It’s been awhile since I did a get-out-of-town hike: Five weeks to be exact, when I hiked from the Ice Age Trail from Parnell Tower to Crooked Lake in Wisconsin’s Kettle Moraine. I haven’t been lazy, I just haven’t had the time to do something more interesting than North Mountain. Or plan to do, as I am an inveterate planner. (A girlfriend once accused me of planning dates: Guilty!)
Friday, my normal hiking day, was my dad’s 80th birthday, so I could have skipped another week, but I figured I’d check in with my occasional mine hunting buddy Paul, to see if he wanted to do something on Saturday.
Paul suggested hiking to West Spruce Mountain from his house in Prescott’s Willow Creek neighborhood. That would have only been maybe four miles, round trip. I need my miles, so I countered with hiking Sierra Prieta Trail #264 from the trailhead on Thumb Butte Rd., “summit” West Spruce, then continue down the ridge to “summit” Sugarloaf Mountain. (Summit in quotes, because while the summits are around 7000 ft., they are only prominent ~150 ft. above the trail.) That would be a 10.0 mi., 2300 AEG, round trip. I also planned for possible side trips to the “summits” of Porter Mountain and Williams Peak*, which would have each added about a mile and 150 ft. to the day.
If you are driving into Prescott from I-17, you cross the north end of Courthouse Square on Gurley St. If you stay on Gurley, heading west out of downtown, it changes names to Thumb Butte Rd. The road is paved, but quite twisty. About 1.5 miles past the Thumb Butte trailhead, Thumb Butte Rd. changes to dirt, and starts heading south. (If you stay on the paved road, it changes names, again, to Dearing Rd.) The dirt is rutted, and occasionally bumpy, but car drivable with caution. The Sierra Prieta Trail #264 trailhead is three miles ahead on the right, just before you reach the Sierra Prieta Overlook.
Sierra Prieta Trail #264 weaves northwest among the “summits” of the Sierra Prieta ridge. (Mount Francis, Granite Mountain and Little Granite Mountain — all proper mountains — are technically part of the Sierra Prieta, but are not part of this hike.) As I said earlier, none of the “summits” is particularly prominent, and West Spruce is only 250 ft. above the trailhead, so all of the AEG is from short 150-300 ft. up & downs.
The temp was a perfect 55º when Paul and I started. Despite there being many patches of quality shade along the trail, I still got sun burnt, as the sky was cloudless.
There were great views on both the north and south side of the trail. To the north, we could see Little Granite Mountain, Granite Mountain, Thumb Butte, Courthouse Square in Prescott, and as far as P Mountain. To the south and west, we could see the entire length of Skull Valley to Kirkland Junction, then across Peeples Valley to Antelope Peak and Yarnell Hill. Just to the south of the trail was Copper Basin, the most obvious feature of which was a large cluster of buildings belonging to the widow of Cesar Chavez. (Who knew being the leader of a grape-picking union paid so well?)
For much of the hike, there is a barb wire fence to the south of the trail. There are two gates: The first at ~0.5 miles, the second at ~1.5 miles. There are numerous side trails to the north. Wherever Sierra Prieta Trail #264 appears to split, stay left, but don’t go through the gates, or cross the fence (until you begin your West Spruce “summit attempt”).
I was shocked how many flowers there were. Both the variety of species and the size of the patches was incredible. Yellow flowers were predominant, but there were also purple, white and orange. I spotted two Sacred Datura. The only other species I could name were the Globemallow and Arizona Thistle. I certainly wasn’t expecting so much color, at that elevation, at that time of year. Makes me wonder what it must be like in the Spring?
There were a number of log “hitching posts” (for want of a better term) along the trail. I’m not sure what there actual purpose was, though we did have to step around a few horse apples.
Just before the single track trail turns into jeep trail, at ~3.5 miles, turn south, 150 ft. up West Spruce Mountain. You will have to cross the barbwire fence, but the attached GPS route indicates an easily crossed low spot.
The West Spruce “summit” is brushy, but has some good shade. There are some clear areas on the south edge of the summit. We found a beautiful brass 1939 benchmark. (I can’t recall ever seeing one that was brass, so that was really cool.) We failed to find a geocache and/or “summit” log. I enjoyed a “summit” brew (New Belgium Citradelic Tangerine IPA). Lunch was a bar of halvah, a kosher sweet made of crushed sesame seeds. (Energy bars get old after awhile.)
Since Paul and I had already put in five miles with our wondering, we decided to head back, rather than head down to Sugarloaf Mountain, which would have added 3.0 mi. and 750 AEG, round trip, to our day. We also ended up skipping the side trips to Porter Mountain and Williams Peak.
GPS File: Sierra_Prieta_Trail_264
Distance: 8.64 mi.
AEG: 1,748 ft.
Time: 3h 56m