10/26/2009 7:43:00 AM Woodchute Wilderness Area:
Once laid bare, now home to bears
At 7,834 feet, Woodchute Mountain is the highest point in the Black Hills. It is also home to a healthy population of black bears. Marks of this year's fire are clear but new growth has already taken hold.
Woodchute Wilderness Area is easily accessible via State Route 89A and relatively easy to hike.
JEROME - Woodchute Wilderness Area is not your typical wilderness -- the serene and pristine sort of place that has remained untouched by the hand of man.
Around the turn of the last century, Woodchute Mountain looked like a war zone, completely denuded of the pine forest that once thrived on its shoulders. In fact it gets its name from the very instrument of its destruction.
Shortly after the mines in Jerome began developing in earnest, the mining companies began tapping the mountain above the town as a source of lumber, both to build residences and shore the tunnels below.
To deliver the trees from the mountaintop a flume, or in this case a wood chute, was built on the north side of the mountain to slide the trees down hill to a narrow gauge railroad siding. By the early 20th century, Woodchute Mountain, like most of the hills surrounding Jerome, was a bald hill.
Fortunately for the mountain, mining stopped in the 1950s, and today it is covered in a healthy second growth of ponderosa pine.
Few people realize that Woodchute Mountain, at 7,834 feet, is the highest point in the Black Hills. But don't let that fact scare you from hiking its trails. They are among the easiest and most well marked wilderness hikes around.
The primary access point to the most popular trail is off State Route 89A at the summit of Mingus Mountain. Take the road to the west that leads to Potato Patch Campground and follow the signs to the Woodchute Trail head.
The trail follows a former road once bulldozed in to supply water to some stock tanks. It should be noted that there is no year-around source of water within the wilderness area. Plan accordingly.
The trail is fairly level as far as Woodchute Tank before it climbs to the top of a mesa, which is actually the top of the mountain. The trail then levels out again as it crosses over to the mountain's north face where hikers are rewarded with a bird's-eye view of the upper Verde Valley and Verde Canyon.
Woodchute Wilderness, like all of the rest in the area, is home to a wide variety of wildlife, including a healthy population of bears.
Bear hunting was stopped some 20 years ago and only recently restarted in the Black Hills. As a result, do not be surprised to see a bear or two. They are known to frequent the stock tanks along the trail.
Trail maps are available from the Prescott and Coconino National Forests. 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.