Tuesday, July 16, 2013

White Mountain Escape - Big Lake Recreational Area


             
 Looking for an escape from the summer heat?  We suggest you consider the Big Lake Recreational Area...

     Mount Baldy is the second highest mountain peak in Arizona.  Here this old, extinct volcano rises some 11,403 feet above the world’s largest Ponderosa pine forest of the Apache-Sitgreaves National Forest.  A short distance from its majestic Arizona peak are located a series of high mountain lakes with Big Lake being the crown jewel of the forest.  A summer or early fall journey to Big Lake takes the high country visitor through some of the most beautiful and remote vistas found in Arizona as well as some of the best trout fishing/biking and hiking spots found anywhere. Big Lake is located some 30 miles south of Eager, Arizona.
What makes the Apache-Sitgreaves National Forest so special is that it has that which is lacking throughout most of Arizona – water – and lots of it.   Here in this White Mountain high country rain and snowmelt is abundant and the large run-offs form lakes and streams creating a fisherman’s paradise.
       The Apache-Sitgreaves National Forest has 35 lakes and reservoirs and more than 680 miles of rivers and streams.  Here is found the headwaters of the Black, San Francisco and Little Colorado Rivers.  In this 2-million acre forest 410 species of wildlife are found including bear, mountain lion, wolf and elk.   There are 36 campgrounds and over 950 miles of biking and hiking trails which attract those outdoor lovers who don’t carry a rod and reel.
       With all the natural offerings found in the Apache-Sitgreaves National Forest over 5 million visitors make their way to this magic land each year.  And many begin their exploration with their first trip to Big Lake.
       The first dam of Big Lake was built in 1934 by the Civilian Conservation Corp to provide a recreational boating and fishing lake in this part of Arizona.  Water for the Big Lake comes from a series of natural springs that bubble here to the surface.  In 1954 National Forest Service crews raised the height of the dam and improved the spillway system.  A dam for a smaller sister-lake, named Crescent Lake was also build a this time.
       Big Lake is located at an elevation of 9000 feet.  It covers 532 surface acres and has an average depth of 16 feet.  The primary fish found in the lake are rainbow, brook, cutthroat and an occasional Apache trout.  Each year the Arizona Game and Fish Department stock over 400,000 fingerling trout into the lake.  During the summer months, catchable sized trout are also put into the lake to tease and tantalize anglers of all ages.
       Most serious fishermen find themselves casting from their boats with trolling spinners and flies.  Boat motors are limited to electric or those under 10 hp. Shore fishermen tend to be of all ages and worms and nightcrawlers do just fine in this trout friendly lake paradise.
       The Big Lake Recreational Area is home to some of the newest and nicest facilities anywhere in Arizona.  Rainbow Campgrounds is home to over 200 fee-based camping sites.  Big Lake has two, modern boat ramps, fish cleaning stations, picnic tables, showers, fresh drinking water, dump station and restrooms with flush toilets  A small lake side store sells food, gas, fishing supplies and licenses.  Boats can also be rented here for the hour or day.  During the summer months a visitor center is open that offers nature programs and hikes for guests of all ages.
       One of the areas most popular biking/hiking trails can be accessed near Big Lake’s Rainbow Campground.  The Indian Springs Trail is a 7.5-mile loop that follows much of an old railroad bed built by the Apache Railroad Company for their Maverick Line that once served a booming logging industry.  
The Indian Springs Trail winds its way through the large stands of  indigenous pine and Douglass fir forests and  passes through amazing stands of old growth aspen.  Old growth aspen dressed in fall colors is a sight not soon forgotten.
So if you are looking to escape the late summer heat or to get away for an early fall outing, think about taking a journey to Big Lake in the Apache-Sitgreaves National Forest.  Located at the 9000 –foot elevation, the campgrounds and roads to Big Lake are closed from late November to early April.  This is a desolate and wild area of our Arizona.   Severe, life-threatening weather can arrive here very quickly; so plan well and go prepared.  








Fishing is good at Big Lake

Crescent Lake

Reflections on Crescent Lake

More Crescent Lake reflections

Western Tiger Swallowtail

Old growth aspen grove

 
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