Mormon Mountain • Range Highpoint: Mormon Mountains
• Mormon Plateau
• Southeastern Coconino County

Date Climbed
May 7, 2006

Elevation
8,500+ feet

Distance
7 miles round trip

Time
4.5 hours

Gain
1,400 feet

Conditions
Lovely

Prominence
1,120 feet

Click on the thumbnail to see a full-size version


Mormon Mountain
 

Intersection with the Arizona Trail
 

Mormon Lake through the trees
 

Beth makes her way up
 

The meadow
 

Forest road on top
 

Humphreys from the summit
 

Panorama shot
 

As seen from Mount Wilson near Sedona, June 2006 (Munds Canyon is in view)

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Our original plans to hike in the Sedona area had to be postponed because we could not reserve a camp space anywhere in the region and didn't want to chance having to find one available in the dark (Sedona gets crowded when the weather warms, we should have known better). So, at the last minute, we looked to the east and saw Mormon Mountain and Mormon Lake on the maps, both seemingly attractive points of interest, and full of available camping. Mormon Lake has the distinction of being one of very few natural lakes in Arizona, but it's usually just a shallow pool of water in a slight depression on the Mormon Plateau, southeast of Flagstaff. QUite often, there's no lake at all, just a giant mud field.

However, Mormon Lake was just a place to go camping, as our real interest was nearby Mormon Mountain, a flat-topped volcanic hill rising 1,200 feet above the surrounding terrain. Surprisingly, precious little information about this peak and its trails exist anywhere on the web or in print. All we had to go on was a vague description from the Forest Service's website and our topographical maps from 1974 that show the roads but not any trails.

We left Chandler Saturday and made the nice drive into the high country just south of Flagstaff. Conditions in the high country were pleasant. Some puffy clouds hung in the air, from a weak front that moved through the state a day before. Our goal was the Dairy Springs Campground. From Interstate-17 we took the Munds Park exit (#322) and went east along Coconino National Forest Road 240 about 10-12 miles to paved FR-90, which skirts Mormon Lake on its west. The mileages on the signs might be a bit off, but the junctions were well signed and the roads in good shape. It's heavily forested here and we didn't have any views along the drive except for a couple of nice meadows.

Once on FR-90, we drove north about a mile to the Dairy Springs Campground road on our left, and went in to find our site. The campground holds about 20 spaces spread out among tall pines and open undergrowth. Some cabins and some group camping areas are also in the area. Mormon Lake is about a half-mile walk to the east. Somewhat surprisingly, we could see water in it. It was about 4 p.m. when we rolled in, and we spent the rest of the day relaxing around camp, building a big fire, and doing some easy exploratory hikes. I took some time to find the trailhead, which is easy to find (when driving into the campground, go left at a fork for the trailhead, right to the campground. It's all very well signed).

The next morning we got our stuff in order and showed up at the trailhead, the only people there. I signed into the register, noting that only a dozen parties had been here since last fall, averaging out to about a group every 2-3 weeks. I'm sure this is partly due to the lack of information about the region in general and this hike in particular. Interestingly, a lot of the people who had signed out after their hikes lamented the lack of views from the top. A lot of the entries were not complimentary. We followed a well-maintained trail (The Mormon Mountain Trail) into the woods, where it quickly started a steady ascent up a prominent southeastern ridge. Early on, it crosses the Arizona Trail. For those so inclined, Flagstaff is a mere 28 miles of hiking north along the Arizona Trail. The views were minimal but in places we could see the hulk of the forested mountain, and looking the other way we had some broken views of Mormon Lake and surrounding environs. The undergrowth was light and we passed through some small meadows and bare slopes.

After about two miles we'd gained about a thousand feet, at which point the slope moderated nicely. The next mile we gained about 300 feet, with some long flat sections. Finally, the trail mounts a small rise and drops into a large meadow. A sign pointing the other way mentioned Dairy Springs as being three miles distant. Although the trail was not shown on the map, the roads are and I GPS'd our position, which matched up well with the map, but even so, we made a minor error of navigation. The trail lets out on to a scant road in the meadow, and I assumed we had to go right, which we did, but after about a quarter-mile of following the road, it was descending too much and putting us way too south of where we needed to be. So we backtracked to the meadow, then barreled north through some open slopes where we caught the "real" forest road. The signage in the meadow does not suggest which way to proceed. I wonder if many of those who lamented the lack of views got just this far and called it quits? For the record, from where the trail "ends" in the meadow, follow the road left, then left again where you'll see its junction with the main forest road.

So now we were on the main road. A work truck rumbled by, and we hiked northeast toward some radio towers. Not too long afterwards the road drops about 30 feet near "Mormon Mountain Tank" as shown on the map. To the left of the road are two buildings, one green and the other brown, set farther back. We followed some access roads behind these buildings and walked up the easy slope to top out on the summit, an unobvious point marked on the map with a tiny 8,500-foot contour. In fact, the "summit" region of Mormon Mountain is pretty big and features a number of small hills and rises, some up to 8,480+ feet. A spot elevation of 8,456 feet is shown on the map near where the two buildings sit, and this is sometimes reported as the mountain's elevation. Another spot elevation of 8,449 feet, taken where the road eventually ends, is cited as the peak's elevation at the trailhead. Nothing mentions the 8,500-foot hilltop, and without a map, the true summit is not obvious at all. Most people probably miss it completely.

When we got to the top, I still had my doubts, so I broke open the map and GPS and laid it all out on the ground. I let the GPS settle and very carefully matched up the readings with the map. Everything matched up, but I double checked just to be sure. The top is wooded, and a triangular sign marked M-32 sits near the top. Meanwhile, Beth walked a few feet farther to an opening in the trees and told me to check out the view. The view is a nearly unobstructed view of the entire San Francisco Peaks, including Humphreys Peak, Arizona's highest point. The range stood grandly to our northwest, about 35 miles away. Between us and the peak was an endless scape of thick forest. To the left of Humphreys stood Kendrick Peak, Sitgreaves Peak and farther on, Bill Williams Mountain. We stayed here a bit and had our snack and drink breaks. What a wonderful surprise! We were not expecting any views (per the comments in the register back at the trailhead), but we had one of the best we've ever seen! We signed in the register at the top, placed there in summer 2005. We were the third group to sign in, and I knew the other two.

Our hike back went quick and we were back to our car by about 3:30 p.m., a total round trip of about 7 miles and a gross elevation gain of 1,400 feet. I looked up Mormon Mountain's prominence and saw that it comes in way back at #314 (tied with five other peaks), with just over 1,100 feet of prominence. In terms of pleasurableness (a word?) and views, it's a hidden jewel. I still am surprised at the overall lack of information about this peak. I suspect the following: No trail is shown on any maps ... the hike isn't mentioned in any guide books ... the signage at the top could be better ... the true summit is not obvious without a good map ... the towers make for an "unsexy" top. Mix that all up and no wonder no one goes there and those who do, complain about the lack of views. By the way: the top can be accessed by Forest Roads for those pinched for time.

(c) 2006 Scott Surgent. For entertainment purposes only. This report is not meant to replace maps, compass, gps and other common sense hiking/navigation items. Neither I nor the webhost can be held responsible for unfortunate situations that may arise based on these trip reports. Conditions (physical and legal) change over time! Some of these hikes are major mountaineering or backpacking endeavors that require skill, proper gear, proper fitness and general experience.