Yarnell, AZ: Granite Mountain Hotshots Memorial State Park Hike

Near the top of our always-growing “Hiking Bucket List,” the Granite Mountain Hotshots State Park memorializes 19 brave firefighters who gave their lives fighting Arizona’s Yarnell Hill Fire on June 30, 2013.

The Memorial Park is located approximately 70 miles north of Phoenix in the Weaver Mountains, in a mountainous outcropping of granite boulders and wide-open spaces.

Views in every direction!  And the world’s most comfortable rock recliner.

This State Park exists to support exactly one hiking trail, the “Hotshots Trail.”  It’s hard to think of very many parks with only one trail, or that “tell a story” the entire length of the trail.

We’d already cried lots of tears watching the 2017 Hollywood movie “Only The Brave” the night before, but it was still one of the most emotional experiences we’ve had in a long time.  Very sad, but also very inspirational.

Every 600 feet along the trail, each Hotshot has his own granite plaque, with the words of their family members paying tribute to the men they were.  

Most were only in their early 20’s, many with young children or babies on the way.

Interpretive signage along the path gives interesting information about the history of wild land firefighting and the events of the 2013 Yarnell Fire.

A 2.85-mi. (one way) trail banks steeply upward at a 5-8% grade for the length of the Hotshots Trail, with 1,200 foot elevation gain to the Observation Deck at the top, which looks out over Yarnell and the fatality site.

A beautiful Tribute Wall is located here, with patches and mementos, primarily being left by other squadrons of first responders who have come to pay their respects.  All the colors look like flowers and we found this to be one of the most moving parts of the hike.

The 0.75-mi. Journey Trail switchback (see it on the left in the below picture?) leads sharply downward from the Observation Deck 400 feet below, to where the Granite Mountain Hotshots made their final stand.

In the distance beyond the fatality site memorial, the open patch of land is the Boulder Springs Ranch, to which the Hotshots were headed to gain a better position to re-engage the fire that was coming through the canyon.   

Once in the canyon, however, they could not see the fire nor know that the rapidly advancing fire has increased in speed and intensity, as well as changing direction.  Within minutes, they were trapped and perished in the area now outlined by the circular memorial in the foreground. 

Only one Hotshot of the group was not killed, because he was the “lookout,” after being recently bitten by a rattlesnake and not able to make the treacherous journey.  His story is a main focus of the movie, and it is hard to even think of how he must have felt to lose 19 brothers all at once.

The 19 gabions that make up the memorial, one for each fallen brother, are forever united with unbreakable chains.  They will remain together as the team which made their last stand together.

Inside the memorial ring are the cross markers of the fallen, which are positioned in the exact locations and directions in which the men were found.

Tributary offerings of all types have been left behind.  One has to wonder the meaning of many of them, which clearly have personal significance.

The trail is generally in full sun at all times and very steep; however, it’s hard to complain or feel sorry for yourself when you consider that these men climbed these mountains every single day, with 50 pounds of gear on top for good measure. 

If you do this hike, be sure to bring plenty of water in any season, and plan at least 4 hours for the entire experience.  In mid-April of a wet year, the blooming wildflowers were an added bonus.

 Perched on the side of a one-way road, parking is extremely limited, and don’t even think about parking an RV here …”ain’t gonna happen.”  On certain seasonal weekends, however, a shuttle runs from a church parking lot in Yarnell.  Here is the entire parking lot, only about 12 slots.

Yup …. we were “doggone tired” by the end of this adventure, but it was extremely meaningful.

Many groups make this hike, from students to first responder squads and more.  This group was a Civilian Conservation Corps who came to learn about the area and do some work on the trail.

The Hotshots motto … one to which we should all aspire.

“To Be, Rather Than To Seem To Be.”

Our hearts and minds were full of emotion and gratitude to these brave men.

Watch the movie “Only The Brave” and plan to visit this Memorial.  You will come away with a vast appreciation for the risks that wild land firefighters take every day, especially now as wildfires are ever-more-present in the West.  It was an experience never to be forgotten!

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