Tuesday, April 3, 2018

Yarnell Hill

Here's a 1:55 video recorded 03APR18 showing a portion of old US 89 on Yarnell Hill:
Memories of driving Yarnell Hill are burned forever into the minds of motorists and passengers who braved that nefarious five-mile defile back in the days of old US 89.  Ask anyone who experienced Yarnell Hill when it was a white knuckle two-lane adventure and the stories will come pouring forth.

The names are lost of whoever decided to run a road straight up a cliff-faced, boulder-strewn monster of a mountainside.  We know that construction of Yarnell Hill's famous cousin, The White Spar Highway, factored heavily into the Arizona State Highway Department's decision to tackle an almost impossible engineering challenge.  The Yarnell Hill stretch of the  Prescott-Phoenix highway itself was chiseled and shoe-horned onto the rugged slopes alongside aptly named Fool's Gulch in 1925.
Note that Elephant Curve is an actual place name on this older USGS topo map.
 State engineers somehow managed to sidewind 40 curves and create a road from the desert flats to the crest of Yarnell Hill while maintaining a steady six percent grade.  The road gained (or dropped) 1,290 feet in the steepest four mile stretch.

Today's Yarnell Hill highway is a tame kitten compared to the wildcat it once was.  Northbound (climbing) travelers have a wide two lane boulevard that winds gently amid the stark, rock-studded scenery.  Meanwhile, what was once perhaps the most feared hill in Central Arizona has become the southbound (descending) lane.

Even though downhill drivers no longer have to fear hard-charging uphill traffic rip snorting 'round the tight curves, it's still somewhat of a daunting dive down off Yarnell Hill.  Better make sure your brakes are in tip top shape!

One of old Arizona US 89's finest remaining highway artifacts is located on the southbound lane of the mountainside.  It's the Yarnell Hill Overlook and it looks virtually unchanged from when it  was constructed sometime in the 1920's.

 The above old photo shows The Yarnell Hill overlook sometime before November 1933. That's when the C.C. Small "Father of Arizona Highways" Memorial Plaque was placed at the overlook.  Below is how the overlook appeared on April 3, 2018.
C.C. Small's Memorial plaque stood alone on Yarnell Hill until recently.  That's when an Arizona State Park Memorial was created a half mile away to honor The Arizona 19, The Granite Mountain Hot Shots who perished nearby on June 30, 2013.

Here's C.C. Small's July 1925 discussion of how the Prescott-Phoenix Highway route was chosen:

We plan to post numerous photos of our April 3,2018 drive down and up Yarnell Hill soon.