The Bradshaw Mountains offer a cool retreat from Wickenburg’s summertime temperatures. On July 4 , 1999, we decided to take the Jeep exploring a place where air conditioning is not required equipment.
With no particular destination in mind, we left Wickenburg, going north on 93. We turned off at 89, passed through Congress, and climbed Yarnell Hill. In Yarnell, the air conditioning went off and the windows came down. Amazing what a 2500-foot climb can do!
We wound through Peeple’s Valley, headed for Kirkland Junction. Just short of the turnoff for Kirkland, we made a right onto Wagoner Road. The pavement ends there, but the road is well graded for quite a while. Pavement starts again for a few miles, then ends abruptly with more well-maintained dirt road.
Somewhere near Walnut Grove, we crossed the Hassayampa River on a steel bridge. The river, a tiny stream below us, could be reached by making a sharp left right after the bridge. We drove down to the river’s edge and drove through it, then parked and looked around. It was a nice, shady spot which appeared to make a good campsite, although we’re not sure whether it was on private property. (Please do check before camping there!) We climbed back into the Jeep and continued our trip.
If you know anything about Wickenburg history, you should know that Walnut Grove was the site of the Walnut Grove dam across the Hassayampa. The dam, which was poorly constructed, broke soon after it was built in the mid 1800’s, killing several dozen workers, most of which were Chinese. Because these people were not Anglo, they were not buried in one of Wickenburg’s cemeteries; instead, they were buried on land donated by the Garcia family. The Garcia Cemetery is located on the edge of Wickenburg, on the west side of 93.
We saw no sign of the dam during our ride — probably because we really didn’t know where to look for it. I understand, however, that some remains are still visible. Perhaps we’ll find them on another visit.
We continued on Wagoner Road, now moving mostly south through the area between the Weaver and Bradshaw Mountains. According to our GPS, elevation varied from 3000+ to 4000+ feet. Somewhere around Wagoner, road maintenance ended abruptly. We continued on surfaces that ranged from very good to extremely bumpy. Many portions of the road ran through washes; obviously not a good place to be during a storm.
We climbed into the Bradshaws and were rewarded with more cool air, pine forests, and views. At one point, we could even see Wickenburg to the west. Our GPS told us it was 32 miles away.
The road condition improved and signs pointed the way to Tower Mountain and Crown King. We’d glimpsed the mountain full of communication towers during our ride and decided to pay them a closer visit. We followed the winding road about 5 miles, climbing hills and following ridges. At last, we were rewarded with the lookout that became our destination.
At Tower Mountain Lookout
Tower Mountain Lookout is a fire tower at the top of Tower Mountain. The mountain is 7628 feet tall and gets its name from a wide range of telecommunications towers along its peak and ridges. There are towers for almost every kind of communications, from radio and television to cellular phone.
The tower is open to visitors when occupied by the fire ranger. We climbed up and were welcomed by a man in his 40s, who looked comfortable and relaxed at his post over a mile above sea level. He was surrounded by the tools of his trade: maps, annotated photographs, computer, binoculars, and a device he can use to pinpoint the location of smoke anywhere within sight. His guitar was there, too — I think we interrupted his ode to the forest around him.
With windows on all sides, the views from the tower were magnificent. Although it was hazy, we could easily pick out Wickenburg to the west and Lake Pleasant to the southeast. Prescott was hidden from view by mountains. Phoenix, we were told, was sometimes visible, but that day, there was too much haze.
View to the West. Wickenburg is 1/3 down in the center of the photo.
View to the South East. Lake Pleasant is 1/2 down on the left of the photo.
The tower can only accommodate four people and other visitors arrived, so we descended to give them a chance to visit with the ranger. We walked around the mountaintop for a while. Prickly pear cacti were blooming — a full month after they bloomed down in Wickenburg. The air was fresh with the smell of pine. It was cool and a steady breeze blew in — welcome relief from the heat down in the valley!
On our way back to the car, another visitor to the mountain asked us if we wanted to see a lot of ladybugs. Curious, we followed her. A log cabin not far from the base of the fire tower appeared to be home for hundreds, if not thousands, of the insects. I’d never seen so many in my life. I wished I had a safe and easy way to take some of them home to feast on the pests in my vegetable garden.
We left the mountain a while later, following the ranger’s directions to Crown King. This tiny town, nestled in the mountains, is full of ATVs, dirt bikes, and tourists from Phoenix. A General Store offers all kinds of things, including cold beverages, soft-serve ice cream, and tee shirts. Two restaurants serve food and alcoholic beverages. The place is very picturesque and makes a nice stop.
The Trip Home
Following the signs to Phoenix, we left Crown King. The unpaved road we were on wound down through the mountains, past blooming agaves and prickly pears. Saguaro cacti began appearing just when we were warm enough to close the windows and turn on the air conditioning.
We drove through the settlements of Cleator and Bumble Bee, passing the evidence of long-abandoned mines along the way. Finally, the pavement started up and we followed it to I-17 southbound.
We took I-17 to Carefree Highway (74) and followed that past Lake Pleasant to Grand Avenue/Phoenix Highway (60). Then just 10 more miles to Wickenburg.
Note: You can also reach Tower Mountain Lookout and Crown King by taking Senator Highway from Prescott. Follow the signs to Groom Creek, then pick up Senator Highway and keep going. Don’t let the word “highway” fool you — this road is also unpaved and a bad choice during rainy weather.
Distance: About 150 miles round trip.
Time: About 6 Hours
Features: High desert, mountains, views
Driving Conditions: High clearance vehicle recommended; 4WD not necessary in dry conditions.
Equipment: Bring water, a picnic lunch, and your camera.
Caution: Do not attempt this trip when rain is expected.