did this on May 26, 2012, an unseasonably cool, very windy day.  Temperatures for the day were 37-50 degrees with 40 mph wind gusts---heaven!
Here’s what we did:
From the trailhead, hike 1 mile to Bismarck Lake junction.  A short spur trail heads to the water, but we skipped the trip because there was no water in the lake.  From the lake, follow the trail east another 0.2 mile to the AZT junction.  Turn left (north) and continue 4 miles to FR418, cross the road and hike less than a mile to a large meadow west (left) of the trail at the base of an old volcano (Walker Lake is inside). Geyler Tank is located 0.2 miles west of the trail.

LENGTH: 12.2 miles roundtrip
RATING:  easy
ELEVATION: 8,500' - 8900'
From Phoenix, go north on I17 to Flagstaff.  Connect with US180 and travel 10.2 miles north to milepost 225 and turn right onto Hart Prairie Road (FR151).  Follow FR 151 6.4 miles (passing by the Nature Conservancy) to FR 627.  Turn right and continue 0.6 mile to the trailhead. FR 151 and FR 627 are dirt and usually passable by sedan.

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