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Day 38: Mormon Lake to Upper Lake Mary

Elk Below San Francisco Peaks

I heard it as I was falling asleep last night in the Mormon Lake Campground. Hundreds of tiny little collisions on my rain fly as if someone were constantly throwing a bunch of feathers at my tent. It was snowing, and I could feel a bit of it sneaking into my tent and hitting my face. Of course that’s why it’s called a rain fly and not a snow fly. I wondered if I should double check everything or resecure some other things. I fell asleep instead.

I poked my head out of my tent this morning to see the ground covered in white, only a bit disappointed that I wasn’t in the woods somewhere to take full advantage of it. Eager to get back into the woods though before it all melted, I started packing up my gear, but this proved to be very difficult given the cold. The metal on my tent numbed my fingers with every touch. I had to go into the restroom just to use the sink to thaw them back out. It wound up taking a lot longer than usual to get it all ready to go.

Once finally ready, I realized I still had another hour before everything opened at 8am. I took a seat in the sun by the general store and used the time to get some power back into my phone.

Once the store was open, I got my mail drop from the post office behind it and noticed I had sent myself a pretty big box for only 30 miles. I opened it up and saw that I had shipped myself over four days of food for about two days of hiking. I really botched up my mail drops. After going so long with not enough food, now I had way too much! I expect to do better for the last stretch from Flagstaff to Jacob Lake.

Tree Trunks and Snow

I headed back up the Navajo Springs Trail to reconnect with the Arizona Trail a mile from town. On the way, I read the signs that were posted on fences surrounding a grove of aspen trees that I had rushed by the day before. It said that drought and disease were killing aspens across the west and that fencing them off was the only way to save them. What I found interesting is that this only seems to be happening to aspens where there aren’t any grizzlies or wolves. How odd that it’s not more of a problem where there’s a healthy presence of predators. I suppose the wisest course of action is to fix nature the human way. After all, it’s always worked everywhere else, right?

I began up the trail and proceeded through miles and miles of forest. Though the trail was easy, my pack was making it hard thanks to two more days of food than I needed (for a change) plus plenty of water so I wouldn’t have to filter as much. The rapidly melting snow however made for some really pretty scenes throughout the morning as spruce and firs began to appear deeper in the woods. Occasionally, a glimpse of Mormon Lake and the depression around it could be seen through the tops of the trees.

As the clouds thickened and blocked out the sun, a few snow flurries began to fall here and there. It was a nice touch to break up the midday push after lunch. Soon after, the trail intersected with an old railroad route, the tracks long since removed, but the wood left there to rot for the soil’s benefit.

Old Railroad Bed and Arizona Trail

A few hours passed and with achy feet once again, I approached a meadow where I saw some elk grazing. I quietly worked my way nearby when a raven began sounding the alarm overhead, circling the elk. They picked their heads up and looked around but didn’t see me. I moved a step to the side and saw one bull elk with one antler looking right at me. Not so sneaky after all. He turned and ran to the next meadow, the others following him. I assumed they were gone.

I followed the trail around, which actually brought me to that next meadow, and noticed them staring at me yet again. They began to run, and eager to get one last shot, I entered the meadow just a bit and above them saw the San Francisco Peaks jutting out of the northern horizon over the trees on the other side of the meadow, the highest peaks still shrouded in clouds. I worked as quick as I could to eliminate foreground distractions to get the small herd running through the meadow beneath the snow-capped mountains, a picture-perfect Northern Arizona scene. I got a few shots, hopefully one of them as usable as I’d like it to be.

I was happy to have finally gotten some kind of view. For days I’ve been buried in a forest, a really beautiful forest at that, but there still hadn’t been very many views to break it all up, so that scene definitely had me excited to press on again.

Meadow Around Stock Pond

Toward the end of the day, the trail brought me up into a sparsely forested rim with more junipers again and some rocky terrain. With my feet aching more from not getting enough air, I pushed on to find a good campsite. I found a large meadow with a stock tank, and it even showed the San Francisco Peaks peeking out over the trees, but after scouring the area, never could find a place for my tent. I began up the trail again only to find myself turning back to give it one more look. I noticed some trash on the ground in the direction I was heading, but when I got there and took a better look at it, realized it was actually my new beanie from THAT Brewery that had somehow slipped out. Now I know why I felt like going back. There still weren’t any suitable sites, so I kept going. I eventually found a nice spot on the other side of the meadow which looked really nice, just no views of the peaks. Still, it was good to be able to sit down relatively early and have a nice site with a big meadow nearby.

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All content © Copyright Mike Cavaroc, Free Roaming Hiker & Free Roaming Photography