Pine Mountain: Sky island with a bird's-eye view

Pine Mountain is home to an abundant array of wildlife, including the curious, adorable and always-looking for-a-free-meal, ringtail cat.

Pine Mountain is home to an abundant array of wildlife, including the curious, adorable and always-looking for-a-free-meal, ringtail cat.

Although Pine Mountain Wilderness Area is not visible from many parts of the valley, it has a view of the Verde River that is unsurpassed.

Created in 1972 from the former Pine Mountain Primitive Area, the pine-covered island in the sky is the oldest designated wilderness area bordering the river, with the exception of Sycamore Canyon.

At 6,814 feet, Pine Mountain is the highest point on the Verde rim, the western ridgeline that divides the Verde River watershed from the Agua Fria River watershed. Pine Mountain is also the southeast terminus of the Black Hills.

The view from the top extends from the San Francisco Peaks on the north to the Superstition Mountains on the south, and from the Mazatzal Mountains on the east to the Bradshaw Mountains on the west.

It also qualifies as one of the most isolated wilderness areas in the state, a fact that has remained true since the rugged landscape served as a hideout for the Yavapai and Apache.

At the wilderness area's southern boundary is Turret Peak, a geologic feature that played a major role during the central Arizona Indian wars of the 1870s.

On March 11, 1873, Indians killed three whites in the area north and west of Pine Mountain. A pursuit of the perpetrators proved fruitless until scouts led the soldiers to Turret Peak.

During the night of March 27, soldiers led by Capt. George Randall scaled the steep sides of Turret Peak and struck the Indian camp at dawn. Caught by surprise, two dozen Indians were killed.

Two weeks later, bands of Yavapai and Apache under the leadership of Cha-lipan (aka "Charlie Pan"), began surrendering at Fort Verde, effectively ending the hostilities that had permeated the area since the arrival of the whites 10 years earlier.

A year later, Turret Peak was also the alleged location where Indian scouts betrayed the notorious warrior, Tel Che'e (aka Delshay). He was killed and his head taken to Fort Verde where a $50 bounty was paid by Gen. George Crook.

Turret Peak is not accessible from the primary trail network within the wilderness area.

However, trails do pass through the 4,000-acre ponderosa pine forest covering the mountain. The forest, which has never been logged, has many old growth trees.

The wilderness is also bisected by the Verde Rim trail, which crosses north-south and extends into Cedar Bench Wilderness Area to the north.

And just because it is isolated does not mean it is unused. In fact, Pine Mountain, because it has been around for so long, is a favorite of many backpackers and day hikers.

Pine Mountain is also home to a phenomenon that many visitors to the Verde Rim have commented on -- the annual invasion of ladybugs.

During the spring, high points along the rim can become blanketed with lady bugs -- to such an extent is difficult to find a place to sit.

The wilderness area is best accessed from Interstate 17 (exit 268) to the Dugas Road (Forest Road 68), then via FR68G to the Nelson Trail. It is approximately 4 miles from the springs at Nelson Place to the peak.

Trail maps are available from the Prescott, Tonto and Coconino National Forest.

There is also detailed information on the individual trails available on the Internet and through several good trail guides.

For ways to get involved in the stewardship of existing and potential new wilderness areas, through volunteering, service projects, and special events, contact the Arizona Wilderness Coalition, www.azwild.org, or their Prescott office (928) 717-6076.

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