Find A Trail. Start Your Search Here:

Wednesday, June 26, 2013

Step out at Aspen Corner

Aspen Corner to Bismarck Lake

Aspens on the Arizona Trail, June 22, 2013

There's something incredibly calming about aspen trees.  Populating mountain climes through subterranean colonial root systems, the elegant white-barked beauties sway in tight-knit groves above alpine meadows.  On the western slopes of Flagstaff’s San Francisco Peaks, canyon-born winds whip canopies of heart-shaped leaves into a symphony of whistles and whirs that only nature could score. It's usually on frantic summer Thursday afternoons when I start dreaming about hiking among the aspens on the weekend.  When I'm really in need of aspen overload (the same self-indulgent malady as a salsa binge or trip to the $30 shampoo store) there's one place that always satisfies---Passage 34 of the Arizona Trail.  Although the entire passage--which begins at Schultz Tank and ends at Cedar Ranch--- is just over 36 miles long, the very best aspens live in the 4-mile swath between Aspen Corner and the murky swale of Bismarck Lake.  For years, the meadows surrounding Bismarck Lake have been my go-to place to unwind and get a quick dose of brain-clearing high country air.  So, this week, I decided to hike to the lake by way of a slightly different route.  Aspen Corner is a small stop off marked by a split rail fence near the top of Snowbowl Road.  For years, hoards of visitors on summer drives have been pulling over to take in the sights, and since the completion of the San Francisco Peaks segment of Arizona Trail (AZT), this spot is now also a access point for the state's most iconic trek. The trickiest part of this hike is getting started.  Here's how: From the fence, take the wide trail heading north (go right).  Within 0.2 mile, go left (heading downhill) at an unsigned junction. Follow this closed 2-track roughly 0.1 mile to the AZT junction, turn right (heading north) and follow the AZT markers to the lake.  Well-signed and easy-to-follow, passage 34 features sweeping vistas, breezy open air fields, wildflowers galore and a mixture of aspen glens and pine-fir woodlands.  Bismarck Lake--which is all that remains of an extinct volcanic crater---was bone dry on our visit this week.  A wilderness "crime scene" of elk bones along the normally dusty banks whispered of either drought death or mountain lion encounter.  However, after summer monsoon rains, the shallow depression transforms into a glassy reflecting pool and (living) wildlife magnet.
View with Alfa Fia Tank

Local wildlife

LENGTH: 8.2 miles round trip  (9 miles with optional Nature Loop)
RATING: moderate
ELEVATION: 9020' - 8780'

From Phoenix, travel north on Interstate 17 to Flagstaff.  Connect with US180 (Humphreys St), drive 7 miles north to Snowbowl Road and go 5.2 miles uphill to Aspen Corner.  There's a parking apron on the left near a split rail fence.  
Flagstaff Ranger District, Coconino National Forest, 928-526-0866
Arizona Trail Association:


No comments: