An eMagazine about wheelchair-accessible events, sports & locations in Arizona

Thumb Butte Park


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I have witnessed the beast. And today it beat me.

Thumb Butte Loop Trail #33 is a 2-mile loop on the west side of Prescott. Most trail organizations consider this a moderately challenging trail. There’s no wheelchair access mentioned.

In a wheelchair this loop has a pucker factor of 10+. It’s the most challenging trail I’ve tried. Its steep! As in black-diamond holy-poop ski slope steep! Today, I made it half way and opted to return to base. I think it is surmountable but I want to get a helmet, some elbow pads and an extra person to spot me when things start sliding towards the edge. Towards some pain.

This is the trail head.  I you look in the back you will see the peak that you will climb.  It's one mile up, and one mile back. And if you think it's seep going up, wait until you start coming down!

This is the trail head. I you look in the back you will see the peak that you will climb. It's one mile up, and one mile back. And if you think it's seep going up, wait until you start coming down!

Recently I purchased a used Quickie V-521. Jeff, chief mechanic at Leeden Wheelchairs in Phoenix installed the biggest batteries available and some beefy rear tires. It’s a light chair with some pretty good torque. Not much suspension (a Roho cushion helps) but she gets high marks for this rock crawl.

The trail is a loop. The trail leading up the west slope starts out paved and steep. The earth has pushed up the asphalt in 2 places that create some difficult speed bumps. Hit’em too slow, you wont make it or perhaps flip if you apply any addition power. Hit them too fast and you may nose dive. I found the best way was to crest them and immediately angle the chair towards the side then angle your self down the back side and turn it hard back up hill.

The asphalt ends pretty quick and the trail turns to dirt, rock and gravel. The parks web site states the trail is s a steady grade of 9%, 3% cross slope, 4-foot minimum width of packed gravel punctuated by gravel water bars with dips. I was motoring up the gravel pretty good. I’d lean forward to improve my center of gravity but if I went too far, the back tires would begin to slip a bit. I don’t think I ever came close to flipping backwards. I could definitely feel the motors being stressed.

Pictures dont offer enough perspective to show you how steep this is trail is for a wheelchair.  In the background you can see some hikers.

Pictures dont offer enough perspective to show you how steep this is trail is for a wheelchair. In the background you can see some hikers.

Half way up we came to some lateral ruts from water flow. These got me. I hit the first rut and slid off the path and realized I needed to take some precautions. Next time I may let the air pressure out a bit in the rear. I’m going to experiment at home with low pressure and see if I can avoid pulling the tire of the rim. But for sure a bike helmet, gloves and elbow pads are in order. I think a 6-8’ rope with a hook would be smart. A spotter could hook it to the high side of the chair and pull you back if things stated going in the wrong direction.

Coming down is really the hair raising part. Free-spinning front caster have a tendency to head towards the lowest point and damn if that isn’t the lower edge of the trail. Turning requires power and it gets dicey quick. So we backed down the steep ones which was actually pretty uneventful. Karla spotted me and was mostly accurate in telling me which way to turn.

The east slope trail is paved the entire way. The catch is the path is a steady grade of 12-18%. I opted for the west side initially to see if the chair could muscle up 12% even. Having made it up 12% on the west trail, 18% slope sounds almost crazy. But given its all asphalt, it may be a better way to ascend the Butte and avoid the ruts. I tried the first 100 feet or so and again opted to return with a helmet.

Even if you don’t attempt the trail, this is a very accessible, clean park to check out. The park has a number of accessible picnic tables and ramadas. There is a road that goes out back where camping is allowed and I forgot to head back there.

If anyone else ever tries this trail in a chair, please let me know. I might even want to meet you there.

Click here for more about wheelchair access in Prescott.

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Accessing Arizona is primarily designed for people who are looking for wheelchair accessible events, locations and activities. If you have paralysis (paraplegic or quadriplegic), Muscular Dystrophy, Spinal Bifida, or if you are an amputee, Accessing Arizona has information about an active lifestyle.
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