Let’s face it: it gets pretty darn hot in Wickenburg during the summer. If you want to do anything outdoors when the temperatures top 100°, you’ll have to do it up in the mountains where it’s cooler.
That’s what we were thinking when we decided to go horseback riding. We pulled out our copy of Horse Trails of Arizona and looked for possibilities. Granite Mountain, just outside of Prescott, was our choice. We knew the park from short hikes we’d taken there and the descriptions of the horse trails made it irresistible. So we hooked up the horse trailer, loaded up the horses and saddles, and headed out, meeting Janet along the way.
The drive is easy and scenic. Take 93 north, then bear right at the Congress Cutoff to get on 89. Drive through Congress, then up Yarnell Hill. With a loaded horse trailer, the ride up the hill is slow; we turned the air conditioning off to give the engine a break. (We didn’t turn it back on until the trip home; above 4000 feet, it wasn’t necessary that morning.)
Continue along 89 through Yarnell and Peeples Valley, past high-dollar horse ranches and some of the prettiest high desert scenery around. At Kirkland Junction, make a left on route 96 to follow the signs to Kirkland. The road winds four miles through open range before ending at a stop sign in Kirkland. (At this point, you’ve come about 45 miles from Wickenburg.) Make a right. Follow this road through small canyons along Kirkland Creek and through Skull Valley, then along high ridges climbing toward Prescott. When you enter Prescott National Forest, the Bradshaw Mountains will be on your right. You’re now on Iron Springs Road.
After a while, you’ll begin to see homes on the outskirts of Prescott. The turnoff to Granite Mountain is on the left and is well marked with a brown sign. If you reach a traffic light (Williamson Valley Road), you went too far.
At Granite Mountain
We went to Granite Mountain for horseback riding, but it’s not just for equestrians. In fact, that’s probably one of the least used parts of the part.
Granite Mountain Park features a small lake (see photo), camping, hiking, and biking. All trails are extremely well marked and maps at many trail heads make it easy to plan out a hike or ride.
Throughout the park, it’s easy to see where the park got its name. Granite Mountain is a huge outcropping of gray granite. The area is studded with granite rocks and boulders, along with high desert evergreen trees. Granite is everywhere and forms a dramatic backdrop for whatever activity you had planned.
We made our trip to Granite Mountain on Memorial Day weekend. The weather was perfect — clear and at least 20° cooler than down in Wickenburg. We fully expected the park to be crowded, but to our surprise, it was nearly empty. We were the only car/trailer combo in the Cayuse Equestrian Area, where we parked to saddle up and ride out. We saw some mountain bikers as we started our ride and met up with only one biker during our ride.
Our ride made a 5-mile loop on the northeast side of the park. We left the parking area on the Willow Connector Trail (346), then turned right on the Willow Trail (347). The first trail climbed up a hill, the second continued along the side of the mountain, offering great views of Granite Mountain and the rest of the park. We turned right again on the Chimbley Water Trail (348), then followed that right into the Mint Wash Connector Trail (352). Somewhere along that trail, we stopped for lunch, tying up the horses in the shade. We dug into the “All American” sandwich we’d bought that morning at Safeway — nothing beats it for a quick, ho-hassle pack lunch and it fed all three of us with some left to spare.
After lunch, we noticed that Mike’s horse, Jake, had lost a shoe. (That was surprising; it’s usually my horse, Cherokee, that loses his shoes.) Mike had an EasyBoot with him and put it on. We continued our ride along the Mint Wash Connector Trail (352) to the Mint Wash Trail (345). The turnoff is hard to spot; it’s in a wash and the only indication that a turn is required is a log across where you think the trail should be. The trail starts off very narrow and, for a while, you’re not sure if you’re following the right trail. But then it widens up a bit as it climbs up the other side of the wash. After crossing the wash again (where some stagnant water tempted the horses), the trail ends at the lake.
By this time, Jake had lost his EasyBoot three times and Mike preferred to follow the road back to the parking area. We followed a hiking trail to where it intersected with the road and the West Lake Trail (351). Mike took the road back while Janet and I followed the trail, which wound close to the road at times. We beat Mike back by about three minutes. Jake hadn’t lost his EasyBoot again.
(Next time out, we plan to explore the Balancing Rock Trail (349) and Surprise Springs Trail (350) on the other side of the park’s main road.)
The Trip Home
We unsaddled and watered the horses. There’s a water trough at the parking area, but my horse was afraid of it — he gets that way sometimes — so we stuck with the water bucket Janet had brought along. I collected a few pine cones for my fireplace while the horses cooled down. Then we loaded up and headed out.
We followed the same route back because it’s the best road from Prescott when you’re towing something. But you may prefer a trip into Prescott and then a ride back to Kirkland Junction via the twisty White Spar Road. From there, it’s the same route back to Wickenburg.
Distance: About 120 miles round trip.
Time: About 4 Hours, including time for a short hike or picnic.
Features: High desert, mountains, views, cool mountain air, trails, excellent equestrian staging area.
Driving Conditions: Paved roads all the way.
Equipment: Bring water, a picnic lunch, good hiking shoes (or a horse), and your camera.