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Monday, June 26, 2017

MORMON MOUNTAIN

MORMON MOUNTAIN

Coconino National Forest
Mormon Mountain
Having hiked up Mormon Mountain perhaps a dozen times, I’ve decided to give it a nickname: Upside Down Mountain. That’s because when compared to a typical mountain trek experience, this one plays outside the box. First, the most difficult climbing happens along its base rather than near the top and second, views normally gained on summits are seen near the bottom of this trail.  Although some online reports besmirch Mormon Mountain Trail #58 because of its failure to conform, I rank it high on my list of must-dos because of its renegade nature. 
Dense coniferous forests cover much of the trail
Shrouded in an old growth forest, the lumpy dome of Mormon Mountain is an impressive landmark on the western edge of Flagstaff’s plateau lakes region.  Despite its beguiling profile, the trail that ascends its southeast face is pleasantly devoid of crowds.
Richardson's Geranium bloom April through October
The route’s gradual but steady ascent doesn’t have any precarious edges or wind-in-your-face vistas.  Along the first mile, views of marshy Mormon Lake peek out from a curtain of pines and oaks but after that, the trail ducks into cloistered woodlands of spruce, fir and pine.  A mix of saplings, mature growth, snags (standing dead trees) and downed logs create an untamed atmosphere and juicy habitats for turkeys, owls, squirrels, bears and bats. A few years ago, while hiking the trail in pre-dawn light, a swarm of what I thought were butterflies flew in front of me.
Sparse views of Mormon Lake occur on the lower trail
It wasn’t until I saw them fold their wings to roost beneath the bark of a dead pine tree that I realized they were bats. That was my only encounter with the nocturnal flying mammals. Bats are usually harmless to humans and are valuable as pollinators and beneficial for controlling mosquito and insect populations.  Arizona Game & Fish has guidelines for bat encounters on their website and it’s a good idea to read it before venturing into bat territory.
Old growth forest scene
Once the trail hits the 8000-foot point, it levels out as the forest changes from a shady coniferous tunnel to a sunnier mix of brambles, meadows and aspens. At the 2.5-mile point, a sign at the entrance to an open field makes for a good turnaround point. (Note, the forest service says this trail is 3 miles long, but my GPS recorded 2.6 miles.)  However, if you’re up for more, veer left and hike another 0.1 mile to where the trail ends at Forest Road 648. From here, you can turn right and hike the road another 0.6 mile to an array of communication towers for Flagstaff and Sedona area broadcasting stations.
A meadow near the end of the trail
True to its outsider nature, this mountain doesn’t yield the expected soaring peak and unobstructed panorama. Its true highpoint resides on a tree-cluttered lump somewhere beyond the towers, however signs about private property and radiation exposure were ample inspiration for me to end the trek at the property boundary and head back the way I came.
Forest Road 648. Scars on the aspens are elk antler rubs.
LENGTH: 5 miles roundtrip or 6.6 miles roundtrip to the towers
RATING: moderate
ELEVATION: 7220’ – 8440’
Deers Ears bloom May thru August
GETTING THERE:
From Flagstaff, go 20 miles south on Lake Mary Road (Forest Road 3) and turn left on Mormon Lake Road (Forest Road 90) past milepost 323. Continue 3.6 miles to Montezuma Road and the turn off for Dairy Springs Campground, turn right and go 0.3 mile to the trailhead.
INFO & MAP:
LIVING WITH BATS:

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