When we first drove offroad into the Coconino National Forest we came across the sign pointing us towards several different destinations.
One we found our camping spot near the Rim and were finally situated we pulled up a map to take in our surroundings. Looking at the map we could see that Potato Lake was the closest substantial body of water to us and so decided to take a short drive and hike to check it out in hopes we would find a suitable spot for Willow to fulfill her need to romp in some water. As we drove back out from our campsite we again found the sign above and headed off in the correct direction.
A mile or so past the Quaking Aspen Canyon sign we came across the turn out and an informal parking area at the trail head.
Only a half mile round trip! Even on a bad knee day for me or a bad back day for the girl we could gut that out and so we started a GPS track and began the hike. At our pace a 1/4 mile should have taken all of 5 minutes. Five minutes and 1/4 mile later there was no lake in sight only a road to the left blocked off by a downed tree, a sign and a nice meadow that was also marked as closed for restoration on our right.
Undaunted by the prospect of a longer hike than anticipated we pushed on. I mean, how wrong could the sign have been? Well, it turned out it was off by about 100%. We eventually came to the gate limiting access to non-wheeled vehicles and protecting the lake environment.
So, apparently, when they measured the distance from the trail head to the lake way back when they used something…how should we put this…inaccurate. Even if the measurement was done in the earlier days of GPS before the intentional degradation of public GPS signals known as Selective Availability was turned off the error should not have been, essentially, 100%. Maybe they drove here in an old car with a crap odometer but it still shouldn’t be that inaccurate. Maybe they had someone measure one of their strides and then started counting steps and during the mathematics part they made a mistake. Who knows but, regardless, according to my GPS which was accurate to within 10 feet it was a complete half mile from the sign saying 1/4 mile to leaving a footprint in the moist ground at the edge of the lake.
We decided to continue our exploration by circling the lake. I walked while Willow romped in and out of the water cooling off her hot, black, photon-absorbing self. On the way around we picked up a bit of garbage and took it out with us.
Our quest to find Potato Lake now complete we chose to take a different way back than the way we had come in. We decided to take the more direct but more difficult route and headed up and over the hill whose base we had hiked around on our way in to the lake. On this leg of the hike we decided to forgo GPS technology, practice some orienteering skills and instead use my trusty old Suunto compass for a bit of dead reckoning fun. As we had hoped our beeline up, over and down the other side let us exit the tree cover on the other side of the hill essentially right across the access road from the Tacoma. Knowing how to use a compass on the move is a fun and valuable skill. If you spend any amount of time in the non-paved outdoors we would highly recommend you look into taking an orienteering course or joining an orienteering club.