Once we arrived up in the general Flagstaff area from our Mogollon Rim adventure we wanted a place to stay that was not too far of the beaten path so we could get into downtown Flagstaff and watch the Stanley Cup Playoffs over the span of a few nights. Since we would have to be clean and un-aromatic during our public appearances we decided to take the easy way out and stay at a developed campsite for a couple of nights. We chose the Forked Pine Campground on Ashurst Lake as it was less than 20 miles out of town and would give us access to potable water and the showers at the nearby Pine Grove Campground. The camp hosts and their two dogs (Monkey and Jasmine) were nice, friendly and free with their information. After a couple of nights there going back and forth between the Sports Bar nirvana of Buffalo Wild Wings and our campsite we asked them if they knew some other cool places to camp at in the area and they immediately mentioned Kinnikinick Lake.
From our quick glance at the latest Coconino Travel Map of the area it looked like we could do an interesting overland trip from Ashurst Lake all the way down to Kinnikinick Lake.
We set out from our campsite and turned on FR740 heading towards FR9118W. We found FR 9117 paralleling electrical Highlines right before a closed gate indicating FR 9118F was on the other side. Since the resolution of these Travel Maps, digitally or on paper is not great we thought perhaps 9117 led to 9118W and gave it a go. Incorrect. All of an 1/8th of a mile later the road ended at a cattle guard with a sign indicating Only Authorized Vehicles Beyond This Point. Okay, next guess. We retraced our steps to the closed gate, went through and closed it behind us thinking that, possibly, 9118F might lead to 9118W. Once again, about a half mile further down that road we came to a pond with a two-track path leading into the water and out on the other side but the water was deep and muddy and we had no intention of getting stuck and so u-turned and headed back for our next guess. After another 30 minutes of looking around we came to the conclusion that FR9118W did not exist, at least in this year’s real world and so tried our next option which was the green line on the map above.
Back around Ashurst Lake, through the Ashurst Lake campground on Forest Road 82 and on. At the fork in the road we ignored the path to the right (9118J) as the map indicated it dead-ended at a small, narrow lake called Ashurst Run. Eventually we came to the next Y in the road and our options again diminished to taking the left which was a seasonally closed route that went through the Anderson Mesa Wildlife Protection Area (closed from April 15 through June 27 and we were sitting in front of the sign on June 6th), the path straight ahead that the map indicated was there but actually did not exist or the route 180 degrees to the right that was closed via big ass boulders placed across the road.
The Anderson Mesa Wildlife Protection Area is a partnership between private land owners, the Coconino National Forest, Arizona Wildlife Federation, Arizona Game and Fish Department. The Northern Arizona Audubon Society, Sierra Club, Arizona Antelope Foundation, Arizona Elk Society and many others. It exists as both an Arizona IBA (Important Bird Area) and a place where wildlife has access to ephemeral seasonal ponds and gets a break from the encroachment of human activities during the crucial springtime birthing and rearing season especially for Pronghorn Antelope and the local Elk population.
Ninety degrees to the right of this was what the map indicated was FR 82 but was literally a rocky plain with zero indication that a road ever went that way. We gave it a go for a few hundred meters thinking that maybe a trail might appear out of the overgrown weeds after a bit but we just got to a place of basketball-sized rocks that were no fun to deal with and so turned around. Back at the seasonally closed gate we instead looked 180 degree from it past the strategically placed boulders and decided to take a quick hike to see where this once open road led. All of a 1/4 mile farther and up a steep “hill” we emerged at the top of what obviously was the earthen dam that held back Ashurst Run.
To the right of the gears was the terminus of FR 9118J which we had elected not to go down in the first place because the map had indicated it was a dead-end. At least it was correct on that point. I’m getting a bit annoyed and frustrated now I must say. So, once again, back the way we came and back out to a known and actually existing place on the map which was the campground at Ashurst Lake itself. We wanted to find the camp hosts and get some clarification but they were out doing chores and we could not find them and so just decided to take the long way around which was the purple track in the map up at the top of the page. So out to paved Highway 3, down past Mormon Lake and left onto Forest Road 125. At least we are getting somewhere now.
A couple of miles down FR125 we came across the other end of the seasonally closed FR82 and a bit past that the closed entrance to the same area via FR9483G.
Just past that we finally came to an indication that we were in the right area. I finally realized that we had been using the latest, colorful Travel Map put out by the Forest Service and not the Motor Vehicle Use Map (MVUM) which actually shows when roads are closed seasonally. Closing the Travel Map on our phone and instead opening up the latest MVUM we could indeed see that all our issues this day were due to using the incorrect map. Duh. A valuable lesson learned and at the relatively cheap cost of using a little extra gas, a few extra hours on the road of several choice words uttered in frustration.
As you can see from the picture above we were dealing with the smoke from shifting winds that were giving fire fighters and fire managers a hard time with several prescribed fires in the immediate area.
As long as the wind cooperated we were fine but seemingly twice a day the winds shifted and we were inundated with smoke, sometimes light, sometimes heavy.
The road in the area was, to use the technical term, crap. Numerous paths have been created through the area depending on the season. You can easily tell which routes are better during wet/mud season and which routes would be deep mud traps. During this dry time all the options were rocky and rutted and so we slowly rolled our way down towards the end of the lake with the dam near Morton Lake. We eventually found a nice spot essentially across from the dam and set up camp.
The next day we grabbed my great G. Loomis IMX rod and Shimano reel setup and took a hike around the lake looking for some places to take some casts and maybe catch and release some beautiful fish.
We had heard that the lake was stocked with some really nice German Brown Trout but what we found was that we were obviously in the wrong spot on the lake as the grasses in the water near the shore were thriving far too well in the springtime sun and each and every cast returned to me with some green stringy offering from the Lake. Oh well. The worst day fishing is better than the best day of work I believe the saying goes.
While I was carefully stepping over rocks at the edge of the lake and tossing out hopeful casts Willow was running around like a spastic freakshow shoving her nose into each and every bush and pile of rocks looking for any lifeforms she could possibly chase. Unfortunately she soon came up limping badly and when I went to take a look hoping it was just a thorn that could easily be removed I instead found that she had essentially ripped one of her toenails off and it was only hanging on by the quick with the nail bed open, raw, bloody, exposed and now crammed all full of mud and other lakeside debris.
We headed back to camp to see if we could take care of this situation without having to resort to Veterinarians and their bills. Luckily we always carry a full-blown trauma kit for me or other humans in need as well as a rudimentary first aid kit for dogs and took full use of the dog kit for this gaping wound. First I had to dig in there with q-tips to get as much of the clay-like crud out of there and then squirt saline solution to get the rest of the lakeside crud out of the gap (she was not happy about that), drench it in a disinfectant (she really was unhappy about that), slather it in an antibiotic gel and then wrap it in sterile bandages, tape it firmly closed and then force her to wear her Ruffwear booties over that to keep the bandages clean and in place.
For the entire rest of the time we were in residence at the lake (and then for another week near Walnut Canyon) I had to clean and re-wrap the wound once a day as she pretended to be a three-legged dog. Amusingly she actually took quite well to her new situation and was tripawding around after small ground-dwelling mammals with unabashed enthusiasm. Now I know that if she ever has to have a leg removed due to doggie cancer or some other disaster I expect she will take readily to her new lot in life.
After a few days of reading, writing and relaxing around the lake the winds started to change direction and, in the course of 12 hours, the smoke came through and was unbearable.
It got so bad that we packed up quickly one morning and looked for another place outside of the smoky area.
On the way out we came across a couple of cans tossed on the side of the road and stopped to pick them up.
Our map showed there were a few lakes off of Forest Road 129A which was North of Mormon Lake and East of Upper Lake Mary. It forked off Forest Road 82E which we had eventually taken to Ashurst Lake. We turned off and slowly made our way into the area looking for Horse Lake and Youngs Lake.
Slowly crawling along the unmaintained dirt/rock road, essentially idling in first gear we came around a corner and were greeted by a piercing scream. Both windows were down and it was loud and momentarily scared the hell out of me. I immediately stopped and made sure it was not Willow and her toenail or something else causing her distress (it wasn’t). I then thought I might have run over a rabbit that had been napping in the road but I didn’t feel a “bump” and I really would expect an animal like a rabbit (if healthy) to not hang out in the middle of a road and not move when a big, scary, noisy, vibrating stinky truck rolls its way.
i did not want Willow to take advantage of such a wounded prey opportunity or have her need to “run away, run away” from a wounded Rabbit of Caerbannog killer rabbit and so made her stay in the Tacoma.
I got out and went back to see if I indeed had hit something and if so would I have to euthanize the poor creature. What I found was a baby elk, laying in the shade of a small tree.
I really hoped I had not inadvertently run over the poor little thing and that it had crawled over into the shade of the tree to die. Had it been in a rut in the road and the Tacoma rolled over it we would have done untold internal damage in the process.
The area I pushed on turned pink again in under 2 seconds which means things were normal.
Happily I had not hurt it and it had apparently just been waiting for mom to come back from a foraging session. The scream had only been its alarm call for mom when the Tacoma had rolled around the corner and scared it. We drove on in search of a smoke-free lake to camp near.
What we found might become a lake in the wet season but now was merely a beautiful (but disappointing for our purposes) meadow.
With the emotional roller coaster of the baby elk situation and our disappointment at finding a dry lake after several hours of slow overlanding we decided to just continue on up closer to Flagstaff itself and so headed towards Walnut Canyon. We originally thought we would just stay on Forest Roads towards the back, South edge of the National Monument. This is apparently not a well-traveled route and road maintenance seemed to be sporadic at best.
We could see on the map that there were officially allowed dispersed camping spots right at the Southern boundary of the National Monument and so kept crawling in that direction. Eventually we came to a sharp turn in the road that was going to take us away from the border of the Monument. We instead took the left back in the direction we wanted to go but immediately came to this dead end.
The camping spots in this area were actually quite nice and we were getting a usable AT&T signal. The main issue was that they were just too far away from downtown Flagstaff. The actual distance was not that far but because of the quality of roads it would be a two hour drive each way in order to head back and forth for Stanley Cup Playoff games and that was just too much. So we just decided to head back to one of our standard spots on the Northern side of the National Monument and save these sites for the next time we are in the area and can stay in one place for a week or so.