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Tuesday, July 2, 2013

Easy trek to a volcanic lake

Coconino National Forest

In a ring of aspens and knurled lava, the water-filled vent of an ancient volcano serves as a hub of wildlife activity. A crumbling path of cinders leads to this hidden geological gem where the condition of the “lake” vacillates between a hip–deep pond and a swale of waterlogged grasses. Charred stumps and crumbling snags along the trail that climbs up the flanks of the crater are reminders of the 2000 Pumpkin Fire, which was caused by a lightning strike and burned 15,000 acres of the surrounding woodlands. Although devastating, the fire spared just enough forest round the lake to preserve an important wildlife sanctuary. A favorite watering hole for resident critters, a slew of muddy prints along the edge of this lava-borne tank will test your track identification skills.

LENGTH: 3 miles roundtrip (from FR760)
RATING: moderate
ELEVATION: 8,100 – 9,100 feet

From Flagstaff, go 18.5 miles north on US180  to Forest Road 760 (just past milepost 234). Turn left and continue 2.2 miles on the good dirt road bearing left at all junctions to Forest Road 9009D. The sign for FR 9009D is located roughly 100 feet in from the road and is easy to miss. Those without 4-wheel-drive should park here and hike up the road. Adventurous drivers may opt to continue on FR 9009D for one mile, bearing right at the Forest Road 9111J junction to the starting point located near a sign that reads “motor travel restricted area notice ahead.”

From the “restricted” sign, veer right and hike uphill on the old log road. Hang another right at the “official notice” sign and follow the trail to a wire gate. Go though the gate and hike down into the crater.
INFORMATION: (928) 526-0866, or refer to the Coconino National Forest map

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