Originally Published: March 18, 2018 6:03 a.m.
My last Amazing Place column was about the Granite Mountain Hotshots and the Yarnell Memorial Park. Today’s contribution is also about the Hotshots but describes the giant juniper that they saved on the slopes of Granite Mountain – just 10 days before 19 of them perished in Yarnell on June 30, 2013.
Where is this amazing tree, and how did they save it? To find out how to hike to this tree, you will have to contact me via the Courier’s senior editor, Tim Wiederaenders (firstname.lastname@example.org).
The Doce fire was started at around 11 a.m. June 8, 2013, by a careless target shooter at Doce Pit, which is south of Iron Springs Road about 8 miles northwest of town. The wind soon blew this fire into a major conflagration, threatening the Iron Springs community and even Prescott, if it wasn’t controlled. Scores of firefighters, including the Hotshots, were scrambled into action to fight this fire. Fortunately for homeowners, the fire burned in the direction of Granite Mountain and its encompassing wilderness.
That afternoon, the Hotshots were tasked to protect the giant juniper. They hiked to this magnificent tree and cleared the ground around it, including back burns to remove any surrounding vegetation. They then had to leave to perform other firefighting tasks. The next morning they went back to check on the tree and found it standing, surrounded by a scorched landscape. That’s when various famous photos of them were taken, in a pyramid formation, against the trunk of the tree. My first photo (2009) shows the tree and where those famous photos were taken.
My second photo was taken in 2014 from a different angle, and shows the tree still in pretty good condition after the Doce fire. In the foreground you can see dead brush, burned by the Hotshots a year earlier. The Environmental Studies professor at Prescott College, Doug Hulmes, estimates this juniper could be as old as 1,800 years. The tree is 53 feet tall, 31 feet in circumference, and has a 77-foot crown spread.
A Courier article from 2015 shows photos (search for “giant juniper, Courier 2015”). Here’s a summary of that article, but you can read it in full online. It mentions Hulmes and his 2014 encounter at the tree with Brendan McDonough, the surviving Hotshot. Hulmes was leading a group of Norwegian students and two Prescott College students to record the tree’s measurements – in his effort to nominate the tree as an Arizona Heritage Tree. McDonough told them this was the first time he had returned to the tree since the Hotshots helped to save it. When the Hotshots returned the next morning to check on the tree, they found it singed with a flame burning on one of its massive branches. A couple of the Hotshots climbed out on the branch, extinguished the fire (with water from their water bottles) and dug out the burning embers with their hands.
My second photo shows the brown of some burned leaves, probably from that incident. When I compared this photo with one I had from 2009, it already showed some dead branches on that side of the tree – not surprising considering its age. The second photo also shows the memorial plaque on the left, which tells the story of the Hotshots and the juniper. This plaque includes the Hotshots motto “Esse quam videri,” which means: “To be, rather than to seem (to be).”
This giant juniper is definitely worth visiting – the hike is about 1.5 miles each way.
Nigel Reynolds was born in England and has lived in Arizona for almost 40 years, and in Prescott for over 20 years. “Exploring is in my blood,” he says. To see my articles online with the photos in color, visit dCourier.com and enter my name in the search-bar at top right.