|Gate at the north end of Corner Lake points to Mormon Mtn.|
|Hike is in the Anderson Mesa Wildlife Protection Area|
|A tank near Corner Lake sustains wildlife|
Located southeast of Flagstaff along Lake Mary Road, the mesa is home to several popular fishing lakes including Ashurst and Kinnikinick in Coconino National Forest. While the elongated land mass has a few densely-wooded areas, most of the 25-mile-long tableland is a mix of sparse pinyon-juniper woodlands, ephemeral wetlands and expansive grasslands—prime habitat for pronghorn.
|Pronghorn (center right) graze on the mesa|
The Arizona Trail passage 30, part of which wanders through the northern end of the mesa near Marshall Lake and popular recreation sites northeast of Upper and Lower Lake Mary, provides an excellent introduction to the breezy environs.
But if your objective is wildlife viewing, seek out the maze of back roads that lead to isolated watering holes. One productive location is Corner Lake. To get there, begin hiking on Forest Road 9483G where a sign indicates entry into Anderson Mesa Wildlife Protection Area. Within a short walk, the pine-shaded, sometimes dry depression of Corral Tank sits off to the left. It’s a great place to spot pinyon jays and squirrels that feed on the berry-producing shrubs that grow around the water hole’s perimeter.
At just under a mile, pass through a rustic gate (as with all gates on this hike, close it behind you) and continue a few yards to the Forest Road 9116S junction where the route veers right. Here, what scant shade had been present on the first leg of the hike dissolves into treeless prairies punctuated with isolated junipers with mountain peaks bookending the horizons. About a half-mile ahead, a group of pronghorns grazed lazily on rabbit brush on the wide-open mesa. With nowhere to hide, Wile E. Coyote—who had apparently been following me at a distance—shot me a parting look of contempt before bolting off, abandoning his intended prey. Somewhere, an anvil dropped.
|Corner Lake is often dry|
Even from a distance, pronghorns are easy to identify by their white rumps and distinctive spiked horns. Outfitted with enormous, wide-set eyes a la Baby Yoda, their vision has
scoping power roughly equivalent to eight-power binoculars. It’s not easy to sneak up on them. As I slowly walked the road hoping for a perfect photo opp, the group of four had me on their super-vision and soon made a charge for a ridgeline. Watching the elegant creatures run was worth the trip. Light-boned and built for agility, pronghorns can reach sustained speeds of 40 miles per hour. Their sprints are more like 60 miles per hour.
|The hike around the lake follows a fence line|
|Pine Mountain (center horizon) over Corner Lake|
Following the route to and around Corner Lake is simple, as long as you pay attention to the ground. Deep fissures and chunks of volcanic rock make for mildly challenging footing.
|Approaching Corner Lake|
|Signs at the south end of Corner Lake|
|The stark beauty of Anderson Mesa|
|FR 9116S leads to Corner Lake|
|Rabbit brush is a favorite pronghorn food.|
|Look for birds and squirrels at Corral Tank|
|Wildlife depend on stock tanks in dry years|
Rocky, weedy and windy, the walk around the lake unpacks a panorama of views. Mormon Mountain, O’Leary Peak, Pine Mountain and the San Francisco Peaks stand out over acres of golden grasses while the shallow gorge of Anderson Draw makes an abrupt riffle at the lake’s north end. With its who-knew character and unexpected appeal, Corner Lake is an odd, yet intriguing trip. Not quite desert, not quite forest and not quite a lake, it’s perhaps Arizona’s most beautiful adaptation of nothingness.
|San Francisco Peaks seen from FR 9483G|
LENGTH: 5.7 miles roundtrip
ELEVATION: 7,113 – 7,248 feet
From Flagstaff, go 24.2 miles south on Lake Mary Road to Forest Road 125 signed for Kinnikinick Lake past milepost 320. Turn left and continue 4.7 miles to a junction where the road to Kinnikinick Lake veers right. Park in the turnout on the left where there’s a sign for Forest Road 9483G and the Anderson Mesa Wildlife Protection Area. Forest roads are maintained dirt that are slightly bumpy but suitable for most vehicles.
WILDLIFE VIEWING TIPS: