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5:16 AM Tue, Nov. 20th

Johnson: Hiking to the Top of Yavapai County: Mt. Union, elevation 7,979 feet

HIking Arizona

It’s not that easy to hike above 7,000 feet in elevation within Yavapai County. The highest point in the county is the obvious choice for hiking higher to stay cooler without spending a lot of time on the road. There is a lookout at the summit and, if open, it offers a 360-degree view that can’t be beat.

The trailhead, near Potato Patch just beyond Walker, is not that easy to find and parking is quite limited. Take Walker Road 10.5 miles south to Poacher’s Road. Turn left (east), driving past a few homes/cabins another 0.3 of a mile to the end of the line, where you will find Trail 285. Take this trail, quite rocky in places, mostly east/southeast about 2 miles, gaining 1,000 feet in elevation along the way.

There are a few unofficial trail junctions, but if you stay the course on the route that appears the most heavily traveled, you should be fine. After a little more than a mile, you’ll gain a ridge and meet Trail 284. Turn right (south) and you’ll soon see the lookout tower. The views open up along this ridge, mostly to the east. Occasionally, I have found surface water off Trail 285. But on my last hike here a few weeks ago, all was dry.

Fortunately there is a lot of shade, and a few interesting wildflowers may be found beneath the thick forest canopy. Arizona Honeysuckle and Canadian Violets are among my favorites, not to mention Snowberry. Names like that foster feeling cool and refreshed. Additionally, there are a few other curiosities that you may notice.

A mysterious cave is off to the left as you ascend Trail 285. I don’t always notice it, as I am not necessarily looking for it. Though I may hike the same route, I do not always see the same things. I decided to take a closer look one day and approached the mouth of the cave anticipating a bear crouching inside. I saw no bear that day, but I did see a pool of water just inside the opening. I did not explore further, so I don’t know how deep this cave is.

More than likely you will notice the sign advising hikers of an official mining claim. I am not sure what kind of mining activity takes place here, as I have never seen anyone mining, nor have I observed any evidence of mining.

However, I have seen a small circle of rocks on the right side of Trail 285, something like an altar or large sundial. It looks like it has been there a while but I have not seen any evidence of recent changes, such as rocks being added or removed. No bones. No blood. No evidence of fire. Just a bit odd.

Finally, keep an eye out for swarms of ladybugs near the summit. They often congregate near the higher summits across Arizona in the summer.

Reminder: Don’t forget that a group hike for New Horizons Disability Empowerment Center is this Saturday, July 14. It’s free and easy. You don’t have to be affiliated with New Horizons. You just need to be able to hike for about an hour as part of a group, enjoying the pine forest and views of Goldwater Lake. We meet at the Prescott Valley Public Library, 7401 E. Civic Circle, at 9 a.m. to get acquainted and oriented.

Next: Hiking above 8,000 feet in elevation.

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