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Monday, April 1, 2019


Mount Union: Prescott National Forest
 View of Mt. Davis seen from 7979-foot Mt. Union
Where as the thrill of reaching a mountain summit usually comes with a wham-pow jolt of pride, gaining the high point of the Bradshaw Mountains in Yavapai County kind of creeps up on you instead. 
Snow on the Dandrea Trail No. 285, 3-30-2019.
The hiking trails that lead to the 7979-foot pinnacle of Mount Union are neither technical nor precipitous.
The fire lookout on Mt. Union was built in 1933
Unlike other Arizona peaks, there are no false summits, no cliff-dangling passages and no obvious risks to life and limb. Regardless of its lack of adrenaline rushes, the straightforward route is not without its challenges.
Big views on the Yankee Doodle Trail No. 284
It’s only a two-mile hike to the top, but working through the rough, rocky course is an exercise in balance and tenacity. It’s a real ankle-twister, so sturdy footwear and hiking poles are essential. Located southeast of Prescott near the mountain community of Potato Patch, the Dandrea Trail No. 285 and the Yankee Doodle Trail No. 284 combine for a short but tricky route to the peak. The trails are signed only by their numbers, not their colorful monikers which, along with nearby landform names, were assigned by miners working for competing factions during the Civil War.  

The bare bones trailhead straddles a drainage where the headwaters of the Hassayampa River—spilling from the spring-laden slopes between Mount Davis (named for President of the Confederate States, Jefferson Davis) and Mount Union-- begin to gain momentum.  Hop the chugging stream and head toward the “285” sign, which marks the first leg of the circuit. Trail No. 285 is an old mining road that was built long before the concept of sustainability gained traction and thus has not held up well. Thrashed by the forces of nature, the road has devolved into a quagmire of loose rock and debris. Sometimes paralleling the Hassayampa drainage, sometimes swamped by its overflow, trail conditions vacillate between poor and treacherous. But, picking your way though is part of the adventure. Also, several unmarked spur paths that spin off the main road can be confusing. To stay on track, always head right at these junctions. 
The summit road was snow-covered on 3-30-2019.
View from a high section of the Dandrea Trail
Between keeping an eye to the ground to avoid falls, be sure to take time to appreciate the thick coniferous forest that surrounds the trail. The canyon-bound lower mile of the route is wrapped in thick, moss-draped woodlands dominated by Douglas and white firs plus spotty stands of aspens struggling to find the sunlight they need to survive. 
A typical scene on the rocky Dandrea Trail
As the trail gains elevation, airy stands of Alligator junipers and Gamble oaks take over, opening up views of distant Granite Mountain.
Big Bug Mesa (mid field right) seen from Trail No. 284
At the 1.2-mile point, the route emerges from the forested canyon at a gate and 4-way junction on the saddle between Mount Davis and Mount Union. Here, Trail 285 continues 1.6 miles downhill to the abandoned Dandrea Ranch site--a pretty side trip if you’re so inclined. But if your eyes are on the summit prize, head right (southwest) and follow the Yankee Doodle Trail No. 284.  Although still rocky, this 0.6-mile leg is much less hazardous and more exposed than the canyon segment.  Climbing through an oak-fringed corridor, Trail 284 features peeks of the fire lookout and communication towers on the summit and grand mountain vistas.  To the east, the long form of Big Bug Mesa stands out among minor ridgelines and pine-covered foothills. Where the trail meets the dirt summit road, head left (remember this spot because it’s easy to miss on the way back) and make the final 0.2-mile slog to the top.   
Trail 285 climbs through the headwaters of the Hassayampa
A fire lookout that was built by Civilian Conservation Corps workers in 1933 stands 30 feet above the bald, boulder-cluttered apex.
The saddle junction
At its base, the names of CCC workers etched into a cement slab add a note history and humanity to the creaky metal structure and its companion cabin.  The tower is still in active service and is occupied during fire season.  
View from the summit of Mount Union
A walk around the tiny peak reveals 360-degree vistas that validate this mountain as the standard-bearer of the Bradshaws while demonstrating that a summit trek doesn’t have to be the hardest, highest or most inaccessible to deliver a rewarding experience.
Douglas fir trees dominate the canyon segment of the hike
Mount Union is high point of the Bradshaw Mountains
Trailhead at the edge of the Potato Patch community.
LENGTH: 4 miles roundtrip
RATING: difficult
ELEVATION: 6849 – 7979 feet
From State Route 69 in Prescott, turn south on Walker Road (intersection with the stoplight near the Costco center) and continue 10.5 miles to the “T” intersection at Poacher’s Row that’s marked by sign for the Potato Patch community. Turn left and continue 0.7 miles to where the road ends at the 285 trailhead. There’s parking for about two vehicles at the trailhead and there are additional spaces along the road, but be respectful of the private property in the area and do not block driveways. 
Summit marker.
High-clearance vehicles are recommended as the last few miles of the access roads are on rough dirt with potholes. There are no fees or facilities at the trailhead.
INFO: Prescott National Forest

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