Camp Creek Road: Solo Adventure on the KLR…

Plans change.

Uncertainty seems to be the only hard and fast rule of adventure. I had originally planned a short ride on the KLR for Saturday to find some dirt and break in the new tires. Sunday I would meet up with a buddy to do a little exploring and check out some rarely visited ruin sites north of Phoenix. All in all, a solid weekend of outdoor fun. Then the shop called and said I wouldn’t have my bike back before Saturday. Great, there goes my Saturday plans. Then I got a message that my buddy came down with some kind of flu and had to bail on our Sunday excursion. My weekend of adventure was falling flat.

I spent Saturday getting caught up on some things around the house, which was far more practical use of my time but had all the excitement of getting a box of no. 2 pencils for Christmas. By Saturday night I was still trying to decide if I would explore the ruin sites solo, or do something else and wait for my buddy to recover. He’s as much of a history nut as I am and we usually team up to hit new ruin sites, so I finally decided I would wait on those and, instead, head out on the KLR for a substantial ride. Well, substantial to a new rider like me at least.

Seven Springs to the Verde River: FR24 and FR269

If you take Cave Creek Road north out of town and drive until you run out of pavement, that’s Seven Springs Road and Forest Route 24 (also known as Camp Creek Road). The approach brings you up Cave Creek Road through some of the most prestigious luxury golf course communities in Scottsdale like Desert Mountain, Mirabel and Tonto Hills. Shortly after that you’ll reach the turn-off for Bartlett Lake and the Tonto National Forest Ranger Station. Just past the Bartlett turnoff any traffic drops off considerably and you’ll essentially have the road to yourself. At least I did on Sunday.

Riding Seven Springs Road to FR24

Last year I did a backpacking trip into Tonto National Forest toward Skunk Tank north of Cave Creek. We backpacked in from Seven Springs, spending a night in the desert along the creek and then packing out. That was the last, and only time I had driven up Seven Springs Road. There is a short unpaved portion of the road before reaching the trailhead, but I really hadn’t made it out to the true dirt roads of FR24. Other than a little map research and a vague general knowledge of the area, I had no idea what kind of conditions I would find or whether I would be able to handle them when I got there.

Being new to this bike, I don’t yet have a lot of confidence in my skills. As I mentioned in the last post, I hadn’t really been on a motorcycle for 6 or 7 years before buying the KLR and I never really drove much dirt. This whole Dual-Sport Adventure Motorcycle business is entirely a new thing to me. I headed out anyway, determined to gain some experience on dirt roads.

Sears-Kay Ruin

Just past the turn-off for Bartlett Lake is a small Hohokam village ruin site known as Sears-Kay. It is one of many sites dotted along the Verde River and it’s tributaries like a long chain linked by one of the only continuous water sources in the state. The sign on site says that Sears-Kay is nearly 1000 years old, but other sources argue it was first occupied as late as 1500 AD. The hilltop site was discovered in 1867 by soldiers from nearby Camp McDowell and later named after J.M. Sears who founded a ranch nearby in 1887 called Sears-Kay Ranch.

Sears-Kay Ruin

Early on this particular Sunday morning I pulled into the parking lot for Sears-Kay and found it completely empty. I parked near the trailhead and turned off the bike only to be engulfed in complete silence. After stashing my gear and grabbing my camera I casually headed up the trail enjoying the peace of a morning alone in the desert. I made short work of the easy 1 mile trail and took my time walking among the partially reconstructed dry-stack stone walls. Some recent summer storms had brought moisture to the desert and the site was ripe with smatterings of color from seasonal wildflowers.

Camp Creek Road (FR24)

I didn’t stay at Sears-Kay long. I was anxious to get into the backcountry and a little worried about letting it get too late, too hot and too crowded. I drove the rest of the way up Seven Springs Road switched between pavement and dirt as it twisted it’s way back into the canyons. Eventually the pavement, and the people, completely faded away and I had the desert to myself.

One of the things I’ve always loved about hiking in Arizona is getting back into the untouched desert environments. The KLR offers a similar experience but allows me to see much more of the desert in a shorter time and get much further back into remote areas I wouldn’t get to otherwise. Ultimately, I’ll start combining hiking trips with motorcycle trips for a deeper look at Arizona backcountry.

As I rode down FR24 I kept a pretty moderate pace, still a little tentative about riding on unstable surfaces, which allowed me too look around a bit and enjoy the scenery. I stopped often to take pictures, explore a little side trail, or just turn off the bike and enjoy the amazing views in silence.

KLR on FR24

FR24 is a pretty well maintained road and was perfect for feeling out the bike. The hardpacked dirt was decent and not overly rutted out from storms, no muddy pits, no loose sand. It was a fun, easy, twisty bit of fun that I was really starting to enjoy. I expected FR24 to be more active on a Sunday morning with other traffic but I did not see another vehicle the entire time I was on this road. The solitude was an unexpected bonus and, at the same time, a little spooky in case of something going wrong.

KLR on FR269 with saguaros

FR24 (Camp Creek Road) ends at a T junction with FR269 (Bloody Basin Road). At the wide intersection there is a sign post showing the mileage along Bloody Basin Road to I-17 going west and to the Verde River going east. There is also sign at this intersection that talks about the Great Western Trail, a 3000 mile backroad route from Mexico to Canada. Apparently, the Arizona section of this trail uses Camp Creek and Bloody Basin to work it’s way north. I had the choice here to turn back, but I was making a day of this and it was still early. Besides, I really wanted to get out to the Sheep Bridge and put my feet in the Verde River.

FR269 is a pretty nice road as well, until the first creek crossing. Tangle Creek is the first big creek crossing and the first place I saw other people all day. A guy in a big 4×4 bronco was stuck in the soft sand of the creek and an older gentleman in another truck was working to help him get free. They had most of the creek blocked but as I approached they waved me through and darted around them praying that I wouldn’t bite it on my first creek crossing…especially with an audience. Coming up on the wide creek I could see tons of loose sand, river rock and mud and I really didn’t know what the bike would do or how I would handle it. JUST DON”T FALL.

I gunned it through the creek, goosing the throttle a little so I could maintain some speed and the KLR cut a path through the sand and over the rock without a hitch. YES! After Tangle Creek the road progressively got worse. There were two or three other creek crossing with the same loose, wet sand and every time I crossed one the road on the other side deteriorated a little. I eventually got used it, even started to enjoy the feel of the bike hoping around and finding traction on the rocky surface. It felt good to dial in and get a real feel for how the bike handles on terrain.

View of the Sheep Bridge at the Verde River

Verde River Sheep Bridge

I finally rounded a corner and caught my first look at the Verde River and the Sheep Bridge in the valley below. The structure is pretty cool and as I approached I found it interesting how natural the setting felt. This man-made structure in the middle of the desert at the end of a long dirt road didn’t seem out of place at all, it made sense. As I cruised down the switchbacks toward the bridge I passed a small corral and the old concrete slabs of structures that once stood near the bridge. I rode up to the bridge itself, designed as a footbridge, and for a split second debated if the structure would really hold me and the bike. But there were tire tracks and the new bridge looked solid enough. The Sheep Bridge is a 476 foot suspension bridge originally built in 1943 then rebuilt in 1989. Remnants of the old bridge foundation are still there next to the new bridge.

On the KLR after crossing the Sheep Bridge

KLR at the Sheep Bridge

Our summer storms have been pretty active this year, making for some interesting developments in the creeks, washes and rivers around here and the Verde is no exception. It was obvious the water had come down after a recent swell had saturated the banks and flooded the riparian plants that line the river’s normal shoreline. The muddy brown water was flowing pretty good around the tight corner just upstream of the bridge, slowing where the river widened then picking up steam again as the river narrowed downstream. The Verde is normally a very pretty deep green but this turbulent muddy mess was a sign of recent weather upstream.

I hiked down the little rock trail from the bridge to the gravel bar along the river. There was no one else around and I had the place to myself, at least for a while. The shoreline was a muddy, sticky mess and it looked like a couple of people had attempted to trudge through it before me. I chose to hike a little further down stream for something a little more stable. I found a spot where I could approach the river without sinking to my calves in muddy clay and dipped my head in the water to cool off.

I sat listening to the river for a while. My time rafting in the Pacific Northwest has given me a keen appreciation of rivers and their unique character. I love the sound of moving water and find it to be the closest thing to meditation I have experienced. I eventually pulled myself away from the river, suddenly very aware of my water supply and the increasing heat.

I passed two trucks on their way to the river as I rode back. Having left when I did, I kept my experience at the river unspoiled and was thankful for the timing. I noticed much more confidence on my return, riding a little faster, taking corners just a little harder, worrying less as I approached the sandy washes. Once I hit the graded road on the other side of Tangle Creek I opened her up a little bit and cruised down the gravel road at a pretty good pace. Other than the two trucks near the river, I saw no one else on the road back. A few people had made it in and stopped at one of the many open camp sites along the road, but that still left me with the road to myself.

Riding KLR on FR24

What did I learn?

Getting back home I started going through the pictures from the ride. I really enjoyed my Sunday morning adventure on the KLR and I am anxious to get back out there. There are a few things I learned on this ride that will allow me to be better prepared next time I go out.

For one, I didn’t take nearly enough water. That’ll be remedied next time I head out. I had underestimated how long I would be out there, and I underestimated how dehydrated I would get sweating in my riding jacket and helmet. Dehydration could have been a big problem and I was feeling it’s effects as I wrapped up the ride. I had some emergency gear in case it became an issue but bringing more water is easy enough.

Second, I was very under-prepared for a problem. I guess I expected to see a lot more people on these backroads and figured extraction would be easy. I need to bring some basic gear that would make upwards of 72 hours of survival easier to manage. It will likely never be an issue, but it will give me peace of mind to be prepared.

Navigation was poor. Knowing the route I wanted to take, it wasn’t a big deal but when I get more confident on the bike I want to be able to explore more of the side roads, trails and washes. Better maps, GPS and a compass really should be part of my regular gear. Really, I need to treat these outings more like I would extended hiking trips and less like road trips.

Food! I foolishly headed out without breakfast and didn’t bring a damn thing to eat with me. That was downright stupid and won’t happen again.

Thoughts for the next adventure…

Studying the area a little more now that I’ve been out there, I want to explore some of the other roads. Mount Humbolt, Maggie May Trail, Table Mesa Trail, New River and Bloody Basin are all now on the list. I want to look further into the Great Western Trail and how far north that will allow me to ride. I also learned that there are natural hot springs at the Verde River near the Sheep Bridge…reason enough to go back in Winter and make camp. The other direction on Bloody Basin Road is the Agua Fria  National Monument, a 71,000 acres protected area created in 2000. There are supposed to be upwards of 400 archaeological sites within the Monument, some as much as 2,000 years old.

However, I think the next adventure will be in a different area. I have really been interested in exploring Castle Hot Springs Road near Lake Pleasant. Not a technical ride, but there are a lot of side trails and backroads of varying difficulty. I just may have to check it out.

Amazing Sedona – Part II: Sunrise, Photography and Snow…

Only a couple of days after my Sedona trip with Tim I left for Houston to spend some time traveling East Texas with my new wife.  I flew out and the next morning we headed north in her little Honda Civic for Nacogdoches, a small town a couple of hours north of Houston.  The claim to fame of this little Texas tourist destination is that it is the oldest town in Texas.  Originally a settlement of Caddo Indians, the official town of Nacogdoches was founded in 1779 by Gil Y’Barbo with permission from the Spanish Government.

My wife and I spent a day hiking trails and exploring the small downtown shops and restaurants after spending the night in a really nice, rustic B&B cottage outside of town.  The history in Nacogdoches is rich and there are still some original buildings from the early 1800’s.  Outside of town are the Caddo Mounds, archaeological sites from around 800 A.D.

While in Nacogdoches the weather turned incredibly cold (for the southwest), reaching down to the low 20’s overnight.  I checked the weather back in Arizona and saw there was supposed to be a storm system moving in.  This put me on the lookout for snow.  Soon, the weather forecasts were calling for snow over the weekend in Flagstaff and Sedona, a few days earlier than the historic forecasts had estimated.  I immediately put a message out to my occasional hiking partner and photographer, Jabon Eagar exclaiming, “Snow in Sedona this weekend!  Time to play hookie!”

Jabon and I had been talking about heading to Sedona to catch images of fresh snow for months.  Jabon had been discussing this prospect with another friend for close to two years.  So when snow came to Sedona, we both were ready to drop everything and go.  It was starting to snow in the upper elevations around Sedona by Friday night, I didn’t get back in to Phoenix until Saturday evening and had plans for Saturday night.  Jabon and I laid plans to drive up Sunday morning, early, and be in Sedona before sunrise…and this time I meant it!

Once again, I found myself forced to leave a party early so I could get a few hours’ sleep before driving north for an adventure.  Jabon arrived at my place right at 5AM, I was already packed and had the truck running to warm it up.  Jabon’s buddy Mike was due to join us, but no one had heard from him and Jabon’s attempts to reach him went unanswered.  We soon left, figuring if he was running late he’d call and we could turn around and toss him in the truck.  We never did hear from him.

There was little traffic on the cold, dark drive to Sedona.  Aside from hitting a patch of black-ice at about 80 MPH (and totally maintaining control of the truck without spilling a drop of the coffee in my hand) and missing my exit onto 179, the drive was uneventful.  Even with lost time we hit Bell Rock just as the first light of the morning sun was beginning to endow the frosty morning mists with a supernatural glow.

misty fog clinging to the rock

We stopped the truck and quickly got out to chase the first photo-ops of the morning.  I ran across the road and scrambled to higher ground across frost covered red rock ledges looking to capture the mood of the view that was unfolding.  The thick, wispy clouds clung to the desert floor and gathered around the base of the red rock towers to the east.  As the sun climbed higher it gave life to the misty fog, like stormy seas crashing around these crimson battleships in the desert.

Bell Rock in the morning mist at sunrise

We were there for the photography that day, and Mother Nature was giving the performance of her life.  Jabon and I hiked on and off-trail looking for angles, framing compositions in the viewfinder, excitedly shouting back and forth, “The light is amazing from this spot!” “Look, the fog is clearing over there!” “This is incredible, I’ve never seen it like this!” “This is perfect!”

framing the light at Bell Rock

When we came off the trail, after exhausting every photographic consideration, the parking lot had filled with early morning photographers looking to snap their own versions of this amazing sunrise.  I was glad our ambition had carried us there first, before it got crowded.  There was thick frost on the ground, but we still weren’t high enough to be in the snow…and that’s why we were there.  So we loaded up and continued through Sedona and on in to Oak Creek Canyon where the snow had collected over the weekend.

I had to stop the truck several times before we made it to West Fork because the view along the road was too good to pass up.  We would stop, pile out of the truck and scurry along the narrow shoulder snapping shots as the light and shadow played with the mountain tops.  Then quickly back to the truck to move on so we wouldn’t miss the best light further up.

View of Oak Creek in the Snow

Jabon taking a shot at the first creek crossing at West Fork Trail Oak CreekWe finally made it to the West Fork parking lot, which was closed, and found a spot further up along the road where we could legally park.  We hiked back toward the trailhead along the roadside careful of the growing traffic on the narrow, winding roads.  We were not the first ones to the West Fork trailhead and we followed the footprints through the snow back in to the canyon collecting shots along the way.  Once we reached the first creek crossing, the foot traffic grew thinner…not many wanted to cross the frozen water.

bright light behind the cliff at West Fork Oak CreekWe took our time and watched for subtle changes in the light inside the canyon trying desperately to choose our shots wisely.  The snow was 6 to 8 inches thick and clung fresh and soft to the rocks and trees.  This was one of those perfect places where you could easily snap off thousands of photographs if you weren’t more discerning.  The combination of the brilliant red rock in the intense morning light against the stark, clean whiteness of the snow was a dramatic scene.  Then layer in the deep emerald of the tall evergreens, the electric blue of the sky all of it wrapped in the ever-changing misty morning clouds.

Living in southern Arizona and growing up in California, I haven’t had opportunity for much hiking in the snow.  I really enjoyed this hike!  Snow along a trail, even an easy one like West Fork Trail, completely changes the hiking experience.  Finding the route is challenging unless there are footprints to follow, the deeper snow forces you to pay closer attention to each step.  Snow covered trails also means fewer people in most cases, which is how I like it.  My wife loved snowshoeing in Tahoe for the same reasons.  I’ve collected better Winter gear and will be looking forward to more snow hiking.

white snow and bright sky at West Fork Oak Creek

Soon there was only one other set of footprints in the snow, only one person ahead of us.  We finally came across her as she was headed back, another photographer out to capture this pristine wilderness.  Soon after that we stopped near a large boulder along the creek and where I heated up water for hot cider.  We sat there for a while, watching the light change in the canyon and snapping off the occasional picture.  Jabon took some shots of the frozen creek and we both worked to find angles for shooting the icicles hanging from the huge boulder next to us.

Snowy trees at West Fork Oak Creek

Heading back out of the canyon, being scolded for hiking in a “closed” area.  Some of the other early morning opportunists had received violations for parking in front of the closed gate.  We drove higher up the mountain after helping an older couple get their car out of the snow bank long the road.  There was little more to see and the casual visitors were starting to get thick as the morning grew late.  Jabon suggested we head in to more remote country and offered to show me a set of ruins he’d photographed a while back.  He was anxious to get another opportunity to shoot them, especially with snow around.

Hidden Canyon Ruins in the snowWe had time so we headed down a muddy 4-wheel-drive road to a remote canyon where Jabon led the way into a small obscure canyon.  After climbing up the drainage, we reached the head of the canyon.  A rounded bowl lined with 100 ft sheer red rock cliffs opened before us.  Tucked unobtrusively under a recessed ledge at the base of one side of the vertical canyon walls is a small, semi-circular stone structure.  The lower portion of the walls are original, still held together with ancient mortar.  The top has been obviously reconstructed including the lintel above the entrance.  The interior shows recent use, and even relatively recent remnants of a camp fire.  The site was simple, but the setting was magical.  I was really glad we could squeeze this last little excursion in to the day.

View from Hidden Canyon RuinsIt was getting late after that and we’d had an incredible morning.  Both of us were anxious to get back and start going through our images.  I am really happy with what we captured in Sedona that day.  It was one of those trips that we’d talked about taking for a long time and it turned out to be even better than we could have imagined.  Luckily the first snow of the season was a good one and it laid down thick and clean all over the upper elevations around Sedona.  I don’t know how I’m going to be able to top this trip…but that won’t stop me from trying!

Trip Gallery:

Jabon is another one of those great friends I’ve met through Social Media.  I found him a couple of years ago when I did a quick search and discovered that he and I were planning to take groups on the same hike on the same weekend.  I reached out to him about the possibility of combining our groups and we hiked to the Pueblo Canyon Ruins together a few months later.  Since then we’ve talked about many possible adventures and collaborations.  We also have done Cold Spring Canyon, a quick photo-hike to Tom’s Thumb and this Sedona trip.  You can check out more of Jabon’s photography on his website or visit his Facebook Page.

Return to the Sierra Ancha Wilderness: Cold Spring Canyon…

I’ve been up since 3AM.  I’m sitting in my truck in the pre-dawn darkness at a far corner of a Walmart parking lot sipping black coffee…waiting.  Waiting for the rest of the group.  Waiting to take the long ride out to Cherry Creek.  Waiting to continue an adventure we started two years ago…

The main part of the trail into Cold Springs Canyon was easy enough.  We started from the same old mining road we used to access Pueblo Canyon a couple years prior, about 23 miles down a seldom used 4×4 back road along Cherry Creek.  This time with a more suitable vehicle, we 4-wheeled our way up the mining road to a small, level clearing once used as a camp.  From here it was supposed to be less than two miles in to Cold Springs Canyon to the Crack House.

Crossing Cherry Creek in the Range Rover - by Jabon Eagar - Sierra Ancha Wilderness

Crack House is the nickname given to the 700 year old Salado Culture cliff house ruins we were after.  When you see the site, the name is obvious.  This cliff dwelling is literally built into a naturally occurring crevice at the base of a 600 ft shear canyon wall.  The 3-story mud, rock and timber dwelling was discovered in the 1930s and documented by Dr. Emil W. Haury as part of the Gila Pueblo Project.

Long view of the Crack House at Cold Spring Canyon from the trail - by Wilderness Dave - Sierra Ancha WildernessAbout a mile up the main trail you get a glimpse of the Crack House…if you’re lucky.  You’ve really got to be looking for it and luckily, some of us had better eyes than the others.  Jabon Eager and Mike Sorensen were with me again on this hike, the same guys I hiked Pueblo Canyon with.  The only one missing from the original Pueblo Canyon party was my (now) wife, Merelyn.  As the three of us hiked deeper into the canyon looking for the side trail that would lead us to the site, Jabon was the one who managed to spot the distinctive black square hole in the cliff face that marked the entrance to our ruins.  Now, with a frame of reference, we excitedly continued forward.

Wilderness Dave stopping for photographs along Cold Spring Canyon Trail - by Jabon Eagar - Sierra Ancha WildernessEven the primary trail is nothing more than a narrow ribbon of roughly flat ground wrapped tightly against the steeply descending canyon walls.  It’s a seldom used trail that had become overgrown in some areas and we were looking for an even more obscure side trail to guide us up to the ruins.  We followed the path until we were standing below the cliff ledge where we had seen the entrance to the Crack House.  None of us had discovered any sign of a side trail, but as we stood below the cliffs there was what could only have been a drainage path or a rough game-trail leading straight up.  Could this be the trail?  Jabon consulted his print out of the Trail Description he’d found online as I consulted my topographic map.  “This section is nothing short of NASTY”, is what the report says.

“Nasty” is a very subjective description.  To some, a “nasty” trail is any trail without asphalt or concrete.  So with little to go on, we eyed this barely discernible clearing heading straight up the steep slope with trepidation and doubt.  It certainly looked “NASTY”.  We decided to give it a shot.

I took point and scrambled up the slope, unsuccessful.  Jabon followed close behind and when I ledged out, he took another path to the left with the same result.  We both moved laterally toward the cliffs to find something – anything - that looked like a trail.  We found many, followed some, and one-by-one discovered they led to nowhere.  As we crawled along our imaginary trails, glancing up occasionally in an attempt to orient ourselves, I spotted a crack, high in the cliff, carefully filled in with stacked rock.  Far too small to be our Crack House, it must have been an old granary.  Granaries were often created high out of reach and used to store food for the Winter.  This meant we were close.

Mike retreated early, probably getting tired of dodging the numerous geological samples I was generously sending his direction.  Jabon and I retreated next and as I followed Jabon back down slope I lost my footing and my bad knee gave out, crumpling completely under my weight.  Aside from the intense pain and initial fear that I had crippled myself, the fall wasn’t bad and after a short rest I was able to continue on my own.  Jabon backtracked looking for another possible trail and returned later having been unsuccessful.

Mike had had enough and decided not to join in the fight for the prize after our first attempt and failure.  Jabon and I had a little more gumption in us and agreed on a second attempt after having talked through our options.  When Jabon had backtracked he was also able to locate the ruin again visually and note where it was in relationship to where we had been climbing.  We were directly below it at one point and could not find a route.  But now we had our bearings and we knew it was directly above us…

The Punch Bowl below the ruins in Cold Spring Canyon - by Jabon Eagar - Sierra Ancha Wilderness

This meant there had to be a trail above us as well, we just had to find it.  Jabon and I were not leaving this canyon until we’d found the Crack House.  For Jabon and I, this trip had been simmering in the back of our minds for two years now, since Pueblo Canyon.  We were here, no more than 100 feet below the site we’d read about and we were not going to walk away now.

We both chose different lines and committed to them.  He blazed up the left side of the trail we had originally attempted and I crawled up the precarious slope on the right.  My knee was sore from my earlier fall and Jabon was making better progress.

I keep losing my footing.  The steep canyons out here in the Sierra Anchas are in an extreme state of erosion and nothing is stable.  I am constantly worrying about my bad knee as I hoist myself up one precarious foothold at a time, following nothing but the whisper of a trail, not able to see my target but knowing that it is up…somewhere up.

After much sweat and swearing Jabon triumphantly called down that he’d found the trail.  This spurred me on and I hacked my way through Prickly Pear cactus and overgrown Cat’s Claw trees in my fight for the trail.  Before long, with sweat dripping from my dusty brow, I had found it as well and quickly set off in pursuit of Jabon and the Ruins.

The real path to the ruins wasn’t much better than the trail we’d been forced to blaze.  It simply had the benefit of being an actual recognizable trail.  It still amazes me that so much vegetation can cling to the steep, eroded slopes of these desert canyons.  I found myself crawling through brush and vines, sliding under tree branches and carefully dancing around cacti, yuccas and agaves.  Finally, after a near vertical scramble, I reached the rocky shelf that led to the Crack House.

The photos say more than I can about the impressiveness of this cliff dwelling.  Both of us have studied enough about the archaeology of the area to approach the site with cautious awe and respectful curiosity.  Because of its protected location, the floor structures are in fantastic shape.  The crack which this structure was built in cuts clear through the cliff.  The main room, which is on the third floor, makes a sharp left turn about halfway through and presents visitors with a balcony window framing an amazing view of the valley to the southeast.  Jabon photographed the interior of the ruin creating some of the most detailed interior shots of this site ever taken.  We stayed for a short while, soaking it in, quietly reveling in our triumph.

For me, there is an addictive nature to this sort of hiking.  These canyons are littered with sites like this.  Not all of them are as dramatic or as well preserved, but they are here.  Most of these sites see so few visitors that trail descriptions are few and far between, pictures are rare, and the academic documentation incomplete.  Finding them takes work.  That, for me, is what draws me to these kinds of hikes.  I like the research, the exploration and the satisfaction of discovery.  Even though this hike was probably no more than 2 or 3 total miles of hiking, it was far more gratifying than many longer hikes I’ve been on.

We concluded this hike on a high, excited to have had the experience.  Our conversations inevitably revolved around where we would go next.  There are rumors of more ruins in Cooper’s Fork, the canyon to the east across the creek.  Another rare site in rugged, inhospitable territory with no established trail and minimal documentation…sounds like a fun trip!

Photo Gallery

To see more Jabon’s fantastic work, check him out on Facebook.

These archaeological sites are in the condition they are in because of the rarity of visitors.  I have deliberately left out a trail map and directions in hopes that these sites do remain undisturbed by the general public.  Like most protected areas, their inaccessibility is their salvation.  One of the lessons learned from other important archaeological sites that have turned in to tourist attractions is that people are inherently destructive.  If you do visit some of these historic structures, treat them with respect.

Pueblo Canyon Hike and Ruins

Pueblo Canyon Cliff Dwellings

Pueblo Canyon Cliff Dwellings Ruins – Photo by Jabon Eagar

One of the main attributes of back country hiking that intrigues me the most is visiting places that very few people will ever see with their own eyes.  There is something special about being one of just a handful of people to have personally witnessed some of the more magical parts of this planet.  I had originally set out to do this hike on my own, but considering how remote the area is I had second thoughts.  I invited some friends to come along and also found another group (led by photographer Jabon Eagar) planning the exact same hike and contacted them to see if we could hike together.  I began planning my trip and convinced several people to come along, but that fell through as, one-by-one, they all cancelled.  The same thing happened with Jabon’s group and we both decided to push the trip off.  I wouldn’t let this one go, so earlier this year my fiance and I joined up with Jabon to hike Pueblo Canyon.

Pueblo Canyon Cherry Creek Valley

Pueblo Canyon Cherry Creek Valley – Photo by Dave Creech

Pueblo Canyon is a very remote, obscure, rarely used trail on the east side of the Sierra Anchas (Spanish, “Broad Range”).  The Sierra Ancha Wilderness lies about 100 miles east of the Phoenix Metro area and north of Globe.  It’s 32 square miles are some of the most rugged and inaccessible wilderness in Arizona.  Established in 1933 as a “primitive area” and later absorbed into Tonto National Forest, it was originally shared by several Native American Tribes but was last occupied by the Salado Culture over 700 years ago.  It’s said that the remains of Salado cliff dwellings and other signs of habitation can be found in nearly every south facing canyon wall in this area.  Pueblo Canyon itself has 3 main sites and rumors of more further along the cliff.  Many of the main Ruins in this area, including Pueblo Canyon were documented in 1934 by Dr. Emil W. Haury.  As part of the Gila Pueblo Project Expeditions, Dr. Huary explored the area from 1930 to 1934 led by local Rancher Dewey Peterson.  Peterson owned and operated a ranch at Aztec Peak, just above the canyons where the ruins were found.

Due to how remote this hike is, we had to set out very early in the morning to be able to hit the trail before too late in the day.  We met up with Jabon and his group around 6am in Mesa and then set out on the 3+ hour drive to the trail head.  The drive takes you through some of the most scenic territory in Eastern Arizona.  Beautiful rock formations, canyons and cliffs line the road north of Globe.  The trailhead is a little over 23 miles down Cherry Creek Road.  A dirt road the whole way, Cherry Creek Road is partially maintained and well traveled, but soon becomes a very primitive jeep trail requiring a 4-wheel drive vehicle.  It also crosses Cherry Creek at times and can be hazardous if the creek is up.  We made it to the trailhead without incident only to find that we now had a flat tire, but decided to deal with that upon our return and headed up the trail.

The hike starts where an old mining road intersects Cherry Creek Road.  The road was built in 1954 to service the Big Buck Uranium Mine found near the first set of ruins.  Hiking this first section gets your blood pumping early as it steadily climbs toward the canyon interior and into the Sierra Ancha Wilderness area.  About a half mile or so in, the trail splits.  It was a little tricky to figure out exactly where this split was, continuing to the south would take you to Cold Spring Canyon (there are ruins there also) and taking the trail west would lead you to Pueblo Canyon.  We continued heading toward Pueblo Canyon reaching a landing of sorts that opens up to the Cherry Creek Valley and offers some amazing views to the east.

Pueblo Canyon Cliff Dwelling

Pueblo Canyon Cliff Dwelling – Photo by Jabon Eagar

The trail is very overgrown from here until reaching the ledge at the base of the cliffs.  We found ourselves trudging through overgrown Manzanita and Scrub Oak making route finding difficult at times.  We ascended above the slope and leveled out at a prominent ledge that sits at the base of the massive sheer cliffs that rise above the canyon.  This is where all the action is!  From this point we were at the base of the south canyon wall and could look across the narrow canyon to the north wall and make out the cliff dwellings we were after.  Hiking was easier here, though the vegetation had changed and we were now climbing around Prickly Pear, Yucca and Desert Spoon.

The first set of ruins is very close to the mine site and, therefore, the most disturbed.  Tailings from the mine were dumped in the ruin site and eventually the ruin itself was damaged beyond recognition.  The mine is fairly nondescript and is not very deep.  It was still a good place to stop, set up some photographs and have a snack.  The trail heads further west from here in to the heart of the canyon where a thin, graceful waterfall plunges some 200ft into a small pool.  The ledge trail leads you behind the ribbon falls along some slick, algae covered rock.  We took some time here for photos and carefully navigated the slippery path behind the waterfall to the north wall of the canyon.  After a short walk, building with anticipation, you stumble across the first major set of ruins.

Pueblo Canyon stone walls

Pueblo Canyon Cliff Dwelling – photo by Jabon Eahar

Pueblo Canyon pictographs

Pueblo Canyon pictographs – photo by David Creech

It is a wonder to see each one of the cliff dwellings still left standing on this side of the canyon.  Some the wood and mud roof structures are still partially intact.  Wood beams still rest in place, lodged in the stacked stone walls.  Many of the mud and stone walls still have a primitive stucco finish (mud plaster).  In some places, you can still see the coloring and pictographs that originally decorated the stucco walls.  The back wall of the structures is the cliff face itself.  Parts of the dwellings are multi-story and rock art high on the cliff is still visible, if only slightly.  Some of the rock art on the walls is unlike any I’ve seen in Arizona.  Vibrant pictographs and hand prints in bold reds and whites decorate the cliff.

Pueblo Canyon Collapsed Ruins

Pueblo Canyon Collapsed Ruins – photo by David Creech

Climbing in and around the ruins, careful not to disturb or damage any part of them, we explored the structures for quite some time.  We ate our lunch sitting among the stone walls, looking out over the canyon floor 1,000 feet below us and discussing the history of the Salado Culture.

Hand print pictographs

Hand print pictographs – photo by David Creech

The return hike seemed to pass quickly.  We ran into one section where we seemed to lose the trail, but a little bush-whacking put us on course and we were soon back at the truck and Jabon quickly went to work switching out the flat.  The ride home seemed very, very long and I found myself wishing we had planned an overnight so that we had ample time to explore the adjacent canyons and see more of what the area had to offer.

I will go back some day, there is so much more to see.  I just need to find a few adventurous volunteers brave enough to venture into the wilderness with me.

 

Pueblo Canyon Cliff Dwelling

Pueblo Canyon Cliff Dwelling – Photo by Jabon Eagar

Click here for more of Jabon’s photos from this hike.  To check out more of Jabon’s beautiful photographs visit his website.