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Monday, July 24, 2017

PINE LAKES TRAIL #316

PINE LAKES TRAIL #316

Thumb Butte North Trails
Pine Lakes Trail flanks Willow Creek 
Pick a day following a good monsoon soaking to hike Pine Lakes Trail #316.  That way, you’ll have the best chance to see the tiny waterfalls that tumble over logs and rocks in Willow Creek.
Canyon grapes grow along the creek
Arguably the most ecologically diverse route in the north segment of Prescott’s Thumb Butte Recreation Area, trail #316 packs a lot of interesting elements into its short length. The first half-mile of the trek moves through an exposed landscape of juniper and oak under the imposing pinnacle of Thumb Butte.
The trail climbs easily to a point where the Bradshaw Mountains peek out from behind the butte before beginning its descent into the riparian corridor of Willow Creek. 
A post-monsoon mini waterfall
As the trail switchbacks down into the gorge, the vegetation makes an abrupt shift from sparse scrub and cacti to rich greenery shaded by arching oaks and soaring Ponderosa pines. The creek trickles in lazy bends with multiple drainages emptying into its course. Over the next mile, the trail stays close to the water crossing it several times. A pleasant mist laced with the earthy aromas of pine needles, wildflowers and mushrooms drifts through the air. The creek itself is a mix of rapid flows, mini waterfalls, standing pools and rivulet-carved sandbars decorated with critter footprints.
Mushrooms thrive in the moist creek corridor
This is an excellent place to take in the wonders of nature's ecosystems and micro climates. 
A crossing of Willow Creek
Plants found within this moist passage couldn't survive well just a couple hundred feet above on the dry chaparral. And although the distance from ridgeline to creek is minimal, temperatures along the waterway are noticeably cooler. The trail makes one last creek crossing before heading back up to the lip of the gorge where the bare rock mound of Granite Mountain can be seen in the distance. From this point, you can retrace your steps for an out-and-back trip or use the map available at the trailhead to create your own circuit.
Thumb Butte
LENGTH:  1.5 miles one-way
RATING: moderate
ELEVATION: 5800’ – 5600’
Granite Mountain in distance
GETTING THERE:
From the courthouse in downtown Prescott (Gurley St. and Montezuma), travel 3.4 miles west on Gurley Street (turns into Thumb Butte Road) to the Thumb Butte Recreation Area. To find the trailhead, hike or dive another 0.1 mile up the paved access road and look for the sign across from the restrooms. 
HOURS: Summer hours (May- Sept) 6 a.m. to 8 p.m. daily.
FEE: There’s a $5 day use fee per vehicle. Bring exact change for the self-serve pay station.
INFO & MAPS:

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