Wednesday, January 18, 2017

Hotshots Memorial State Park

Suzanne planned a day for us and as usual, I just joined in after she did all the planning and work. I love that about her, she likes to plan and I like to show up. So Suzanne, Penny and I took off early on Wednesday morning, December 28th.

Suzanne planned a hike in a newest State Park in Arizona which just opened earlier in December --The Granite Mountains Hotshot Memorial State Park. The park is up near Yarnell and it doesn't resemble a 'park' in any sense. It is a small parking lot dug out of the mountain beside the edge of Highway 89 with some informational kiosks, a port-a-potty, and a trail that starts right up the mountain. The mountain looks a bit daunting at first, but we found the trail had been designed with wide switchbacks that made the hike do-able. It was moderately hard not because it was overly strenuous, but because it was all uphill to the look-out site. Sometimes it's hard to judge a hike by a written description so we weren't sure if it would be in our range of ability and fitness. But it was enjoyable.

The hike is 2.85 miles out to the lookout with a 1200 foot elevation gain, then an additional .75 miles down to the actual memorial site where the firefighters passed away. We got to the lookout, but some other hikers told us the trail down that last section was especially muddy and slippery, so we enjoyed the lookout site and took some time to enjoy the view, read the signs and eat our lunch.

Here's what was heartwarming about the hike. The trail leads to the site where 19 Granite Mountain Hotshots died fighting the Yarnell Hill Fire in June 2013, and the trail honors the fallen men. Granite plaques honoring each one are placed every 600 feet along the trail. The plaques show a picture and a written biography of each of the firefighters. The emotion of seeing and reading these memorial plaques along the way made this a very different hike, much different than a simple walk in the hills.

Suzanne had an especially emotional reaction when the tragedy happened. There's a comment on her facebook page. A friend of her's: "That day was so sad . . . still is."  Suzanne: "Agreed. We went to the Fourth of July parade in Prescott less than a week after it happened. They had 19 riderless horses go through with boots backwards in the stirrups and the names of each on the horse. Everyone stood in silence in tribute. It still chokes me up every time I even think about it."

The area is pretty, the views were spectacular, there was a bit of snow lingering near the top and the weather was perfect. We were plenty warm just wearing a flannel shirt.

We very much enjoyed our day, tired and a bit sore for the evening, but so glad we went. We drove from Yarnell to Prescott for dinner then back home to the valley.

We could keep track of our progress by tracking the names on the plaques as we hiked. 
They were mounted along the trail in order of rank.

A few of the granite plaques along the hiking trail.

It was a nice clean trail most of the way, but got a bit snowy and muddy near the top.

It was a little eerie to walk by burned out trees and shrubbery 3 1/2 years after the fire.

This was the actual site where the hotshots passed away, as seen from the viewing site. It's a 3/4 mile hike down. At the time of the tragedy, a group of firefighters had already created a memorial on the site. When the state bought the land, there were 19 iron crosses on the ground marking where each man's body was found. The design committee decided to leave them there and design a rough circle of gabion baskets and chain to surround the crosses.

Note: No matter what we do, Penny always looks cool, calm and collected. Suzanne and I look like we've been hiking. Penny's hair is perfectly in place and lipstick still on.

1 comment:

Suzanne Barker said...

Penny is awesome!! Even how she chooses to carry her water bottle!