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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.

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We encountered two very nice trail markers after entering Tonto National Forest.
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We took a short break after passing through one of the fences.

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Saguaros…

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

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Bob, after emerging from one section of tall grass.

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

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

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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.

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Another view from part way up:

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

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A view from the top:

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

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

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Two more views of the fortress…

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

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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.

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

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

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Another view of the Fortress:

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

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More views from the Elephant Mountain Trail:

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

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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.

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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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Elephant Mountain

Marilyn and I hiked at the Spur Cross Ranch Recreation Area on Sunday.

We hiked the Spur Cross Trail to Tortuga, at which point we continued straight on Tortuga.  Tortuga branches off to the left, but we continued going straight which is the Elephant Mountain Trail at that point.  The Elephant Mountain Trail descends into a wash, follows the wash for a time and then gradually ascends to a pass which separates the main bulk of Elephant Mountain from a  lower peak to the East.  This lower peak is the site of an old Native American fortress, complete with walls somewhat below the relatively flat top of the peak.  We continued on Elephant Mountain Trail until it met up with the Spur Cross Trail, which we followed back to the parking area.

A view of Elephant Mountain from either the Tortuga Trail or near the beginning of the Elephant Mountain trail from where it connects to the Tortuga Trail.  The fortress peak with the shear sides is in front of the main bulk of Elephant Mountain.

In the photo below, we were on the Elephant Mountain Trail, beginning our descent into the wash.

 

A view of the Elephant Mountain fortress peak from where the Elephant Mountain Trail dips into a wash:

I think this might be Sugarloaf Mountain with Skull Mesa to the right.  (I’m not certain though.)

Another view of the Elephant Mountain fortress rock:

Great views…

A wall of ridged rock on Elephant Mountain:

One of the views as we were making our way back to the Spur Cross Trail:

Another look at one of the rock walls on Elephant Mountain:

Marilyn amidst some very tall saguaros:

A mountain biker descending the Spur Cross Trail:

Marilyn on the Spur Cross Trail:

Saguaros on the Spur Cross Trail:

White stone and brown rocks along the Spur Cross Trail:

The sun came out shortly before setting, bathing the trail in an orange glow:

Marilyn, waiting for me as I take lots of “golden hour” photos:

More views near sunset…

I noticed these ruins near the parking area just prior to leaving.  I’m puzzled about the wood beam though.  It doesn’t look weathered enough to be original.

Two Burros

Marilyn and I visited the Spur Cross Ranch Conservation Area on Sunday.  We saw two burros in the parking lot.  They’re obviously very well fed; we suspect they wandered over from a nearby ranch.

 

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