Our Trip in Search of Cooler Arizona Weather


We headed out on our adventure north on Thursday, 21 June, hoping to miss the weekend traffic and discover all sorts of new places to park ourselves and enjoy the great outdoors in the cooler temps.

Now you know that we are not early risers, even when we are heading out on a trip...but we wanted to get on the road as early as humanly possible (for us) because we figured it would take us 5 to 6 hours to get to our first destination, so we set the alarm for 7 a.m. Yikes! It worked pretty well, but even Annie and Sadie, our cockers, wondered why the heck we were coaxing them out of bed so early to have their breakfast and water the lilies before piling into the truck for the long drive north. We were on the road by about 9:15 or so...not bad, considering.

Our first day’s drive was to take us all the way north to the Mormon Lake area, just southeast of Flagstaff as the first leg of the trip....then we would work our way southward and home over the next week. We took the “old road” up through Florence to Apache Junction...what we call the back door to the Phoenix area. Terry didn’t relish pulling the Bambi through the middle of Phoenix traffic, which always seems so frantic, so we took Highway 60 west from Apache Junction toward Phoenix to the 101 Loop, which goes north through Scottsdale, then swings west to meet up with I-17 on the north side of Phoenix. We had never gone this way before, and we were pleased at how quickly that part of the trip went, and that we were able to avoid the intense city traffic of I-10 to I-17 through the middle of town.

We got off the 101 briefly to top off the tank before we left the city. That was interesting...unfamiliar turf; tight, bustling Scottsdale traffic; a wrong turn taking us through a restaurant parking lot instead of the gas station we were trying to get to; back to the street and then another sharp turn into a congested gas station. Glad the Bambi’s only 19’ long!

But soon we were back on the road and shortly headed north on I-17. We had planned to stay the first night in one of several Coconino National Forest camp grounds found along Lake Mary Road that heads southeast from Flagstaff... there is a series of small lakes there...Lower Lake Mary, Upper Lake Mary and Mormon Lake, with Ashurst Lake nearby, a little further east. The lakes are surrounded by a number of Coconino Nation Forest camp grounds. There are a few you can make reservations at, but most of them are first come-first-served. We felt we could find a place to light that evening, so we didn’t make reservations anywhere for Thursday.

Terry went to undergrad school in Flagstaff (a billion years ago), so he was somewhat familiar with the area. However, it’s been a while and things have changed! The lake closest to Flagstaff, Lower Lake Mary, was completely dry and no more than a grassy meadow where the lake used to be...with a muddy creek running through it’s lowest point. None of these lakes are very deep, so they are marshy and can go dry with lack of annual runoff.

To our relief, Upper Lake Mary, a few miles further up the road, did have water, and locals were busy boating, fishing, skiing and swimming along its rocky beach. We checked out Lakeview Camp Ground on the other side of the road from Upper Lake Mary as a possible place to light for the evening. It was OK, particularly for tent campers, with its small sites, many of which aren’t large enough for a trailer and a vehicle. Drinking water is available, and there are vault toilets, but there were no hook-ups (not unusual for national forest camp grounds). The roads and spurs are not paved, so it was very dusty. If it were later in the season with daily rain storms and the weather was cooler, it would be an OK place to stay...but we kept going.

Further up the road between Upper Lake Mary and Mormon Lake, there is an intersection...to the left (northeast) is Ashurst Lake, a very small lake with 2 camp grounds, Ashurst Lake Camp Ground and on the opposite side, Forked

                       Pine Camp Ground. Both are non-paved, have no hookups and

                          barely a step up from “boondock” camping...there’s a vault

                          toilet and that’s about it. In fact, between the main road and

                         Ashurst Lake, we saw several groups of campers who had chosen to boondock in nice wooded areas rather than camping at the lake camp grounds. (For those of you not familiar with the term, “boon-docking” is camping in areas that are not developed...they are typically on pubic land such as national forests, Bureau of Land Management areas, etc., where you can legally camp for 14 days—usually, but not always—free. Sometimes boondocking is allowed on private land with the owner’s permission. And there are no services whatsoever available in boondocking situations, so you are either self-contained or join the bears in the woods.) Ashurst Lake is popular for fishing, and because it’s small and its location in the low scrub oak wood surroundings, it makes for good windsurfing.

Turning right (southwest) at that intersection before you reach Mormon Lake takes you to Pinegrove Camp Ground. This is where we landed for Thursday night. It’s a very very nice camp ground...paved roads and spurs, leveled tent pads, and lots of pull-through sites...no hook-ups, but there’s water available, a dump station, flush toilets, and coin-operated showers. Some of the sites have not only paved pads for trailers and motor homes, but cement slabs for the picnic tables. All of them are clean and well-manicured by the volunteers after occupants leave. And, to make it even more appealing, you can make reservations for about half the sites. Each reservable site has a post with any pending reservations listed so you don’t pull in and then have to move later when the people with the reservation show up. The site we chose was reserved for Friday and Saturday and most of the next week, but open Thursday night. It faced west toward a wooded meadow. It was a quite wonderful setting. As soon as we got out of the truck the aroma of pine hit us and we could hear the breeze in the pines.

The camp hosts were soon there in their electric golf cart to welcome us. (It is unnerving how they can sneak up to you in those things...they are so quiet!)They collected our $16 fee for the night and gave us a map of the camp ground and all the information we could want, and made sure we understood that the site we picked was reserved the next evening, and that we had to vacate by noon so they could clean it up for the next folks. (Checkout is 1 p.m. if you have an unreserved site.) One night was fine for us this trip...we had reservations at Mormon Lake Lodge RV Park for Friday and Saturday...just to make sure we had somewhere to be for the weekend nights, because these places tend to fill up fast for the weekends. It’s nice that this camp ground keeps some sites as first-come-first-served. (See pics of Pinegrove below.)

One fly in the ointment for this trip...as of that morning, they had changed the camp fire restrictions to NO fires, and NO charcoal grills...only gas

grills were allowed. We (that is, Terry) should have anticipated

this...but we (that is, Terry) not only brought lots of fire wood to

haul around, but packed only the charcoal grill, and left the gas

grill at home.  :-\  Needless to say, we didn’t get to cook outside at any time during this trip!

The neighboring campers were quite friendly and chatty, too...there was a family converging there site-by-site for the weekend to celebrate the great-grandmother’s birthday with the extended family. The great-granddaughters (maybe 4 and 5 years old) were fascinated with Annie and Sadie and kept asking to hold the leash. We learned later from Grampa that they had a great dane at home so the concept of actually being able to walk a dog on a leash was an awesome opportunity for them.

It was so pleasant at Pinegrove that we considered coming back to stay a couple more nights this trip (after the weekend at Mormon Lake Lodge). But we soon realized that even though we were in the neighborhood of 7000 feet,  it was unseasonably warm in the high country...the nights were cool in the 60s, but the days were in the high 80s and low 90s...and without electricity for AC, it would be too warm...particularly for Annie, who has enough breathing problems without making her breathe hot air at high altitudes!

We will definitely return to Pinegrove Camp Ground, though...later in the summer during the rainy season, or perhaps in the fall or spring. We had a very pleasant time there, and after a good night’s sleep in our little house on wheels, we left Pinegrove Friday morning to make our way to Mormon Lake Lodge, which sits on the south end of Mormon Lake...and claim our reservations for Friday and Saturday nights.



Pinegrove camp ground


NO fires!
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