Put the Petal to the Nettle

Take a drive on the wildflower side of Flagstaff
Though the old saying goes, “April showers bring May flowers,” when it comes to Arizona’s high country, the idiom would be more accurate if rewritten to say, “July monsoon torrential downpours bring an August explosion of wildflowers.” While the low-lying deserts to the south sear under the unrelenting summer sun, the wooded high country around Flagstaff gets wild about wildflowers. An 80-mile road trip from this mountainside town provides ample opportunities to stop and smell the beautiful blooms.
 
Fuel up in Flagstaff before beginning your trip and then head south on Lake Mary Road. After driving about nine miles, take a peek on the west side of the road to see a carpet of yellow goldeneye and sunflowers waving in the wind along the grassy shoreline around Upper and Lower Lake Mary. Several designated pullouts allow you to park and enjoy a short saunter among the flowers.
 
Floral Wanderings
Continue driving an additional 15 miles to the south to reach the Mormon Lake Overlook. Though little more than a swampy marshland for most of the year, Mormon Lake is Arizona’s largest naturally occurring lake. Named for the Mormon settlers who traveled to the area in the 1870s, Mormon Lake showcases expansive views of high-country meadows filled with a vibrant mix of wildflowers. From this viewpoint (and a second overlook just 1.8 miles to the south with an equally impressive vista), “petal peepers” will enjoy a broad display of color as monsoon blooms such as orange desert globemallow, yellow sweet clover, cream-colored butter-and-eggs (also known as toadflax), and purple wild geranium surround the picturesque lake.  
 
Return to Lake Mary Road and travel north a little more than 7 miles to the Forest Road 82E turnoff for Ashurst Lake. Turn right to follow the well-maintained gravel road, suitable for two-wheel drive cars, and meander 3.9 miles. In the meadows along the way, large swaths of yellow calliopsis provide a vibrant foreground to complement the equally beautiful backdrop of the San Francisco Peaks to the north. Keep your eyes peeled for Engelmann’s prickly pear cactus showing off lively yellow flowers as you approach the charming lake.
 
 
At the T-intersection, follow the signs (and the gravel road) to the Forked Pine Campground on the east side of Ashurst Lake. Like nearby Mormon Lake, this body of water is one of the few naturally occurring lakes within Arizona. Typically full year-round, the lake is the ideal environment for water-loving water knotweed, which sprouts its pink, cylindrical bloom along the eastern and southern shoreline. Park at the southernmost end of the campground and pay the required daily fee before seeking the colorful spectacles of summer along the rocky shore.
 
Gardens Galore
Once you’ve had your fill of flowers here, head back to Lake Mary Road and proceed north toward Flagstaff. Turn right onto Beulah Boulevard and then make an immediate left onto South Woodlands Village Boulevard. Turn left onto historic Route 66, drive 1.2 miles, and then make another left turn onto South Woody Mountain Road. Proceed 3.7 miles (the last 2.8 miles of which are unpaved and somewhat bumpy but still easily passable in all vehicles) to arrive at the entrance to The Arboretum at Flagstaff. Guests must pay an entrance fee before entering the grounds.
 
Though seasonal blooms pop up along many of the trails found within “America’s Mountain Garden,” a stroll through the Wildflower Garden, Penstemon Garden, Pollinator Garden, and Sunflower Maze will not disappoint even the most discriminating flower followers. Vibrant wildflowers common at this higher elevation, such as desert paintbrush, fireweed, blue flax, and Rocky Mountain columbine, offer reliable color from year to year (even when Mother Nature has not produced enough rain for a notable bloom), thanks to consistent watering by the staff. 
 
After exploring the 200 acres of visual delight beneath towering ponderosa pines, conclude your flower-filled day at Arizona Snowbowl. Better known for its winter skiing, the resort area brings an artist’s palette of colors to the western flanks of the majestic San Francisco Peaks in the summer.  
 
To reach your final destination, return to Flagstaff and follow U.S. Route 180 on the northeast side of town toward Arizona Snowbowl. Turn right onto Snowbowl Road and drive the winding 7 miles to the lower dirt parking lot. Join the Humphreys Trail on the north end of the parking area, where a short stroll leads to a tree-lined open meadow teeming with Indian paintbrush, Hill’s lupine, larkspur, and golden Western sneezeweed. Time your visit to coincide with the sunset to celebrate the end of your magical day.