Willow Dells Loop Trail

by Ron Smith

Just when you think that almost everything of scenic potential has been extracted from the beauty and drama of the Willow Lake topography, another spectacular trail has been surveyed, routed, and gouged from within the Willow Lake and Granite Dells area. Chris Hosking, City of Prescott trails manager, and his crew of volunteer builders has created another gem.

The new trail traverses the shoreline east of the Willow Lake boat ramp clinging to the edge of vertical cliffs in some areas before entering the Willow Creek drainage below the twin Willow Lake dams. The new trail, along with connecting existing trails, creates a scenic, but sometimes difficult 2.4-mile loop.

Lest you suspect that 2.4 miles would comprise a leisurely jaunt before breakfast, it took 4 of us seniors (none of which were slackers), 2.6 hours to ring up that meager distance. Granted, that pauses for vista breaks entered the time calculations.

This trail although included in neighboring trails as part of a system of ultra mountain bike trails, left me dubious of such a designation. Consequently, when we met a biker about to engage it, I advised him that new newest trail addition was simply not navigable to a bike. Nonetheless, as we proceeded we met an intrepid biker not riding but shouldering his transportation through much of the route.

The trail begins just across from the parking area near Willow Lake boat ramp. At 0.25 miles note the trail sign with an arrow for “New trail” pointing right. You begin a climb marked by white paint dots at 0.5 miles to a grand vista overlooking the lake (pic #1). Then at 0.7 miles another sign marks the junction with neighboring trails in the area. Continue to the right as shown by the “New trail” arrow. A small wooden bridge spans an otherwise difficult chasm at 0.9 miles. At 1.1 miles and within sight of the Willow Lake dam, the trail veers left and follows the course of the solid rock spillway (pic #2) to  Willow Creek. As you enter the creek bottom at 1.2 miles there is yet another trail junction and map. Climb from the creek, passing an open meadow (private property) and follow the well-marked route back to where you started (2.4 miles).

A unique geological phenomenon
Parts of the trail just described, where it passes opposite sheer granite cliffs, exhibits some unique patterns in the surfaces of the rocks. In places the colors and delineated patterns have been described by many who have seen them as the look of a freshly baked pan of cinnamon buns. The concentric rings within blocks of fractured granite are formed by the deposition of iron precipitates within the granite fracture lines. You will note that much of this granite is very porous and seems to break into regular rectangular blocks. This is particularly apparent when seeing an aerial photograph of the area. It is the weathering of the granite, often producing rounded boulders and other weird forms, that produces this checkerboard appearance. To quote from M. Krieger, 1965, “It has also produced a checkerboard appearance where iron oxide has migrated inward from horizontal, vertical, and sloping joint surfaces.  …resulting in concentric envelopes that become more spherical inward.”
For detailed directions for this trail, maps, and much check the City of Prescott website at
http://www.cityof prescott.net/services/parks/trails

Click on the image to see it enlarged

Climb to the overlook

Willow Lake overlook


Foot bridge over ravine

canyon view

Canyon View


Willow Dam Spillway


Iron precipitate rings
in granite formations