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Wednesday, March 22, 2017



 Take a hike with a tail-wagging pack of adoptable dogs from the Maricopa County Animal Care & Control Mesa shelter as they strut their stuff on an easy desert trail.  The final Wag & Walk Dog Adoption hike of the season will take place on Saturday, April 1, 2017 at Usery Mountain Regional Park in Mesa. It's a great opportunity to interact with the dogs outside of the kennel environment where they're more relaxed and able to show their true (mostly silly) personalities. You can even "test drive" the dogs to see how well they walk on leash. Shelter volunteers will on hand to provide information on each dog's breed, exercise needs and history at the shelter. There will also be information on how you can become a volunteer. You don't have to be looking for a new fur baby to join the hike. Your participation gives the dogs a chance to practice their social skills and pander for belly rubs and treats.  Leashed, well-behaved owned dogs are welcome to participate.
DATE: Saturday, April 1, 2017
TIME:  9 A.M.
PLACE: Usery Mountain Regional Park, Mesa
LENGTH: 1-mile
RATING: easy, barrier-free
From U.S. 60 in Mesa, take exit 192 and go north on Ellsworth Road (turns into Usery Pass Road) to the park entrance. Follow the main park road to the Merkle Trailhead at Area 6. Look for the yellow "Wag & Walk" sign. There's a $6 daily fee per vehicle.

Monday, March 20, 2017



Tsu'vo Trail
Please don’t call this place a “ruin”.  Homolovi State Park is a Hopi ancestral village on the high plains of northeastern Arizona that teems with both animated and spiritual life.   Air-breathing, water-slurping terrestrial entities share space with invisible, but very present human souls who occupied the area from prehistoric times to 1400 AD.
March is the perfect time to visit the park. Balmy temperatures and festivities associated with Archeology & Heritage Awareness Month add bonus points to a day trip that’s enjoyable any time of year.  The park is situated at the southern edge of the Colorado Plateau where the ruddy, sun-backed terrain smacks of NASA images of the surface of Mars.  
Homolovi I
The lifeline of this unforgiving yet striking landscape is the chocolatey flow of the Little Colorado River which feeds a fringe of greenery on the site’s western edge.  Five easy hiking trails explore pueblos, dozens of ancillary structures, scattered artifacts and petroglyphs. Standing among the sketchy footprints of plazas and ceremonial structures, it’s impossible not to feel a connection with the ancient communities and their descendants. Of the four major 14-century pueblos within the park, two are open for exploration. Homolovi I is situated near the river where former inhabitants grew beans, corn and cotton on the fertile floodplain.
Homolovi II
The Homolovi II site has a half-mile, barrier-free trail that explores the park’s largest pueblo that had between 1200-2000 rooms. This hillside site provides beautiful views of treeless plains, the Hopi Buttes and Flagstaff’s San Francisco Peaks. To get the most out of this educational trek, stop by the visitor center and ask about guided tours, demonstrations and star parties.
Tsu'vo Trail

LENGTH: 4 miles total (5 trails)
Tsu’vo: 0.6
Dine: 1.5
Nusungvo: 1.2
Homolovi 1: 0.25
Homolovi 2: 0.5
RATING: easy
ELEVATION: 4850’ – 4950’
HOURS: 8 a.m. – 5 p.m. daily
FEE: $7 per vehicle, $2 walk-in/bike-in
Pottery fragment at Homolovi I
From Interstate 40 in Winslow, take exit 257 and continue 1.3 miles to the park entrance.

Monday, March 13, 2017



Saguaro National Park East, Tucson
Garwood Trail

There’s more to Saguaro National Park than the eponymous cacti. This is especially true in the park’s east side where relics of human history blend with an array of plant and animal specimens wedged between the craggy peaks of the Rincon Mountains and see-forever valley vistas of suburban Tucson.
The area’s keynote curiosities date to a cattle grazing era that ended in the 1970s. Remnants of ranch operations can still be seen along the two dozen trails that weave through foothills, washes and open desert.
View of Santa Catalina Mountains from Carrillo Trail
The interconnected trail system is setup with multiple access points and signed junctions with mileages. When paired with a downloadable map from the park’s website, hikers can easily create treks that range from short and easy to long and difficult. One recommended loop option that uses four trails is packed with points of interest and a sweaty climb into the high foothills.  
To try this ambitious loop, begin by hiking 0.2-mile on the Douglas Spring Trail, then turn right onto the Garwood Trail. This 1.4-mile segment makes a gradual ascent through a sunny cactus forest. Acres of pink and magenta Fairy Duster shrubs tickle centuries old saguaros and jockey for sunlight among swaying ocotillos.
Desert Rose Mallow
Year-round blooming plants like the fuzzy-flowered Indigo bush and delicate Desert Rose Mallow add splashes of color to the desert’s muted palette. The park’s website offers a brief education about saguaros, including how “nurse plants’ aid in their growth. You’ll see examples of this symbiotic relationship along the trails where twisted Palo Verde and ironwood trees retain futile embraces around saguaros that have outgrown the need for a “mom’s” protection.  Near Bajada Wash, keep an eye open for a
majestic crested saguaro. This segment ends near Garwood Dam, a concrete structure built to provide a water source for the nearby abandoned homestead. Turn left at the dam and follow the Carrillo Trail to the steel tank at Rock Spring. Here, you’ll pick up the Three Tank Trail to continue the skyward slog that passes by Mica and Aguila tanks on the way up to the Douglas Spring Trail. The tanks attract wildlife, so if you travel quietly and early in the day, you might spot deer, bobcats, fox and maybe a mountain lion. Though encounters are rare, it’s smart to know how to avoid mountain lions and what to do if you run into one. (check this out: After taking in the high-desert views, turn left and descend through grasslands and slick rock back to the trailhead.
Fairy Duster
LENGTH: 6.8 miles
RATING: moderate
ELEVATION: 2,760’ – 3,720’
FEE: $5 daily fee for each hiker/biker entering the park on foot.
For other types of passes that are accepted, visit:
PETS: pets are not allowed
From Interstate 10 in Tucson, take the Speedway exit 257 and go 17 miles east to the Douglas Spring trailhead on the right. There are no facilities at the trailhead. Roads are 100% paved.
INFO: Saguaro National Park

Wednesday, March 8, 2017


Globemallow & lupine along the trail
Lake Pleasant Regional Park
Cove on Lake Pleasant
Whether you love ’em or hate ‘em, you’re likely to encounter rogue donkeys on the Wild Burro Trail.  One of the newer routes in Lake Pleasant Regional Park, the moderate two-mile path passes thru prime burro territory. The desert-adapted, North African imports first arrived in Arizona in the 1600s carrying supplies with Jesuit priests. Valued for their strong backs and hardy work ethic, the burros soon found additional employment with prospectors. During boom times, they hauled ore but when the mines went bust, they either wandered off or were released into the wild where they thrived in the arid territory. Today, their descendants wander in loose-knit social groups and are easily spotted along the park’s lakeside trails. The free-roaming herds and their habitat are protected by the Bureau of Land Management.
Globemallow are abundant along the trail in springtime
The Lake Pleasant Herd Management Area encompasses 103,00 acres around the Agua Fria River where approximately 480 burros graze. Even if you don’t spot any burros, the trail has plenty more to offer. The route winds around coves and rolling hills studded with cacti and wildflowers. Look for flotillas of American coots, roosting egrets and magnificent blue herons in flight. If you do luck out and run into some burros, keep in mind that they are wild animals that are naturally distrustful of humans. When approached, they will usually run but can bite and kick when they feel trapped or threatened. Therefore, it’s best to observe them from a distance.

LENGTH: 2 miles one-way
Wild burros are best observed from a distance.
RATING: moderate
ELEVATION: 1860’-1568’
From Phoenix, go north on Interstate 17 to Carefree Highway (State Route 74. Go 15 miles west on SR74 to Castle Hot Spring Road, signed for Lake Pleasant. Turn north (right) onto Castle Hot Spring Road and continue past the main gate (pay fee first) to the south trailhead located near a large water tank just past the turn off for Peninsula Blvd. The trail begins across the road.
FEE: $6 daily fee per vehicle
About the wild burros:

Monday, March 6, 2017


Tonto National Forest
Red Creek trickles toward the Verde River
Crystal clear, gurgling waters, red rock cliffs, shady mesquite forests and towering canyon walls make hiking along Red Creek an especially relaxing experience. A tributary of the Verde River, Red Creek--which runs through rugged backcountry roughly 35 miles northeast of Cave Creek--creates a narrow band of green in the desert and supports abundant plant and animal life.  The "trail" is a mash up of both motorized and non-motorized routes. Running water often obscures the way, but as long as you go with the flow, you'll pick up the paths-of-use.  From the parking area, hike down the steep embankment, veer right (north) and follow the creek, informal footpaths and 4x4 roads. Stream hopping is a major feature of this simple and serene, hike but the creek bed is gravel (not mud) and the water is anything but deep or treacherous. The creek emerges from the canyon at about the 3-mile mark and trickles into a desert wash with big-sky views and miles of river rock underfoot. On the near horizon, a ribbon of green jutting over the desert ridges is a sure sign that a major water source is nearby. Keep following the trickle and it will lead you to the rushing waters and sandy beaches of the upper Verde River.
Red Creek

LENGTH: 8 miles out-and-back
ELEVATION: 2,660' - 2,210'
BEST SEASON: October -April
Red Creek
Verde River

GETTING THERE: From Carefree, follow Cave Creek Road (which will turn onto Forest Road 24) for 32 miles to the Forest Road 269 junction (Bloody Basin Road) and turn right. Go about three miles, turn left onto Forest Road 18 and proceed  2.5 miles and park in the dirt turnoff just before the steep descent to Red Creek.  Expect to spend 2.5 hours on dirt roads. NOTE: FR 18 is very rough and requires at least a high clearance vehicle.

Monday, February 27, 2017



The sandstone "beach"
Hiking during springtime snow melt season is one of Arizona’s most remarkable experiences. During this brief period, water rushes through desert washes and normally dry creek beds with an urgency tantamount to the panic hikers feel when trying to hit all the best water-themed trails before the cascades die out.  In Sedona, the well-known trails that wind around Oak Creek, Dry Creek and their watersheds are easy-access crowd favorites. But few venture into the isolated domain of Woods Canyon where the ordinarily parched groove of Dry Beaver Creek runs wild for several months each year. One of the best ways to enjoy the transient water works is to take a hike on the Wood Canyon Trail #93.
Dry Beaver Creek
This trek starts with a short walk through a lush, riparian exclosure with an easy creek crossing before emerging in an airy, savannah-like high desert. Yucca-embellished grasslands dominate the first two miles of the hike. The red-earth path climbs gently, morphing from a wide two-track to slim footpaths in the shadow of Horse Mesa. At the 2.3-mile point, the trail enters Munds Mountain Wilderness and begins its descent to the creek bed. Over the next 1.2 miles, canyon walls close in and the trail ducks in and out of oak-juniper woodlands with a couple more creek hops and a traverse of an edgy-ledgy shelf above the water. The highlight of the hike is a sandstone “beach” that appears at the 3.5-mile point. Mounds of water-scoured russet stone slouch into the creek like melted taffy.
Oak-juniper-cypress forest along the trail
This scenic, sycamore-cluttered spot at the juncture of Woods and Rattlesnake Canyons features rushing rapids, swirling eddies and still pools that reflect the rusty edifices and charcoal volcanic cap rock of the surrounding mesas. The trail is reasonably easy to follow for about another mile but you’ll need some high-end route-finding skills to make it all the way to where the trail dead-ends at 5.25 miles. 
Arizona sycamore thrive along the creek
LENGTH:  5.3 miles one-way (trail degrades after 4 miles)
RATING:  moderate
ELEVATION:  3890’ – 4310’
From Phoenix, travel north on Interstate 17 to the Sedona-Oak Creek exit 298. Go left (west) on State Route 179 and continue 8.5 miles to the turn off for the Red Rock Ranger District Station on the right.  The trailhead is located within the ranger station complex in the south (lower) lot where a small metal sign indicates the start point.
High desert plants along Trail #93
Coconino National Forest

Sunday, February 19, 2017


Town of Bagdad
Bridle Creek flows below Sanders Mesa
On a desert highway halfway between Phoenix and Las Vegas , motorists are treated to a botanical spectacle that unfolds in springtime.
From late February through April, the Joshua trees along US 93 sprout gigantic, lime-white blooms with surreal spikes and a not-so-sweet aroma. The annual event is reason enough take a drive along this scenic route through a landscape of sprawling flatlands tossed with rugged canyons and mountains.
Cottonwoods and willows in the riparian corridor
Despite the bloom fest, only a handful of the travelers rumbling by ever stop to marvel at the hairy-barked yuccas that can live up to 300 years. Although it's impossible to know their reasons for zooming past or their ultimate destinations, one thing's for certain though: Most motorists are not going to Bagdad. And, that's a shame---especially for vehicles with hikers on board. That's because those who veer off the byway and head into town will be treated to a pleasant “who knew” moment. Located 100 miles northwest of Phoenix, the company town that orbits around the Freeport-McMoRan copper and molybdenum mine features a massive open-pit operation that hums 24/7 and Main Street is a mix of mom and pop shops, watering holes, a single grocery store, gas station, and a golf course. Although the place doesn’t exactly scream “primo hiking destination”, the hamlet’s signature trail is a very fine one indeed.
The trail is wide and easy to follow
The Bridle Creek Trail is an unexpected trek surrounded by an expanse of barren mesas and raw, mineral rich back country tucked between the Aquarius and Weaver Mountains. The 27-acre Bridle Creek Habitat Enhancement Area traces the edge of Sanders Mesa and the riparian green zone of an intermittent desert stream. The site is certified through the Wildlife Habitat Council's “Wildlife at Work” program and is managed for habitat enhancement, community outreach and wildlife rehabilitation activities. Except for three easy creek crossings that involve some minor rock hopping, the park-like, linear trail is an easy stroll among cottonwood, willow and juniper trees.
Cottonwoods frame Sanders Mesa
Halfway through the out-and-back hike, the terraced mounds of the mine are visible in the distance. Since Bagdad isn't near a major metropolis, it's a long drive for most people. So, to get your gas money's worth, plan on taking the guided Bagdad Mine Overlook tour which is conducted on Saturdays and Sundays at 12:30 p.m.. Then, head back to the Joshua Tree Forest, pull over at a road side table and enjoy the blooms.
Joshua trees bloom Feb. - Apr.
LENGTH: 1.4 miles round trip
RATING: easy
ELEVATION: 3799'- 3870'
HOURS: 5 10 p.m.

Joshua trees along US 93 near Bagdad
From Phoenix, go north on Interstate 17 to exit 223B for State Route 74 (Carefree Highway). Go 30 miles west toward Wickenburg to US 60, turn right and continue to the traffic circle in Wickenburg and connect to US 93. Go 43 miles north on US 93 and turn right on State Route 97 (just past mile post 155). Continue 10.6 miles to State Route 96, turn left and continue 4.2 miles on SR 96 (turns into Main Street) to the town of Bagdad. Turn right on Lindahl Road and go 1.3 miles then turn left onto an unsigned dirt road located just before the sign for Turtle Rock Ranch. Follow the narrow dirt (sedan friendly) road 0.1 mile to the trailhead.
There's a seating area and portable restrooms at the trailhead.

Monday, February 13, 2017


Wolf Creek Falls
Wolf Creek is dry most of the year, but when winter snow on the Bradshaw Mountain peaks begins to melt, this waterway comes alive for a few weeks each year. Just before the creek dumps into the Hassayampa River, it tumbles through a narrow granite gorge spilling icy water over slick rock into drop pools 90 feet below the cliffs. A quarter-mile “waterfall alley” features two major falls as well as water chutes, natural dams and cascades.  
HIKE DIRECTIONS: from the Groom Creek trailhead, hike across Senator Highway to the Horse Camp entrance. The hike begins at the “383” sign at the south side of the camp gate. From here, follow trail #383 (some of the signs say: 383/384) one mile to the junction for trail 384. Tricky spot: a fallen tree near the third 383/384 sign hides the path---the arrow on this sign points straight up and the bottom of the sign has been cut into a point. The correct trail is indeed straight ahead not off to the left or right. Beyond this point, keep an eye out for “384” signage to stay on track. After about 2.5 miles, the trail meets a wide dirt road (CR 101). Cross here and head toward the metal gate blocking a road heading steeply downhill---this is the continuation of trail 384, although you won’t see any signage until you reach Wolf Creek in 0.3 mile. Here, hop the creek, veer right and follow it to the falls. The upper falls are only about 0.1 mile in and are easy to get to while the lower falls can be seen at 0.4 mile but to get to them requires some scrambling and bush whacking. Once done exploring the falls, return the way you came OR complete the loop by following the 384 signs posted in a clearing above the falls.  
Wolf Creek Falls
LENGTH: 6 miles roundtrip to the falls and back OR 7.5 mile loop  
RATING: moderate
RATING: moderate 
ELEVATION: 6,200 – 5,600 feet  

BEST SEASON: Year-round. The falls run best during spring snow melt (Feb-April) and after summer monsoon rains.
GETTING THERE: From Phoenix, go north on Interstate17 to Cordes Junction. Exit onto State Route 69 west and proceed through the towns of Mayer, Dewey and Prescott Valley to the town of Prescott. Continue on SR 69/Gurley Street through Prescott to Mt. Vernon Ave. Turn south (left) onto Mt. Vernon Ave. (which will turn into Senator Highway) and continue 6.4 miles to the Groom Creek Trailhead on the left. The hike begins across the road at the Horse Camp Gate. Roads are 100% paved.
INFO: Bradshaw Ranger District, Prescott National Forest, 928-771-4700

Monday, January 30, 2017



Town of Prescott Valley
Inside the volcano
There’s a little volcano in Prescott Valley that despite its lack of climate-altering fireworks a la Krakatoa or a festering apocalypse like the one under Yellowstone National Park, still managed to create a big enough impression on the landscape to warrant a hiking trail to its summit.  
With its out-of-nowhere character, the new route walks out of the suburbs into the spent inferno of an extinct volcano culminating on a scenic highpoint in Arizona’s Central Highlands.  Dedicated in May 2016, the Glassford Hill Summit Trail makes a moderately difficult climb among the crumbling lava flows and eroding slopes of a Miocene-epoch volcano situated at the edge of State Route 69.
Prescott Valley with San Francisco Peaks on horizon
When viewed from the highway, the rounded form of Glassford Hill doesn’t look that special. With a smattering of subdivisions and shopping centers lapping at its base, the grassy mound humbles in comparison to cloud-brushing Bradshaw Mountain Peaks visible across the valley.  However, the hill’s back side is quite a different scene. A gaping gash severs the mountain’s north face. Between 10 and 14 million years ago, this area was a cauldron of bubbling magma, fiery cinders and molten lava bombs that broke the surface and froze into bizarre pillars and rivers of basalt.
Grazing pronghorn
Layers of ocher and russet stone are evidence of multiple volcanic events that built the hill and eventually caused it to spill its guts.  The first mile is a moderate stroll through sparse grasslands, weather-beaten junipers and hardy shrubs where resident pronghorn graze. Interpretive signs along this section provide information on local wildlife and geological features.  
Bradshaw Mountain views
Beyond the 1-mile point, the wide, dirt path heads upwards, ascending more than 900 feet by way of tight switchbacks. At each turn, the trail becomes steeper but picnic tables placed at each juncture and mileposts located every quarter mile make it easy to take a break and decide if you want to press on or turn back.
Entering the collapsed volcano
Those who reach the summit are rewarded with unobstructed, 360 degree vistas, a display of historic heliograph equipment and more picnic tables. The bald zenith rises over a sprawling valley ringed by mountains. On clear days, the peaks of Flagstaff, Williams and Prescott National Forest gleam on the horizon while homes and business roll out in neat grids below the hill’s fractured slopes.
Summit of Glassford Hill
LENGTH: 2.1 mile (4.2 miles roundtrip)
RATING: more difficult
ELEVATION:  5183’-6123’
From Phoenix, go north on Interstate 17 to exit 263 for State Route 69. Follow SR 69 26.5 miles to Prescott East Highway (located just past mile post 289), turn right and continue 0.6 mile to Sunset Lane. Turn left and go 0.1 mile to Castle Drive, turn right and continue 0.3 mile to the parking lot on the left.  From the map sign, head right and hike 0.1 mile on the dirt road to the bridge and the beginning of the trail. Roads are 100% paved and there’s a portable restroom at the trailhead.

Monday, January 23, 2017



Tonto National Forest, Bartlett Reservoir
Granite boulders above Bartlett Lake
From the drive in to the trailhead to its turnaround point, this hike is packed with stunning scenery. Hedged among rough cut cliffs and desert highlands of the Verde River watershed, Bartlett Reservoir fills 12 miles of the canyon bound channel with crystalline waters teeming with bass, catfish and bluegills. Although the year-round recreation site which is located roughly 50 miles north of Phoenix is famous mostly for its boating, fishing, shaded picnic areas and camping opportunities, the Palo Verde Trail offers hikers a surprisingly challenging route with terrific mountain and water views. The trail meanders among the foothills and washes on the lake’s western banks. This is not a hike to try during or immediately after storms because rain rumbling off the foothills turns washes and gullies into raging rivers of debris.
Chollas frame Tonto National Forest mountain vistas
Don’t be fooled by the hike’s minimal amount of elevation change---the trail is a deceptively convoluted series of twists, steep climbs and slippery descents on a base of crumbling granite and sand. Overall, you will have accumulated 900+ feet of elevation gain over the 9.4-mile, out-and-back trek.  The trail wastes no time getting you up into the hills above Rattlesnake Cove for breathtaking vistas of the distant peaks of the Mazatzal Wilderness and fire tower-capped Mount Ord. Across the water, the hulking profiles of Maverick and SB Mountain in Tonto National Forest bolster the reservoir’s 33 miles of shoreline casting shadows on peninsulas and islands that morph in size with water levels. 
Rattlesnake Cove
In springtime, these hills are ablaze in wildflower glory. Look for desert lavender, chuparosa, brittlebush, Mexican gold poppies, filaree, lupines and blooming cholla and saguaro cacti.
Beyond the marina at near the 3-mile point, the trail splits. The path to the left is a spur that shaves a mile off the route. To the right, the main trail makes a hairpin loop among deep washes, quartz mounds and areas of washouts that make the route somewhat difficult to follow. Strategically-placed rock barriers and cairns mark the way. Soon, you’ll reach the beachy inlet of SB Cove. Strewn with driftwood, this cozy notch in the landscape is a favorite stomping ground for blue heron and seasonal shorebirds. The route terminates a short walk from the SB Cove Recreation Site. If you didn’t park a shuttle vehicle there, return the way you came.
Foothills of the Verde River watershed
LENGTH: 4.7 miles one way or 3.7 with shortcut
RATING: moderate
ELEVATION: 1798’ – 1882’
Desert lavender can bloom any time of year
From Loop 101 in Scottsdale, take the Pima/Princess Drive exit 36 and go 13 miles north on Pima and turn right on Cave Creek Road.  Continue 4.1 miles to Bartlett Dam Road, turn right and go 12.6 miles to North Shore Road (Forest Road 459). Turn left continue 0.6 mile to the turn off Rattlesnake Cove Recreation Site (Forest Road 459A). Park at the last restroom at the south end of the parking loop. Walk down the stairs behind the restrooms and head right toward the trailhead sign.
FEE: A Tonto Pass is required to park.  $6 daily fee per vehicle.
INFO: Tonto National Forest

Monday, January 9, 2017



Granite Mountain Hotshots Memorial State Park, Yarnell
Journey Trail
I’m not a fan of writing trail descriptions in the first person. Hiking trails are not about me. The staring characters of Arizona trails are the terrain, waterways, scenery, wildlife and plants. That I happened to hike a particular trail is incidental and not part of its theme or the influence it will have on other trekkers. When approaching a trail, I plan for the worst and hope for the best while in anticipation of foul ups, the mantra “suck it up, buttercup” bounces around in my skull. Normally, I subdue my voice so my personal biases won’t dilute a trail’s character or unwittingly seed expectations.  Why rob hikers of the joy of discovery? But occasionally, there’s a trail that’s so steeped in emotion that all I can muster is a stammering, first person account. The Hotshots and Journey Trails at the Granite Mountain Hotshots Memorial State Park near Yarnell embody that spirit.
Hotshots Trail
My first impression of this oddly remote and decidedly vertical destination was one of awe and confusion. As State Route 89 approaches the site, the imposing Weaver Mountains rise over the desert in sheer, granite heaps. I wondered how the heck does a trail get up those hills? The answer came at the trailhead which is just a tiny pull out along the highway, its fresh-paint and bright new information kiosk bolstered by neon orange road barriers. Here, a metal staircase hoists hiker up an insurmountable cliff face to connect with the trail. From this point, the hike is a whole lot of up with a few short stretches of flat in between. Epic views of the Date Creek Mountains and dry-wash-riddled valleys appear immediately. These wildlands give us so much. Fresh air, peace and quiet, natural resources and recreational opportunities. Peering out over landscape, the random remains of torched trees remind that the wildlands also take. In June 2013, the Yarnell Hill Fire blazed through this rugged territory taking the lives of 19 fire fighters. These brave men are memorialized with plaques placed roughly every 600 feet along the Hotshots Trail. Additional signage placed near benches at scenic lookouts, gives information about firefighting and the timeline of the Yarnell Hill Fire. The first memorial plaque shows up after a few hundred feet of hiking. It’s mounted on a gigantic, pyramid-shaped granite boulder and sets the stage for an emotional 2.85-mile journey of remembrance. This hit me harder than I thought it would. I didn’t know any of these men or their families, so why was a pain in my gut working its way up to my throat?
Date Creek Mountains
“I’m not gonna cry. I’m not gonna cry. Suck it up.”
As I approached each plaque, I stopped to read the short paragraphs about each man’s life. They were so young and dedicated to their work and families. It occurred to me that the nature of their work also made them elite hikers---kindred spirits for those of us who aspire to trek for miles in horrible conditions packing 50 pounds of gear and still have enough energy and courage to risk life and limb to protect others.
“Heart be still. Ain’t gonna happen. Suck it up.”
Saddle overlooking the town of Yarnell
Just beyond the final plaque, the trail makes a long traverse on a ridge overlooking the fatality site. Four hundred feet below, a Stonehenge-like circle of 19 gabions surrounds the place where the men perished.  At the trail’s high point, an observation deck marks the beginning of the Journey Trail that traces the hotshots final trek. Here, I met a group of people wearing t-shirts and hats emblazoned with various fire department logos. They came from Phoenix, Prescott, Flagstaff, California and Canada in sort of a pilgrimage of brotherhood. There’s a sign at the deck with color photos of the 19 and a summary of the fire’s progression. When viewed from just the right angle, the portraits align with the fatality site below.
Fatality Site
“I’m not gonna cry.”
Decision time. Should I go down the 0.75-mile Journey Trail to visit the final memorials? To further mess me up, right at this juncture, a flock of ravens appeared on the air currents above, their vocalizations morphing from “Caw, Caw” into “Go, Go”. A psychic in Sedona once told me that the raven is my animal totem, so I went.  The sensation was a maniacal elixir of exhilaration and numbness. I didn’t know quite what to feel. Was this a taking sort of voyeurism or a genuine giving of respect? It’s hard to discern when distracted by conflicting moods egged on by astonishing beauty and utter disaster.
The fatality site sits at the mouth of a yawning canyon a heartbreaking half-mile from a ranch. The ugliness of the fire has mostly disintegrated and fresh sprouts are emerging from the bases of resilient shrubs that were here, then gone and here again.
Fatality Site

At the east end of the memorial circle, somebody left a scorched Granite Mountain Hotshots t-shirt. That’s where I lost it.  Heaving sobs for people I don’t know in a place I had never been, I guess this trail was a little bit about me after all. And it's about you, too. We live, we love, we hike, we win, we lose and it all ends up in a big friggin’ circle--kind of like the one that rolled out before me at the base of Yarnell Hill.
The T-Shirt
LENGTH: 7.2 miles roundtrip
RATING: moderate
ELEVATION: 4,318’ – 5,061’
From Phoenix, take Interstate 17 north to State Route 74 (Carefree Highway). Head 30 miles west toward Wickenburg and turn right (north) on US 60. Continue on US 60 to the traffic circle at the Hassayampa River bridge, veer left and go north on State Route 93 to State Route 89 (White Spar Highway). Follow SR 89 toward Yarnell, go left at the split, head up the winding mountain road and turn left at the sign for the park.  Roads are 100% paved. There are 13 parking spaces and temporary restrooms at the trailhead.