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Monday, July 30, 2018


Thistles around Potato Lake attract pollinators.
Whether called crayfish, crawfish, crawdads or aquatic cockroaches, there are two sure things about the prolific freshwater crustaceans--they harm native species and they love bacon.
With few natural agents to control them, the population of non-native crayfish released into Arizona lakes and streams via bait bucket dumps or other means, has exploded.
Potato Lake is surrounded by pine forests.
Their voracious appetites and territory-hogging talents are decimating indigenous aquatic wildlife. They consume the eggs and larvae of native fish, amphibians and reptiles and gobble up critical food supplies.
Invasive crayfish threaten native species.
Plus, their nearly year-round reproductive cycle means they can commandeer a waterhole in no time flat. They need to go.
Forest Road 9362T serves as the trail.
The best way to help eradicate them is to prevent their introduction in the first place. The second-best way is to catch them with a dangling wad of raw bacon and cook them up for dinner.
Tree huggers embrace an aspen.
If you’re inclined to the later, pack a net, a propane cook kit with your favorite seasonings and hike out to Potato Lake.
Although you could drive to the tiny lake located off Forest Road 300 on the Mogollon Rim, a hike along two old roads that have been closed to motorized use offers quieter, alternative access.
From the parking area in a primitive campsite 2.5 miles southwest of the lake, hike 0.3-mile north to a “road closed” sign. This is Forest Road 9362T which is open to foot traffic, bikes and equestrian use only.  Following the remains of a rocky two-track, the route descends toward the lake on a barely noticeable incline. The 650 feet of elevation loss will be apparent on the way back.
Fences protect sensitive habitats.
This lovely path curves northeasterly through woodlands of Gambel oaks, conifers, New Mexican locust and a smattering of aspens.   Except for a few spots where a healthy understory of ferns and brambles spill over its uneven course, the road is easy to navigate.
A hummingbird moth sips nectar.
At the 1.5-mile point, take the less-obvious left fork where two metal poles mark a Y junction.  Make note of this swerve as it’s easy-to-miss on the way back. From here, the route vacillates between shaded woods and dewy meadows with roaming herds of grazing cattle.
At 1.8 miles, veer right onto Forest Road 147B. This segment flanks yawning draws, sunny pastures, waterways and pristine canopies that provide habitats for the endangered Little Colorado spinedace and the Mexican spotted owl. 
A sunny spot on the way to Potato Lake.
Please respect these pristine ecosystems by staying on the roads and not cutting or jumping fences.
Bellowing bovine graze in meadows near the lake.
Non-motorized backwoods roads are open to hikers.
At 2.3 miles, a cattle gate marks the beginning of the final 0.2-mile walk to the lake. Ringed with pines, the lake’s water level ranges from puddle to sizable pond depending on rainfall.
Potato Lake is a tiny pool on the Mogollon Rim.
A 0.7-mile walk around the lake’s perimeter reveals clumps of common silverweed and aquatic buttercups growing from its muddy banks and fields of purple thistle that attract swarms of pollinators including hummingbird moths that sip nectar though long curved feed tubes.
Hikers on Forest Road 147B.
Diverse ecosystems around the lake support myriad wildlife.
Beneath the lake’s glassy surface, crayfish--which resemble mini lobsters-- stir up mud and are easy to spot congregating under semi-submerged logs.  
Approaching Potato Lake.
If you follow Arizona Game and Fish Department rules regarding their capture and transport, you may harvest as many of these villainous invertebrates as you like. Boil them lobster-style for a protein-rich entree that tastes like crab. They’re great with garlic, peppers and corn. Beer helps.
LENGTH: 5.7 miles out-and-back
RATING: moderate
ELEVATION: 7234 – 7888 feet
From Payson, go 27.7 miles north on State Route 87 to Forest Road 300 (Rim Road) located near milepost 281.  Go 1.7 miles on FR300 to Forest Road 9362T on the left.  If you have a high-clearance vehicle, descend about 0.1 mile on the rough dirt road and park in the primitive campground.  The hike begins at the “road closed” sign at the north end of the site.  
Coconino National Forest
Arizona Game & Fish Crayfish information:

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