Our new site nests amidst the vast Coconino conifer forest, with absolutely incredible local plant diversity and forested mountains reflected in the surface of what’s called Mormon Lake, an alternately spreading and retracting marsh we found fairly ablaze with wildflower color. A short walk away, the leaves of white barked Aspen clap like tiny castanets in what tastes like the freshest of breezes, and not too many miles distant are protected wilderness areas, Oak Creek’s natural rock-slide, dramatic volcanic formations, lush meadows inhabited by countless grazing elk, and hiking trails leading both higher or lower to the adjacent desert and alpine ecosystems.
And yet for all that, our site in the Coconino is only 30 minutes from the Flagstaff airport and 2.5 hours from Phoenix, and serviced by shuttles! Only 12 hours from Denver, for those choosing to drive from there. It includes every building we need for classes, without feeling either too Hyatt Regency or too bingo hall. Clean and comfortable log cabins, with lower prices that nearly everyone can afford! Both inexpensive camping with electrical outlets, and totally free camping sites! A giant outdoor festival tent that we’ll use as a group dining area in the day, and as a dance hall when its time for our 2 exciting evening concerts. And voluminous Town Hall built in the 1920’s, that will hold our Registration area and Healer’s Market tables, with a section of benches or couches for folks to use as a meeting and greeting area.
This new base for TWHC has a fully stocked country store right there, selling supplies and even fair-trade coffee. It’s handicapped accessible, and pets are allowed in its campgrounds and RV sites. In addition, there are canoe rentals there, active land restoration projects, roaming buffalo, pony rides and even a petting zoo for the kids! As if that’s not enough, on your way to the site you’ll go right past the world class Arboretum that we’re considering for field trips, abundant with examples of native and medicinal plant species.
All this, mind you, at prices that help keep TWHC – the signature folk herbalism event – potentially affordable to the majority of our diverse folk community.
The gentle lapping of the lake whispers, but in an enchanting voice we can’t help but hear.
A Natural Wonder
The Coconino is a 1.856-million acre (7,511 km2) national forest located in northern Arizona in the vicinity of Flagstaff. Originally established in 1898 as the "San Francisco Mountains National Forest Reserve", the Coconino features diverse landscapes including deserts, pine forests, flatlands, mesas, alpine tundra and ancient volcanic fields and peaks. The forest contains all or parts of 10 designated Wilderness Areas. Its elevation ranges from 2,600’ (800 m) in the southern part of the forest near the Verde River, to 12,633’ (3,851 m) at the summit of Humphreys Peak, the highest point in the state of Arizona. Much of the forest is a high altitude plateau located in the midst of the largest contiguous ponderosa pine forest in North America. The southern border of this plateau is the volcanically created Mogollon Rim, a nearly 400 mile (640 km) long escarpment running across central Arizona to the Anima Sanctuary in New Mexico, and also marks the southern boundary of what’s known as the Colorado Plateau.
The Coconino encompasses the largest portion of a great volcanic field, and in places is dotted with tree-covered cinder cones, lava flows, and underground lava tubes such as Lava River Cave. The Flagstaff District surrounds two national monuments, Walnut Canyon National Monument and Sunset Crater Volcano National Monument the latter of which preserves the youngest cinder cone in the San Francisco Volcanic Field, Sunset Crater. Located in the southern portion of the Flagstaff District is Mormon Lake at 7,000’ elevation, the new site for the Traditions In Western Herbalism Conference.
Mormon Lake itself is a shallow, intermittent lake with an average depth of only 10 ft (3.0 m), its surface area extremely volatile and fluctuating greatly with every season. When full, it has a surface area of about 12 sq. miles (31 million sq. meters), making it the largest natural lake in Arizona. It’s named after Mormon settlers who arrived here in the 1870s and founded several dairy farms in the area, before eventually picking up stakes and moving on. (With thanks to Wikipedia)
For a better sense of the location, check out this interactive Mapquest Map of the immediate area.
From I-40 traveling East or West: Take the Sedona/Phoenix south turn-off and get onto 1-17 South. Take the first off-ramp Sedona 89A/Pulliam Airport exit and turn left and cross back over the freeway and get back onto I-17 North. The first off ramp is Lake Mary Hwy. At the off-ramp stop sign turn right and travel according to the following directions.
From Flagstaff: Take the Lake Mary Hwy (FH3) about 21 miles (towards Payson) to the Mormon Lake Village turn-off sign. Turn right and travel about 7 miles to the lodge. You will see the roping arena, campground and RV Park on your left and you will not miss the lodge.
From Payson: Take Hwy 87 north and go through Strawberry and Pine to the little village of Clint's Well. Just past the store and gas station, turn left and take FH 3 (Lake Mary Hwy) north towards Flagstaff. Travel about 35-40 minutes and you will pass the Stoneman Lake Road turn-off. About seven miles past the Stoneman Lake Road turn off you will see the south entrance to Mormon Lake Village - watch for the Mormon Lake Village sign on the right side of the road. Turn left and travel two miles to the lodge. You will not miss the lodge.
From I-17, on the Stoneman Lake Road: Get off I-17 on the Stoneman Lake Road turn-off and travel about seven miles on paved road to the end of the paving at a T-intersection with unpaved road. Turn left at the stop sign and travel about eight miles to the next paved road - FH3 (Lake Mary Hwy). Turn left and travel about seven more miles to the south entrance to Mormon Lake Village. Look for the Mormon Lake Village sign on the right side of the road. Turn left and travel two miles to the lodge. You will not miss the lodge. NOTE: Stoneman Lake Road, while well traveled, is only paved for 7 of 16 miles at the I-17 end of the road; the rest of the road is graded cinder road and might not be suitable for some cars or may be closed in severe weather conditions.
There are large "Mormon Lake Village" forest service signs at both north and south entrances. If you miss either entrance from the Lake Mary Hwy (FH3) you will have a marvelous view of the lakebed as you travel along the mesa road that overlooks the lake and the village on the opposite side. You can turn around and travel back to the nearest entrance or continue on to the next entrance. Mormon Lake Road (FH90) loops the lakebed and is accessed from either, the north, or south end of the lake. Munds Park Road is not recommended unless you have a good forest service map, are familiar with the terrain, and have a solid, high clearance, vehicle. Watch out for elk and deer!
Temperatures can range from lows in the 30's at night to highs of 90 at mid-day, and rain in September is possible. Bring casual clothes you can layer, sturdy walking shoes, a hat, rain gear, an herbal first aid kit for yourself or others, and an optional flashlight. Many teachers choose to teach outside on the many lawns, so those who can may want to bring a folding chair or floor cushions to sit comfortably on.
Old West Heritage
You can almost hear the soundtrack as you step closer to the Mormon Lake Lodge and its scattering of old log and clapboard buildings tucked against the trees, perhaps a minor chord instrumental with sparse but powerful guitar lines, a whistling of wind punctuated by a horse’s whinny or the distant crack of a wagon master’s whip a’la Rawhide, in what could be a psychedelic spaghetti western composition by the tweaked Spindrift or Ry Cooder. Here you find authentic Wild West flavor, oddly tinged with evident ecological emphasis and an earthy tone befitting the working class more than the world traveler. Antique fishing rods and frontiersman’s accouterments decorate walls branded by the very cowboys who built it, and once fiercely alive creatures stand mounted and stuffed with reflections of a transformed land in their glass eyes. Included there is a museum of artifacts honoring the legacy of man who loved these mountains, the writer who most helped establish the Western novel as what was then a new literary genre: Zane Grey, 1875-1935. In his 60+ books, he presented the West as a moral battle ground featuring game changing choices, with characters facing great personal and regional changes. A bundle of contradictions like the West itself, Grey was not only a prodigious hunter but also a proponent of animal and habitat conservation. His outlawish heroes not only bucked convention, but the very notion of civilization itself. From his 1918 novel The Roaring U.P. Trail, 1918:
"Slingerland hated the railroad, and he could not see as any of the engineers or builders did. This old trapper had the vision of the Indian - that far-seeing eye cleared by distance and silence, and the force of the great, lonely hills. Progress was great, but nature unspoiled was greater. If a race could not breed all stronger men, through its great movements, it might better not breed any, for the bad over-multiplied the good, and so their needs magnified into greed. Slingerland saw many shining bands of steel across the plains and mountains, many stations and hamlets and cities, a growing and marvelous prosperity from timber, mines, farms, and in the distant end - a gutted West."
To champion and perpetuate that West and its wild nature, was Grey’s personal as well as literary aim. And the owners of the Lodge at Mormon Lake – Grey’s all time favorite hangout – make an effort to honor that legacy with ongoing conservation efforts.
An Ecological Ethos
Ecological work at the Lodge property include environmental education programs and hikes, and a regular community effort to clean up around the lake and improve Osprey habitat. The parent company of Mormon Lake Lodge, Forever Resorts, runs Forever Earth which sends donations to environmental groups, engages in community partnership, land restoration projects, environmental education, and proactive initiatives to make their various operations more compatible with the local ecologies. They’ve won literally hundreds of environmental stewardship awards across the country, as well as being a member of the Environmental Protection Agency's (EPA’s) National Environmental Performance Track Program, the Green Hotel and Green Restaurant Associations and on and on.
It’s interesting to note that the Coconino, back when it was called the San Francisco Forest Preserve, was the first posting for the forester who would later become known as the father of the modern land ethic, Aldo Leopold.
Coconino Plant Diversity
The area around the conference site is rich in plants, and is in fact famous for its incredible plant diversity with many rare and threatened species. From dry-land types to wetland plants and alpine varieties, this trove of interconnective life features numerous edible and medicinal species for you to discover.
Examples you might encounter include Yarrow, Wild Rose, Redroot, Ponderosa Pine, Aspen, Dandelion, Mallow, Goldenrod, Evening Primrose, Geranium, Plantain, Usnea, Wild Buckwheat, Iris, Blackberry, Douglas Fir, Arnica, Yellow Dock, False Solomon’s Seal, Wild Oats, Butterflyweed/Pleurisy Root, Gumweed, Wild Tarragon, Sagebrush, Seepwillow, and Yerba del Lobo/Owl’s Claws to name a few!
TWHC guests are encouraged to hike one of the many picturesque trails such as the Lyle/Mormon Lakes Trail, a 3.3 mile rise from 10,700’ to a full 12,000’winding through multiple kinds of habitat, esteemed by botanists and plant lovers far and wide.
300 of even the most sensitive herbalists could have a major impact on local populations of sensitive plants, so we ask that you do little or no harvesting in the region of the event.
Before coming, check out the annotated list of Northern Arizona Vascular Plants.