Outdoors: Sharing the road at the beautiful Hart Prairie

Arizona Daily Sun (July 28, 2020) by Sam McManis

Going on fire roads sure would be more enjoyable, and certainly less monotonous, if they were all as spectacular as Hart Prairie Road, aka FR 151, running west of the San Francisco Peaks.

Hart Prairie, especially the two-mile stretch between FR 418 and FR 627 (the turnoff for the Bismarck Lake Trail), almost doesn’t seem like your standard, dusty and utilitarian fire road — simply a means to get from one camping spot or trailhead to another.

No, there are stately ponderosa pines and aspen glades galore, with the Hochderffer hills looming to the west and, peeking between tree branches to the right, the silhouette of the Peaks. Granted, that stretch of Hart Prairie is all uphill heading south from the junction of 151 and 418 — and, truth be told, the next 1 ½ miles on the Bismarck Lake Trail also is uphill. But by the time you reach the Arizona Trail junction, heading north back to 418, it’s a long, winding descent that makes you forget the previous climbing.

It’s not as if people don’t know Hart Prairie Road, the 14-mile stretch between its two turnoffs from Highway 180 (to the south, just near the Wing Mountain turnoff; to the north, a little past the Nordic Village). Mountain bikers frequent the dirt and gravel road, and tourists in SUVs traverse the stretch as part of the longer loop around the mountain.

Oh, and in the fall, this is a prime aspen leaf-peeping destination.

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