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Monday, April 29, 2013

Hike a "gold country" gulch

Lynx Creek

When it comes to historic gold ore hot spots in Arizona's hills, the mountains around Prescott held the mother lode.  Defunct mining operations have pretty much depleted the area’s precious metal deposits, leaving behind dredge tailing and pipe dreams for prospectors. Lynx Creek flows through the heart of this gold country and is a popular spot for recreational treasure hunters panning for dust and nuggets.  The Salida Gulch trail #95 begins at a section of the creek that is undergoing restoration from the effects of decades of mining.  It's a beautiful   riparian strip with crisp water tumbling over a pebbly waterway that hikers must cross to pick up the trail. Roughly 0.1 mile beyond the creek, pass a gate and then look for the turn off for trail #95 on the right.  The loop begins within a few yards---go left for the shady "gulch" leg or right for the sunny "ridge" side-- it all circles back.  I began with the gulch leg---a 1.6-mile trek through a narrow, stone-entrenched canyon.  Views are sparse on this east side of the loop but intermittent streams and runoff channels foster a cooling canopy of pine-oak woodlands and blooming shrubs.  At about the half-mile point, a prominent prehistoric rock art gallery of decorative coils, intricately sketched game animals and mystifying human forms are incised into massive grey boulders to the left of the trail.  There's another panel farther up the path, but it's not so easy to spot.
Woodlands on the gulch side of the loop

A mile beyond the petroglyphs, the trail makes a sharp turn and begins climbing to the ridge above the gulch.  This 2.4-mile leg leaves the forests and enters a scrubland of junipers, yucca and manzanita with views of Prescott's famous Granite Mountain and the towers on Spruce Mountain.  At one point, you can look down on the gulch leg of the loop winding below off to the right.  For a trail located just about a mile south of a busy Costco shopping center and adjacent to popular Lynx Lake Recreation Area, this easy-on-the-feet hike is surprisingly quiet and enjoyable.

View of Granite Mtn from the ridge 

LENGTH:  4.5-mile loop (includes access trail 9263)
RATING: easy
ELEVATION:  5050' - 5742'
FEES: none at this site
FACILITIES: none, but there's a vault toilet at the gold panning site
From Phoenix, go north on I17 to the Cordes Junction interchange for AZ69.  Head west toward Prescott on AZ69 to the stoplight at Walker Road which is just past the Costco and milepost 293. Turn left and follow Walker Rd 1.2 miles to Lynx Creek Road (FR9401, signed Lynx Creek Ruins/Salida Gulch), turn left and continue 1 mile to the trailhead at the forest boundary sign.  Begin hiking on trail 9263, hop the creek and look for the trail 95 junction in about 0.1 mile.

INFO: Bradshaw Ranger District, Prescott National Forest

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