August 2020

Yeager Canyon Loop

Hiking Yavapai by Stan Bindell

Among the best kept hiking secrets in the Prescott area is the Yeager Canyon Loop.

For some reason this hike has not made it into some of the hiking books, and there aren't usually many hikers on this trail, but it's one of the best hikes in the area because of two great panoramic overlooks, a spring that surprisingly greets hikers in this otherwise dry area, and the remnants of an old stagecoach.

 

One reason that this hike isn't well known may be that the trailhead doesn't jump out at you — it's not really hard to find, but you have to be paying attention.

 

Yeager Canyon Loop is part of the Mingus Mountain trail system, so from Prescott you drive to Mingus Mountain on 89A and look for milepost 333. After the elevation sign for 6,000 feet, follow a guardrail on the right to the pull-out, and park there.

The loop is only about six miles long, but it climbs from 6,000 to 7,300 feet. After a bit more than the first half-mile, the climb begins. Near the beginning there's a catchment basin to collect rain for wildlife use, frequented by birds, coyote and deer.

 

About 800 feet of the climb happens next, ending at a natural overlook offering a vast panorama. Mt. Union and the Bradshaw Mountains, as well as Granite Mountain, can be seen from various parts of this trail.

 

After a break to enjoy the view, the second uphill trek begins, climbing another 300 feet or so to another great panoramic view. Soon after comes a large alligator juniper tree, which many are tempted to hug or smell. Most of the trees along the trail are Ponderosa pines or junipers, but there are also some oaks and ash trees. An array of flowers and good shade make Yeager Canyon Loop enjoyable. Lupines and penstemons were some of the flowers we found along the way. After the second overlook, this hike doesn't change much in elevation.

 

Past the two-mile mark, the spring comes up. It's not large, but this is a good place to find butterflies. From here there's some easy walking as it flattens out for a bit before the switchbacks that make the downhill easier. The trails are good and mostly easy to follow. The last part of the trail provides good views of Prescott Valley and the Bradshaw Mountains.

 

Look for the remnants of the old stagecoach off to the right about five miles in.

 

Bonus Hikes

Due to the heat, Hiking Yavapai became Hiking Coconino over the past month, as the Prescott Hiking Club took several trips to Flagstaff. We did three hikes with varying degrees of difficulty, and all are high-elevation trails. They are all in-and-out, so you can turn around at any point.

 

The San Francisco Peaks Trail runs about 15 miles, but the hike is rated as easy, with one club member saying it was the easiest hike he could remember. There are plenty of aspens to enjoy, and one part of the trail overlooks the Nature Conservancy's Hart Prairie Preserve.

 

Kachina Trail is 12-14 miles long and much rockier than the Peaks trail. The many rocks and roots make proper footwear a must — no sneakers, you'll need your hiking boots. Aspens, fern forests and some small caves make this trek one of my favorites.

 

Weatherford Trail is about 15 miles, but it also climbs about 3,000 feet, going up to just under 11,000 at Doyle Saddle. Arizona Highways rates Weatherford as a moderate hike, but you'll need to be in good shape for this climb.

 

Photos by Stan.

Stan Bindell is always looking for good hikes. If you have one, contact him at thebluesmagician@gmail.com.

July 2020

A Pair of Tens

Hiking Yavapai by Stan Bindell

This is a story of two hikes that are both about ten miles long, but couldn't be more different in terms of difficulty, elevation and terrain.

Homestead loop

The first involves three trails, starting with Homestead Trail #305, hooking up with Seven Mile Gulch Trail #9854, and ending with Ranch Trail #62, making a nice loop ending at right about ten miles, 7.5 miles of the trek fairly easy. The other 2.5 miles is rough, though, because it climbs about 1,300 feet, and we went up during the morning sun on a hot day. This trail tops out at 6,687 feet.

Photos by Stan

To make matters worse, this uphill climb was covered in scree — small loose rocks that we were constantly scrambling over. It's easy to turn an ankle on this stuff if you're not careful.

 

Many in the hiking party were teasing the leader (not me) about the strenuousness of the trek, which left them huffing and puffing.

 

Leaving aside the workout, there is some great scenery along this trail. Homestead Trail parallels Walker Road and Lynx Lake, beginning on the west side of Walker Road. Mountain bikers love this loop, and there were many of them on the trail, winding through ponderosa pine and oak.

 

At just about the two-mile mark there's a monarch-butterfly study area and a tunnel, and the path hooks into Seven Mile Gulch Trail. This loop is also open to motorcycles and ATVs, but we only ran into mountain bikers, who were reliably courteous as they passed.

 

The Seven Mile Gulch section that we were on is through mostly scrub oak, opening to views of the San Francisco Peaks, Prescott Valley, Lynx Lake and Spruce Mountain.

At the top, after the climb,  is the junction with Ranch Trail #62. It was a good opportunity time for a lunch break.

 

Ranch Trail begins with gentle downward switchbacks, a nice relief after the climb. It meanders through a nice forest, and offers great views of Thumb Butte and Granite Mountain.

 

This hike, while far from solitary, is not among the area's best known. It's not in The Best of Prescott Trails book, which lists many of the area's top hikes.

 

Groom Creek loop

Groom Creek Loop Trail #307 comes in at 9.1 miles, but you could do it twice and it wouldn't take as much energy as the Homestead loop. Groom Creek Loop Trail also climbs about 1,300 feet, but much more gradually. Groom Creek Trail, which ends at the top of Spruce Mountain, climbs from 6,396 to 7,693 feet at the fire lookout tower.

 

This loop is the only Prescott trail listed in the Arizona Highways Hiking Guide, which lists 52 of the state's best hikes. Arizona Highways rates Groom Creek Loop Trail as moderate, but the Best of Prescott Trails rates it as hard.

 

While its proximity to Prescott is one reason for its popularity, Groom Creek Loop Trail is up in elevation and its forest offers plenty of shade during the hot summer. This trail is also known for its scenery; after about the first mile there's a great view of Granite Mountain. But it gives great views of many other mountains as well, including Mingus, Bradshaw and the Mogollon Rim. From the top hikers can see Crown King, Prescott and the San Francisco Peaks.

 

The Forest Service has placed picnic tables conveniently at the top, so that's where we ate lunch.

 

During our hike on Groom Creek Trail the New Mexico locust bushes, many the size of trees, were bursting with flowers. and other wildflowers popped up periodically. Due to the spring rains the forest is lush and green right now. Ponderosa pines are dominant, but there are plenty of alligator junipers and some oaks and firs as well.

 

It's ironic that Spruce Mountain has no spruces on it. Early settlers mistook its white firs for spruces, and so they named it.

 

Groom Creek Loop is open to horses and mountain bikers, but on this day we didn't see many of either. Boulders periodically crop up, particularly toward the end of the hike. Dogs are allowed on leash. The trailhead is off Senator Highway, accessible by all vehicles.

 

Groom Creek Loop is part of Prescott National Forest and managed by the Bradshaw Ranger District. For more information phone 928-443-8000. The Homestead, Seven Mile Gulch and Ranch Trails are also in the Prescott National Forest.

June 2020

Willow Trail 347/345

Hiking Yavapai by Stan Bindell

On Willow Trail 347/345 in the Prescott National Forest Recreation Area the flowers are out — and so are the rattlesnakes.

Yellow daisies are the most abundant on Willow Trail right now, in large bright groups that really stand out. The flowers on the cedar bushes are also plentiful, spreading a wonderful aroma. Indian paintbrush and other wildflowers also draw the hiker's attention.

Attention is needed on this trail because it's known for rattlesnakes, and during my day on the trail one rattler was lying right in the middle of it. The warm, active snake rattled at me and quickly moved away into the brush. It's best to stay back, then pass quickly when you can.

 

Willow Trail, not be confused with Willow Lake, is part of the Granite Mountain trail system. At some points the hike offers great views of the mountain's east flank.

 

The route offers little shade, and the rattlers like the hot sun beating down on them, so the hiker may prefer to go in the morning or evening to beat the heat. Pine, juniper and brush frame the trail, but not enough for much useful shade.

 

At the trailhead a sign warns of hidden curves on the trail, asking mountain bikers and horseback riders to slow down. Just ahead of the curves other signs give reminders.

 

On my Saturday there were few hikers and a good number of mountain bikers and horses. At times it was so quiet you felt you were out in wilderness, but every half mile or so knots of bikers or riders would come by. All I met were courteous and practiced social distancing, and slowed down to let me know they were coming.

 

This trail has little change in elevation, so the only challenges can be the heat or length of the trail. It's a ten-mile loop; if you want to do less, you have to turn around and go back before the halfway point. For those willing to go the distance, 347/345 also go to Williamson Valley, with the last part of the hike along Mint Wash to Granite Basin Lake. For those who want more mileage, this trail connects with many others.

 

Willow Trail usually lacks water, so be sure to take enough. About three miles in I reached a spot that's usually pretty dry, but thanks to this year's rainfall it had just about an inch of water trickling through it. This is also where I found the largest cloud of butterflies on the trek.

 

The route begins in the Cayuse day area off Granite Basin Road, on the south side of the parking lot, where there are signs for Trails 349 and 346. Take 346, following an old vehicle track for four tenths of a mile, which goes up to a saddle overlooking Granite Basin. Go through the metal gate and follow a short fence line to another metal gate. This is the beginning of 347. About six miles into the hike you'll reach Trail 345.

Photos by Stan

Stan Bindell is always looking for good hikes. If you have one, contact him at thebluesmagician@gmail.com.

Steven Ayres

The Granite Mountain Hotshots pose with the Champion Alligator Juniper.

Reading or seeing photos of this tree hardly does it justice. On Earth Day I saw this tree for the first time, which brought out a "wow!" But its beauty is almost too much to comprehend. This tree stands about 80 feet tall, has five trunks, and is thought to be about 1,800 years old.


The tree hums with life as lizards and ants make their way up and down it. Some of the trunks seem like natural seats for visitors.


The vital human connection is that the Granite Mountain Hotshots took special pains to rescue this tree from the Doce Fire in June 2013.


Seeing the fire danger approaching, Doug Hulmes, professor of environmental studies at Prescott College, informed Jason Williams from Prescott National Forest about it so it could be saved. Prescott firefighter Kevin Kieth relayed that a prayer vigil for the tree was held on the Prescott High School football field, and the tree was saved as the Hotshots did a backburn in the area to guide the fire away from it.

 

When the firefighters saved the tree, they had a photo taken of themselves in a pyramid.

 

"This is a living memorial for those we care about," he said. "A week later they died trying to save Yarnell, 20 miles away."

 

A large plaque commemorating them stands in front of the tree, and memorials by individuals crowd around its base. One quotes a biblical passage: "Greater love has no one than this, that one lay down one's life for one's friends."

May 2020

Alligator Juniper

Hiking Yavapai by Stan Bindell

"I think that I shall never see a poem as lovely as a tree." The poem is spot on, but some trees are more special than others.

For a tree to be special in my book, it has to meet two criteria: a unique quality, and a clear human connection.

One alligator juniper tree in Prescott National Forest meets both. The unique part is that it's the largest alligator juniper in Arizona, designated an Arizona Champion Tree on the American Forests National Register of Big Trees.

 

Stan Bindell

Memorial objects and sentiments decorate the base of the tree.

Hulmes, who visited the site with me on Earth Day, always approaches the tree in silence to show respect for the firefighters.

He is writing a book about the trees of Norway, and not long ago was showing the tree to a dozen students and their teacher from Sogn Folk High School in Norway. Three men approached: Brendan McDonough, the lone surviving Granite Mountain Hotshot, and the two filmmakers from Hollywood who would eventually make the movie about his crew. Hulmes said the movie came out better than he expected.


Hulmes believes that the fire was started by tracer bullets in the Doce Pit shooting area, something that officials have never officially confirmed, and that continues to bother him. He said these bullets are illegal, but there is little enforcement related to them in the state, adding that the Daisy Fire in the Blue Wilderness, one of the largest wildfires in Arizona history, also started with a tracer.

 

It's a continuing worry to Hulmes that 90 percent of wildfires in the west are human-caused, often due to careless or irresponsible actions.

 

He says that over last Memorial Day Weekend there were 49 fires on the Coconino National Forest and 39 on the Prescott National Forest, all due to unattended campfires.


"We have freedoms, but with those freedoms comes responsibility," he says.

 

"Saying something is sacred means that you have great respect for it. I want to instill the capacity to understand and care," he says, recognizing that most people who see the tree show reverence and respect for it. But to reduce the risk of damage and vandalism in these sacred areas, he's careful about telling people exactly where the tree stands.


He's happy that this tree became sacred on his watch. Now he just wants to keep it that way.

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