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San Rafael Ranch State Natural Area State Park, Patagonia, AZ

Louise Speaks:  While on our recent trip to Patagonia we were able to visit another State Park.  San Rafael Ranch State Park is more of a nature area than a usable park.  This area is a unique area with rolling hills, native grasses, and oak and cottonwood trees.  This beautiful valley is the headwaters of the Santa Cruz River, which flows into Mexico then turns north back into the United States and eventually joins the Gila River.  The  area and native grass prairie are home to many species of plants and animals.  One of the endangered plants, Huachuca Water Umbel grows in the river area.  The area is also home to mule deer, javalina, antelope, bobcats, cougar, coyote and many birds unique to the prairie, and we did see many of these animals…after all it is Arizona.

There are plans to make the park more usable but I feel they need to make it more accessible.  Let me explain.  Since it’s not a usable park, finding it is a challenge.  Since it has been our project to visit all the State Parks in Arizona, we had to find this park so we could at least take a picture of the sign to prove that we were there.  With no idea where the park or natural area is located I called the park ranger.

Allen the ranger I spoke with said there really is no park, it is an area.  I asked, “where is the park sign…I need a picture”…lol.  He said, “there is a sign at the main intersection of the San Rafael Valley”.  I asked, “where is the house that is shown on your website”.  He said, “the house is not open and that is the proposed location for a visitor center”.  I asked, “can we at least see the house”.  He said, “yes, from the road, it’s huge, you can’t miss it”.  I asked, “can  you give me directions to the sign and to the house”, and he did…step by step.

So while on our RV trip to Patagonia, our friends who tow a car agreed to take us on this adventure.  I had the direction and they had a GPS so off we went.  Turn by turn along we went…then we hit the dirt road.  A well maintained dirt road, but very VERY dusty.  We drove on this dirt road, following the directions and the GPS for almost an hour.  Finally we reached the sign at the junction.  I took my picture.  According to my directions the house was a mile up the road on the right.  We drove over 5 miles and still no house.  There was a water truck along the road so we stopped and asked where is the big house.  The water guy said oh you must mean the one up the road by the green gate.  He said the gate was locked but we can see it from the road.  So off we go

We eventually found the house, couldn’t really see it as it was

Picture from website

in the distance, but I could tell it was the same house as on the website.  The territorial style ranch house, was built in 1900, and is over 9,000 square feet. The landscape and house have been featured in many movies.

So mission accomplished.  However, now it was time to go back to camp.  Right at the green gate is a sign that said, if we continued going on the dirt road Nogales (Mexico) was just 8 miles up the road.  So we had a choice of going back the way we came…1 1/2 hours on that dirt road, or going thru Nogales and reaching the main highway to get back to Patagonia.  We opted to continue to Nogales.

The San Rafael State Park may have it’s good points.  Miles and Miles of meadows and cows and horses but 1 1/2 hours on a dirt road, a washboard road, with no signs  is a lot to expect from people to visit this proposed visitor center.   I’m not even sure what a natural area is suppose to offer us.  It was simply a valley with nothing of interest.  I can’t imagine anyone making this trip to visit a visitor Information Center…no matter what they include as their exhibits.  So for this area to become a tourist spot, they are going to have to find a better way for people to get there, like pave the road, have signage posted and have one hell of an exhibit in the visitor center.

So this makes 32 of 33 state parks completed.  We  are so grateful for this RV trip as it it helped us to complete our State park project.  However, I have no plans of ever coming to this area again.  There is nothing at all to see, and not even the journey to the park can be classified as a beautiful drive.  We did it, we can cross it off the list and that’s all I can say about this park.

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Granite Mountain Hotshots Memorial State Park, Yarnell, AZ

Louise Speaks:  The Granite Mountain Hotshots Memorial State Park, is only about 20 miles from our Prescott home.  It is the only memorial state park in the state.  We have driven by this park many times but never stopped.  This park has special meaning to both myself and Thelma as we knew the Hotshots.  Maybe not personally but we had met them several times as they would come by our classrooms to show the kids their equipment.  They would park there truck in the same parking lot where I parked when I taught.  In case you don’t know the history of the Hotshots, let me give you a brief background.

On June 30, 2013, nineteen of the 20 members of the Granite Mountain Hotshots, an elite crew trained to fight wilderness fires, died as they battled a fire outside of the town of Yarnell.  It all started like all the wildfires in this beautiful forest that surrounds this area.  In summary this is what happened up to the time of their death.

June 28, 2013:                                                                                                                                           A lightning strike in the Weaver Mountains at approximately 5:36 p.m. starts The Yarnell Hill Fire.

June 29, 2013:                                                                                                                                       The Granite Mountain Hotshots are assigned to work the fire.

June 30, 2013:                                                                                                                             Firefighters were forced to disengage from their position in Yarnell in front of a fast moving fire at 4:22 p.m.   At approximately the same time, the fire reached the eastern edge of the canyon that the Hotshots were crossing.  At 4:41 p.m., the final communication came from the Granite Mountain Hotshots indicating that they were in trouble.  At 6:35 p.m., Arizona DPS helicopter medics confirmed that all 19 Hotshots were deceased.  The Granite Mountain Hotshots Memorial State Park is dedicated to their sacrifice.

Now if you look at the AZ State Park website you will see that in order to see the fatal site of the Hotshots, it is a 7 mile round trip hike.  Piece of cake you say.  The hike is an increase of 1200 feet in elevation at an 8% incline.  This is not a loop, it is a one way in and the same way out.  Like I said earlier, we have passed this park many times but the thought of a 7 mile hike was just not in the plan…so why today?  That is a question I still cannot answer.

 

 

 

To get to the park, you must park your car at a nearby restaurant and take a shuttle to the park entrance.  There are 13 parking spots at the entrance but you must get there very early or very late to get one of those spots.

We were told the hike should take about 4 to 5 hours.  The reason for that timeline is because you are suppose to enjoy the scenery and think about the Hotshots and the sacrifice they made to save the town of Yarnell.  We had plenty of water and snacks and planned to take our time and stop to rest often…which we did.  Today is not a very hot day, but it is the hottest day of the year so far.  We are dressed appropriately except we probably should have worn something else besides tennis shoes.

Look at the width of the trail

We arrived at the park entrance, (see above) via the shuttle.  It was 9:30 by the time we read the signs and made a last trip to the restroom and were ready to begin our climb.  And it truly is a climb.  There are over 200 steps, some a foot high, made out of slippery granite stones and boulders.  The trail itself is only 2 feet wide in some places, and sits on the edge of a high cliff.

 

 

 

About every 600 feet is a huge boulder with a plaque giving a history of the 19 Hotshots. The plaque has a photo of the  Hotshot and gives more personal information about their life and interests.  Some of the plaques have been decorated with personal affects by the families.  The plaques were very interesting to read and it gave you a reason or excuse to rest.

See the other hikers on the switch back trail

The trail literally goes over the mountain…which means

Look Closely. Can you see the switch backs?

you are climbing a mountain.  They made the trail with many MANY switchbacks to make the climb easier…or so they say.  There are 4 benches on the trail before you reach the observation deck.  We took advantage of the benches and every bit of shade we could find.  I must have looked pretty bad, because every person that passed me, told be to turn around and go back, that I had done enough to pay my respects to the hotshots.  But since this was my idea and I am not a quitter I kept walking and climbing.  After 3 1/2 hours we were sitting at the observation deck having our lunch.

Observation Deck

That’s a mile hike down…so we viewed  from above.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

A zoomed in shot

From the observation deck you are able to see the circle below.  We zoomed in for a closer look.

 

 

 

 

 

The circle consists of 19 steel gabion baskets that circle the Fatality Site.  The baskets were arranged in a circle around the memorial markers to protect and preserve the area for future visitors. Each gabion basket was filled with rocks from the surrounding area.  The Arizona State Parks staff installed chains to connect each gabion basket, a symbol of the connection and teamwork of the Hotshots.

Now from the observation deck to the fatality site is a mile hike down and another mile hike up.  Due to our condition and the time factor, we decided not to walk down to the ring, which is something I regret but am thankful I didn’t do.  The photos above have been borrowed from those that made the hike all the way to the bottom.  There is a ranch just on the other side of the fatality site so one day I may find that ranch and see if we can be driven to the circle…something else for the bucket list.

At the observation deck there is also a Tribute Wall which people, mostly firefighters from all over the country, make this hike to show their respect.  Just up from the Tribute Wall is a trail to a rock which is where the Hotshots had their last lunch before heading down the mountain to fight the wildfire that took their lives.  There is a photo taken by one of the hotshots from this site and it is the last photo taken by the Hotshots.

 

 

 

See the trail in the distance…that’s what we had to look forward to.

So now its 1:30 and we begin our hike down the mountain.  It has gotten hotter, the sun is in full force and the rocks and gravel are very slippery.  Thelma is worried we are going to miss the last shuttle which comes at 4:30 and we would not have a way to get to our car.  So she thinks it’s a race and heads down the mountain.  Me I am not worried about the shuttle,

I keep looking for people on the trail and I see no one ahead.

See that tan upside down V?  That is the trail.

because as long as I see people going up, I know they have to come down and we can get a ride to the car.  So I’m inching down the mountain…step by step and Thelma is nowhere to be seen.  It is a very slow walk down, and I realize my phone is at 3%.  I shut it off in case I need to make that last call.  I know I am not going to call for help because we were told that a helicopter rescue is $22,000.00 and that is the only way to get you out…so I keep walking and stopping.  There are no mile markers so your only indication of how much further is to count the plaques and look at the map to see where you are.

You still had to climb steps going down.

Every person that passes me stops to ask if I’m okay, if I need

See the trail in the distance…that’s what we had to look forward to.

water and if I’m with someone.  I answer yes I’m okay, yes I have water and my friend is ahead, probably to the car by now.  So they go on and I begin to walk again.  Thank God I had a walking stick to help with the down climb.  I slipped and fell once, but no blood.  I took the fall as a reason to stay down and rest.  I did manage to get up and continue walking.  About two hours after leaving the observation deck and about 20 people asking if I needed help I finally accepted help from a couple who insisted they help me down the mountain.  At this point I wanted to just stay up there all night and head back down tomorrow.  This was no longer fun as I knew I wasn’t even half way down.

I MADE IT…thanks to Maria and Joe.

So Maria and Joe became my guardian angels and helped me down the

See the road to the far right? See the trail next to it? That is the parking lot.

mountain.  They wet a bandana for me to wear around my neck, they made sure I drank at ever resting point and  they fed me snacks to keep up my energy.  Every time I stopped, which was very VERY often they stood in a way to block the sun and give me shade.  They held my hand when climbing down the steps and had me hang onto their shoulder when on the slippery gravel and on the cliffs edge.  When I leaned against a rock to rest, Joe would put his foot in front of mine to keep my feet from slipping…that’s how slippery the gravel was.

Finally 3 hours after reaching me, we could see the parking lot.  So what should have been a 4 or 5 hour hike, took me 9 1/2 hours…Thelma did it in 6 1/2 hours but had to worry about me the last 3 hours.

 

 

 

 

Thelma did make it in time for the last shuttle and I’ll let her tell you about her wait.

Thelma Speaks:  In reality,  I had to go to the bathroom and once this gal hears there are snakes, I am NOT and I repeat NOT using the nature bathroom!  So off I went to find the last shuttle and get the car.  Yes, there were people going up but what if they passed us and we were left alone on the mountain with the snakes?  So in a little over 2 hours I had gotten safely off the mountain on flat ground!   No small feat for this ole gal at an 8% grade. I then run to the bathroom and wait for the shuttle to get the car and hurry back to see if I could see Louise or if I needed to start back up the mountain.  The first part of the hike is the worst but I would do it after a quick ride to the car and back.

Well, that did not go too well!  First, the van driver started talking and remembered us riding to the park.  He ask where Louise was and I told him. “she’s still on the mountain.”   Everyone had told him there was no way those two old ladies should have done this hike and that we should have come down long ago.   Aahh…. that is defeat.  So I told him I wanted to get back and find her and get her off the mountain because a $22,000 helicopter ride was not part of the travel fund!  He was telling stories of people and their accidents and I had already told him I was worried about leaving her on the mountain because if she fell she could go over the edge!   He took me on a second ride in case Louise had gotten down so I wouldn’t have to drive back and forth.  Well still no Louise and I had sent messages with people going up because I knew her phone was at 3% when I left her.  Everyone coming off the mountain was reporting back to me  that they had seen her but she was a long ways away.  The San Diego fireman, 3 generations of them, who had just completed the hike, told me they  had tried to help but that there was a couple with her and they were not too far behind.   Ok….I waited and they waited and would not leave nor would the bus driver leave, as he knew how worried I was.  I said I thought I would just start back up the mountain to help her down.  Oh boy was that ever a big NO WAY!  If anyone went the firemen were going to go as they had training and I had already done one loop up and back and should drink and rest…. I guess pacing the parking  lot is not walking.   So we all waited until I saw three people and they waved so I thought silly me, that it was them.  Guess what?… it was not.  But I had convinced all those waiting with me  that Louise and her new friends would soon be in the parking lot.  They said from where those three people stood it should be about 30 minutes.  So off they went.  As those three people got closer, I realized it was not Louise.  So I sat and paced and read every sign a million times.  Each person coming off the mountain had another story to tell of the three coming down…20 steps and they stop and so it went on .   I had gotten down about 3:40 and now it is after 5.   Now it is starting to get dark and I have talked to everyone that had been on the mountain.  Finally there is a wave and I was relieved that this time it was Louise, but I knew the worst was coming at the end.  I did go sit down for a few minutes in the car and unwind.   A lot of the time was spent watching them slowly descend and finally they were on flat ground!!!!  This was the longest and most difficult day I have ever experienced.

The trail is taxing in  areas.  You need at least 4 large bottles of water, good shoes with tread, (not the tennis shoes we were wearing) snacks and a  good walking stick which our friends loaned us!  We would not have made it without the walking sticks!   You also need to be fine with nature and the snakes which I did not see but some others did along the trail.   Be sure to go when it is cool and early in the morning.  There was a breeze today which helped.

Louise Speaks Again:  Once down, next the the final steps, there is a black iron bell.  You are to ring the bell 19 times so the Hotshots can hear you. I rang the bell, thanking the Hotshots for giving me  the  strength to make it down the mountain.  Our van driver told us, that there is a man in Yarnell, that lost his home in the fire, and that once a week he comes to the site, and rings the bell 19 times, because even though he lost his home, the Hotshots saved his life.

A movie has been made about the Hotshots, called “Only the Brave”.  It was very moving for us to watch as it was made in our hometown, and like we said, we knew these men.  However, the movie should have been 8 minutes longer.  The movie leads you to believe that the Hotshots burned to death…they did not.  A fire wall stood still instead of moving over them, and they all died of suffocation…there just wasn’t enough air.  The fire wall was present for 4 to 10 minutes, far too long to hold your breath.  Had the fire moved over them like a normal wildfire, they would have all survived…God had a different plan.  One Hotshot survived as he was the look out for the day.   He did everything he should have done, and he did everything right…it just wasn’t his time.

The Hotshots final trip home was a solemn one.  19 Hearst, one by one driving the 100 miles down the freeway between Prescott and Phoenix.  The streets were lined with people, the over passes full of people, every fire truck was out lining the streets, every police car and motorcycle lined the streets, it was a day no one here will ever forget.

Now back to the hike and rating this state park.  The one good thing is I can say that at age 65 I made this brutal hike.  But if I’m asked, was it worth it?  The answer is NO.  If I’m asked was it fun?  The answer is NO.  If I’m asked will I do it again?  The answer is HELL NO!  So there are 33 state parks in Arizona.  If I had to rate them….this one is #33…never ever again.

 


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Dankworth Pond State Park, Safford, AZ

Louise Speaks:  As most of you know, we are trying to visit all the State Parks in Arizona.  Our list was almost complete, UNTIL Arizona decided to add new parks to the list in 2018.  At this rate we may never get this project complete.  At any rate, this park does not offer camping so it was just stop, look around, take pictures and we were on our way.

 

 

 

This new park is only 3 miles from Roper Lake State Park.  We’ve been to Roper Lake before, but that is where we are camping tonight after visiting Dankworth Pond State Park.  The park itself is very small but perfect for day outings.  There are ramadas, bbq grills, fishing and a playground.  The park has a fishing dock, and you can kayak or boat.  There is no boat launch available, so you  need a small trailer to get close to the waters edge to launch.  The Dos Arroys Trail and the replica Indian village are also nearby.

The pond and park are very small, but being that today is Sunday was very busy.  With Roper Lake being just 3 miles away, I don’t see any reason to stop here.  Roper Lake offers all that this park has and is much larger with dock and swimming beach.  So Dankworth Pond State Park, is not much to talk about, but we’ve been here so we can cross it off the list.