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Monday, June 15, 2020

Gooseberry Springs

The old trough at Gooseberry Springs
Since prehistoric times, the fertile forests around Mormon Lake have served Native peoples, wildlife, commerce and recreationists. The geologically complex area of volcanic landforms and natural lakes is situated among historic travel corridors that have been used for centuries by early inhabitants, loggers and ranchers. Gooseberry Springs, which sits at the base of 8,532-foot Hutch Mountain 30 miles south of Flagstaff, offers a glimpse into a time in the late 19th and early 20th century when homesteaders ran sheep and cattle in the forests and meadow on the Mogollon Rim.
Arizona honeysuckle grow near Gooseberry Springs
Aspens and pine trees shade the road to Gooseberry Springs
Water lingers in a catchment at Gooseberry Springs
Mountain vistas peek through dense tree cover
Today, the area is a prime destination for outdoor enthusiasts interested in camping, riding and hiking opportunities.  Passage 30 of the Arizona Trail, an 800-mile route from Mexico to Utah, wanders through this beautiful territory and offers hikers, bikers and equestrians a sweet backcountry experience. While the Arizona Trail passes a few miles to the west of Gooseberry Springs in Coconino National Forest, the site may be visited by way of two under-the-radar routes. The traditional path begins near the summit of Hutch Mountain.
Trailhead kiosk has information on the area's history
There are two potential downsides to that option, though. First, a high-clearance vehicle is needed to reach the trailhead and second, the hike descends 600 feet, so all the steep climbing is done on the way back. But the deterrents can be overcome by taking an alternate route that begins at the Arizona Trail Gooseberry Springs trailhead where a kiosk showing historical information on the area’s geography, early inhabitants, railroads, logging, wildlife, settlers and ranchers enhances visitor experience.
The bucolic environs of Gooseberry Springs
New Mexico locust bloom through mid summer
 Fire tower on Hutch Mountain
From the kiosk, continue hiking east on Forest Road 92 (the road you came in on) past a large dispersed camping area and meadows full of wild roses, irises and lupine.
Pollinators congregate on a Gregg's ceanothus shrub
The rough road soon ducks into thick pine-oak woodlands with smatterings of fir and spruce and begins a mild climb along a ridge above Fulton Canyon.  At the one mile point go left at a major road fork to continue on to the springs.  The road to the right is Forest Road 92A which leads down into the Seven Anchor Spring area--a nice side trip for the way back, if you like. 
The eponymous gooseberry shrub
Through the dense vegetation, sporadic views of distant mountain peaks break up the tree-centric scenery.  After about a mile and a half of hiking, the road dips into a green, bowl-like depression where Forest Road 135C veers off to the right. Motorized traffic is not allowed beyond this point, but hikers can use this closed road to get to the springs.
Lupine are common summer bloomers on the Mogollon Rim
Continue 0.3-mile to a “Y” junction where a faint path heads left. Marked only by a “road closed to motorized traffic” post, this final leg of the hike passes through a large sunny meadow fringed with aspens and dozens of gooseberry shrubs with views of the lumpy backside of Hutch Mountain overhead. At the 2.6-mile point, the road meets the springs.  A dilapidated concrete trough wrapped in metal bars and rusty wire rests a few yards downhill from a stonework catchment at the head of the springs.
The hike follows Forest Roads 92 and 135C
On my June 13, 2020 visit, a few inches of water lingered in a masonry box protruding from a hillside, but the trough was bone dry.  Nearby, a patch of rare, moisture-loving Arizona honeysuckle thrive where groundwater seeps to the surface—just one example of the many micro climates visible to the attentive eye in this little pocket of paradise.  The springs mark the hike’s turnaround point and it's all downhill on the way back.
View from the trail that starts on Hutch Mountain
Deers ears grow in dappled light beneath pine trees
The last leg of the hike is open to non-motorized use only.
5.2 miles round trip from Gooseberry Springs or
4 miles round trip from Hutch Mountain
RATING: moderate
Gooseberry Springs route: 7,452 – 7,934 feet
Hutch Mountain route: 7,934 - 8,535 feet
From Flagstaff, go 32 miles south on Lake Mary Road (County Road 3) to Forest Road 92. This is past mile post 313 on the left and signed for Gooseberry Springs. Continue a short distance to the trailhead on the right. Roads are okay for all vehicles.
From Flagstaff go 33 miles south on Lake Mary Road (County Road 3) to Forest Road 135 at milepost 311. Continue  2.6 miles on FR 135, bear left at an unsigned junction and then left again onto Forest Road 135B.  A high clearance or 4-wheel-drive vehicle is required on FR 135B. 
Those with low clearance vehicles should park along FR 135 and hike 1.5 miles uphill on the rough dirt road to the parking area on a mountain saddle. Pass through the gate and hike 0.12 mile to where the road makes an abrupt turn to the right. Look for a faint, unsigned path heading downhill off to the left. Follow this trail 2 miles to Gooseberry Springs. 
To visit the fire tower, follow the road a half-mile beyond the gate. 

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