Potato Lake has never looked more beautiful than it does right now. The rich, green carpet of grass and clover encircling the perimeter, rivals any color one would see in spring. It rests serenely in the basin of a surrounding hillside bowl of ponderosa pines, dotted by golden dancing leaves of aspen. The smooth, deep green surface of the water is gently interrupted by small white fish, the size of a nickel, snagging surface bugs.
The oaks are yellowing, and if one ventures into the forest far enough to catch a red maple, they are a burst of crimson, green and gold. Potato Lake Draw shadows the road, which ends at a sturdy iron fence with a turn-style to walk through to get to two short trails. The main trail to the left goes to the lake. The lesser trail more to the right leads to a former potato field. The old tall fence that once surrounded the large field is immediately apparent.
If you drive up to Potato Lake, the early morning sun showcases the fall color. Be sure to walk the banks of the lake and take note of the variety of animal tracks. We noticed evidence of raccoon, deer, elk, bobcat, coyote, and possibly a large mountain lion.
Confirmation of much bear activity can be found deeper into the forest.
For your own Potato Lake experience, drive north from Payson on Hwy. 87, for 28 miles. At mile marker 281, turn right onto Rim Road 300. Veer to the left to remain on the 300 road, which is rather rough and rocky. Continue for four miles where you will encounter a sign to turn left on Forest Road 147 for two miles to Potato Lake.
Four-wheel drive is not necessary, but a higher profile vehicle is recommended. Bring a sweater and have fun!
Google “potato lake az” for a wealth of additional information. To learn more about hiking with the Payson Packers on Tuesday mornings, you may call K. Chambers at (928) 478-6803.
I took the jaunt with a group from the Payson Packers, which chose to exit the highway farther north on a more primitive forest road, creating a five-plus mile, cross-country hike coming into the lake area from the northwest. The air is crisp, clear and chilly.
After leaving our carpooling vehicles, we faced a steady uphill trek that forced us to shed our sweaters, although the temperature barely topped 50.
We traversed wide open, rolling draws blanketed with green grass. A lot of watershed cascades throughout the region, although none was present this week. We vacillated between the easy footing of the draws and the brushy forest floor of briars, bushes and small new trees.
We averaged more than one sighting of bear scat for every mile of the hike. Luckily we didn’t see the bear himself, but did he see us? We noticed places where he’d dug in the dirt all along the way, hunting for grubs. Most of the 8-inch to 12-inch rocks surrounding the lake itself had been disturbed — once again, bear?
After exploring the Potato Lake area, we ventured across Potato Lake Draw and back up another draw to circle around and back to the vehicles. Here we observed a rather nervous tarantula, hurrying along his way. Had he never encountered a human?