We drove Arizona 69 east from Prescott, Arizona, about four miles and turned on Walker Road. The first few miles of this two-lane paved road in the Prescott National Forest are almost too easy and too tranquil. You'll pass modern summer homes and large ponderosa pines on the way to the old-town site of Walker. The mining town is now barely recognizable and might be forgotten were it not for a sign that reads: "This town site was named after Captain Joseph R. Walker who discovered gold here in 1863."
During the summer, people escape the heat of Phoenix by coming to the Bradshaw Mountains, but in winter, the gates are locked and summer homes deserted. The road follows a frozen streambed on our right and three more miles of driving brings us to Potato Patch. A large yellow sign warns that the road isn't maintained in winter. I shift into four-wheel drive and turn onto the dirt road. The road, about 12 miles in from Arizona 69, narrows and climbs higher up the mountain near Hassayampa Lake. Huge pines and rocky cliffs complete the postcard scene.
Now the road becomes serious. A rough downhill section brought us to the intersection with Senator Road. A sign on our left warns against further travel for all but high-clearance 4x4 vehicles. I turn our 4WD Ford F-350 onto the road that will take us to Palace Station. This was once an old stagecoach road and a vital link between Prescott and Phoenix, about 90 miles to the south. We cross a cattle guard and start to climb into the mountain directly ahead of us.
As a series of switchbacks takes us higher into the Bradshaws, the depth of the snow increases. Pines line both sides of the road. The road condition alternates between tan dirt and rocks on the eastern side of the mountain, and snow four to six inches deep on the road's shaded northern slope. We follow a single set of truck tracks in the snow, and I can feel the rear end slide as we round several curves. I shift into second gear to slow our big truck as we round another curve where the sun is melting the snow, turning the road to mud.
On the opposite side of the mountain, we go through a series of washouts and boulders where ravines bring water from the melting snow above. We can see several spots along the road where solid rock has been blasted, like tunnels without a roof, to make it easier on the horses pulling the stage up the mountain many years ago.
As we pass White Well, the road starts to level out and it isn't long before the log structure of Palace Station comes into view. The warm sun is melting the snow around the old stage station, and we enjoy its warmth. A wooden sign erected by the U.S. Department of Agriculture reads: "This cabin was built in 1874 by the Spence family and is one of the oldest structures in Arizona. It served as a stage station on the Senator Trail from Prescott to Phoenix until 1910 and is now used by the U.S. Forest Service as a work center during the summer."
We fire up our modern diesel for the return climb back through snow-covered switchbacks and Ponderosa pines. The return trip is peaceful. If you have the time, Goldwater Lake is another recreation area tucked away in the Prescott National Forest, complete with fishing and hiking and riding trails that are worth exploring.
The information presented in this column is, to the best of our knowledge, correct and accurate at the time of publication. However, because of our lengthy lead time, we recommend you call the proper authorities or local experts for confirmation before visiting.
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