Backpacking the Arizona Trail – Double Springs to Mormon Lake (Day 32; Passage 30, Mormon Lake)

In the land of Arizona
Through desert heat or snow
Winds a trail for folks to follow
From Utah to Old Mexico

It’s the Arizona Trail
A pathway through the great Southwest
A diverse track through wood and stone
Your spirit it will test

Oh, sure you’ll sweat and blister
You’ll feel the miles every day
You’ll shiver at the loneliness
Your feet and seat will pay

But you’ll see moonlight on the borderlands
You’ll see stars on the Mogollon
You’ll feel the warmth of winter sun
And be thrilled straight through to bone

The aches and pains will fade away
You’ll feel renewed and whole
You’ll never be the same again
With Arizona in your soul

Along the Arizona Trail
A reverence and peace you’ll know
Through deserts, canyons, and mountains
From Utah to Old Mexico

“The Arizona Trail,” Dale R Shewalter

After packing up this morning, the trail works it’s way south around the lower slopes of Mormon Mountain before The hiker arrives at Double Springs campground. While it’s closed, there’s a nearby creek that I use to get a couple liters of water.

Gambel oaks hiking to Double Springs Campground
Arizona Trail, Passage 30 (Mormon Lake)
Coconino National Forest
Gambel oaks glow backpacking along the AZT
Arizona Trail, Passage 30 (Mormon Lake)
Coconino National Forest
Gambel oaks hiking in fall foliage surrounding the AZT
Arizona Trail, Passage 30 (Mormon Lake)
Coconino National Forest
Hiking through gambel oaks in fall foliage in morning light
Arizona Trail, Passage 30 (Mormon Lake)
Coconino National Forest
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Backpacking through gambel oaks in the light along the AZT
Arizona Trail, Passage 30 (Mormon Lake)
Coconino National Forest
Hiking through gambel oaks and ponderosa pines in fall foliage surrounding the AZT
Arizona Trail, Passage 30 (Mormon Lake)
Coconino National Forest
Backpacking through gambel oaks among ponderosa pines in fall foliage
Arizona Trail, Passage 30 (Mormon Lake)
Coconino National Forest

Backpacking south the trail passes an overlook of the ridges and of Mormon Lake itself, Arizona’s largest natural lake. It’s low (it often dries up under drought conditions to become “Mormon Meadow”) but the spring was wet enough that it hasn’t disappeared. It’s so windy that I’m almost blown off the overlook and my glasses ARE blown off (thankfully I catch them before they fall).

Mormon Lake hiking view
Arizona Trail Passage 30 (Mormon Lake)
Coconino National Forest
Mormon Lake backpacking view
Arizona Trail Passage 30 (Mormon Lake)
Coconino National Forest
Mormon Lake hiking view
Arizona Trail Passage 30 (Mormon Lake)
Coconino National Forest
Mormon Lake overlook spur hiking trail
Arizona Trail, Passage 30 (Mormon Lake)
Coconino National Forest
Mormon Lake overlook spur trail
Arizona Trail Passage 30 (Mormon Lake)
Coconino National Forest
Mormon Lake overlook spur trail
Arizona Trail Passage 30 (Mormon Lake)
Coconino National Forest

The trail continues south, passing more evidence of past logging railroads. A nearby interpretive sign reads as follows:

Loggers lived a dangerous and rough life in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. They spent long days in all kinds of weather felling massive ponderosa pines and skidding them to the railroads for transport to the saw mills. Their nights were spent in drafty bunkhouses without showers or running water. So what was it that kept them going – food, and lots of it.

The loggers that worked in these woods needed to eat between 6000 and 9000 calories a day to fuel their hard work. How about this grocery list for 45 men from a 1907 logging camp: one tub of lard, a sack of turnips, a sack of onions, a box of yeast, a case of cream, a barrel of sweet potatoes, seven sacks of potatoes, a case of peaches, a case of pears, two cases of eggs, a case of tomatoes, a barrel of apples, 112 pounds of cabbage, a case of corn, 22 pounds of cakes, 10 pounds of tea, 12 cases of strawberries, two barrels of flour, 15 cans of baking powder, and 300 pounds of beef. How long did it last? One week.

USFS interpretive sign

The trail ultimately leads to Navajo Spring, the last reliable good water source for a while. I take the opportunity to hike into Mormon Lake and get some real food at Mormon Lake Lodge. I also find and grab some things out of a hiker box at the store. Unfortunately I have to settle for Coors Lite when it comes to food and drink at the lodge, but a burger and some chili certainly help. A magnet from my Osprey pack gets lost in the shuffle; I leave a description and a phone number that I can be reached at in case it gets found. When I leave later, it’s raining so I end up spending the night on the covered porch of a closed building of the lodge. I also realize that I left my sleeping pad at the prior campsite, so I’ll have to get an early start tomorrow and get that.

Remnant logging railroad ties & spikes viewed hiking the AZT
Arizona Trail Passage 30 (Mormon Lake)
Coconino National Forest
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Animal tracks – possibly coyote? Spotted backpacking the AZT.
Arizona Trail Passage 30 (Mormon Lake)
Coconino National Forest
Coming and going
Arizona Trail Passage 30 (Mormon Lake)
Coconino National Forest
Logging railroad ties and spikes
Arizona Trail Passage 30 (Mormon Lake)
Coconino National Forest
Arriving at Mormon Lake, which has quite the population fluctuation!

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To Thruhike or Section Hike, That is the Question

When many individuals are first looking at getting into thruhiking, they face one crucial decision after trail selection – to section hike, or thruhike. Each has different advantages and challenges, and may be better suited for one trail than another. Today, we’re going to discuss these. First, we need to define each. For our purposes, … Continue reading To Thruhike or Section Hike, That is the Question

National Park Quest: Tonto National Monument

Backpacking the Arizona Trail’s Saddle Mountain Passage from near Saddle Mountain to Sycamore Creek at the start of the Pine Mountain passage. More magnificent Arizona mountain views of the central Mazatzal peaks and ridgelines, and a gorgeous Arizona sunset.

Logistics, trail journal, and magnificent mountain scenery.

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Backpacking the Amazing Arizona Trail – Inspiration Point to Roosevelt Cemetery (Passages 20 & 19, Four Peaks to Superstition Mountains)

Backpacking the Arizona Trail’s Saddle Mountain Passage from near Saddle Mountain to Sycamore Creek at the start of the Pine Mountain passage. More magnificent Arizona mountain views of the central Mazatzal peaks and ridgelines, and a gorgeous Arizona sunset.

Logistics, trail journal, and magnificent mountain scenery.

Arizona Trail Backpacking Logistics – AZT Gateway Communities: Tonto Basin

Backpacking the Arizona Trail’s Saddle Mountain Passage from near Saddle Mountain to Sycamore Creek at the start of the Pine Mountain passage. More magnificent Arizona mountain views of the central Mazatzal peaks and ridgelines, and a gorgeous Arizona sunset.

Logistics, trail journal, and magnificent mountain scenery.

Backpacking the Amazing Arizona Trail – Four Peaks South (Passage 20)

Backpacking the Arizona Trail’s Saddle Mountain Passage from near Saddle Mountain to Sycamore Creek at the start of the Pine Mountain passage. More magnificent Arizona mountain views of the central Mazatzal peaks and ridgelines, and a gorgeous Arizona sunset.

Logistics, trail journal, and magnificent mountain scenery.

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Backpacking the Amazing Arizona Trail – Four Peaks North (Passage 20)

Backpacking the Arizona Trail’s Four Peaks Passage to just south of Pigeon Spring. The terrain is incredibly precipitous – in places the trail seems to occupy the only level ground around. Fire impacts are present throughout as well, a legacy of the 1996 Lone Fire. Magnificent views of Roosevelt Lake, the southern Mazatzal foothills, and the Sierra Ancha across Tonto Basin.

Logistics, trail journal, and magnificent mountain scenery.

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Passage 29 (Mormon Lake)
Trail SurfaceDirt singletrack
Length (Mi)14.8
SeasonSpring-Fall
Potential Water SourcesMayflower Springs (mi 247.8 SOBO/540.9 NOBO)
Dairy Springs (mi 248.9 SOBO/539.8 NOBO)
Double Springs (mi 250.6 SOBO/538.1 NOBO)
Wallace Spring (mi 252.3 SOBO/536.4 NOBO)
Indian Springs (mi 255.0 SOBO/533.7 NOBO)
Mormon Lake Village (mi 255.0 SOBO/533.7 NOBO)
Spring/Tank (mi 257.6 SOBO/531.1 NOBO)
Van Deren Spring (mi 261.3 SOBO/527.4 NOBO)
Allan Lake Tank (mi 262 SOBO/526.7 NOBO)
TrailheadsNorth: Mayflower Spring
South: Gooseberry Springs Trailhead (mi 10.6 SOBO/778.1 NOBO)
Trailhead AccessNorth: Two track dirt road
South: Graded dirt road
WildernessNo
Possible resupply pointsMormon Lake village
DifficultyModerate
Potential campsites (mileages S to N)Dairy Springs Campground
Double Springs Campground
Indian Springs – excellent spot, wide flat camping area at the junction of the Indian Springs Trail to the village of Mormon Lake and the Arizona Trail
Numerous spots south of Mormon Lake as terrain flattens
ThreatsHeat – wear a cotton shirt so you can soak it. Synthetics aren’t great in the desert.

Hypothermia – nights are generally about 30°F cooler than days in Arizona regardless of the time of year. Consider this in packing gear. Mornings can be cool year-round.

Hyponatremia – “drunk on water.” To avoid, ensure adequate salt & electrolyte intake and ensure you eat as well as drink water. Symptoms are almost identical to dehydration, but drinking more makes it worse. Prevention is by far the best solution.

Dehydration
Permits Required? No
Cell service?Limited
Ecosystems traversedRocky Mountain Montane Conifer Forest
Sources: Personal experience, Guthook Guides & ATA Guide to the Arizona Trail.
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Rocky Mountain Montane Conifer Woodland
Common Trees/Shrubs* Ponderosa Pine
* Southwestern white pine
* Subalpine fir
* White fir
* Rocky Mountain maple
* Bigtooth maple
* Grey alder
* Red birch
* Red osier dogwood
* Cliffbush
* Mallow ninebark
* New Mexican locust
* huckleberry
* bilberries



Common herbaceous plants* fringed brome
* Geyer’s sedge/elk sedge
* Ross’ sedge
* Bronze sedge/dry land sedge/hillside sedge/hay sedge/Fernald’s hay sedge
* screwleaf muhly
* bluebunch wheatgrass
* Spruce-fir fleabane
* wild strawberry/Virginia strawberry
* Small-flowered woodrush
* mountain sweet Cicely
* bittercress ragwort
* western meadow-rue
* Fendler’s meadow-rue
Passage 31 & 33 Ecology (source: Arizona Trail Association AZT Guide & NatureServe). Only California and Texas are more diverse ecologically than Arizona.
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Prologue: The Arizona Trail

I finally bit the bullet on a thruhike. Since I arrived at Grand Canyon National Park in March, I have been considering thruhiking the Arizona Trail across the state.

For those who don’t know, the Arizona Trail is an 800 mile long hiking trail across Arizona. It starts at the Utah state line, skirts Buckskin Mountain, climbs onto and crosses the Kaibab Plateau, crosses the Grand Canyon and Coconino Plateau. It skirts the mighty San Francisco Peaks north of Flagstaff and the town itself, and then runs to the southeast past Mormon Lake to the Mogollon Rim, the southern edge of the Colorado Plateau. Dropping off and running beside the rim to the town of Pine, it passes within miles of the Fossil Creek Wilderness area before crossing several mesas and the East Verde River. It climbs into the rugged Mazatzal Mountains and traverses them to Roosevelt, then crosses the Superstitions and desert canyons to eventually reach the Sky Islands near Tucson. Climbing across Mount Lemmon and Santa Catalinas, it drops to Redington Pass before rising again through the Rincon Mountains in Saguaro National Park. It again enters desert but soon climbs again into the Santa Rita Mountains, passing directly below 9400 ft Mt Wrightson. Crossing the Canelo Hills, it makes a final climb into the Huachuca Mountains and ultimately drops to its southern terminus at the US/Mexico border at Coronado National Memorial.

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“The Arizona Trail”
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The hallmark of the Arizona Trail is diversity. Many long distance trails simply follow mountain ranges and focus on views. The AZT, by contrast, focuses on crossing each of the state’s ecosystems, from deserts to ponderosa forests, Sky Islands to riparian areas.

This image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is a57cfd0e-1a74-45dd-9dc3-d563f4e5a03e.jpg



Of course, this means that the challenges vary greatly along the trail; depending on the area and recent conditions, terrain, elevation, water availability and access to resupplies may all be challenges.

Aspens along the Arizona Trail, Kaibab National Forest



On September 21st, I set off to conquer this trail, adding 45 miles at the start through Vermilion Cliffs National Monument to access the northern trailhead.

I have chosen it for three reasons: I wanted one that was unique, that relatively few people successfully achieve. The diversity appealed to me, as it is a novel approach to a trail. And I wanted one that would give me the confidence that no matter what I follow it with, I could do it. And, I’m already in Arizona after wrapping up my season at Grand Canyon. I also hope to raise funds for the Arizona Trail Association and National Park Foundation.

So, I’m coming for you, Arizona. Let’s see just what we are both truly made of.

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