Coconino County acquired the Rogers Lake Natural Area, 2,250 acres of Rogers Lake and adjacent highgrounds, in 2010–11.

Ten miles southwest of Flagstaff, out Woody Mountain Road past the Arboretum, the lake and adjacent natural area teem with wildlife year round: elk, turkey, owls, pronghorns and black bears. During ephemeral wet spells (like this past spring), Rogers Lake is a birdwatcher's paradise, attracting migrating waterfowl and eagles, bald and golden.

Per the county website, the natural area "boasts ... a wide variety of native plant community types ... sweeping panoramic views ... and prehistoric sites ... dating back 5,000 years, in addition to old railroad beds and log structures from Flagstaff's sheepherding and logging era." All true, but let's focus on the county's two new trails there.

GOLD DIGGER TRAIL

In the fall 1967 issue of True Treasure magazine, Gladwell Richardson, the longtime manager of the Two Guns Trading Post and writer of more than 200 Western novels and magazine stories, spun the convoluted yarn of Rogers Lake Loot, written under one of his many pseudonyms, Maurice Kildare.

Briefly: Once upon a time in the winter of 1881, two outlaws heisted eight 3-foot-long, 70-pound gold ingots from the TipTop Mining Company in Black Canyon and hoofed it to their Rogers Lake hideout. For good measure, they held up the Canyon Diablo stagecoach and added several kegs of silver and gold coins to their stash.

With the posse closing in, they chopped a hole through the ice of the lake and dropped the loot in. Complications ensued, and although one outlaw eventually returned, the gold could no longer be found. It's still there!

The story's sequel is that a number of readers took the story as gospel truth; these became the "gold diggers" of Rogers Lake, employing metal detectors and at least one backhoe. But the ingots being creatures of Richardson/Kildare's imagination, the loot remains missing to this day.

Enough backstory, the Gold Digger Trail is a 5-mile not-quite-a-loop connecting the two new trailheads on Woody Mountain Road via a rocky 450-foot climb to the base of the Woody Mountain cinder cone. Halfway up Gold Digger there's a shade ramada that provides picnic shelter while also harvesting rainwater for a nearby aspen enclosure.

Coconino National Forest (CNF) trail crews, assisted by many volunteers, have been busy this year constructing a connector trail to link the county's Fort Tuthill trail system across CNF land to the Gold Digger Trail adjacent to Woody Mountain.

2-SPOT TRAIL

"2-Spot" was the name applied back in the day to steam locomotive No. 25, after the engineer's water bottle, hanging and banging out the window, rubbed the paint of the second numeral off, leaving only the 2, plus a bare spot where the 5 used to be. Today 2-Spot has been all spruced up (including having its 5 re-applied), and it sits immediately east of the downtown Amtrak station.

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Its namesake trail describes a 2.5-mile loop back-and-forth between the trailhead and the Rogers Lake overlook. The longer, upper half of the loop wends through the forest above Woody Mountain Road. The lower half of the loop follows the old lumber railroad grade that skirts the edge of the lakebed.

Woody Mountain Fire Tower

The late Donna Ashworth's fine book, "Biography of a Small Mountain," details much of Flagstaff history, reserving a special fondness for the Woody Mountain fire tower and the lookouts who manned it (of whom Donna was one).

Shortly after the mountain was logged in 1904, horseback rangers of the nascent U.S. Forest Service began taking advantage of the 360-degree visibility to watch for fires. In the aftermath of the 1911 Big Burn in Idaho and Montana, the Forest Service took firefighting and fire lookouts as a primary mission throughout the West. To this end, Woody Mountain acquired a telephone line in 1912, official lookouts and a low wooden tower in 1922, and its "modern" steel fire tower (the second oldest in northern Arizona) in 1936.

Today regrowth of the equall -towering ponderosa forest on Woody Mountain has curtailed the tower's view, and it is rarely manned. This is symbolic perhaps of the Forest Service's modern emphasis on forest health and tolerance for natural fire, in place of decades of single-minded fire suppression.

Bill Wade, an 11-year volunteer interpretive ranger with the National Park Service, is a geologist by profession, a hiker by foot and a birdwatcher by binoculars.

The NPS/USFS Interpretive Partnership is a unique agreement between the National Park Service and the U.S. Forest Service to provide interpretive ranger walks and talks in the Flagstaff area throughout the summer.

Submit questions for the Ask a Ranger weekly column to askaranger@gmail.com.

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