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White Mountain Car Camping Trip
White Mountains
September 3-6, 2021
by Heather Oehrlein
Leader: Lin Chao
Campers:  Lin, Carl, Heather, Terry, Gail, Rudy, Chris, Chuck, Wendy, Yanis

September 3, Day 1

Destination Rainbow Campground at Big Lake. We all arrived at different times coming from different directions. The entire drive was full of wildflowers along the highway, as well as moths and butterflies coming from all over the place. The mountains were lush green and we couldn’t get there fast enough.

The elevation at Big Lake is 9040'. The White Mountains area had received a good amount of rain in the days leading up to our camping trip. Luckily, Carl and Lin got there early so that they could scope out the campground. The area where we were supposed to camp had standing water in it, so they were able to get us a place on higher ground.

By mid-afternoon, the ten of us had all arrived and set up our camping areas. We anxiously greeted everyone, as it was so good to see one another again and catch up with our fellow hikers. After we were all settled in, we left to go on a hike before any rain came and before it got too dark. The trail we chose was Indian Spring to Big Lake Lookout. We hiked different mileages that day (2, 4, 6, and 8.8).

It was on this first hike that we discovered that there were mushrooms everywhere. They came in all different colors, shapes, and sizes. The most notable on this trail were ones that were big and round and looked like pancakes. On the way back, Chris and Terry took a different route than the rest of us. The rest of us were so busy talking and telling stories that we missed the trail sign on the way back to the campground. It’s a good thing we are adventurous!

We all made it back without getting rained on. We then realized that we didn’t quite have enough dry firewood for a campfire. We decided we would need to keep an eye out the next day for some near our hiking trail.

Big Lake. In the Distance, our campground. [photo by Lin]
Moths are everywhere. [photo by Lin]
Butterfly. [photo by Lin]
“Watch out,” Chuck said, Cow poop? [photo by Lin]
Our new campsites, a drier place. [photo by Lin]
Rudy is trying to make home more comfortable. [photo by Lin]
One of biggest mushrooms on this trail. [photo by Lin]
Here come Chris and Terry. [photo by Lin]
Big Lake Lookout. [photo by Lin]
It is so green here! [photo by Lin]
Did the sign say is Spring Trail? Well, here is the spring [photo by Lin]
Golden mushrooms. [photo by Lin]
More mushrooms. [photo by Lin]

September 4, Day 2

We eagerly woke up to begin our first full day of camping and hiking. Terry, Chris, and Gail were going to hike the Escudilla Trail, approximately 6.5 miles long. The rest of us hiked the Pole Knoll Trail. This was a 6.5-mile trail that was a sweet little find that Lin discovered in the Arizona Highways magazine.

While caravanning on our way to the Pole Knoll Trail, we stopped to let some elk run across the road. Shortly after that, we saw a herd of antelope as well. That made us all super pumped up to get out there on our trails and start hiking. When we arrived at the trailhead, Rudy and company gathered some small twigs and l eaves for that evening’s campfire. He had a great idea – place them on the hood of his truck so that they would dry off even more!

The Pole Knoll Trail was also full of mushrooms. We saw even more varieties than we had the day before. Some were golden, some were brightly colored, some looked like gummy worms, and some looked like they belonged in the ocean. One of the most interesting ones that I saw was the “puff” mushrooms, which did exactly that. When you squeezed them, they released a puff of what looked like smoke.

I believe it was actually spores, and we were advised to not breathe any of that in. Duly noted. This trail was full of spruce, fir, and aspen trees. While at the top of Pole Knoll we were able to view the large open meadow areas. After our hikes, we gathered up the firewood and went back to the campground to share stories of our different destinations.

We played a game together that Lin brought (I won’t go into details, but feel free to ask us about it). That night we had our first potluck followed by an amazing campfire. We also had the pleasure of enjoying Rudy’s music.

Group picture: Heather, Rudy, Yanis, Wendy, and Chuck. [photo by Lin]
Rudy and Yanis are exploring. [photo by Lin]
Silver mushrooms. [photo by Lin]
Aspen trees and green grass. [photo by Lin]
Colorful big mushroom. [photo by Lin]
Group picture: Chuck, Heather, Wendy, Yanis and Rudy. [photo by Lin]
Skeleton of Cow? [photo by Lin]
It’s uphill here. [photo by Lin]
More mushrooms on the trail. [photo by Lin]
Space Dome mushroom. [photo by Lin]
Atop Knoll Peak, the view. [photo by Lin]
Open Meadow, what a view! [photo by Lin]
Puff mushrooms. [photo by Lin]
Relaxing at campfire time. [photo by Lin]
Rudy, Terry and Chris are enjoying Rudy’s music. [photo by Lin]

September 5, Day 3

When we woke up this morning, some of us were able to share our experiences of hearing the elk bugling in the middle of the night.

Terry and Chris left early to hike West Baldy to East Baldy, which was 14.4 miles. Lin drove them there, and when she got back the rest of us left to do the East Baldy Trail. This was another beautiful trail filled with more mushrooms, wildflowers, and interesting rock formations.

We finished in good time, so we decided to hike the Thompson Creek Trail as well, which was only a few miles away from where we already were. In total the two trails were 9 miles.

As we finished up with hiking for the day, we again gathered firewood and dry leaves for another campfire. We all made it back to our campsite eager to share our stories and eat our leftovers from the potluck the night before. The sky was so clear at night that some of us were able to see the Milky Way.

Chris and Terry are ready to do 14.5 mile hike at West Baldy to East Baldy. [photo by Lin]
Our Parking spot at East Baldy Trail. [photo by Lin]
Group picture: Heather, Gail, Wendy, Rudy, chuck, Yanis. [photo by Lin]
So green and so beautiful, Rudy, Gail, Heather and Yanis. [photo by Lin]
What a view! [photo by Lin]
Hi from Gail and Yanis. [photo by Lin]
Let us Dance: Wendy, Gail, Heather, Chuck, Rudy, Lin, Yanis. [photo by Lin]
Group picture at Thompson Trail: Chuck, Gail, Rudy, Heather, Yanis, Wendy. [photo by Lin]
Behind the gate – Heather, Gail, Wendy, Chuck, Rudy, Yanis. [photo by Lin]
Break time at creek, Rudy, Heather and Gail. [photo by Lin]
Waterfall at Thompson Creek Trail. [photo by Lin]
Our Rudy, Our firewood tonight. [photo by Lin]

September 6, Day 4

Due to the fact that so many of us were driving all the way back to the valley on this day and were trying to avoid heavy Labor Day traffic, we decided not to do a hike this particular morning. We spent our time cleaning and packing up camp.

We reflected on how good the weather was to us during our stay. We only saw a few sprinkles here and there. We said our goodbyes and headed our different ways back home before lunchtime. I went through Pinetop and there were so many open meadows and fields full of beautiful flowers. Not to mention the wild horses. I had to pull over for so they could pass. It was a great way to end such an amazing weekend!

Wildflowers at White Mountain. [photo by Lin]
Isn’y it beautiful? [photo by Lin]
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updated December 17, 2021