You’ve roughly reached the Coronado Trail’s halfway point when you crest a hill, and see the small parking area for Rose Peak. If you’ve grown tired after hours of curvy driving, and you’re ready to set out on foot, pull off the road and put on your hiking boots.
The Rose Peak Trail is officially 1/2 mile, one way, although it feels more like a mile. Other trails also depart from the parking area, so watch for signs that point out the fire tower route.
A sign tells you to please close the gate, even though “gate” is a relative term. It’s really just a section of fence stretched between two posts. Most likely the wires will pop off those posts as you try to open it, then you can struggle to get all four corners secure again.
For most of the trail, the path is obvious. This isn’t a well-traveled trail, though, so you should expect it to be quite rough in some places. During my visit in mid-April, there were still a few patches of snow. The melting slush softened the ground and left me ankle-deep in mud at times.
You’d be well advised to bring a walking stick with you. More than once, mine kept me from toppling down the steep hill.
After several switchbacks, the Rose Peak Outlook fire tower finally comes into clear view.
No matter which way you look, you’ll see a mountainous wilderness, almost completely untouched by man. The nearest highway (except for US 191) is about 30 miles away, as the crow flies.
As you look to the east, you’re looking into New Mexico, since the Coronado Trail isn’t far from the state line.
Blue Vista Overlook
Continuing north from Rose Peak, you’ll lose elevation then gain it again, as you climb up the side of the Mogollon Rim. The road tops out at 9,172 feet, at the Blue Vista Lookout. Expect more incredible, wide open views that stretch for miles.
During my visit, the interpretive signs had been replaced by a note that blamed vandalism for their disappearance. If they are replaced by the time you visit, hopefully they will help you identify various peaks and points of interest on the horizon.
A short trail drops down from the parking lot. It’s paved with concrete, has a handrail and steps, but I still couldn’t follow it because of a large snowdrift blocking the way.
If you’re driving the Coronado Trail in springtime, you’ll know when you’re getting close to Hannagan Meadow. This part of the road is high on the Colorado Plateau, and with that elevation comes a lot of snow. During my visit in mid-April 2005, many side roads in this area were still blocked by six-foot high piles of plowed snow.
Depending on when you visit, Hannagan Meadow will either be covered with snow or green grass. I found it covered with a quickly melting layer of slush.
Across the street from the meadow, you’ll find resort cabins and a restaurant. Walk inside the lobby and you’ll likely find a fire burning in the fireplace. There’s also a gas station and small general store, but not all services are open all the time.
A look back at US 191, southbound.
If you didn’t arrive in Hannagan Meadow at dinnertime, continue up the road to the tiny town of Alpine. There, you’ll find a couple of restaurants, including the Bear Wallow Cafe. The food is great, and the service friendly. They even sell t-shirts emblazoned with the cafe’s catchy name. There’s only one thing that might disturb you: the walls are decorated with photos from the area’s #1 pastime, hunting, so if the sight of lifeless animals in the backs of pickup trucks turns your stomach, don’t sit facing the wall.
The most scenic portion of the Coronado Trail is now behind you, however, the drive north is still pleasant, passing through rolling hills and valleys, slowly turning back into a more desert-like landscape. The road is also less curvy, so you won’t have to turn the wheel as much.
Note: This trip was first published in 2005.