Originally Published: January 8, 2018 6:05 a.m.
Length: 2.74 miles
Difficulty: Moderate, with stretches of steep, rocky climbs
Prominent features: Quickest way into the Granite Dells; unobstructed views of Glassford Hill and the San Francisco Peaks
Why it’s great right now: A relocated and newly paved trailhead makes the Highway 89 trail even easier to get to
It’s already the go-to trail for Prescott residents wanting to show off the area’s beauty to visiting family and friends.
Now, a newly paved trailhead is making the City of Prescott’s Constellation Trails even more useable.
On a recent sunny Friday morning, Prescott Valley resident Lynne Schreiber was taking advantage of the new trailhead, guiding her friends Fritzi Jeffrey from Prescott Valley and Heide Gerhardt from California on their first visit to the trail.
“It’s my sentimental favorite,” Schreiber said, noting that the Constellation was the first trail she visited when she moved to the area about three years ago.
“I always bring visitors here,” Schreiber said. “It’s so well-marked, and you get to see such a variety of scenery.”
Plenty of others apparently have similar feelings about the Constellation Trail; about 46,000 people visited the trail in 2016.
‘Great example’ OF open space
Public use of the land dates back to 2008, when the city used open space sales tax money to buy 80 acres of prime Dells property from the Harold James Family Trust.
About three years later, work was underway on a network of trails, which now snake through the rocky terrain, leading hikers with a series of white dots.
“It’s a great example of use of an open space parcel,” Recreation Services Director Joe Baynes said of the nearly three miles of trails. “We’re real proud of it.”
That is showing in the ongoing improvements to the area.
Earlier this year, the city began a Highway 89 widening project, which includes a new roundabout near the Phippen Museum, as well as a new 40-space paved trailhead across the highway.
Previously, trail users had to park across Highway 89 at the museum and walk or ride through a low box culvert to get to the trail.
Despite the ongoing construction work on the roundabout, word is getting out in the community about the new trailhead. By noon on Friday, Jan. 5, about 20 vehicles were parked in the lot.
And the improvements won’t stop with the parking lot. Baynes said his department plans to propose a new restroom at the trailhead in next year’s budget. Noting that the restroom likely would get use from not just trail users but from highway travelers as well, Baynes estimates the cost at about $125,000 to $150,000.
Along with the views, users of the Constellation Trail also experience a poignant piece of Prescott’s aviation history.
The land is the site of a February 1959 crash of a Military Air Transport Service C-121G airplane that was carrying five U.S. Navy airmen, all of whom died in the crash.
During construction of the trails, then-15-year-old Boy Scout Cody Walker learned about the crash from a Daily Courier article, and decided to take on the development of a memorial as his Eagle Scout project.
A plaque and shady seating area now memorialize the fallen airmen at the entrance to the trail.
Prescott Trails and Natural Parklands Coordinator Chris Hosking, who oversaw the trail construction as well as the naming of the area as the Constellation Trail (after the Lockheed Constellation airplane), said the memorial offers users a peaceful spot to rest and learn about the tragedy.
That is just one of the unique features of the Constellation Trail, which Hosking noted is among the community’s easiest access routes into the scenic Granite Dells.
“The trail is very easy to get to, and you can get into the Dells very quickly,” Hosking said.
Once on the trail, users have a choice from among a number of spur and loop trails. Numerous maps are available along the way to guide users to the top, where massive spires of granite frame views of the distant San Francisco Peaks, Bill Williams Mountain, and Glassford Hill.
As a testament to the ease of the trail, Baynes noted that he regularly sees a range of users on the Constellation. “I like the diversity of use,” he said. “I’ve seen everyone from parents carrying babies to 90-year-olds.”
The diversity was apparent on Friday, when a young mom with a toddler, a couple with a group of children, and several people walking their dogs, were out on the trail.
Gus Yetter of Prescott was among them, stopping to take in the Dells views with his red and white Irish setter Guinness. Noting that he works on the nearby Highway 89 widening project, Yetter said he regularly takes advantage of the proximity of the scenic trail for his lunch-time walks.
The trailhead is located at 5761 Highway 89, Prescott. Because of the ongoing work on the adjacent roundabout, city officials say drivers can most easily get to the new trailhead from the north.
More information on the Constellation Trails is available on the city’s website at: http://www.prescott-az.gov/services/parks/trails/?id=60