Granite Mountain Hotshots Memorial Park

May 06, 2022

By Rhett Atkinson

A trip to the Granite Mountain Hotshots Memorial Park is an emotional experience. This overview shows where the brave firefighters made their final stand.

On a beautiful Thursday in mid-April the Mustang Division of the Sedona Westerners Hiking Club met behind the outlets in the Village of Oak Creek in preparation for their hike at Granite Mountain Hotshots Memorial State Park. Even though the hike’s date had been planned months in advance, it was a timely reminder of the ravages wildfires can cause with the two recent fires in the area.

The Club rules and Covid protocols were reviewed, and we jumped into their cars to drive to the park which is just south of Yarnell, Arizona on Highway 89. 

The park is 95 miles and over two hours away.  Carpooling was essential as the park has only 10 parking spaces.  Also essential is not missing the entrance to the park as this is just past the division of Highway 89 where the road splits into two separate north and south roadways.  

This is a spectacular highway and a real engineering feat as it cuts into the mountain and is surrounded by exquisite high desert scenery.  Just getting there is part of the adventure as Highway 89 west of Prescott is full of dangerous mountain curves with plenty of drop-offs as well as very reduced speed limits even in some places being not faster than 15 miles per hour.  The porta-potties at the park entrance are essential as they are the only restrooms on the 7.1 mile 4.5 hour hike.

Granite Mountain Hotshots Memorial State Park was opened to the public in November 2016.  It is Arizona's first memorial state park and its purpose is to honor the 19 Hotshots who gave their lives in a horrific fire on June 30, 2013.  The Hotshots are elite wilderness fire fighters whose job is to protect our forests, wildlife and habitats, as well as human life and property.  These firefighters are usually young, between 20 and 40 years of age, and are in incredible shape so they are prepared to do their difficult and dangerous job.

The memorial has a larger than life bronze statue of a Hotshot in the parking lot right at the trail's start.  As one goes up the trail, every 600 feet a beautiful steel plaque is set into the granite rocks honoring a fallen Hotshot.  These plaques were placed according to the firefighters' rank and tool order.  A story of each Hotshot as well as a family message is emblazoned on their plaque.  Personal mementos are often placed near these plaques.  

These 19 plaques continue for 2.5 miles and 1400’ up to the observation deck where interpretive signs of the history of the fire as well as firefighting techniques are displayed.  There is also a tribute wall here where stickers, patches, shirts and other mementos are placed to honor the sacrifices of these Granite Mountain Hotshots who died doing their job protecting the Yarnell community.  

From the observation deck, the fatality site can be easily seen.  It is some 400 vertical feet below and another one mile of trail walking.  The fatality site is where the Hotshots made their last stand.  Quoting from the park brochure and website, “Encircling the (fatality) site are 19 gabions, one for each Hotshot, united by chains representing their eternal bond.  Inside,19 steel markers show the position where each Hotshot was found."  Appropriately, a nearby American flag flies at half mast.  This is a truly a beautiful, serene, spiritual and moving place, and a remarkable memorial. 

After paying our respects, we took a well-deserved rest, ate our lunch, and returned to our cars, hiking the remaining 3.6 miles over an essentially granite trail which was very well built and maintained.  The Mustangs headed home via the fastest route which required 2.5 hours and 120 miles of driving through Wickenburg, capping a long but rewarding day.

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