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January 4, 2009

"Frozen Willow"

Two years ago, we received snowshoes for Christmas; and with that, we were introduced to the wonders of hiking in a winter wonderland.  We had already had the opportunity to snowshoe in places like the Wing Mountain Snow Play Area, Flagstaff, and Payson; John even tried to do a solo backpacking trip through the snow, in Clover Creek.  Now, John wanted to try snowshoeing to a lake.

During the week of New Year's, another winter storm blew through the state, dumping a lot of snow on the high country.  John suggested that we take advantage of the fresh snow that weekend, with a snowshoeing trip to Willow Springs Lake, off of SR 260 on the Mogollon Rim.  Ever since we had canoed Willow Springs Lake earlier that summer, he had become fascinated by the idea of seeing the lake frozen during the winter and wondered if it was possible to snowshoe in that far.  (I think he wanted to attempt a solo backpacking trip there during the winter, so this would be a test run for him, to see if he could do it.)

The day before we went on our snowshoeing adventure, we did some shopping to prepare ourselves for it.  One of the problems that we had when snowshoeing was that Mary did not have the proper clothes for it.  She didn't have snow pants, nor did she have a decent snow jacket and gloves.  (Those little knit gloves did nothing to protect her little hands from the cold.)  For Christmas, though, we managed to remedy part of that problem; she received a good pair of snow gloves from Grandpa Butch and a snow jacket from Santa Claus.  Now all she needed was a good pair of snow pants and she would be ready to tackle the elements.

Fortunately for us, Alpine Ski was having a sale on snow pants, for 50% off.  We were able to get Mary a ski bib - and one for me, too - for $75.  Now, we were ready for a day of snowshoeing!

On Sunday morning, January 4, John and Mary and I packed up our snowshoes and our winter gear and headed north on SR 87 towards Payson.

There wasn't much snow in Payson and in the surrounding areas, and that worried us; we thought that the high country had been covered with snow!  Apparently, the snow had already started to melt at that elevation; we could only hope that there was still snow up in the higher elevations.  We became more optimistic the higher we drove on SR 260; as we went further east, we found more and more snow on the ground.  Finally, as we reached the top of the Mogollon Rim, we entered into a whole winter wonderland!  There was snow as far as the eye could see; it was perfect for our snowshoeing adventure.

Our little photo bomber!We parked the 4Runner near the entrance to Willow Springs Lake, just off of SR 260, about a mile east of the FR 300 turnoff.  The first 100 feet of that road had been plowed; the rest of the road was closed and buried under several feet of snow.  Despite the fact that the area was closed to motor vehicles, it was still open to anyone willing to walk in to find a place to play.  Like us, of course.

Soon after we parked the 4Runner, a light snow began to fall; it lasted for about five minutes then stopped again.  The clouds, however, continued to hang low in the sky, threatening to open up again with more snowflakes.  It was quickly becoming a very cold and very dark day - a bad day for hiking, but a good day for snowshoeing!

Once we were geared up in our winter clothes and snowshoes, we took off along the road to begin our adventure.  A hundred yards later, though, we left the road and started following the axe blazes that marked the Willow Springs Lake Trail, which we hoped would bring us to the lake.

As we hiked along the trail, a light snow began to fall on us again, and it continued to snow, off and on, for the next hour.  Even though it was cold and snowing, we were delighted to find that we were well-protected from the elements in our new snow gear.  Mary's rear Mary and I share eskimo kisses on that cold winter's morning.end was usually soaked from the snow that she kicked up with her snowshoes; this time, the snow pants kept her dry and warm...and happy. 

We continued to follow the axe blazes until we lost them.  At that point, we decided to cut across the forest until we reached the road again.  Once we found the road, we stayed on that all the way to the lake, so as not to get lost in the snow. 

It took us just over an hour, but we did it: we made it all the way to Willow Springs Lake!  And to our delight, we discovered that it was indeed the winter wonderland that we hoped it would be!  The lake was completely frozen and covered with a thick layer of snow.  And there were no tracks on it; not one single human being had been out there to walk in the fresh snow.  It was so pristine, so beautiful.

We followed John through the forest that lined the shoreline (where the snow was so thick that the picnic tables were completely buried underneath it) and out onto the frozen lake.  We walked carefully at first, since we weren't sure how thick the ice was; but once we were certain that the ice could support our weight, we dared to walk our further.  Mary thought John was joking when he said that we were walking on the lake, so he brushed away the snow to show her the ice underneath it.  He then explained to her that, when he was a kid, he used to go ice skating out on a lake just like that, near Chicago.

Mary and John dress up our snow-kid.We played out on Willow Springs Lake for nearly an hour.  John started up a snowball fight (though I stopped playing after he beaned me hard in the face!), and Mary and I tried to build a snowman.  Unfortunately, the snow wasn't wet enough and it didn't stick very well, so our snowman was more of a "snow-kid", because it was only one foot tall.

Just before we left Willow Springs Lake, the skies finally opened up, and a heavy snow began to fall.  The snowflakes were so large that we had to stop and try to catch them with our tongues; and the snow was so thick that our hats and shoulders were covered in no time at all.

Instead of trying to find the trail again, we hiked back to SR 260 along the road, and it took us about forty-five minutes to do so.  Along the way, Mary finally began to complain that she was cold - mainly, her nose and cheeks were cold.  We did what we could to help her warm up - zipped her jacket up as far as it would go, adjusted her scarf, pulled down her hat - but once she was cold, she was done.  We weren't going to do any sledding or anything else like that; instead, she just wanted to get inside of the 4Runner so that she could warm up.

We arrived back at the 4Runner around lunchtime; and, after that hike, we were hungry!  We didn't pack a lunch because our intention was to eat out; we just had to decide where to go.  We could drive ten miles east to Forest Lakes to eat at Bugles, or we could drive fifteen miles down the Rim to Christopher Creek to eat at the Creekside.  Both were good places to eat, but Bugles was closer so we chose to go there.

The snow was still falling heavily as we headed east on SR 260, and it was just getting heavier.  We were soon forced to slow to about forty miles an hour, as we were getting into white-out conditions.  Of course, it wasn't like we were holding up traffic, because we were the only ones heading east...but there was a long line of cars heading west! 

Despite the snow, we made it to Forest Lakes.  As we approached Bugles, we started slowing down; but even as slow as we were going, we still slid on the icy road when John applied the brakes.  It was a little unsettling.

When we turned left into the parking lot, we discovered that Bugles was closed for the season.  I guess we should have known that, considering that most of the businesses in Forest Lakes were seasonal.  Disappointed that we had driven all that way for nothing, we turned around and started heading west again on SR 260.

We soon emerged from the snowstorm, about the time that we started heading down the Rim.  By the time we reached the 260 Trailhead, the snow had turned into a light rain - which, of course, was much less unnerving.  And by the time we reached the Creekside in Christopher Creek, the rain had stopped all together.

We had lunch at the Creekside; then, we decided that it was time to head home.  Another day's adventure had come to an end...


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