Hot Shots Juniper Tree
By Anita Lum
Posted On March 23, 2022
On a recent late winter’s day we decided it was finally time to take our long-awaited hike up to the Granite Mountain Hot Shots Juniper Tree. After a nice breakfast (and some of the best coffee in town) at the newly renovated and reopened Bistro St. Michael, we drove westward. A 20-minute ride on Iron Springs Road, a right turn on Contreras Road and then a short distance (~3/4 mile) up the road took us to the Contreras Trailhead parking lot.
We started our hike from the parking lot and walked along the dirt road on the east side of the lot. About that dirt road continuing away from the Contreras Trailhead lot…..note that you should only attempt driving from there to the next parking lot IF you have a 4WD vehicle with good clearance. About a half mile or so up that dirt road, we came to a second parking lot (just southeast of Upper Pasture Spring) and from there, we followed the trail that goes uphill. There is a fenceless gate near the top to prevent motor vehicles from passing through. You’ll also see a sign indicating that you’re following the Upper Pasture Trail No. 38 and can continue one mile to Trail No. 39 or two miles to Trail No. 37. Granite Mountain will be your picturesque backdrop for much of this excursion from here on in.
We followed the trail until we came to the intersection of Trail 39 and Trail 38. At this point we weren’t sure which way to go (since our cell service was intermittent) but thankfully, someone took the time to place a bunch of rocks in the formation of a large arrow in the dirt pointing left (towards Trail 39). Thank you! We assumed that was the right trail and, so, we went in that direction.
As we continued on Trail 39 we started to see many remnants of the Doce Fire that raged through this area in mid June 2013. Plenty of the Alligator Junipers and Piñon Pines were coming back – others were dead but remained standing, their charcoal skeletons stark against the bright blue sky. Then the terrain started to change a bit – we dipped down into an area that was more densely populated with trees; there were light-colored rock formations to our right. We continued on the path alongside a wash that was intermittently speckled with puddles until we came across another arrow rock formation embedded in the dirt. The arrow pointed left and we knew we were close. About 100 yards up the trail and we were there. It was a total of 2.32 miles from the Contreras Trailhead parking lot.
Without a doubt, this is an incredibly impressive tree – the largest recorded Alligator Juniper in the state of Arizona, estimated to be 2000 years old. Apparently, the 20 members of the Granite Mountain Hot Shots responded to a plea from a Recreational and Backcountry Specialist with the Prescott National Forest and created a fire break in order to save this tree on June 18, 2013. This was a remarkable accomplishment. The regretful irony was that 19 of these valiant young men perished just 12 days later fighting the Yarnell Hill Fire only a little over 30 miles south of Prescott.
This was a peaceful and beautiful hike. It was most definitely an emotional experience to see the memorial at the tree and it was very touching to witness that still today, these brave souls are remembered. It is obvious that they are not forgotten by the mementos left behind and clear that the Prescott community hold the Granite Mountain Hot Shots so very close to their hearts.
The 2017 movie, "Only the Brave" was a moving tribute to these courageous men who deserve every ounce of our respect; if you haven't seen it, I highly recommend it. Granite Mountain Hot Shots, "You all are heroes!"