BERRY ROAD

Berry Road is an apt moniker for this Mormon Lake hike

A drive
along Lake Mary Road that runs between Flagstaff and State Route 87 at the edge
of the Mogollon Rim south of the community of Happy Jack is a dramatic tour
of Arizona’s plateau lakes region and
the high-country woodlands of Coconino National Forest. A particularly scenic section passes by Upper and Lower Lake Mary and Mormon Lake.

Mormon Lake is a sometimes marsh, sometimes lake

At roughly
2-miles across, Mormon Lake is Arizona’s largest natural lake. Fed mostly by
snow melt, the lake’s surface area vacillates between a substantial pool and
swampy swales depending on seasonal precipitation. This year has been a pretty
good one for the lake. Even now, in late summer, the watery basin is a
collection of deep ponds, reedy puddles and emerald wetlands.

Berry Road traces the cliffs below Lake Mary Road.
Wildlife feed on skunk bush fruits that grow along Berry Rd.

The
easiest way to view this natural wonder is to make a stop and one or both of
the scenic lookout points on Lake Mary Road. The northern most overlook near milepost 322 that's named for wildlife conservationist Douglas C. Morrison, Jr. Overlook, sits on a rise at the
lake’s northeast corner while a second point two miles to the south offers dizzying lake vistas from
the top of vertical cliffs of volcanic stone.

Both sites
have interpretive signs that describe land features and wildlife to look for
while visiting the area. If you have a sharp eye, you might notice a rough road
below the lookouts that traces a ledge above the lake. This is the old Lake Mary frontage
road—better known as Berry Road.

A grasshopper blends in with grasses around Mormon Lake.
Trail visible below the north roadside overlook site.

If you’re
intrigued by the cliff-top vistas and want to get a closer look; take this low
road.

The easy
trek begins at a gate where the old road has been closed to motorized use. Open
to hikers, equestrians and mountain bikers, the crumbling route offers
excellent opportunities for wildlife viewing and exploring a bounty of
fruit-bearing native plants.

Oak trees and fruit-bearing shrubs line Berry Road.

It’s not called Berry Road for naught.

The hike follows an old frontage road above Mormon Lake

The crumbling byway—with remnants of the
chrome-colored paint that marked the median– reads like a lush wildlife
buffet. Arizona walnut trees, Utah service berry, wax currents, skunk bush and
Blueberry elders drip with fruits in late summer. The abundance of wild foods attract swarms of
wildlife. If you walk quietly and gaze
over the lake, you’re almost certain to see waterfowl, hawks, pronghorn and elk
foraging among bull rushes.

A bumper crop of wax currents ripen along Berry Road.

Late
summer and early fall are the best times to observe Rocky Mountain elk. For a
primer in how best to observe these impressive beasts in their native habitats,
sign up to attend the Arizona Game and Fish Department viewing workshop at
Mormon Lake Lodge on August 17th.

A herd of Rocky Mountain elk wallow in Mormon Lake.

When
hiking Berry Road, it’s handy to have a pair of binoculars in hand to spot the
shy Great blue herons, egrets and osprey that are quick to scurry into cover when
startled.

Between
shady stands of Ponderosa pines, Gambel oaks, junipers, cottonwoods and aspens,
great views of Mormon Mountain that rises to 8,456 feet above the lake’s
western shore fill the horizon. To the
northwest, the San Francisco Peaks appear as a hazy purple silhouette.

At the
1.4-mile point, the road bumps up against stony escarpments below the south
lookout site. Here, a jungle of Arizona Walnut trees brushing against columns
of basalt cinch the road and clouds of pollinators hover around dozens of
wildflower species including poison milkweed, globemallow and wild geraniums that
sprout from cracks in the pavement.

View from the south overlook point on Lake Mary Road.
Deer, birds and rodents feast on Utah serviceberry fruits.

The first
substantial group of aspens appear at around the 3-mile point where the north
lookout site is just barely visible ahead on a prominent ridge above the road.

Berry Road is open year-round for non-motorized use.

Across the pond, lake-side homes and structures of the major recreation hub surrounding
Mormon Lake Village peek out from thick tree cover. This popular summer getaway
destination is a huge draw for summer visitors interested in the area’s boating,
fishing, picnicking, camping, hiking and eclectic mix of restaurants, trail
ride outfitters, cabin rentals and events. It’s worthy post-hike side trip,
too.

Reedy wetlands at Mormon Lake attract wildlife
Pollinators swarm around poison milkweed plants.
San Francisco Peaks seen from Berry Road at Mormon Lake
Mormon Mountain looms about the lake's west shore.

What’s
left of the old frontage road fades into a murky contour of the lake just beyond
the north lookout site.

Cottonwoods thrive in the marshy fringes of Mormon Lake

You may choose to follow the weed-encroached path a
little farther, but it’s best to leave this feral terminus and its fruits and nuts to the birds and beasts
and backtrack to the lodge for pizza and beer instead.

An Arizona walnut tree shades Berry Road at Mormon Lake
Wild geranium grow in tangled clusters along the trail.
Aspens frame views of Mormon Mountain.
Squirrels love the Arizona walnuts that grow on Berry Road

LENGTH:
6.4 miles out-and-back

RATING:
easy

ELEVATION:
7,182 – 7,031 feet

GETTING
THERE:

From
Flagstaff, go 24.8 miles south on Lake Mary Road (Forest Road 3) to an unsigned
road on the right just past milepost 319
where there’s a sign that reads “no vehicle turnaround”. Low clearance vehicles should park along the
pullouts here, otherwise drive the road 0.2-mile, cross a cattle guard, turn
right at a fork, continue 0.1-mile uphill and park near a locked gate.

INFO: Coconino National Forest

https://www.fs.usda.gov/recarea/coconino/recarea/?recid=55014

Arizona
Game and Fish Department Elk Viewing
Workshop: August 17, 2019

https://www.azgfd.com/come-out-to-azgfds-2019-annual-elk-viewing-workshop-aug-17/

Arizona
Watchable Wildlife Experience

https://www.azwatchwildlife.com/mormon-lake

Mormon Lake Lodge

https://www.mormonlakelodge.com/

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