gold digger peaks

The San Francisco Peaks are evident along the Two Spot-Gold Digger loop, but the best view is from the observational lookout.

Well, it was bound to happen -- though I was hoping it would be later rather than sooner.

I, a mere two months into my tenure as a Flagstaff resident, got lost on a trail run. These things happen, even to the most geographically adept, of which I certainly am not. But I feel a little sheepish because my wrong turn in the woods occurred on the Gold Digger-Two Spot 5.1-mile loop in the Rogers Lake County Natural Area.

On the maps, it looks so straightforward: a simple loop featuring only two trails and, despite some intersecting fire roads, not much opportunity to get lost.

Yet, lost I was. Normally, running alone, I’m fine with occasional inadvertent detours, panicking only slightly before wisely retracing my path to the scene of the misstep. But this time, my running companion was just a week removed from a marathon, still in full recovery mode, and only wanted to go 5 miles, max.

We ended up running about 7 miles.

I blame myself.

Check that. I blame bad (or missing) signage.

As I’ve said before, I’ve been highly impressed with the abundance of signage on all Flagstaff trails, from the mountains to the (relatively) low-lying lakes. But all it takes is one confusing junction to send you off the beaten path.

Promise, I won’t dwell too much longer on the wrong turn in question -- because, after all, there’s so much to like about the Two Spot-Gold Digger loop -- but it serves as a public service to point out the confusing intersection, lest other trail users make the same mistake.

The moment of truth comes at pretty much at the high point of the Gold Digger Trail, a few hundred yards beyond the ramada picnic area abutting an aspen grove. The trail forks at this point, and the rusted metal stake placed between the two paths doesn’t help because there are no directional signs affixed. That’s unlike elsewhere on the Gold Digger, where blue arrows and the trail’s name make the route clear.

I lobbied for going left, slightly uphill, because it looked like the more used path, though still single-track. The trail to the right plunged downhill.

My running companion bent and leaned into the sign, as if trying to read the small type on a food label. There, scratched into the corroded stake with a stick or maybe a car key, was the word “Gold Digger” with an arrow headed back toward from whence we came. But, wait, below that scrawl were some barely decipherable letters, partially obscured by white bird droppings, with three arrows pointing left.

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So, left we went. It was a nice trail, I must say, still heading slightly uphill and replete with the same pine and oak dotted grassland earlier on the Gold Digger Trail. The problem? The Gold Digger Trail is supposed to be 4 miles before it ends at the Two Spot Trail, and we passed that mileage and started descending.

Gold Digger runner

A runner cruises on the downhill of the Gold Digger Trail, near the junction with the Two Spot Trail.

I stopped and insisted we retrace our steps back to the fork and go to the right. My running companion, grumbled but assented. Back at the rusted metal sign, we perused the letters like scholars sussing out the meaning of petroglyphs. That’s when I noticed the distinct markings “R” and “O.”

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Of course, the trails to the left was the Rogers Trail, which wends its way all the way, about 6 miles, to Fort Tuthill County Park to the east.

Having regaining our bearings, righted our course, we had a pleasant 2-mile jaunt downhill on the last half of the Gold Digger (the blue signs resumed), stopping only to observe some mule deer enjoying breakfast.

When you get to the junction of the Two Spot, there are two ways to go: (1) continue straight, cross Woody Mountain Road and make a right to parallel the road back to the trailhead; (2) turn right at the junction and take a more scenic path (except for some power lines) through the trees, slightly uphill and back to the trailhead.

gold digger sign

This rusted metal sign with letters scratched in it tries to point the way at the intersection of the Gold Digger and Rogers trails.

Enough logistics. You’ll enjoy the Two Spot-Gold Digger loop because it’s a verdant nature preserve and the assent is nothing major (568 feet).

Oh, and the views. This time of year, Rogers Lake is more like an emerald meadow, yet one attracting all manner of avian and insect activity. Take a moment to peer through the telescopes at the marshy home to all sorts of creatures. Read the signs at the trailhead, too, giving you a glimpse of the area’s wildlife -- everything from Gunnison’s prairie dogs to greater short-horned lizards to elk and red-tailed hawks. (None of which I saw, but it was nice knowing they reside there.)

The looming San Francisco Peaks to the north is a constant presence on the run, but take the time to follow the brief side trail up to (well-marked) scenic lookout, where the peaks are framed nicely between jagged rocks and the tops of pines.

The occasional peek at the peaks, coupled with the single-track paths throughout, make this loop perfect for those wanting a mellow 5-mile jaunt.

Or 7 miles, if you happen to make a wrong turn.

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Sam McManis can be reached at smcmanis@azdailysun.com or (928) 556-2248.


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