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Monday, August 21, 2017


Indian Springs Trail
Late summer in Arizona’s White Mountains is prime time for wildflower viewing. Cooler evenings take the edge off daytime heat and mornings break in a crisp dewy dampness that hints of autumn and nurtures a colorful spectacle of blooming plants. Fields of sunflowers dress roadside pastures making the annual bloom frenzy accessible to anybody willing to take a drive and pull off onto a random dirt road.
Apache Lobelia
But if you want deeper access to high altitude botanical treasures, lace up your hiking boots, strap on a backpack and hit the Indian Springs Trail near Big Lake.
Paintbrush and ferns
The 2011Wallow Fire roared across this classic trail of fir-spruce woodlands taking out some segments while leaving others mostly intact.
Richardson's Geranium
The upside to the loss of coniferous canopies is a sunlight-generated surge in wildflower proliferation. The best part about loop trails like this one is its mix of sun, shade, hydrology and micro climates that produce a wide variety of flowering plants.
The blossom bonanza begins right from the get go in a bud-dotted meadow. Here, sun-loving fleabane and harebells bob in mountain breezes. Beyond the trailhead, the path moves into a section of survivor pines and the filtered light domain of species like Richardson’s Geranium, Pleated Gentian and brilliant orange Paintbrush.
Indian Spring suffered damage from the 2011 Wallow Fire
A passage of wild red raspberries and ferns culminates at the junction for the optional half-mile spur trail that leads to Big Lake Lookout. Although the fire tower that stood on this rocky knob succumbed to the blaze, there’s an upside. Lake views are now easier to see through toasted stumps and resurgent shrubs.
Wild Raspberry shrubs and ferns
The next section of the hike passes through an old growth forest of fir, spruce and mature aspens. This darker, wetter space favors Canada violets, mushrooms and  Blue-eyed grass. At the 1-mile point, the reliable trickle of Spillman Spring creates a water garden of clovers and Seep Monkey Flowers that grow in bright clumps in and around the rustic wooden troughs set up to catch the flow. Fire damage is much more visible throughout the remainder of the hike. Thickets of aspen saplings account for much of the regrowth.
Seep Monkey Flowers
In these areas, look for Common mullein, Apache lobelia and Spurred Gentian.
Indian Spring appears as a mucky pond at the 2.5-mile point.
Red Raspberry
The swamp’s fringe of Rocky Mountain irises that bloom May thru June, are  long past prime by mid-summer.
Beyond the loop’s halfway mark, marshy areas define the trail’s lowest elevation.  Runoff collects in soggy bogs and funnels into streamlets that feed the tributaries of the Black River. These swales are the habitat of False Hellebore, horse mint, New Mexican checker mallow, lupine and penstemones. At 5-miles there’s an option to add on the 6-mile round trip West Fork of the Black River Trail #628 before the route curves back to the start point. 
False Hellebore
Water Hemlock

LENGTH: 7.5-mile loop (8.5 miles with lookout side trip)
RATING: moderate
ELEVATION:  8600’ - 9415'
Pleated Gentian
From the Hon-Dah casino in Pinetop-Lakeside go 19.6 miles east on State Route 260 to State Route 273, just past milepost 377 and signed for Sunrise Ski Area. Go 19.2 miles south on SR 273 (turns into Forest Road 249 past the Big Lake turnoff) to Forest Road 249E, turn right and continue 0.4 mile to the trailhead on the left. Roads are paved up to FR 249E which is good gravel.
INFO & MAP: Apache-Sitgreaves National Forest