Views from the Groom Creek Loop
include panoramas of the lush
landscapes of Prescott National Forest.
© Christine Keith
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Groom Creek LoopLocated a stone's throw from Prescott, the highlight of this hike is the panorama at its summit.
By Maryal Miller
Resting peacefully within the Prescott National Forest, long after its gold-mining heyday, Groom Creek seems content to remain a quiet place in the woods — not a canyon on a list of the world's Seven Natural Wonders. Besides, it has plenty of panache of its own, including the surrounding Bradshaw Mountains (one of the most mineralized ranges in the world) and the popular Groom Creek Loop, a tranquil 8.7-mile circle on Spruce Mountain that comes with an eighth-wonder-worthy panorama at its summit. And there's plenty to see before you get there.
Beyond the summit, this trek is teeming with trees, including ponderosa pines (severely thinned due to a bark beetle epidemic in 2002 and 2003), cottonwoods, oaks, junipers and, yes, some spruce. The mountain gets its name, however, from the firs that are found at the higher elevations. The trees were mistaken for spruce more than a century ago.
Once you've come to terms with that forestry foible, head off in a clockwise direction from the trailhead. Along the way you'll pass through the upper Wolf Creek drainage and encounter two massive granite boulders before the trail treats you to a rare vista where the canopy untangles, revealing an awe-inspiring view of Mount Union to the south. Savor the moment, because until you reach the mountain's citadel, you'll seldom breach the forest's cover. Of course, if you venture out on a drizzly day, that overhead protection comes in handy.
Minutes later, on your left, you'll pass two robust alligator junipers (distinguished by their scale-like bark) that are big enough to hide Pooh and his entire band of woodland cronies. Speaking of creatures, you might see a horned toad or a cone-nosed kissing bug on the trail. They're curious little creatures — cute in a Quasimodo sort of way.
After about an hour of hiking, the trail steepens significantly for a good 30 minutes. Endure. And keep your eyes peeled for the remains of an old abandoned mining cabin. It's easy to overlook this little piece of tangible history. Trust us. Several switchbacks later, you'll spot the Spruce Mountain Lookout Tower, which marks the completion of an impressive 1,300-foot climb.
A clearing with picnic tables makes this an ideal site to refuel and revel in the accomplishment. To the left of the tables is the tower. Erected in 1936, and manned from May to October, it's open to the public when the ranger is around. Inside, check out the old-school Osborne Fire Finder and, if he happens to be on duty, introduce yourself to Space, the resident watchdog.
If you skip the tower, you'll miss one of the highlights of the hike. By climbing the ladder, you'll fully experience the crisp air, the vacant whisper of the wind sifting through the open windows, and the ethereal views of hilly Prescott Valley, Mingus and Granite mountains, and the San Francisco Peaks to the north.
From the picnic tables, it's a peaceful 5.7-mile descent to the trailhead. Although the eighth-wonder panorama will be behind you, the scenery ahead is abundantly scenic, especially if you appreciate the peaceful nature of trees. Spruce not included.
Trail Guideclick to expand
Length: 8.7-mile loop
Elevation: 6,400 to 7,693 feet
Directions: From Prescott, take Gurley Street east to Mount Vernon Avenue (Senator Highway, Forest Road 52). Turn south and drive approximately 6.4 miles to the trailhead, which is on the left side of the road.
USGS Map: Groom Creek
Information: Bradshaw Ranger District, 928-443-8000 or www.fs.fed.us/r3/prescott
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