Escaping from the extreme heat of summer is what many people wish to do in the Desert Southwest. In order to find relief, one must head for the mountains, drive up north or navigate to where cool water can be found. Lakeside destinations are usually the top choice, but unfortunately, a lake or river that appears on a map of the Southwest may or may not actually be there upon arrival. During periods of severe drought, the shallow lakes and rivers can completely dry up, yet modern mapping systems do not take this into account. There is nothing like driving 300 miles to launch a bass boat in a puddle of mud, so for this reason it is always best to research the status of aquatic destinations in the Southwest before setting sail!
On the flip-side, after a heavy winter the desert lakes and rivers can be overflowing with life giving water. The summer monsoon rain season also is a saving grace for keeping the desert lakes topped off. The summer season monsoon rains can also cause flash flood danger, which is something to be aware of when hiking or doing a 4×4 vehicle excursion in the National Forests. A dry river bed can turn into white water rapids in a matter of minutes when the monsoon storm clouds bust loose.
Two large bodies of water that are easy to find in central Arizona are Lake Mary and Mormon Lake. From Flagstaff, all that a visitor has to do is follow Lake Mary Road a few miles south of historic Route 66 into the vast Coconino National Forest to find these two lakeside destinations. Lake Mary is the smaller of the two lakes and it is deep enough to be navigable with small craft. Lake Mary attracts many kayakers and sailboarders, because the navigable section of this lake is a few miles long. This is a great place to do some water skiing, fishing or just take a cool refreshing swim. The entire lakeside beachfront is grassy and there are plenty of shade trees, so this is a perfect picnic spot for those who seek relief from the summer heat!
A little further downstream is Mormon Lake. Mormon Lake has been more like a wetland marsh than a lake in recent years due to water depletion. For this reason, Mormon Lake absolutely is is a bird watchers paradise! The evaporative effect of this shallow lake also helps to reduce temperatures in the early morning and evening hours, so viewing a sunset here will be a pleasant experience. All it takes is a couple of heavy winters to fill Mormon Lake back up, so as mentioned earlier, checking on the lake conditions prior to arrival is the best way to go.
There is a campground on the far side of Mormon Lake that used to be beach front property, but not any more. This part of the lake now is nothing more a vast green grassy meadow, but there are plenty of shade trees, so this is still a popular campsite. Many organized campout events take place here on holiday weekends.
A trip to Lake Mary and Mormon Lake is a great escape from the city of Flagstaff that the locals enjoy. For tourists, these two lakes offer a chance to experience the scenic beauty of a desert mountain lake pine forest environment. Bird watching at Mormon Lake during migration seasons is a pastime and the fishing at Lake Mary will nearly always provide a free meal. Best of all, Lake Mary and Mormon Lake offer some cool relief from the unbearable extreme heat of summer, which is what we all desperately seek!
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