Yarnell, where the Granite Mountain Hotshots made their stand

The greeting introduces Yarnell visitors as they arrive on Highway 89.
The greeting introduces Yarnell visitors as they arrive on Highway 89.(Town of Yarnell)
Published: Jun. 22, 2022 at 6:06 PM MST
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YARNELL, AZ (3TV/CBS5) - One summer day back in 2013, the story of Yarnell changed forever. The sign welcoming visitors to the small community introduces Yarnell as the place where desert breeze meets the mountain air. It was such a breeze that brought tragedy on that June day, forever entwining Yarnell to the tragic story of 19 Granite Mountain Hotshot crewmen who died battling a wildfire sparked by lightning. The Yarnell Hill fire turned into the deadliest wildfire in Arizona’s history. The memory of brave firefighters is only part of the story of Yarnell. The community began, like so many of Arizona’s town sites, with the search for minerals in the rugged terrain.

Famed mountain man Pauline Weaver led a group of explorers up Hassayampa River in 1863. They were looking for gold. As the group journeyed along Antelope Creek, a burro took off from the pack and ran up a nearby hill. Tasked to find it, one of the men followed the animal to the top of the hill. While tracking the beast, he tripped over a loose pile of gold nuggets “as big as potatoes.” That hill became known as Rich Hill. Gold was also found at nearby Antelope Hill. Weaver claimed the gold was so plentiful that you could spot it on top of the ground and pop it out of the earth with a knife. It was said that one acre of that pay dirt gave up almost half a million in gold.

Soon, the first settlements sprang up. The towns of Weaver, Stanton, and Octave grew around the base of Rich Hill as prospecting drew those who sought their fortune. They thrived for a while, but now are dusty memories of Arizona’s past, popular with ghost town buffs. The entire area is owned under claim and monitored against mineral trespass.

It was 1865 when Charles Genung found gold in the area that would become Yarnell. Ten years later, in 1873, prospector Harrison Yarnell developed his namesake mine near Antelope Creek. The community that grew up around the mine became known as Yarnell. It survived the years through ranching, mining, and tourism.

Approaching Yarnell from the south, the traveler winds up U.S. 89, 1,300 feet in 4 miles. The route is a popular road trip destination. Paved in 1933, for years it was the main thoroughfare between Phoenix and points north of Prescott. The lookout point at the top is a good place to take in the view of the vast desert below.

A point of interest is The Shrine of Saint Joseph of the Mountains. Constructed in 1939 by the Catholic Action League of Arizona, the shrine offers visitors a peaceful natural setting for life-sized replicas of depictions of religious scenes set along a nature trail.

The Granite Mountain Hotshots Memorial State Park, dedicated in 2016, is a place to remember the 19 Granite Mountain Hotshot Firefighters who were lost on June 30, 2013. A path leads from a parking area on U.S. 89 up to an observation deck. A trail follows the last steps of the Hotshots down to the fatality site where they made their final stand.