I’ll never see the numerical symbol 19 the same way again. When I stepped out of my 4Runner onto the Granite Mountain Hotshots Memorial parking lot tucked into the steep granite slopes of the Wheeler Mountains, the number 19 caught my eye.
The number, in a stencil-style type, was emblazoned on a metal bench at the Hotshots Trailhead. Nineteen men died near this spot on the twisty Arizona highway outside of Yarnell, Arizona. I was making a pilgrimage to the relatively new Granite Mountain Hotshots Memorial State Park to pay my respects and hear each firefighter’s story.
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Granite Mountain Hotshots Memorial State Park
A Flagstaff friend warned me to arrive early because of limited parking and to bring lots of water since the seven-mile hike was strenuous and open to the relentless sun. Along the way, I’d heard, 19 displays would tell the story of each of the heroes.
8 Years Ago
On Sunday, June 30, 2013, with a bit of setting sun still in the sky, I drove past the Pinewood Golf Course towards the Pinewood Fire Department. I was coming home from an evening event at my church in Flagstaff, and as the wide driveway to the fire station came into view, I could see a group of firefighters speaking animatedly to each other. I recognized one, so I pulled over.
“What’s up?” I asked after getting out of my vehicle.
“We just got word,” said my normally-composed friend, chopping his words. “Word that 19 hotshots are dead. Dead in the Yarnell Fire.”
I took a step backward, my thoughts scrambling, trying to understand.
“Are you sure?” I asked.
We’d been watching reports on the Yarnell Hill Fire on Inciweb. I felt a special connection to those fighting wildfires after working on clean-up crews after the Rodeo-Chediski Fire of 2002 and reporting on the 2010 Schultz Fire. In 1994, I was dating a hotshot from Colorado when the South Canyon Fire took the lives of 14 firefighters on Storm King Mountain outside of Glenwood Springs, Colo. This couldn’t happen again? Could it? Those memories were spinning in my head, and I have to admit, I don’t recall much more of the conversation.
Granite Mountain Hotshots Memorial State Park is a place designed to reflect, morn and learn about the 19 young men who died fighting the Yarnell Hill Fire on June 30, 2013. You’ll also learn a bit about the sole survivor and family members of the fallen as you walk the 2.8-mile Hotshots Trail to an observation deck.
The hotshots: Andrew Ashcraft, Robert Caldwell, Travis Carter, Dustin DeFord, Christopher MacKenzie, Eric Marsh, Brendan McDonough – Surviving member, Grant McKee, Sean Misner, Scott Norris, Wade Parker, John Percin Jr., Anthony Rose, Jesse Steed, Joe Thurston, Travis Turbyfill, William Warneke, Clayton Whitted, Kevin Woyjeck and Garret Zuppiger.
Every tenth of a mile is a memorial plaque to one of the hotshots along the Hotshots Trail. Once you get to the observation deck, you can view the Fatality Site in a box canyon four hundred feet below. Next, the 0.75-mile Journey Trail takes you down to the Fatality Site.
19 Markers on the Hotshots Trail
Every tenth of a mile is a memorial marker to one of the hotshots. Planners designed the park to help you become immersed in the journey by learning about each individual as you walk. I truly felt as if I were on sacred ground as the path wove between hunks of granite naturally lifted on end. The lithics stood as monuments like headstones in a cemetery. The rocky trail climbed higher still, and the lonesome whistle of a train locomotive wafted up from the desert valley below. Sad cries of the women who lost their men seemed to echo in the train’s shrill wail.
19 Families Left Behind
On the 19 panels strung along the Hotshots Trail, photos and short commemorative passages talk about each man’s life and family. Some left behind children, wives, fiancées, girlfriends, beloved dogs and horses. All left behind families and friends. I prayed for those left behind–they’re all survivors, and I can’t start to know all that they feel even today, almost eight years later. But I could lift them in prayer as I walked the path.
At the observation deck, you can place stickers, patches or other mementos to honor the 19. You can see the box canyon below where the firefighters made their last stand. I walked the steep switchbacks of the Journey Trail down to the Fatality Site. If you go, please don’t cut the switchbacks, as your footprints will start erosion that continues for years.
19 Crosses at Granite Mountain Hotshots Memorial
Nineteen crosses mark where each man died fighting the deadliest blaze for firefighters since 9/11 at the Fatality Site. A chain symbolically connects 19 gabions that encircle the crosses.
I recommend that you make your own pilgrimage to Granite Mountain Hotshots Memorial State Park—you’ll never see the number 19 the same way again.
When You Go
Stay at Springhill Suites by Marriot Prescott
Hotshots Memorial Wall in Prescott | July 13, 2013
As is common in the travel industry, UNSTOPPABLE Stacey was provided with accommodations for the purpose of review. While it has not influenced this review, the Arizona travel writer believes in full disclosure of all potential conflicts of interest.
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