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9:50 PM Tue, Sept. 18th

Column: Hiking the Granite Mountain Hotshots Memorial Trail

'Hiking Arizona'

The Granite Mountain Hotshots Memorial Trail is unique in Arizona. It commemorates the nineteen men who fought to save the towns of Peeples Valley and Yarnell from a devastating wildfire at the end of June 2013. Hiking this trail reminds me that life is precious and its loss comes at great cost. I’ve hiked it under varying conditions in preparation for a Community Read program at Prescott Valley Public Library. Hiking and reading can go together.

This month-long program gets underway May 20th at the Library when the author, Fernanda Santos will encourage community members to read her book, Fireline. For more information on this program check the Library’s website (pvlib.net) or call 928-759-3040. The program will include a book discussion on June 16th and conclude on June 17th with a panel discussion, which will include some of the individuals who worked to create this amazing trail. I encourage you to hike the trail to more fully appreciate this community event and the sooner the better, since this is not a hike you’d enjoy in the summer. It is seven miles round trip with no shade and no surface water with over 1,000’ of elevation gain along the way.

As I said, I have hiked this trail under varying conditions over the past few months: in the rain, cross-country, and under a full moon. With higher than average winter rains this year, there are quite a few wildflowers and other plants that got me thinking about the impact of fire on the landscape in the Southwest and the importance of living life to the full, as demonstrated by the Granite Mountain Hotshots. While there are several signs along the trail, which explain fire and the challenging job of fighting fires, the plants supply additional insight. I have selected nineteen plants to make this point, though there are many more. I placed a photo of each plant in a single image to conserve space. I only have enough space here to mention a few. Get all the details at the Library in the coming weeks.

For example, Brownfoot is an unusual member of the Sunflower family with its purple flowers. Chia, a Mint, is featured in the book, Born to Run as a key source of energy for ultra-runners. One of the most glorious displays of purple flowers I’ve seen on this trail is supplied by Chaparral Nightshade. Shrubby Buckwheat is not to be outdone in glory, however. Its small flowers are arranged in tight clusters covering the stems like a blanket of pure, white snow.

I was quite surprised by Saguaro and Jojoba at the trailhead, where the microclimate supports these classic Sonoran Desert inhabitants. Each has supplied food and so much more to people from a wide variety of cultures for thousands of generations. Monkey Flower is another surprise since it favors wet sights. Unique among the Waterleaf Family in Arizona is the shrub Yerba Santa. All others are herbs. The halting beauty of Scarlet Bugler is alarming like the notice to evacuate as fire approaches. The Century Plant waits for the right conditions, after so many years, blooms then dies. It gives its all in one final effort to leave a legacy. Finally, Sugar Sumac rises again from the ashes, refusing to give up or be forgotten.

May we, take to heart, the message we find on this trail to appreciate life and live to the full, on the trail or off. Like a book, the land bears a message, if we might only read it and heed it. See you on the Trail and in the Library.

Ted Johnson is a columnist for The Daily Courier. Reach him by email at sportsdesk@prescottaz.com.