Arizona hikers will often tell you that they hike because they value the opportunity to be outdoors, to experience the beauty of the Southwest and to see breathtaking vistas, interesting wildlife, beautiful birds and colorful wildflowers. Only occasionally will a hiker refer to hiking as an emotional adventure. However, if you take the short trip out of Phoenix to the Granite Peak Hotshots Memorial Park and hike the Hotshots and Journey trails there, you may very well describe your expedition as an emotional one.
The Yarnell Hill fire took the lives of 19 elite, young firefighters in June of 2013. Granite Peak Hotshots Memorial State Park opened in November of 2016, and it commemorates the lives and sacrifice of those men. The trailhead, just off Highway 89, consists of a small parking lot, toilet facilities and a map. The Hotshots Trail begins there and is a steady, uphill climb of 1200 feet for 2.85 miles. Along the way, 19 plaques, intermittently spaced, honor the lives of the fallen firefighters. The charred trunks of trees and shrubs, as well as other evidence of the fire, appear along the trail. A few benches offer hikers the chance to rest and reflect. One may be impacted very early in the hike by the knowledge that he is walking the very same path those firefighters took to reach the wildfire they were battling, and then the trek often becomes a solemn one.
Once hikers reach the observation point, on a ridge above the actual fatality site, the Journey Trail is another three-quarters mile down to the memorial.
On the way down, hikers may experience the same unpredictable crosswinds that flared the Yarnell fire and moved it into the path of the 19 men.
The memorial itself consists of 19 gabions linked together by chains and configured in a circle. Inside the circle, 19 metal crosses are planted at the site of the deaths. Family, friends, firefighters from around the country and hikers have placed mementoes and messages in and on the gabions in remembrance. Again, benches are also available.
The only way out of the park is back the way you came. So, it’s up to the observation point and back down to the trailhead. The entire hike may take four to six hours, depending on the skill of the hikers and their pace. There is no access to drinking water on the trail, so hikers should be well prepared by bringing plenty of water in their packs. Plan to begin hiking the Hotshots Trail in very early morning if you go in summer.
Although the Sun Lakes Hiking Club season ended in late April, hiking continues unofficially on Monday mornings during the summer months. If you are interested in summer hiking, please contact Stu Frost at 602-332-5676 or email him at [email protected]
The official hiking season for the Sun Lakes Hiking Club will begin again in November. The official scheduled hikes are described on the club website, meetup.com/sun-lakes-hiking-club.