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Mon, May 20

Amazing Places: Giant Cottonwood worth a visit

The largest Fremont Cottonwood in America. (Nigel Reynolds/Courtesy)

The largest Fremont Cottonwood in America. (Nigel Reynolds/Courtesy)

Unlike a fortnight ago, today’s Amazing Place is easy for everyone to get to. No hiking, no dirt roads, just a 20-mile drive from Prescott to Skull Valley. You can see and enjoy it without even getting out of your car! However, it’s worth a little exercise to get close and personal with this Amazing Thing. I’m talking about a tree – the largest Fremont Cottonwood in America!

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The trunk of the huge cottonwood. (Donna Reynolds/Courtesy)

The first photo shows this huge tree at the beginning of February, with no leaves yet. There’s another type of Cottonwood in the west — the Narrow Leaf — but the Fremont is much more common. There’s also an Eastern Cottonwood on the other side of the country. The Fremont has a roughly triangular leaf. The Narrow Leaf is well named, with a leaf like a willow.

How can I claim this Cottonwood is the largest? Just what does that mean? Well, the American Forests organization (AmericanForests.org) says so. It has defined a formula to measure a tree of any species. Here’s how: trunk circumference (inches) — measured at 4.5 feet above the ground — plus height (feet) plus one-quarter average crown spread (feet) equals total points.

For the Skull Valley Cottonwood, the figures are: circumference 560 inches, height 102 feet, crown spread 160.6 feet, for total points of 702.

The second photo shows the girth of this amazing tree. At almost 47 feet around, it would require eight adults, touching fingertips, to reach around it. There are some large Cottonwoods at the SE corner of McCormick and Willis streets in Prescott — close to Granite Creek. Cottonwoods require a lot of water to thrive.

To reach this amazing tree, go west on Iron Springs Road (YC 10) for 20 miles to Skull Valley. Turn left immediately after crossing the RR and drive north, alongside the RR, for 0.6 miles to 2505 Peavine. A dirt driveway goes off to the right. The magnificent tree is on the NE corner of Peavine Road and the driveway.

When I went there, I was fortunate to meet the owners, Bob and Pat Pearson. They are a delightful couple, both in their 80s. It happened to be her birthday — she stays in good shape by tap dancing. Bob is also in good shape, and keeps active with the local historical group.

He told me the tree was planted in 1917 by Harry Hollingshead, who planted three other trees to mark the corners of the 2-acre parcel. The other trees are still living but not huge. This tree is beginning to die, so visit it soon. One bough is held up by a post so it doesn’t sag and block the driveway.

Over 100 years ago, the original “homesteaders” needed to fence their property. They used cottonwood for fence posts, and found that many of these posts grew into trees if the ground was wet. There’s a beautiful avenue “planted” this way — look west a couple of miles south of Skull Valley.

Cottonwoods are part of the poplar family. They grow fast but don’t have long life spans, about 130 years maximum. Their wood is not highly valued. The Fremont Cottonwood was named after John Fremont, a famous explorer of the West in the 1840s. He became governor of Arizona in 1878 — a house on the Sharlot Hall Museum grounds bears his name. The Hopi use Cottonwood roots to carve Kachina dolls.

This is one of the few Amazing Places that was new to me. Tim Wiederaenders knew it was in Skull Valley but wasn’t sure where. Tom Thomas, who shares his time between Phoenix and Prescott, knew the exact location — he hid a geocache there. Thank you both.

Nigel Reynolds was born in England and has lived in Arizona for 40 years, and in Prescott for over 20 years. “Exploring is in my blood,” he says. To see todays or previous articles with the photos in color, go online to “dcourier.com” and enter “Amazing Places” in the search-bar at top right — you’ll need to be a subscriber.

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