If you are from Prescott, or have visited before, it’s impossible to miss one of its most prolific landmarks standing tall and proud on the western horizon of the town: Thumb Butte. Standing at 6,500 feet tall, the well known landmark rises about 1,200 feet from the downtown Prescott area and is easily spotted from nearly anywhere in town. The derivative of its name is obvious enough with its thumb like appearance sticking out from the Sierra Prieta mountain range for all to see.
The Sierra Prieta mountain range spans fourteen miles long in central-northwest Arizona, creating a natural barrier to the western most point of the town of Prescott. Thumb Butte is held within that mountain range, a natural outcropping of rock that actually has some debate around it as to how it occurred geologically.
One theory is that it is a geological formation known as a volcanic plug. A volcanic plug is a configuration that occurs when a much larger volcano’s exterior erodes and deteriorates after millions of years, and what is left behind is that volcano’s hardened center.
A second theory that is supported by the evidence of the composition of the surrounding mountains and the composition of Thumb Butte itself, is that Thumb Butte is actually a major basalt flow. A basalt flow is really just a tall lava flow, which means that at one point millions of years ago, Thumb Butte was a point at which lava escaped, built upon itself, hardened, and eventually turned into the landmark we see today. Either way you spin it, at some point in time, Thumb Butte was a volcano.
From a recreational stand point, Thumb Butte and the Sierra Prieta mountain range are an outdoor enthusiasts dream. Rock climbing, mountain biking, and countless hiking trails, the park offers something for everyone and includes trails for both novice and the more experienced adventurer. Climbing to the top of Thumb Butte itself using trail #33, you are gifted with jaw-dropping views of all of Prescott, Prescott Valley, and even some of Williamson and Chino Valley. While hiking clockwise to the top can be steep at times and definitely gets one’s blood pumping, it is made easier with a paved trail of switchbacks including safety rails and plenty of benches for resting spots. If that feels to be a little outside of your abilities, no worries, you can head up the trail counter-clockwise, which is far easier and still brings you to the peak with all its amazing views. And, if you’re feeling especially adventurous, you can even climb the boulders to the very tip top of Thumb Butte, though caution is seriously recommended as this can be a treacherous trek.
Thumb Butte and the surrounding area is a site to be seen both from afar and up close. If you’re looking for a good day hike, or a good place to explore, the trails surrounding this mountain range should definitely be on your list if they aren’t already.