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Friday Hike – Seven Springs to Spur Cross

On Friday, the 29th, Linda, DeAnn, Sandy, Sarah, and I hiked 12.5 miles from the Cave Creek Trailhead (in the Seven Springs Recreation Area) to the Spur Cross Trailhead. We stayed on Cave Creek Trail #4 for all but the last couple of miles.

Starting out at the Cave Creek Trailhead:

After crossing the road, the trail passed through a shaded area next to the creek:

Linda spotted this hollow fallen tree…


A crested saguaro; there were supposed to be two on this hike, but this is the only one we saw.

From back to front are DeAnn, Sandy, Linda, and Sarah:

We had to cross the creek several times. We managed to do it without getting too wet.

This is the intersection with the Skunk Tank Trail:

A view of the creek with New River Mesa in the distance:

We entered a lush and colorful area…

We saw this painted stone atop one of the cairns along the way:

I think this is Black Mesa in the distance:

Black Mesa on the left; New River Mesa on the right:

Sandy, DeAnn, Linda, and Sarah:

Skull Mesa:

I thought it would be cool to explore this wash / canyon below the trail – maybe some other day…

Crossing the creek again, though it’s dry at this point:

And again; this was the last crossing, I think.

Friday Hike – Cottonwood Spring Loop w/ Skull Mesa Summit

Gayle, Sunaree, Mitra, Marilyn, and I hiked a variation of the Cottonwood Spring Loop. Midway through the loop, when we got to intersection with the Skull Mesa Trail, we hiked to the top and then returned to finish the loop.

Mitra spotted these deer at the trailhead; behind the deer is Elephant Mountain and the fortress pinnacle below it to the right.

This is Cottonwood Creek:

An early view of Skull Mesa; there is a prominent wash / drainage here, but it is not named on any of the maps that I’ve consulted.

Another view of Skull Mesa, this time from well along Trail #247:

A crested saguaro:

Looking down as we start to make our way up the Skull Mesa Trail:

Gayle, Mitra, and Sunaree make their way up the Skull Mesa Trail:

Mitra poses for a photo at the edge of the mesa:

Mitra, Gayle, and Sunaree:

A dead / alive tree atop the mesa:

Making our way back down the Skull Mesa Trail…

This is one of the views from Trail #247 beyond the Skull Mesa intersection. If you look closely, you can see another crested saguaro below.

We’re just above Cottonwood Spring in this photo…

We came across this gate on 247A; I thought the dry grass made for an interesting contrast to the vegetation beyond the gate.

Another wash crossing; this one had a lot of cairns showing the correct way to go.

Sunday Hike – Cottonwood Spring Loop

Nick, Bob, Mike, and I did a lollipop-loop hike starting from the Spur Cross Ranch Conservation Area. The interesting part of the loop was on Trail 247A in the Tonto National Forest. On the way back, we came across a recently built trail that led from 247 back to 247A.

This is a view of Skull Mesa from 247A:

Another view of Skull Mesa:

Looking back toward Sugarloaf Mountain:

Nick found a dead Gila Monster to munch on as an appetizer before lunch…

This is a view of the spring area. We saw some water here, enough to filter if we would’ve had to.

Nick, Bob, and Mike on 247 after leaving the spring.

This is the view along the section of 247 between 247A and the intersection with the Skull Mesa Trail.

This petroglyph is on the Skull Mesa Trail. Bob and I hiked a ways up this trail why Nick and Mike ate lunch.

Another awesome view on the hike back…

Friday Hike – Spur Cross / Limestone Trail

On Friday, the 23rd, Mike, Andrea, Mark, Laurie (and their dogs, Zig and Phil), Doug, Leslie, DeAnn, Sandy, Heather, Marilyn, and I hiked at Spur Cross.  It was my intention to hike from west to east on the Limestone Trail; we did part of it, but I made a wrong turn which returned to the park early.  Our total distance was still around 7.8 miles with roughly 1500 feet of total ascent.  It had rained earlier in the day; the trails were wet and the clay sections, which we had underfoot for much of the hike, grabbed at our footwear making the hike more difficult than normal.


Heather, DeAnn, Sandy, Leslie, Andrea, Mike, Laurie, Mark, Doug, and Marilyn (with dogs Phil and Zig) on the Spur Cross Trail.


Though the day was overcast, it didn’t rain while we were hiking.


A view of the fortress pinnacle from the southern section of the Elephant Mountain Trail.


Another view from the Elephant Mountain Trail.


Still on the Elephant Mountain Trail: Nearing the saddle between the main part of Elephant Mountain and the fortress.


A view of the fortress from the Limestone Trail.


Marilyn, Mike, Laurie, Andrea, Heather, DeAnn, Leslie, Doug, Sandy, and Kevin on the Limestone Trail. (The top of Mark’s hat can be seen behind Doug; Heather and I took turns with the camera so that I’d be in the picture too.)


A view of Elephant Mountain and the fortress from the connector trail between the Limestone Trail and the east end of the Elephant Mountain Trail


Muddy footwear in the trunk of the car.

Friday Hike – Spur Cross to Skull Mesa

Linda, Nancy, Marilyn, Bob, Mike, and I hiked from Spur Cross to the top of Skull Mesa on the Friday after Thanksgiving.  (Not all of us went to the summit.)  The hike was 12 miles long with over 3200 feet of total elevation gain.

This is a view of Cave Creek (which was dry on the day we hiked) from the Spur Cross Trail.


Skull Mesa, in the distance:

Another view of Skull Mesa from Cottonwood Trail #247:


This petroglyph is on the Skull Mesa Trail, shortly after leaving the Cottonwood Trail – though you have to hike about five miles just to get to that intersection.

A view to the west from the Skull Mesa Trail:


Ruins (of perhaps an ancient dwelling) can be found on the ascent to the top of Skull Mesa:

A view to the east from the Skull Mesa Trail:


Looking west again, further up the trail:


Nancy, Linda, and Bob:


We saw a young tarantula on our way up…


Climbing higher on the Skull Mesa Trail – roughly 1000 feet are gained in the mile to the top:


Looking east from the summit of Skull Mesa:


Looking southwest from the top of Skull Mesa…


Looking west from the western-most edge…


Nancy and Linda descending the Skull Mesa Trail.  In some respects, the descent was more treacherous than the ascent.


Looking west on the descent:


Another view to the west:



New Year’s Day Hike

On January 1, Bob, Janet, Allen, Nick, DeAnn, Sandy, Marilyn, and I hiked from Spur Cross to Skull Mesa.  (Not all of us went to the top.) My GPS watch tells me that I hiked 12.6 miles with over 3100 feet of total ascent.

The mile to the top of the mesa has approximately 1,000 feet of elevation gain, which is quite a lot for just one mile. It was not as difficult as I expected, however, since the trail was both easy to follow and in good condition with numerous switchbacks.

Views from early in the hike…


Marilyn, Bob, Allen, Sandy, Nick, Janet, and DeAnn:


A view of Skull Mesa:


Another view of Skull Mesa:


DeAnn, nearing the summit:


The top of Skull Mesa is grassy and expansive.20160101-_DSC8677-Edit-medium

Views from the top of Skull Mesa…



Sandy and DeAnn descending the trail from the top of Skull Mesa:


I saw these saguaros on the way down.


We saw this petroglyph on the way down too:

A semi-crested (?) saugaro:

A late afternoon view. (We started our hike at about 8:30am and got back somewhat before 5pm.)



Marilyn at the end of the Cottonwood Trail:


DeAnn, Sandy, and Marilyn by the Skull Mesa Trailhead sign.  Note the skull at the top of the sign.


Saturday Hike – Spur Cross


Nancy, Marilyn, and I hiked at the Spur Cross Ranch Conservation Area on Saturday, the 26th.  It was a cold and windy day; we had hoped to hike to the top of Skull Mesa, but we abandoned that plan and did a somewhat easier hike instead. We hiked the following trails for an 8.5 mile hike with 2200 feet of total ascent: Spur Cross, FS 48, unnamed wash / canyon, FS 48, TR 252 (Limestone), Elephant Mountain, Tortuga, Spur Cross.

An early view from the Spur Cross Trail:


I think this is entrance to the wash / canyon.  We thought this might be TR 252 at first, but after a short ways in, it became clear that it was not.  We were happy to enter this canyon, however, as it was sheltered from the wind and allowed us to warm up.



We even saw flowers growing on one of the walls of the wash.


We retraced our steps and hiked further up FS 48 until we got to the corral.  We found TR 252 at the back of the corral.  The trail climbed steadily upward, passing the south side of Sugarloaf Mountain. This is a view from early in the hike after the trail turned eastward.


Another view of Sugarloaf Mountain:


A view of Skull Mesa, which was our initial goal for the day. Given the conditions that day, we were happy that we chose this easier hike instead. (It was still fairly challenging.)


Marilyn and Nancy at a gate in the fence.  We’re near the high point on TR 252 here.  It was especially windy and cold at this point.  Both Marilyn and Nancy were eager for me to finish my photography so that we could proceed.


A view of Elephant Mountain. The Fortress pinnacle can be seen in front of Elephant Mountain.


There were some interesting cairns / trail markers along the Limestone Trail (TR 252).  We could have shortened our hike by following the arrow back to Spur Cross, but I wanted to proceed onward towards Rondo Spring.


Another trail marker on TR 252:


The crossed several substantial washes and then proceeded upward.  Route finding became somewhat more difficult; at one point, I thought we had gone too far and had missed the trail back into the park (from the Tonto National Forest), but we still had further to go. In this photo, below, Nancy and Marilyn make their way up from the trail from one of several wash crossings.


I think this is a look back at Sugarloaf Mountain. When we hiked to Black Mesa last year, we thought we’d summit on that formation, but we were mistaken. Black Mesa is mostly out of the frame to the left.


Sunday Hike: Spur Cross to Cave Creek

On Sunday, Linda, Bob, and I hiked 11.6 miles between the Spur Cross Ranch Conservation Area and the Cave Creek Recreation Area. Marilyn hiked out 4.5 miles with us and then returned to the car for a 9 mile hike. According to my GPS watch, we ended up with 1,070 feet of total ascent and 1335 feet of total descent.

A view from near the beginning of the Spur Cross Trail:


Linda spotted this heart shaped prickly pear:


Another view from the Spur Cross Trail:

Bob, Linda, and Marilyn:


Brief periods of light rain made for interesting views:

Another group ahead of us – they hiked to the park boundary and then returned.


Looking up at Elephant Mountain:


We encountered a watering hole shortly after leaving the park.  Marilyn told us that she saw cows on the way back.


Views from the Maricopa Trail…



This is a view from the Go John Trail in the Cave Creek Recreation Area:


This dog has its own pack and boots, too!


We’re done! This is a view from above the amphitheater outside of the Nature Center at the Cave Creek Recreation Area.


Friday Hike – Spur Cross to Black Mesa

Bob, Nick, Allen, Janet, and I hiked from the Spur Cross Trailhead to the top of Black Mesa. It was an arduous hike. We started at 8:00am and hiked all day with few rests, returning to our vehicle after dark. Total distance was 14 miles with over 3100 feet of total ascent. The trails in Spur Cross Ranch Conservation Area were in good condition. We had difficulty following the trails once we entered Tonto National Forest. Tall grass has grown up over the rocks blocking our view of many of the cairns. If it were not for the track that I had loaded into my GPS, we probably would not have found our way. Hiking uphill through tall grass over unseen rocks was very tiring. Despite the difficulty, I had fun on the hike anyway.

Below are two views of the fortress. We passed the path up to the top on our way back (adding two miles to our hike), but we were running short on daylight, so we left it for another day.

20141219-_DSC7979-Edit-medium  20141219-_DSC8000-Edit-medium

We encountered two very nice trail markers after entering Tonto National Forest.


We took a short break after passing through one of the fences.





A view of Black Mesa. At the start of the day, we thought that we’d be hiking up a different nearby formation.


Bob, after emerging from one section of tall grass.


Allen, Janet, and Nick on an easy section of the hike.


A view from part way up the final ascent of Black Mesa:


It turns out that there’s a very good trail, complete with switchbacks, up to the top of Black Mesa. We couldn’t find it on the way up, however. We did find it on the way down, but it became harder and harder to follow (due to the grass) as we descended.



Another view from part way up:


We were surprised to find a tire, painted yellow, in a tree at the top of the mesa.


A view from the top:


A view of Elephant Mountain at the right and the fortress, below it to the left:



A barrel cactus alongside the trail. The trail is quite good here.


Two more views of the fortress…



We went the wrong way and missed seeing this large saguaro on our way out.


Black Mesa is the formation to the left. We started the day thinking that we’d be hiking the mesa at the right. In the morning light, it looked more like a “black mesa” than the other one.


Another view of the Fortress with the sun getting lower in the sky.


Another view of Black Mesa (left) and Sugarloaf Mountain (right):


Another view of the Fortress:


A view from the pass between Elephant Mountain and the Fortress:


More views from the Elephant Mountain Trail:




I think these last three photos were taken from the Spur Cross Trail:




Friday Hike – Spur Cross Ranch Conservation Area

Bob, Venie, Linda, Nancy, and I did an eight mile hike at the Spur Cross Ranch Conservation Area.  Our hike took us out into the Tonto National Forest briefly. Halfway through, we hiked up to the top of the fortress peak where we looked at the walls built by an ancient people, presumably for defense.

Our hike started on the Spur Cross Trail, where we encountered Cave Creek.



Fortunately, there is narrow bridge of sorts, so we didn’t have to get our feet wet crossing the creek.

20140321-_DSC8945-Edit-medium Linda looking at some of the large Saguaros beside the trail:

20140321-_DSC8954-Edit-medium An early morning view from the Spur Cross Trail:

20140321-_DSC8960-Edit-medium A view of Elephant Mountain on the left with the fortress peak lower down to the right.  The steep walls around most of the fortress peak make it fairly inaccessible via any route except for a steep, but relatively easy trail accessible from the saddle between these two formations.

20140321-_DSC8987-Edit-mediumWe saw at least two signs along the way about the trail being a “primitive route” that is “not maintained”.  These trails are significantly better than some of the trails we’ve hike elsewhere.

20140321-_DSC8996-medium Another early morning view:

20140321-_DSC8999-Edit-mediumPart of the trail followed an old road full of rocks.

20140321-_DSC9002-Edit-medium Yet another early morning view:

20140321-_DSC9017-Edit-medium Another view of Elephant Mountain and the Fortress Peak.  Note that Elephant Mountain is still to the left of the Fortress Peak in this photo.

20140321-_DSC9026-Edit-medium By the time that I took this photo, we had worked our way far enough around these formations for the positions to have reversed.

20140321-_DSC9029-Edit-medium We saw this very elaborate cairn at the junction with Trail 252.  We took the fork leading westward.

20140321-_DSC9044-Edit-medium Trail 252 lead us even further around Elephant Mountain and the Fortress Peak.

20140321-_DSC9050-Edit-medium We saw this yellow flower along the way.

20140321-_DSC9071-Edit-medium We encountered a fork on Trail 252 and took the left fork.  This lead us back to a fork of the Elephant Mountain Trail that we had bypassed earlier in the hike.  I think this view, below, is a view of Elephant Mountain  from that trail.

20140321-_DSC9086-Edit-mediumA view from the wash that the trail dumped us into.

20140321-_DSC9104-Edit-medium Linda says that this is “fountain grass”.  She says that it’s a non-native grass.  Some of her work with the McDowell Sonoran preserve involves eliminating some of this grass from the preserve.  It’s pretty in this photo, but it prevents native plants from growing. When dry, it is very combustible and presents more of a fire danger than do native plants.

20140321-_DSC9113-Edit-medium A view of some high walls of the wash as we made our way over to another wash, through which the Elephant Mountain Trail passes.

20140321-_DSC9119-Edit-medium We’re so far below Elephant Mountain now that we can only see the Fortress Peak.

20140321-_DSC9137-Edit-medium At this point, we had been going uphill for quite a while on our way up to the pass between Elephant Mountain and the Fortress Peak.

20140321-_DSC9143-Edit-medium A view from the northwest side of the Fortress Peak.  Elephant Mountain is not visible in this photo, but is to the camera’s right.

20140321-_DSC9149-Edit-mediumWe saw many flowers on the way.

20140321-_DSC9152-Edit-medium This is a view of Elephant Mountain from part way up the ascent to the top of the Fortress Peak.

20140321-_DSC9161-Edit-medium A view from below of one of several stone walls on the Fortress Peak.

20140321-_DSC9164-Edit-medium Several more views of some of the stone Walls near the top of the fortress peak.

20140321-_DSC9167-Edit-medium 20140321-_DSC9170-Edit-medium 20140321-_DSC9182-Edit-medium 20140321-_DSC9185-Edit-mediumEven though it’s quite rocky, the fortress peak has a variety of vegetation.

20140321-_DSC9200-Edit-medium A view from the near the top of the fortress peak.

20140321-_DSC9206-Edit-medium I took this photo from some boulders that form the high point of the Fortress Peak.  As seen below, there’s quite a lot of space atop this peak.

20140321-_DSC9224-Edit-medium A view of Elephant Mountain from the fortress peak.

20140321-_DSC9233-Edit-medium Yet another view from the Fortress Peak.

20140321-_DSC9236-Edit-medium We continued hiking the Elephant Mountain Trail after leaving the Fortress Peak.  The trail crossed a large wash along the way.  Below is a close up view looking down the wash.

20140321-_DSC9269-Edit-medium Here is a wider angle view:

20140321-_DSC9272-Edit-medium Looking back up at the prominent wall on Elephant Mountain.

20140321-_DSC9275-Edit-medium Linda told us that this is a Mammillaria, a small type of cactus that often grows between rocks.20140321-_DSC9284-Edit-medium A look up another steep wash / canyon.

20140321-_DSC9299-Edit-medium And a look at where it continues downwards:

20140321-_DSC9302-Edit-medium The ocotillo are in bloom and the desert is still green.

20140321-_DSC9317-Edit-medium 20140321-_DSC9329-Edit-medium Hedgehog cactus blossoms:

20140321-_DSC9344-Edit-medium Ocotillo blossom:

20140321-_DSC9365-Edit-medium Another blooming ocotillo that’s growing around a smallish saguaro.

20140321-_DSC9395-Edit-medium We encountered this woman riding her horse near the end of the trail.  We also saw another large group of riders in the distance, but they’re route did not cross ours.

20140321-_DSC9482-Edit-medium Linda peers out of a window from the remains (?) of a stone structure near the parking area.


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