Ul­ti­mate Peak-to-Desert Ad­ven­ture

In Prescott Na­tional For­est, you’ll ride through cool pon­derosa forests, pin­ion and ju­niper wood­lands, and desert grass­lands. At night, you’ll camp in a horse­man’s par­adise.

Trail Rider - - CONTENTS - BY KENT AND CHAR­LENE KRONE

In Prescott Na­tional For­est, you’ll ride through cool pon­derosa forests, pin­ion and ju­niper wood­lands, and desert grass­lands. At night, you’ll camp in a horse­man’s par­adise.

RRem­nants of the Old West smol­der like dy­ing em­bers in Prescott, Ari­zona, where Wy­att and Vir­gil Earp, Doc Hol­l­i­day, and other West­ern char­ac­ters once walked the dusty streets. Tom Mix hung his hat here while mak­ing West­ern movies. Prescott was es­tab­lished dur­ing the gold rush in 1863 and be­came the first ter­ri­to­rial cap­i­tal of Ari­zona the fol­low­ing year. This thriv­ing town still re­tains a rus­tic charm best ap­pre­ci­ated by walk­ing along Whiskey Row, then to the his­toric Court­house Square.

Prescott’s West­ern heritage is pre­served in such re­stored build­ings as the Has­sayampa Inn, the Elks Opera House, and the re­mark­able Shar­lot Hall Mu­seum.

Prescott Na­tional For­est brims with di­verse recre­ational op­por­tu­ni­ties. Com­fort­able cli­mate and vari­a­tions in al­ti­tude al­low for year-round camp­ing, pic­nick­ing, fish­ing, hunt­ing, mountain climb­ing, mountain bik­ing, na­ture photography, and, of course, trail rid­ing.

Dur­ing our time here, we did sev­eral dif­fer­ent rides, all within the Prescott Na­tional For­est. Com­pris­ing 1¼ mil­lion acres, this na­tional for­est fea­tures eight sep­a­rate ar­eas.

The high, cool peaks of the Brad­shaw Moun­tains con­trast sharply with the sun­baked Sono­ran Desert be­low. In be­tween, you’ll find desert grass­lands, chap­ar­ral canyon hard­woods, pin­ion and ju­niper wood­lands, and, lastly, vast pon­derosa pine forests.

South of Prescott lie the Brad­shaw Moun­tains. Tem­per­a­tures tend to be cooler here be­cause of higher el­e­va­tions; Mount Union, the high­est mountain, tops out at nearly 8,000 feet above sea level.

Prescott Horse Camp­ing

In Prescott, we found a place to stay for our two Mis­souri Fox Trot­ter geld­ings, Cow­boy and Nate — and room to park our liv­ing-quar­ters trailer — at the Prescott Rodeo grounds, host to the world’s old­est rodeo. Rodeo, one of the town’s tap­roots, plays a main role in the lives of Prescott’s cit­i­zens. (We stayed here, rather than at Groom Creek Horse Camp, be­low, as we vis­ited the area be­fore the horse camp’s May 1 open­ing date.)

This is a well-main­tained rodeo grounds. If you don’t need elec­tric­ity, there’s no fee for park­ing your trailer and us­ing the cor­rals, but do­na­tions are ap­pre­ci­ated.

J.C. Tru­jillo, the grounds’ gen­eral man­ager and a for­mer rodeo cham­pion, helped us set up. He told us that when his fa­ther was a young boy, he watched Big Nose Kate (Doc Hol­l­i­day’s girl­friend) deal cards in the Palace Sa­loon. (See page 38.) So when our chores were done, we headed for Whiskey Row.

From Prescott, travel 6.5 miles south on Sen­a­tor High­way to Groom Creek Horse Camp. De­signed and op­er­ated in part­ner­ship with the Back­coun­try Horse­men of Ari­zona, Groom Creek Horse Camp ac­com­mo­dates only campers with horses.

This is a well-de­signed camp­ground

with 37 pull-through sites, each with a pic­nic ta­ble and grill. Picket lines are pro­vided at each site. Cor­rals, wa­ter troughs, and hitch­ing posts scat­tered through­out the camp­ground make this an eques­trian camp­ing par­adise.

Here, you can hit Prescott Na­tional For­est’s world-class trails right from your spa­cious camp­site.

Spruce Mountain Sum­mit

Our first ride, to the sum­mit of Spruce Mountain, be­gan from Groom Creek Horse Camp. We first rode Trail 307 on the east side of the road. This ride is a lit­tle over 9 miles long; it’s a loop trail that gains 1,200 feet in el­e­va­tion dur­ing the first six miles through the Up­per Wolf Creek drainage. This stretch has a great deal of old­growth pon­derosa pines, plus fir trees in the up­per el­e­va­tions.

At the be­gin­ning of the loop, the trail is soft and sandy as it winds around enor­mous boul­ders and wind sculp­tures. Af­ter a cou­ple miles, boul­ders give way to al­li­ga­tor ju­nipers, an ob­vi­ous name be­cause of their al­li­ga­tor-like bark.

As we neared the top of Spruce Mountain at 7,696 feet el­e­va­tion, mixed conifer forests of Dou­glas fir and white fir be­came prom­i­nent.

Fi­nally, the sum­mit was ours! We had post­poned lunch un­til “the promised land,” which, in our case, was a place with hitch­ing rails, pic­nic ta­bles, a vault toi­let, and a fire-look­out tower.

Af­ter lunch, we climbed to the top of the look­out to en­joy the mag­nif­i­cent 360 de­gree panoramic view!

Weather is al­ways a force to be reck­oned with. This ride re­minded us that it’s al­ways a good idea to pack an ex­tra shirt or light jacket in the sad­dle­bag when rid­ing into high el­e­va­tions. Af­ter lunch, we spent a long 15 min­utes hud­dled un­der fir trees while a mountain rain­storm, com­plete with hail, blew in, ex­hausted it­self, and quickly left.

Con­tin­u­ing the loop down­hill over the next sev­eral miles, stay straight, and avoid two false lefts. At the bot­tom, fol­low the trail through boul­ders to the start­ing point.

If you’re stay­ing at Groom Creek, also con­sider rid­ing the Wolf Creek Loop Trail on the west side of the road. This is a nearly 8-mile loop that gains 1,140 feet in el­e­va­tion.

West Gran­ite Mountain Ride

The West Gran­ite Mountain ride is an 8.6-mile loop ride north­west of Prescott, off Iron Springs Rd. (High­way 10). From the Williamson Val­ley Rd. in­ter­sec­tion, drive about 8 miles to FR 336. Turn right, and drive 0.8 miles to the trail­head, a large open area on the right-hand side of the road. Look for power lines di­rectly above the trail­head park­ing lot.

Two roads leave from this park­ing area. Take the left one, which is num­bered 9261U. If you have a high-clear­ance trailer, you can fol­low this road about a mile down into a val­ley where there’s am­ple camp­ing room, but no wa­ter. Af­ter this val­ley, we rode up­hill on an old road and through a gate where the road be­comes Trail 38.

Af­ter be­ing on Trail 38 for roughly one-half mile, we turned right where Trail 39 came in on our left. We re­turned to this point in a coun­ter­clock­wise fash­ion. This trail sec­tion fea­tures amaz­ing rock for­ma­tions, as well as a burned sec­tion that was now sport­ing a pur­ple blan­ket of flow­ers.

Af­ter about a mile, we came to Trail 37 and turned left. For over a mile, we rode along the bor­der of Gran­ite Mountain Wilder­ness, head­ing to­ward Blair Pass. We gained el­e­va­tion and rode through piles of boul­ders stacked hap­haz­ardly, with no two shapes alike. From the top, we could see down into Long Canyon and Blair Pass. Trail Junc­tion 41 was be­low.

We turned left on Trail 41 and hit a poor sec­tion of trail. Wa­ter ero­sion and rocks made for poor trail con­di­tions. Cross­ing the creek, the deep mud sucked a shoe off of Cow­boy.

This be­came an op­por­tu­nity to try a hoof-wrap prod­uct our friend Sheila Getty told us about, the Equine Hoof Ban­dage (www.hoofwraps.com). These light­weight hoof wraps fold flat and are easy to use. In no time at all, Cow­boy’s hoof was se­curely wrapped, pro­tected from rocks, and we were on our way.

Af­ter mak­ing our fi­nal left on Trail 39, we be­gan work­ing our way back to the park­ing lot, nav­i­gat­ing big, roller-coaster-like hills. We could hear gun­fire blast­ing from the nearby shoot­ing range, but for­tu­nately, nei­ther horse is both­ered by the sound, so we just gaited our way back to the trailer.

Mint/Wash Wil­low Loop Trail

The 8.1-mile Mint Wash/Wil­low Loop Trail, our last ride here, was prob­a­bly our fa­vorite ride. This trail is ac­cessed from the Cayuse Eques­trian Day Use Trail­head. This trail has an easy, soft-dirt gait­ing trail, gor­geous views of Gran­ite Basin Lake, big boul­ders, and a va­ri­ety of green­ery, in­clud­ing flow­er­ing shrubs.

To get here, we drove the same route as be­fore on Iron Springs Rd., but turned right sooner onto Gran­ite Basin Rd. A few miles later, we ar­rived at the Cayuse Eques­trian Day Use Area and Trail­head, which in­cludes hitch­ing rails, horse wa­ter, and vault re­strooms.

Al­though this is a day-use area, eques­tri­ans are al­lowed to camp with their horses at the nearby Yava­pai Camp­ground ac­cord­ing to the United States For­est Ser­vice. (Note there are no cor­rals here.)

We took the soft, sandy Trail 351 that headed west out of the park­ing lot; it soon be­came Trail 345. The small, bright-blue Gran­ite Basin Lake came into view. We paused to en­joy the lake view, then con­tin­ued rid­ing along the east side of Gran­ite Mountain on Trail 345.

To our left was the Gran­ite Mountain Wilder­ness Area with views of the 7,626foot Gran­ite Mountain, an im­pos­ing boul­der mountain am­ply in­ter­spersed with pine trees. On our right, there were shrubs and grasses dot­ted with snowy, white flow­ers, shade trees, and a gen­tle, laugh­ing creek.

Af­ter 3 miles or so, you’ll come to a trail in­ter­sec­tion. Head east onto Trail 347, which will in­ter­sect with Trail 348, loop­ing you back to the day-use park­ing lot.

Trail 347 is con­sid­ered a high-use trail; mountain bikes are al­lowed. We did meet two mountain bik­ers; they were ex­tremely po­lite young men.

Of Ghosts and El­e­gance

Af­ter all of our rid­ing, we de­cided to treat our­selves to a night at the his­toric Has­sayampa Inn. The inn, built in 1927, is on the Na­tional Reg­is­ter of His­toric Places and has a his­tory as col­or­ful as its name.

Not only have West­ern stars such as

Tom Sel­leck, Tom Mix, Will Rogers, and Sam El­liott stayed here, but also there’s a res­i­dent ghost. As the story goes, some­time in the early 1930s, a bride com­mit­ted sui­cide when her hus­band left their ho­tel room and never re­turned. Giv­ing into de­spair, she hung her­self from the bel­fry.

We stayed in the room be­low the bel­fry that the bride sup­pos­edly haunts; Kent slept with his cam­era on the bed­side ta­ble, ready for ac­tion. There was no ghost, and we had a good night’s sleep.

How­ever, when check­ing out at the front desk, Kent jok­ingly re­marked to the ho­tel clerk that our room might have plumb­ing prob­lems, be­cause, dur­ing the night, wa­ter faucets turned on and off by them­selves. The joke was on Kent when the clerk said the room was haunted, and such strange phe­nom­ena were com­mon­place! We’d be re­miss if we didn’t men­tion the Ed­war­dian splen­dor of the Elks Opera House, lo­cated across the street from the Has­sayampa Inn. We went there just to look in­side and ended up buy­ing tick­ets for that eve- ning’s Mo­town per­for­mance. Here, all the ush­ers and opera-house as­so­ciates dress in el­e­gant 1800s cloth­ing. The ef­fect is like be­ing whisked away in a time ma­chine.

Over­all, Prescott is an ex­cel­lent choice for a rid­ing ad­ven­ture. It has a rich West­ern his­tory, a cap­ti­vat­ing down­town, charm­ing mu­se­ums, friendly peo­ple, and the di­ver­sity of Prescott Na­tional For­est. This de­light­ful area will keep the most avid trail rider go­ing for days. TTR

Char­lene Krone rides Nate up the hill lead­ing to Blair Pass on the West Gran­ite Mountain ride, an 8.6-mile loop ride north­west of Prescott, off Iron Springs Rd. Inset: The en­trance to Ari­zona’s Prescott Na­tional For­est, which com­prises 1¼ mil­lion acres.

Char­lene Krone rides Nate on the Mint Wash/Wil­low Loop Trail with the 7,626-foot Gran­ite Mountain loom­ing be­hind.

Char­lene Krone leaves Groom Creek Horse Camp to em­bark on the 9-mile ride up to the sum­mit of Spruce Mountain.

With Kent Krone in the sad­dle, Cow­boy pauses for a drink at the stream in Mint Wash along the 8.1-mile Mint Wash/Wil­low Loop Trail, ac­cessed from the Cayuse Eques­trian Day Use Trail­head.

Char­lene Krone and Nate pause at Gran­ite Basin Lake on the start of the Mint Wash/ Wil­low Loop Trail. “We paused to en­joy the lake view, then con­tin­ued rid­ing along the east side of Gran­ite Mountain on Trail 345,” note the Krones.

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