Originally Published: June 23, 2012 4:58 p.m.
Parking is quite limited at the trailhead for Trail 285. The trail is rocky in spots. There is limited surface water along the route, but you have to really look for it and on such a short hike, it is not likely to be an issue. There is a mining claim near the start of the trail so leave your pick at home (ha ha). There is a strong possibility of route confusion as you pass several possible trail junctions since they are unmarked. Stay on the "obvious" trail, heading southeast and so, bear right at each junction. Motorized vehicles are permitted on Trails 284 and 285.
To reach the trailhead, on the east side of Prescott, take Walker Rd. off Hwy. 69 south passed Lynx Lake and Walker some 10.5 miles. It becomes a dirt road at 7.8 miles. Bear left on the dirt road and again at the 10.2 mile mark where Poacher's Road turns east/left. Go east 0.3 miles to the trailhead. Watch the street signs so you stay on Poacher's Rd. (not Tunnel Rd. for example). There are several homes and side streets in the area (Potato Patch). From the trailhead, take Trail 285 east to the saddle north of the summit. Then turn right on Trail 284 to the Lookout Tower. Trail 284 follows the summit ridge south, offering great views to the east. Trail 285 follows a riparian corridor to the summit ridge.
The season largely determines what you'll see in flower. Drought, human activity, and time of day also impact the flowers you'll see on a specific hike. You may be surprised by these beautiful sights, recently observed on Mt. Union. The red thistle and honeysuckle are outstanding, the white Solomon's seal delicate and diminutive, and the purple geranium a reliable "old friend" seen throughout the summer across the Southwest. I hope you enjoy this summer sampler as you keep cool on your way to the "top" of Yavapai County.
Arizona Thistle, Cirsium arizonicum (Sunflower Family)
Thistles are a "thorny" group. Actually, they are spiny. Spines derive from leaves while thorns are pointed stems. Not that it matters much when the sharp object pierces your skin and draws blood. Speaking of blood, Arizona Thistle is blood red. It is a relatively slender "flower" compared to many thistles. Like other members of the Sunflower Family it is actually many flowers arranged to look like a single flower. Consequently, what you are actually looking at is an inflorescence or bouquet, called capitate or head, as opposed to a single flower. Standing over a meter in height, Arizona Thistle, stands out from the crowd. It often inhabits disturbed ground, such as trails, perhaps roadsides, as well as clearings in pine forests. Therefore, I would not expect it under a closed canopy where forest litter has accumulated undisturbed for an extended period of time. I would also not expect it in a moist habitat like a streamside or spring. Rather, I would look for it on dry ridges in full sun for at least part of the day. There are some 75 species of thistle (Cirsium) which occur in the Southwest along with several groups recognized at the subspecies level, which happens to be the case with Cirsium arizonicum. So, thistles are "thorny" in an intellectual context too.
For example, "variety bipinnatum grows on the Colorado Plateau of New Mexico, northeastern Arizona, southeastern Utah, and southwestern Colorado south to the Sacramento Mountains of southern New Mexico. It is an assemblage of races and local populations with overlapping patterns of variation. Extremes are diverse and strikingly different, and various specialists have attempted to segregate variants as species, subspecies, or varieties. Leaves range from having no "hairs" to being very hairy on one or both surfaces of the leaves. The bases of stem-leaves vary from being flush with the stem to being prominently curved down with spiny wings along the leaf base up to 3 cm. long. Leaf lobes and spines are similarly variable. Flowering heads may be solitary at the branch tips or densely clustered. I have been unable to detect patterns that can consistently separate the many forms in any meaningful way," according to the Southwest Environmental Information Network SEINET. I won't bother you with the other variables with the other varieties. As you can see, thistles exemplify well the dynamic nature of living organisms/systems. It is no wonder that plants, in general, and large groups such as many members of the Sunflower Family specifically; stump, aggravate, and frustrate so many people trying to understand or identify them, whether they are professional researchers or interested/educated individuals lacking credentials or technical training. More than likely, you'll find a workable balance between enough and too much information to enhance your time on the trail. No matter what, persistence/perseverance is a key ingredient in outdoor enjoyment/experience/education.
Wild Geranium, Geranium caespitosum, (Geranium Family)
Common names, like scientific names, are often quite descriptive. A picture is worth a thousand words, as they say, but a word may also be worth a thousand pictures. Take our common geranium here, one of its common names is "Patita de Leon." This describes its leaves, which look like the paws of a lion. I've yet to see a lion's paw print in the wild, but I can imagine its broad, dissected outline. Crane's Bill is another name for this wild geranium because the dry fruit (schizocarp) is elongate and resembles the bill of a crane or stork. From cranes and storks to lions, this little purple-flowered geranium may also spark your imagination. It is widespread across the Southwest, frequently seen in the shade below tall pines up to an elevation of 9,000 feet. These herbs stand under half a meter tall. The flowers have five petals that flare or curve back/down. The petals have stripes or streaks of a different color than that of the petal, overall. According to Epple in A Field Guide to the Plants of Arizona, sheep like to eat wild geraniums. However, they are not often abundant in any one location, so I can't imagine they contribute much to sheep forage. Epple says there are eight species of geraniums in Arizona and SEINET lists four varieties of Geranium caespitosum. In spite of minor variations in appearance, you are sure to recognize this flower on future hikes, like the familiar face of an old friend.
Arizona Honeysuckle, Lonicera arizonica (Honeysuckle Family)
As a native of Arizona, I am accustomed to plant names that sound sticky, hard, harsh, or painful, like cactus, catclaw, ironwood, bitterweed, prickly lettuce, yellow spiny daisy, etc. So, this plant name, honeysuckle, is a delight to the ear and since I like red, it is also a pleasure to see. Clusters of red, tubular flowers at the end of vine-like stems, growing in the cool shade up in the pines refreshes my imagination before I even head for the trail. Hummingbirds appreciate the nectar. Other birds and small mammals eat the red berries later in the season. The opposite leaves join together into one, continuous leaf-like structure just below the flowers. According to Marie Snyder at NAU, Arizona Honeysuckle is used for a variety of medicinal and ceremonial purposes by Native Americans. For example, Lonicera arizonica is used as a purgative agent. It is reported that some people do eat the berries, but they may be undesirable due to the purgative effects. Leaves are also used in Navajo tradition to induce vomiting in certain ceremonies. Isn't it interesting how plants which are pleasant to look at and which create mental images that are sweet and nourishing, might cause an unpleasant affect when eaten. The impression created in the mind can indeed differ from the reality found when our feet hit the ground. Unfortunately, by the time the mind catches up with the feet, it may be too late to alter the reality, like when I think I can fly and when my descent is halted when I hit the dirt. Ouch.
Star Solomon's Seal, Maianthemum stellatum (Lily Family)
Maianthemum is a monocot. You may remember biology in school where you learned the differences between dicots and monocots. Perhaps you'd like to forget those days and lessons. The names tell the story, the number of seed leaves or cotyledons is either one or two. Most plants you know are dicots, things like apples, peanuts, and watermelon. Trees in your yard like maple, ash, and walnut are also dicots. Monocots are fewer, though no less important. A couple of the most important plant families in the world are monocots: grasses and palms. Other monocots include the tropical orchids and the temperate lilies, so beautiful with their varied colors and mysterious pollination biology. Star Solomon's Seal is closely related to lilies. The flowers resemble small stars. Six white tepals shine above the narrow zig-zag leaves. These leaves have parallel veins like most monocots. The underside of each leaf is lighter than the upper surface. This species likes the shade below stands of mixed conifers. Usually, many plants grow together and stand about 1/3 of a meter tall. The name for the genus, Maianthemum, is a Latin-Greek combination. Maius means May and anthemon means flower, indicating when you might expect to see Star Solomon's Seal begin to shine on Mt. Union. Keep your eyes open.