By JoBeth Jamison | Photo by Paul Markow
There’s nothing like getting away from it all without having to get too far away. Mormon Lake Lodge is that kind of place. You don’t have to go to the airport. You don’t have to load up your bikes or hitch up your horses. And you don’t have to pack 15 different road maps or enough food to get you through a long weekend with growing boys.
Of course, you could do all of that — there’s an airport nearby, there are dozens of roads and trails to explore in the area, and some of the resort cabins have kitchenettes — but you don’t have to. Between the simple guest rooms, the multi-room cabins, the enclaves of cabins for large parties, the RV park, the on-site country store, the restaurant, the stables and the rental equipment, this lodge has it all. And getting there isn’t bad either.
The drive down Lake Mary Road (Forest Highway 3) is one of the state’s most scenic, offering jaw-dropping panoramic views of the San Francisco Peaks. Plus, it’s just 30 easy minutes southeast of Flagstaff, so it’s not too far from civilization. Nevertheless, you might feel like you’ve traveled at least 86 years back in time once you get there.
Mormon Lake Lodge, originally known as Tombler’s Lodge, was built by a Chandler man in 1924 as a place for local loggers and ranchers to enjoy dining and nightlife. Like today, the location was remote enough to be rustic but close enough to be considered an appealing option and all-around happening place for people as far away as Flagstaff and beyond. So beloved was the lodge that, when it burned to the ground in 1974 during the world’s largest team-roping contest, its regulars from around the state volunteered to have it rebuilt by the time the event rolled around the following year. The pioneering traditions live on today in the lodge’s famed open-pit steakhouse and 1880s-style saloon, where summer brings a great lineup of live entertainment.
Although the lake itself doesn’t always fill up — some years the natural water feature is little more than a bed of mud and marshland — after a wet northland winter, you might be lucky enough to find the lake at its peak. If not, water enthusiasts can enjoy nearby Lake Mary. Mere minutes away, that lake carries enough water for a hotbed of aqua activities, along with the burden of noise and chaos that accompanies them, leaving Mormon Lake and its spectacular wildlife (buffalo actually do roam there) to rest peacefully in their forest surroundings.
All of which adds up to what could be your best family vacation, your most romantic couple’s getaway, your most-raved-about estrogen or testosterone fest, or even your most meaningful solo soul-searching endeavor ever.