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Horse Lake Day Hike
July 5, 2014
by Jim Buyens

The Fourth of July weekend was coming up with nothing on the Trailblazers calendar. It seemed a shame to let the weekend go by, but I realized people might have other activities planned and so, to minimize the time required, I asked Ted to suggest a relatively flat hike near Flagstaff. And he did. And oh yeah, that trail was flat. Only 200 feet of scent in 9.7 miles! And it was all Arizona Trail, which meant it’d be well-maintained and marked. And it even passed by some lakes!

Eleven hikers signed up, met up, and geared up at the trailhead. I’d planned the hike as a car shuttle but since we passed the Perkins Telescope (our ending point) on the way to the Horse Lake trailhead (our starting point) the extra time was almost nil. We just dropped Rudy’s truck at the ending point and continued together to the start.

Jim, Gary G., Linda, Gary M., Anikó, Rudy, Barbara, Monika, Pat, Heather, and Karen ready to go.

Now, the Horse Lake trailhead has one of those large, rusty metal signs with cutout lettering identifying the Arizona Trail. So that’s where we started. Easy-peasy. But then, after just a few hundred yards, we came to a Y-junction with one side marked Arizona Trail and the other unmarked. Now, which way would go? Except that after a half mile or so of constantly descending trail, we found ourselves at Lake Mary Road! And just as bad, another trail sign told us we were headed for Mormon Mountain, which we didn’t want at all.

So we backed up the trail we’d just descended and returned to that confusing Y-junction. The Arizona trail marker had pointed us southbound, when we wanted to go north. So ach, slapping forehead, the way was now clear! We needed to take the unmarked fork! The trail with the large, rusty metal Arizona Trail sign wasn’t the Arizona Trail sign at all! It was only the trail to the Arizona Trail!

Linda, Monika, Gary G., Gary M., Jim, Heather, Pat, and Karen begin the adventure [photo by Barbara]

Fortunately for me, everyone blamed Anikó for the wrong turn. She, after all, had reached the junction first and headed down the wrong branch. And I have to admit, I didn’t fight that impression too hard.

The trail itself was flat. The first five miles were a little-used forest road, which gave us two tracks to hike in. Because there weren’t many trees, it was also fairly open. The ground was black clay with deep cracks that tended to snag hiking poles.

We expected flat and that's certainly what we got.
Gary G., Karen, Rudy, Gary M., and Pat head North. [photo by Barbara]

The promised lakes were more like meadows. In fact, they were meadows. I guess you have to catch them at just the right time or year, or perhaps just the right phase of the drought cycle, to actually see water. But even so, at just before the half-way point, we found a pleasant lunch spot with shade, comfy rocks, and a nice lake view sans water. Not too shabby.

Heather, Gary G., Monika, Barbera, Rudy, Gary G. and Karen pause for a lakeside lunch.
This was the lake, Arizona-style. That means it's a dry lake.

Shortly after the lunch break we encountered another junction. A sign told us that the Arizona Trail turned left, off the road and onto a foot path. But wait! Heather was sure that continuing on the road was a short cut, and several other people believed her, and it looked on the map as if she might be right! Plus, the last time we followed an Arizona Trail sign, it’d steered us wrong! So in the grand tradition of seeking adventure and throwing caution to the wind we ignored the well-marked turnoff and continued on the road.

Now according to the map, there was a way of reaching the Perkins Telescope by road. Except there were a lot of junctions along the way and none of them were marked. We could’ve easily found ourselves miles off track. And so once again in the name of great adventure and little caution we started bushwhacking out way back the trail. We knew from the map that the road and the trail were running parallel, and so any kind of westerly route at all would get us back on trail. Easterly would’ve gotten us to New York City or whatever but we astutely avoided that situation.

Did you notice the lack of a trail here? It’s back to the trail.
Gary G., Jim, Karen, Linda, Heather, and Pat persevere. [photo by Barbara]
Aha! There is water in Arizona! It's just a mud puddle but still...
Anikó locates a geocache.They seem to be everywhere.
Barbara hops a fence while Heather, Pat, Gary G., Karen, and Gary M. approach.
Step carefully! That's barbed wire under the tubing. [photo by Barbara]
Another muddy pond even;larger than the first! But nobody went swimming. [photo by Barbara]
Fortunately, these folks didn't seem to mind us tramping on their grass.
Anikó and Monika still off-trail but headed in the right direction.[photo by Barbara]
Eureka! That's the trail there on the left side of the fence, protected only
by the minor nuisance of barbed wire.[photo by Barbara]

Finding the trail required a bit of fence-hopping and nervous cattle watching but we were Trailblazers and we did it. The rest of the hike was uneventful except for some views of Upper Lake Mary, which actually had water in it!

That's Upper Lake Mary on the left and clouds dumping rain straight ahead.
Fortunately, though, the rain never reached our location.
Unless it was a dry rain.
I mean, how else are you going to get dry lakes? [photo by Barbara]

By the time we reached the Perkins Telescope we actually hiked two more miles than expected: 11.7 rather than planned 9.7. I told everyone these were bonus miles, and we should be proud that the hike exceeded expectations but I’m not sure they were impressed.

From trail's end Rudy gave the other riders a lift back to get their cars. Rain was threatening and we actually caught some drops while shuttling but the trailheads and the waiting hikers stayed dry.

Once all the hikers and cars were reunited Rudy headed directly home via Lake Mary Road. The rest of us drove into Flagstaff and grabbed a bite at a deli-style restaurant called modern grove. The food was light and casual but that suited us just fine.

We got back to Phoenix after dark, failing the goal of a quick holiday hike. But it was still a good workout and a fun adventure and everyone seemed to enjoy it. But man, was it flat!

Total Distance: 11.7 mi
Moving Time: 4:13
Stopped Time: 1:37
Avg. Speed Moving: 2.8 mph
Avg. Speed Overall: 2.0 mph
Starting Elevation: 7234 ft
Maximum Elevation: 7252 ft
Total Ascent: 286 ft
Starting Time: 10:20 AM
Finishing Time: 4:10 PM
Duration: 5:50
Starting Temperature: 73°
Finishing Temperature: 79°
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Arizona Trailblazers Hiking Club, Phoenix, Arizona
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updated August 13, 2014