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Monday, June 1, 2020

Deep Lake

The woodsy approach to Deep Lake
Located roughly 20 miles southeast of Flagstaff, the windy plains of Anderson Mesa are home to a cluster of Arizona’s rare natural lakes. Conspicuous among the bodies of water that are collectively known as the plateau lakes are Ashurst, Kinnikinick and the massive, yet sometimes dry Mormon Lake—the state’s largest organic puddle. Along with nearby Upper and Lower Lake Mary, these high-county lakes are popular with anglers, boaters, campers and hikers trekking the adjacent Arizona Trail Passage 30.
A residual puddle in Als Lake attracts wildlife

Besides the obvious behemoths, dozens of smaller much less crowded lakes are scattered across the dynamic landform in Coconino National Forest.
Storm clouds build above Anderson Mesa
These secluded natural basins formed between 1 and 5 million years ago when subterranean hollows caved in to form surface depressions that fill with snowmelt water during high-precipitation years.
Turkey vultures and ravens soar above Als Lake
A livestock exclosure protects Post Lake
Vacillating between shallow ponds and mucky swales these ephemeral wetlands serve as important nesting habitat for waterfowl. 
If you’re lucky enough to have snagged a campsite in the area during the busy summer season, and want to escape the masses, take a stroll to one of the most impressive and surprising of the mesa’s lesser-known lakes.
Snags on the rim of Deep Lake
The out-and-back hike to Deep Lake is actually a three-fer because the route, which follows Forest Roads 9117F and 82D, passes by three plateau lakes.  The trip begins with a half-mile walk on a rough two-track with great views of the San Francisco Peaks to the north before the road bends east. Here, where FR 9117F becomes FR 82D, the first of several livestock exclosure fences installed to protect the sensitive ecosystem from marauding cattle surrounds the reedy, birdy marsh of Post Lake.
Butter & eggs bloom in sunny meadows
After tracing the lake’s wildflower-rimmed perimeter, the road swings north through an airy, open-to-the-sky landscape with standout views of 8,449-foot Mormon Mountain peeking out over golden flatlands. At the 1.1-mile point, the road begins its fly-by of Als Lake.
Field bindweed grows along the roads on Anderson Mesa
A favorite haunt of turkey vultures and ravens, the elongated swale usually harbors a few residual pools where waterfowl and resident pronghorn can sometimes be seen lurking among clumpy grasses.
The impressive crater-like depression of Deep Lake
The next mile is a simple walk through fragrant juniper woodlands where rabbits and deer might dart by as you work your way to the junction with Forest Road 9484D at 2.3 miles.
For an optional side trip, FR 9484D leads to Potato Lake, another sizeable yet moisture-challenged natural lake. (NOTE: I did not take this side trip, but my map program indicates the road to the lake is about a half-mile long).
Continue another quarter mile north on FR 82D and soon the gated entry to the Deep Lake exclosure area comes into view. To preserve the terrain and minimize wildlife disturbance, travel beyond the gate is open to foot traffic only.  A few steps beyond the gate, the trail enters the enchanting realm of Deep Lake.

Junipers provide sparse shade and wildlife habitat
San Francisco Peaks seen from Deep Lake
 Surrounded by Ponderosa pines, Gamble oaks, volcanic outcroppings and a community of snags (dead trees used by wildlife for food and shelter), the crater-like depression of the lake takes your breath away. Even without water, as it was on my recent visit, the yawning bowl that provides refuge for over 100 bird species is a standard-bearer for an increasingly rare and fragile ecosystem.   A short footpath leads down the lake’s edge for a close-up view of a tenacious landscape that continually adapts to unpredictable, sometimes harsh conditions.
While visiting the lake, please tread lightly and quietly. Leave no trace and respect efforts being made to protect this fragile, natural treasure.
Ponderosa pines shade parts of the hike
A gate marks the entrance to the Deep Lake exclosure area
Approach to Deep Lake
LENGTH: 6 miles round trip
RATING: easy
ELEVATION: 6,964 – 7,131 feet
From Interstate 17 just south of the Interstate 40 interchange, go right on Lake Mary Road (County Road 3). Continue 17 miles south and turn left on Forest Road 82E for Ashurst Lake just past mile post 327 across from the turn off for Pinegrove campground.
Drive 1.7 miles on FR 82E to Forest Road 9117F on the left. Park in pull outs along the road.
Forest Road 82E is washboard gravel suitable for all carefully driven vehicles.
MORE INFO:Audubon Arizona

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