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Oaks & Willows Day Hike
June 21, 2014
by Jim Buyens
 by Bill Zimmermann 

I found this hike in a book titled Arizona Highways Hiking Guide by Robert Stieve, who called it “the best hike you’ve never heard of.” Well, he’s right. I’d never heard of it and apparently the Arizona Trailblazers had never hiked it either. It seemed nice on paper, too, and so I scheduled it (you can also find Stieve’s description on-line on the Arizona Highways Web site).

The trail is located about forty miles northwest of Prescott, with most of that on a gravel road. I decided a pre-hike was in order, and so Dave F., Anikó M., and I took a spin up there on May 10 to get the lay of the land and look around. Everything went fine and so I scheduled the full hike.

The Oaks and Willows trail runs about 6 miles up and then down Juniper Mesa, with a high point about 1200 feet above the trailhead. However, the Bull Spring trail also connects to the trailhead at the start and to the Oaks and Willows trail on top of the Mesa. Being a loop junkie, I decided to use the first half of the Oaks and Willows trail and the Bull Spring as a loop, and to consider the second half of the Oaks and Willows an in and out spur.

Jim, Gary, Bill, Emily, Linda, Tammy, Karen, Barbara, Monika, Molly, Michael, and Arturo ready to go.

Twelve trailblazers signed up, and we made it to the trailhead and got started by about a quarter to ten. Then came the strange part. I, the hike leader, got lost but everybody else stayed on trail.

Barbera, Molly, Karen, Emily, and Bill tackle an easy stretch near the beginning. [photo by Bill]

It was all the fault of a pebble. Shortly after we started hiking, every step created a pain in the back of my ankle, as if I had a pebble in that spot. So I stopped, pulled off my boot, and found nothing. I rubbed the back of my ankle too, and felt nothing. So I figured my sock had gotten bunched up, put on my boot, and resumed hiking.

After about three steps the pain was still there. So this time I peeled off my sock as well and sure enough, the pebble was inside. So I got rid of it, booted up, and resumed hiking in comfort.

Except that by then the entire group had passed me by.

When they asked via radio if they should wait for me, I said no.

And then, trying to work up some speed, meanwhile keeping my head down to watch the trail, I missed a turn. It was a “T” intersection. To stay on the Oaks and Willows trail you had to turn left, and I blissfully went straight through.

Since Arizona abounds with rocks, it also abounds in interesting rock formations. [photo by Barbara]
Emily, Karen, Arturo, Linda, and Monika reassemble at the wilderness entrance. [photo by Barbara]

The group noticed an Entering Juniper Mesa Wilderness sign and stopped to wait. Then I encountered an Entering Juniper Mesa Wilderness sign as well, except that no one was there! Then it became clear. I’d taken the Bull Spring trail by mistake and was hiking the loop backwards.

At that point the main group and I had each completed a quarter of the loop. There seemed no point to my hiking down to the intersection I’d missed and then back up to the wilderness sign where the other were waiting when we were destined to meet at the top of the loop anyway. So they continued up the Willows and Oaks and I continued up the Bull Spring and sure enough, at the top Stanley met Livingston.

There are several lessons here:

  1. Don’t let yourself get out of sight and be the last hiker in the group. If you need to stop, ask someone to stay with you.
  2. The entire group should stop and reassemble at each intersection. This greatly reduces the chances of a wrong turn, and even if the group does take a wrong turn, at least they’ll all be together.
  3. Don’t forget the radios. Sometimes people don’t like carrying them, but when signals or paths get switched, communication is invaluable.
  4. If something goes wrong, don't panic. Stop, think, review all the facts, and then take the safest course of action.


Ah, the trail is getting steeper now! [photo by Barbara]
Emily, Karen, Linda, Molly, Karen, and Bill compare notes after the initial climb.
That's Gary and Monika catching up. [photo by Barbara]
 An area near the junction of the Oaks and Willows and the Bull Spring trails.[photo by Barbara]
We don't often get nice clouds like this in Arizona. And no, it didn't rain. [photo by Barbara]

Of course, once we got all back together we split up again. Karen and Emily were tired and decided to wait at the Oaks and Willows / Bull Spring junction. The rest of us headed down the out-and-back spur until it was time for lunch, and then four went back and five went on.

Tammy was among those who went back because Karen and Emily are her daughters and she didn’t want to leave them alone too long. Those three had come in their own car, and so they took the descent by themselves and left when they got to the trailhead. Arturo, Monika, Michael, and Gary waited at the Oaks and Willows / Bull Spring junction while Molly, Linda, Bill, Barbara, and I continued down the spur.

Bill, Molly, Linda, and Barbara hike down the backstretch of the Oaks and Willows trail.trail.
Everybody's smiling because it's all downhill/

The spur portion of the hike was pleasant and shady, but a little boring as well. It had obviously once been a road and despite being rocky was very evenly pitched.

A pleasant opening on the backstretch of the Oaks and Willows trail. [photo by Barbara]
I suppose this barrier was to catch water
rushing down the wash. [photo by Barbara]

At the end we continued on a few hundred yards past the end of the trail, where Bill predicted we’d find a spring. In fact, though, what we found was a rancid water trough infested with flies. But at least there were some nice butterflies around too.

This spring-fed corral trough was our turnaround point.
We didn't see any animals, just fouled water, flies, and some butterflies. 
A butterfly spotted near the corral trough.ear the corral trough.
I believe it's a California Sister, adelpha bredowii
Bill,Barbera, Jim, Linda, and Molly stall
before hiking back up the Oaks and Willows backstretch. [photo by Bill]

The hike back up the spur, the meeting at the top, and the descent downward were blissfully uneventful. The trailhead never looked so good. (But isn’t every hike like that?)

Cactus in bloom atop the Juniper Mesa. [photo by Bill]

After the hike we headed into Prescott for some dinner. My first recommendation was a Spanish restaurant called El Gato Azul but they were already filled with reservations. The next restaurant down Godwin Street was the Firehouse Kitchen where we received good food and excellent service.

Everybody got home safely but in Tammy’s case that involved some extra grief. With two miles to go before reaching the paved highway, their car got two flat tires! Tammy had to call five towing companies before she found one that would go out there! I’m sure she got out OK, though, because we didn’t see her when the main group passed the same point.

The high temperature during our hike turned out to be 88 degrees, which is obviously a bit warm. I’d hoped for more of a break from the shade and altitude. But it was still a great hike and I’d do it again, although more in the spring or fall.

Jim's Statistics
Total Distance:11.2 mi       Jim
Moving Time:4:38
Stopped Time:2:01
Avg. Speed Moving:2.4 mph
Avg. Speed Overall:1.7 mph
Starting Elevation:5928 ft
Maximum Elevation:7076 ft
Total Ascent:2183 ft
Starting Time:9:44 AM
Finishing Time:4:23 PM
Starting Temperature:81°
Finishing Temperature:88°
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Arizona Trailblazers Hiking Club, Phoenix, Arizona
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updated July 5, 2014