After a couple different tries at figuring out where the trailhead really was, we ended up parking just northeast of the Lowell Observatory at the top of FS 128. We did find the 3 roads mentioned in the Hike Description but they were pretty rough and we weren't sure they were the right ones so we turned around. We investigated the immediate area and reviewed the hike description a couple times and just decided to go for it as we did find the AZ Trail marker that was heading east.
We felt pretty comfortable in our decision as we approached Prime Lake per the sign that was there talking about the habitat and such. We continued a southerly track with the Observatory to the west and crossed over the first of several barbed wire fences that had a PVC covering that day (oh and thank goodness
for the PVC covering as a couple of those 4-wire fences were pretty tall). We didn't see any other sign indicating the AZ Trail so we continued along a road once we crossed the fence.
We eventually determined that we may have been doing the hike counter clockwise. We continued along the road through a couple thousand acres (we figured about 2 mi x 2 mi)of a yellow carpet of flowers. It is just INCREDIBLE!!!!!!!! We now call it our "Follow the Yellow Flower Road" hike. We saw some stray cows on the back end of our journey, a couple ducks, blue birds, a couple lizards and an itsy bitsy hummingbird - no other hikers except for some people down by Vail Lake and a hunter... oh, and a cowboy on his horse with a couple dogs herding about 20-25 cows.
We finally got to the Vail Lake sign and tried to pick up the hike description from there as we approaced the fence around Vail Lake. We could see the rock outcropping mentioned in the Hike Description on the east side so we hopped the fence in but decided we saw another boulder area that was covered in shade for our lunch; plus there were some Indian paint brush nearby... so we hopped the fence again to get to our lunch area.
After lunch we hopped back over the fence to the Vail side and continued along the east and south side of the Vail Lake fence line. On the south side, we hopped over the fence again as it was easier walking. There was this one area where my brother could see the top of the trees (looking south) so we went up and over the berm (this berm surrounds the whole lake so my brother wonders if something caused an impression here at one time) and were treated to an incredible display of a solid yellow carpet of flowers. It took your breath away!
We then went back to the fence line and followed it to the northwest corner where we decided to take a shortcut back to the road we had walked on getting from the AZ Trail to Vail Lake... thinking that the lookout mentioned in the Hike Description was more by the observatory (assuming we may have missed the trail alongside that fence up by Prime Lake, but that was not the case). It was difficult making that short cut as the terrain dips here and there and you can't see it for all the flowers, plus you had to watch out for cocko-burrows and small prickly pear cactus.
Anyway, we finally got back to the road (incidentally - you just can't get lost out here because you can continually see the San Francisco Peaks) and ran into a hunter on one of those fancy ATVs who happened to have several maps of the area. He helped us try to decipher where this lookout point might be but we didn't feel comfortable in trying to find it so we decided to just head back to our trailhead.
It was a really amazing day for a hike with nearly perfect weather and a slight breeze. And even though the Lakes are really Ponds, they are very interesting to look at plus you can hear the duckies carrying on. Other than getting sun burned, not finding the lookout and not quite following the trail as described in the Hike Description and getting our socks and the bottoms of our pants covered in yellow from the flowers, it was a very successful day! This is an easy hike for almost any level of hiker, even if you do end up off trail
. You just can't imagine what it is like to hike through a couple thousand acres of these yellow flowers, almost up to your knees. It's like you're in a movie.