Wednesday, July 24, 2013

Eagles Retreat - Strawberry, Arizona

    Sometimes all the “stars of travel” just align perfectly and that surely was the case for us as we spent an 8day/7nights week in mid-July at the Eagles Retreat,, cabin in Strawberry, Arizona.  Through Linda’s diligent Internet searching, we landed, no pun intended, in the beautiful cabin home of Jane and Ted Bell.  Being only a short drive from the Valley, this is one quick trip into the Ponderosa pine forests of the magnificent Mogollon Rim Country!
    There were many great aspects of our week in the pines - one of which is that it rained everyday/night we were there.  Oh, the smells and the sounds of the wet pine forest along with the cool air that accompanied each rain was so soul refreshing for a couple of desert rats who had not been in a decent rain in months and months. And is there anything more beautiful than a full rainbow coloring the trees of a dense forest?
    Strawberry, Arizona is a small community just 3-miles north of Pine, Arizona another small mountain community.  Both were founded by Mormon pioneers in the late 1800s.  Only 15 miles south is lovely Payson, with all the conveniences and stores (Starbucks, Wal-Mart, Starbucks, etc.) of our modern world.  Be sure to stop at the Payson Visitor Center on Main Street to pick up the latest information about everything you can see and do in the Rim Country.
    We have discovered over the years that the Strawberry/Pine communities are filled with welcoming and friendly folks who are more than willing to share those special places to be discovered and enjoyed in their communities. Some have called this area of our state the “Arizona Andes.”     
    This land is hiking country and we wish we were a few years younger to take advantage of all the incredible hiking trails that are found all throughout this forested paradise.  If you hike, you will love spending time here. 
    The unique and historic Fossil Creek area was currently closed to cars during our trip but not to hikers.  The Pine Trail is a part of the greater Arizona Trail.  Deep high country swimming holes are found both on Fossil Creek and the East Verde River and are put to good use all summer long.  Being in the middle of nature is the central theme of a Strawberry/Pine getaway!
    The Strawberry Lodge was closed for renovations but thankfully new owners plan to reopen this historic inn by late September (just in time for the colors of fall) with all the wonderful varieties of pies that have been served from its kitchen for generations.  Strawberry pie, of course, has always been the house specialty.
    But good places to eat are plentiful in these high mountain communities.  Mama Joe’s Italian Grill in Strawberry serves up a mighty good meal.  So too does the Randall House in Pine.  The Pine Deli is outstanding and the Ponderosa Market is well stocked and employs a German baker who makes fantastic pies.  The historic Journigan House along Main Street in Payson is also a great place to grab a bit to eat.  Their outside patio is mighty dog friendly! 
    We met for the first time Jane and Joe Hock and discovered their Hock Crockery shop located on the northeast edge of Strawberry.  A big sign next to the Strawberry grocery store directs visitors to their gallery.  The Hocks are warm, friendly Arizonans who do know how to throw some unique and beautiful pots!  We left a few bucks with these friendly folks for some of their unusual pottery.
    We revisited the folks at the Ranch at Fossil Creek who have long been known for the llama hikes into this gorgeous backcountry.  They now have opened the Fossil Creak Creamery which features a variety of goat cheeses and heavenly goat fudge.  Double Yummy!
    The Fossil Creek Creamery is next to a wonderful bed and breakfast called Up the Creek.  We have stayed here in years past and it is absolutely lovely.  Next-door is the Gentle Hands Equine Center where you can hire a high country wrangler to guide you on your own horseback adventure.    
    Of course a big part of our week was catching a good case of “back-porch-sittin’-itis”, one of the more wonderful conditions that you can acquire in this 6,000 foot elevation community.  Since the Eagles Retreat’s back porch is within 10 feet of the Tonto National Forest, the unobstructed view of the Strawberry Mountains, one of Arizona’s grand forestlands, is truly incredible!
    Acorn woodpeckers, Pinyon jays, Stellar jays, finches, doves, hawks, owls, insects of every order, squirrels and the most spectacular elk we have ever seen are all common visitors to the back porch arena.  Just sit on that lovely covered, back porch and photograph the daily parade of Arizona high country wildlife that passes literally right in front of you.
    We can only give an A+ grade to the Eagles Retreat and the communities of Strawberry and Pine.  We thank Jane & Ted Bell for allowing us to rent their amazing forest home and spend a special summer week in the pines.  If you have never visited this part of Arizona, it is probably time that you do so.  And if you have been before, maybe it is time to go back and spend some more time in the warm summer days and cool summer nights of this part of Arizona’s amazing Mogollon Rim Country.

Eagles Retreat, Strawberry, Arizona

A full rainbow welcomed us on our first night.

A Pinyon jay checks us out

Bathtime for this jay

A Pinyon jay takes flight

One of the neighborhood squirrels

Ms Gypsy in her "Squirrels Fear Me" T-shirt

Fossil Creek Creamery

Sunflowers at the Creamery

Major contributors to the wonderful  goat cheese and fudge of the creamery

Everyone has an opinion as to the wonderful food found here.

Pine Trailhead

Arizona Trail is also found here.

Yarnell 19 memorial in Strawberry

Yarnell 19 memorial at the Rim Country Museum in  Payson

This way to Hock Crockery

Large and unique selection of pottery

Lovely scene at sunset

Rain, glorious rain!

Acorn woodpecker enjoys the birdfeeder

A Black-headed Grosbeak shares the feeder with a common finch.

A male Redheaded Sparrow and an Acorn woodpecker share the bird feeder

A katydid

Beautiful Emerald Moth

One of many scarab beetles

Early morning visitors

Breakfast guest?

Ms Gypsy enjoying the warm sunshine

Home and exhausted from a week in the pines!

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