Mount Union • Highpoint: Yavapai County
• Range Highpoint: Bradshaw Mountains

Dates Climbed
1. October 9, 1999
2. January 11, 2003
3. September 12, 2008

Elevation
7,979 feet

Distance
1 mile round trip

Time
1 hour

Gain
380 feet

Conditions
Cool and brisk in 1999,
cold and frosty in 2003,
Warm and stormy in 2008

Prominence
2,939 feet

Click on the thumbnail to see a full-size version


Bumble Bee Building
 

Cleator, a "near" ghost town
 

Crown King General Store
 

Beth, with Mt. Union in the background (The distant peaks, the one on the right)
 

Beth at the summit tower
 

The summit tower amid snow
 

My old truck at the tower base on my 1999 visit

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The County Highpoints of Arizona

My new book on the county highpoints of Arizona! Retails at $11.95. Click on the link or the cover image for ordering information.


The Bradshaw Mountains are famous in Arizona's history, for it was one of the first places to be settled and mined by American settlers in the 1840s and 1850s. The little town of Prescott grew quickly and became the territory's first important big city. Today the sprawling range is an easy reach from Prescott, but much of the range is still undeveloped, and although lots of roads cross the range, a lot of it is surprisingly remote and difficult to access, giving the place an aura of timelessness and solitude.

Numerous ghost towns and townsites can be found in the Bradshaws. Some are just sites, nothing to see, while others are still functioning. Crown King is the best known of the old towns, while Cleator is a fascinating relic, still populated and a real time-warp of a place. Seeking the Yavapai County highpoint is fairly simple, as it's close to Prescott. When I journeyed here in October 1999, I was just a brand-new county highpointer, not entirely sure if this hobby was really what I wanted to be doing.

First Visit, October 1999: I decided on a whim to get out of Phoenix for a day and head up to the Prescott National Forest and the Bradshaw Mountains for some backroads exploration in my truck. Fall had arrived in a hurry and the day was breezy and brisk, but beautifully clear. Mt. Union is the highpoint of the Bradshaws, but it can be reached by road. Hence, I decided to go "hiking with my truck". I left my home in Chandler around 8:30 a.m. and went north on Interstate-17 to Cordes Junction. Then, it was west on AZ-89 for about 30 miles, or most of the way toward Prescott (I actually crossed the city limits, but the city itself was still about 5 miles distant).

From the highway I turned onto Walker Road, which is a nice paved route leading into the Bradshaws, passing some lakes and campsites along the way. After a while the pavement ended and turned to dirt. I followed the signs to Walker townsite and then to Potato Patch, merging onto the Senator Highway, which is a dirt backcountry byway that starts in Prescott and heads south as far as Crown King. The Senator Highway was a bit better graded than Walker Road, and I followed this for about 2 miles until I came to the Mt. Union junction.

The last mile or so along this road spur was rough, so I put my truck into 4wd and made my way to the very top of Mt. Union, arriving around 11 a.m. It was very breezy and quite cool (maybe 45 degrees). The top is flat and features a couple of small buildings, a lookout and some power lines. After a few minutes, I turned around and headed out. I ended up taking the Senator Highway all the way into Prescott, where it turns into Mt. Vernon Road and meets up with AZ-89 (Gurley Rd) just east of the historic downtown. I spent a couple of hours in town, having lunch at the Palace hotel, and walking around the downtown area. The weather was gorgeous, and a number of bikers were in town as well (When I had my bike, I made a trip to Prescott, too). I returned home via Yarnell, Congress, Wickenburg and the Sun Cities.

Comments on the routes: Four wheel drive is not necessary on the approach roads, but it's nice to have on the Mt. Union spur road. A high clearance 2wd could make that spur fine. A low clearance passenger car would probably not. At worst, that would create about a mile round-trip hike should you need to park early. The Groom Creek topo is vital just to negotiate the roads, which go every-which-way and have spurs, turnoffs and loops galore.

Second visit, January 2003, with Beth Cousland: With a weekend free and the weather in Arizona its usual spectacular self, I decided to introduce my girlfriend Beth to the wonderful world of highpointing with a trip to the highpoint of Yavapai County, Mt. Union, not far from Prescott.

This would be my second trip to Mt Union. I visited this highpoint back in 1999 coming in from the north via the towns of Walker and Potato Patch, and driving my truck all the way to the lookout complex atop the peak. This time, however, Beth and I decided to make this a real interesting full day and we came up from the south via the fascinating old ghost towns of Bumble Bee, Cleator and Crown King, and over 50 miles of dirt road.

Mt Union is the highpoint of the Bradshaw Mountains, which take up a large chunk of land south and east of Prescott, north of Phoenix and west of the Interstate-17 corridor. The Bradshaws are known for mining, and it is the mines (literally thousands of them, named and unnamed, working and defunct) that begat a series of boom towns that evolved into ghost towns that still stand today, some in remarkable shape. For the hiking enthusiast, Mt Union, in my opinion, isn't really an attractive hiker's mountain. It is too far set back from civilization to see it, and it is surrounded by numerous peaks in the 7,000-7,800 ft range so that Mt Union itself hardly stands out, even when it's visible. On the other hand, the Bradshaws are laced with miles of good dirt forest roads, thus making a drive to near the top (or the top itself) a relatively easy event. With that in mind, we did not view this trip as a long day hike but instead as a chance to explore the back roads and the ghost towns.

We left my home in Chandler about 9:30 am and exited I-17 at Bumble Bee - Crown King Road (Exit 248), about an hour's drive. From here the road quickly becomes dirt, although it is well-graded and very wide. The first ghost town we came to was Bumble Bee, 5 miles from the interstate. Bumble Bee today conists of a cafe and gift shop, and about 5 or 6 bungalows built in the 1930s; most of the original buildings from the early 1900s having been burnt down or carted off. We stopped in the cafe and chatted with a man named Virgil, representing half of Bumble Bee's full-time population. A few other folks live there seasonally, and there's a large ranch spread about a half-mile south. For those who have driven I-17 and stopped at the Sunset Point overlook/rest stop, Bumble Bee is easily visible in the valley below.

Nine miles up the road, Cleator appears suddenly as one crests the road near some hills. Unlike Bumble Bee, most of the buildings in Cleator are original and laid out haphazardly, more typical of these towns that were hewn into hillsides. According to our book, Cleator features about a dozen full-timers and an occasionally open bar/shop. We saw a few trucks parked there and noted that we missed "Cleator Days", which was December 7th, including a parade and a chili cook-off. We'll be sure to be there next year! Now, I'll admit: most ghost towns I have visited tend to be a let down: most of the bulldings are gone and/or the town has been redeveloped in a mawkish touristy manner. Cleator, however, seems genuinely authentic. It is privately owned, which probably helps, and it is fascinating to consider that it is located within an hour's drive of Phoenix and yet seems literally right out of 1900.

Continuing out of Cleator, we followed the Crown King Road now generally southerly. The road itself is the old railroad bed of "Murphy's Impossible Railroad", which was built to haul ore out of Crown King's mines. One look at the mountainous terrain justify's the name of the railroad. To put it in, long stretches had to be blasted into the rock, and to account for the low grades required by railroad cars, long switchbacks snake up the mountainsides at a very lenient grade by automobile standards. The views are magnificent! Finally, twelve miles south of Cleator and almost 26 since the interstate, we crossed a short bit of road hewn through a cliff and then into Crown King, which sits at nearly 6,000 feet elevation amid tall pines, a sudden change in flora from the more desert scape of the drive in. Including our stops, this drive took a little over an hour. We stopped in at the general store and toured "Main Street", featuring a restaurant, a saloon, a church and a FS fire station. About 100 people live in Crown King full time. There are some mines still working in the area, but most people live there for the remote solitude and cool weather. About another 300 people live there seasonally, and weekend crowds from Phoenix are common, especially in summer. The road is well-graded and passable by passenger vehicle, except in the worst of weather.

After about a half-hour, we set out again. Most people who drive to Crown King apparently leave the way they came in. Our intent, instead, was to drive the Senator Highway to Prescott. Leaving Crown King, we drove about 2 more miles to the townsite of Bradshaw City, which has no significant remains today, for a picnic lunch. During our time there we saw one Jeep and about four or five quadrunners pass us. The road is no longer an old railroad bed, but now a more typical forest road: narrow, steep, occasionally rutted and rocky. The sign said 38 miles to Prescott, and the guidebook said to allow three hours.

The Senator Highway is today just a long, interesting forest road (FR-52). In its hey-day, it was a stage-coach route from Prescott to Crown King and on into Phoenix, back when Prescott was the territorial capital and Phoenix was a hot, lonely oupost in the desert. Signs are intermittent along this road, but appear just often enough to reassure one that they are not lost! Traveling this road isn't difficult. The signs and guidebooks insist that a high-clearance vehicle is mandatory, but for most of the 38 miles into Prescott, the road is reasonably level and reasonably smooth. However, there are areas of ruts, rocks and steep grades, plus some creek crossings, thus warranting the high-clearance suggestion. I did not need any 4-wheel drive. Periodically we'd come to an unsigned junction, always staying straight and following what appeared to be the road most traveled.

There were moments when I wondered if I'd made a bad decision, but then a sign later on down the road would reassure me I had not. Traveling was slow; even on the occasional smooth straight stretch I'd be lucky to get up to 15 mph. This was fine by us: we were happy to take it slow and take in the sights! Oncoming traffic was rare: we could see them well in advance and I'd say we saw about 7 vehicles the whole way in, most just outside of Prescott. We made one stop to hike up an unnamed hill for some nice views, including Mt Union, still way off to our north.

After nearly 2 hours on this road, in which time we had covered no more than 25 miles, we came upon Palace Station, which was a stage stop along the Senator Highway, and today consists of one preserved building and some interpretive signs and walking areas. Just north of this spot was a hand-made sign mentioning "Snow, 4wd" in orange spray paint upon a wooden palette. A few days earlier a storm had moved through Arizona and though most of the snow had melted and we had seen very little of it on our drive in, we were coming upon some areas shaded from the sun where snow might still be in place. Well, there was. I used 4wd in some short stretches but previous vehicles had already worn paths through the standing snow. My concern was ice, as the sun was now mostly low in the sky and the temps getting quite cool.

In any case, we finally came upon the Mt. Union Road junction and drove as far up as we could before coming to a locked gate about a half-mile from the summit. There was still much snow on this short stretch of road, and it was obvious very few people had driven this in the previous days. We parked and hiked in, achieving the summit after about 20 minutes in cold, brisk but beautiful and clear weather. After some photos at the summit, we headed back down and drove the remaining road out to Prescott, arriving as darkness fell. We ate at the St. Michael's Hotel Restaurant on Whiskey Row. After a night at a Super-8, we headed back to Phoenix.

To attain Mt Union from the south via our route we had driven 54 miles of dirt road: the first 26 via the Bumble Bee-Crown King Road, and the next 28 via the much narrower Senator Highway. Including stops it had taken us nearly 5 hours to get to the base of Mt. Union. In all we drove nearly 61 miles on dirt before finally hitting pavement just outside of Prescott. The road to Crown King from I-17 is quite interesting and I'd do it again any time. However, I think the drive along the Senator Highway is a once-in-a-lifetime thing for me, although I wouldn't mind going back to that area and exploring some other side roads.

Third Visit, September 2008: I came back for another whirl with Union as part of the National Highpointers 2008 convention being held in Flagstaff. I was to lead this little excursion for the benefit of the visitors. I did not actually attend the convention, but instead drove up from Chandler that morning and met everyone at the Walker Road intersection with Highway AZ-69, following the same route I went back in 1999.

We met at 10 sharp, a total of five visitors and me. Dan Baxter, Scott Cockerell and Ken Russell came in one car, and two brothers whose names excape me at this moment in another; we convoyed in three vehicles to the highpoint following the roads through Walker and Potato Patch to the Senator Highway, then from there up FR-261 to the gate. The walk up went quickly amid some threatening thunderheads. We took our photos and stuck around a few minutes, the entire hike maybe covering an hour.

Back down, we went out the Senator Highway into Prescott, where we all split ways. I went home via the neat AZ-89 drop down the Weaver Mountains into Congress and via Wickenburg. It was a fun day trip, and neat to revisit this highpoint after 5 years.

(c) 2006 Scott Surgent. For entertainment purposes only. This report is not meant to replace maps, compass, gps and other common sense hiking/navigation items. Neither I nor the webhost can be held responsible for unfortunate situations that may arise based on these trip reports. Conditions (physical and legal) change over time! Some of these hikes are major mountaineering or backpacking endeavors that require skill, proper gear, proper fitness and general experience.