Area wildlife, such as ospreys, deer,
elk, coyotes and wild turkeys
can be found at Scholz Lake.
© Tom Bean
>> Click on image to view
it larger in a separate window.
Editor's Note click to expand
For more scenic
drives, pick up a copy
of our book, The Back
Roads. Now in its fifth
edition, the book
($19.95) features 40
of the state's most
To order a copy, call
or click here.
Garland PrairieThere's a lot of history along this back road in Northern Arizona, but it's the scenery that'll really get your attention.
By JoBeth Jamison
There's an age-old stigma about venturing to the south side of almost any set of railroad tracks. Mothers warn against it. Songs lament the consequences. But it's probably safe to say that if Mom or Bruce Springsteen had ever ventured through Garland Prairie — just west of Flagstaff and south of the BNSF Railway tracks — they'd sing a different song.
After exiting south, off Interstate 40 at Parks (Exit 178), onto Garland Prairie Road (Forest Road 141), you not only cross the tracks, you also cross into another dimension of Northern Arizona. With such driving-force destinations as the Grand Canyon, the San Francisco Peaks and Sedona nearby, Garland Prairie gets a lot less attention, but its recreational and scenic bounties rank right up there.
At first, traveling the 26-mile side stretch from Parks to Williams feels a little like traveling down several other roads in the Kaibab National Forest, whose vistas are narrowed to dense, shady stands of ponderosa pines. Then, 4 miles in, you begin to break through the wooded atmosphere into the glorious open space of historic Garland Prairie.
In the 1860s, this spot was a stopping point for military troops and miners making their way from Flagstaff to build Fort Whipple near Prescott, and to find gold along Lynx Creek. Allegedly, it was also the stomping grounds of Bill Williams, a 19th century guide and trapper whose Kid Shelleen-like reputation made him a local legend — a legend that lives on in the nearby town, river and mountain that bear his name. Ultimately, the brutal winters and short water supply sent homesteaders and farmers searching for greener pastures. The splinter-bare remains of their cabins and structures give the prairie a lonesome, ghostly charm that, along with the panoramic views of the San Francisco Peaks, is uniquely photogenic. Still, there's plenty of new life at the meadow's southernmost end, where the road passes through a block of modern-day homes.
Deer, antelopes, ospreys and a wealth of other wildlife can also be seen roaming and playing — especially around Scholz Lake, a few miles north of FR 141 on Forest Road 63, and White Horse Lake, south of FR 141 on Forest Road 109. Summer brings abundant flora to the prairie and adjacent meadowland of McDougal Flat, including sunflowers and acres of golden crownbeard. If you care to linger, there are a number of hiking and biking trails, including the Overland Trail, off FR 141. Also, White Horse Lake offers fishing and camping.
At mile 15, FR 141 comes to a junction with Forest Road 140. Take FR 140 past Dogtown Reservoir to Forest Road 173 and turn right (north) to Williams. Be sure to visit the Williams Kaibab National Forest Visitors Information Center (a restored Santa Fe Railroad depot) before you end your rebel foray to the "wrong" side of the tracks.
Tour Guideclick to expand
Note: Mileages are approximate.
Length: 26 miles one way (paved/dirt).
Vehicle requirements: Accessible to all vehicles. A four-wheel drive, high-clearance vehicle is recommended in winter and wet weather conditions. Deep water and mud may be present..
Warning: Back-road travel can be hazardous, so be aware of weather and road conditions. Carry plenty of water. Don't travel alone and let someone know where you are going and when you plan to return.
Information: Williams Ranger District, 928-635-5600 or www.fs.fed.us/r3/kai
Travelers in Arizona can visit www.az511.gov or dial 511 to get information on road closures, construction, delays, weather and more.