Sixty-six for Sixty Six, Part X:The Hotshots Trail

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February 25, 2017, Yarnell-

A lone cactus wren croaked, as I came up the first stretch of hillside, on the way to the spot where, on June 30, 2013, nineteen formidable men met their doom, while working to safeguard this small community at the southeast edge of the Mohave Desert.

I encountered a moderate trail, whose increase in elevation is tempered by long switchbacks, frequent stops to read and ponder each of 19 memorial plaques, set in stones along the way.  Wooden benches and informational signs also provide respite, for anyone who finds the place more strenuous than anticipated.

Yarnell Hill abounds in granite boulders, much as does the back country between here and the east side of Prescott, nearly 50 miles away.  One of these boulders resembles a praying monk.  It is one of the first sights greeting the hiker, on the way up from the trailhead, 1 1/2 miles southwest of Yarnell’s center.  He stands, as lonely as the wildland firefighters must have felt, on that blazing final day of June.

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Each man left people in grief- parents, a loyal woman, young children, siblings and entire communities, from Prescott itself to places as far afield as Oregon, Idaho and North Carolina.  Each man is immortalized by his own plaque.  Crew Chief Eric Marsh founded the Granite Mountain Hotshots, and was responsible for the recruitment and training of the men he led, for ten years, in the aftermath of the Indian Fire, which came close to obliterating downtown Prescott, in 2002.

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I know some of the family members, of four of the Hotshots.  Each of the families has a solid work ethic, reflected in what their sons, brothers, husbands and fathers gave, however long their terms of service were.

The terrain that presented itself, that blustery, torrid weekend, was no gracious host to anyone hauling 50 pounds of gear uphill.  It was, as I say, of moderate difficulty for me, with my 15 pounds of day pack, and for those between the ages of 15 and 75, who I encountered along the way.  A couple of ladies said they found the trail scary.  I could easily figure out which places to which they were referring, though long ago, I stopped fearing secured heights.

Following, are some scenes of just what the wildland fire crew faced, in terms of terrain.  Three red-tailed hawks circled, above this rock.

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Notice the charred mesquite, above, and the manzanita, below.

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Unlike today’s hikers, the Hotshots had to pick their way up granite-strewn hillsides.

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The town they were working to save survived, and will be a more vigilant place, with regard to fire safety.  Like the boulder below, Yarnell shows a large, if broken heart.

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I continued from the main trail’s overlook, at the two-mile marker, to the memorial at the fatality site, another 3/4 mile to the east. At the site, 19 cabions encircle 19 crosses, one for each man who gave his life that day.  Some mementos have been left here, as well as at the flagpole that stands 500 yards to the east.

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I sat here, in the wind, contemplating the meaning of sacrifice, while a lone woman circled around the memorial, lost in her own thoughts.  It is said that the mystery of sacrifice is that there is no sacrifice.  That can be understood, but, I would venture, not easily by a small child who wonders why Daddy went away.

Long may the heroes comfort the grieved, from their own private Valhalla.

 

 

Sixty-Six for Sixty Six, Part VII: Sudden and Sodden

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February 20, 2017, Anthem- The sight that greeted me, as I headed towards the spot where I heard a small child screaming, was not an alien arachnid, but the upended root system of a dead mesquite.20170220_1258341

The child, likewise, was fine.  He was just being willful and demanding- and mom had everything under control.  This mini-outburst was off to the side of the Anthem segment of the Maricopa Trail.

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I was driving back from a lengthy, and rather testy, medical appointment this morning .  (I am fine, and the less said, the better), when I happened upon the Anthem Trailhead.  This was another confirmation of the dictum that one creates one’s own reality.  I had been curious, as to the condition of the Sonoran Desert, after this weekend’s copious rain.  I was also curious, as to the terrain on the Maricopa Trail, between I-17 and Anthem.  The gooey, but flat, hike I took, early this afternoon, answered both questions.

As you can see above, there are a fair number of boulders strewn along this alluvial landscape, and it is entirely within settled horse country.

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There are episodic pools, along the way, one of which gave me a smile.  The main water body here, Skunk Creek, was bone dry.  There were no little white and black critters, either, but the tracks and scent of javelina were much in evidence.

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I came to this underpass, at the off-ramp from I-17, and spotted the continuation of Maricopa Trail, which would have taken me to its junction with Black Canyon Trail, another 1/8 mile to the west..  So, in essence, I have hiked, in segments, from Mayer to Anthem, over the past 1 1/2 years.  My main interest in the Maricopa Trail lies in its mountains and canyons, but I will certainly take the sense of continuity, along with them.

Now, back to the title of this post.  I was treated to a sudden, brief visit from a friend who lives in Oklahoma, and his little chihuahua.  It seems my Okie friends love their ankle biters, but this little guy gave me a sniff-over and jumped up on my lap.  It was a fast friendship.  They left, ahead of me, this morning, having enjoyed an evening of warmth and stabilization, following their sodden ride through eastern and central Arizona.  At least now, the Sun will temper their return home.

So, the ground will need a few days to dry out, my lower left molar has a temporary crown-with its permanent replacement in three weeks, and I have a new little friend.