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Saturday, December 26, 2009

LIMESTONE LOOP

LIMESTONE LOOP Spur Cross Ranch Conservation Area Cave Creek Although it’s located just a few clicks north of the city, this scenic loop hike traversing both Spur Cross Conservation Area and adjacent Tonto National Forest lands, encompasses some of the most spectacular desert scenery around. Think—a gurgling desert creek lined with cottonwoods and Goodding willows, outrageous forests of gigantic saguaros and sweeping views of the Valley. Although there are several options for making loop hikes using Limestone trail #252 (visit the Web site listed below for a detailed map) one really sweet option works like this: From the conservation area entry point and pay station, hike up the road and continue straight (north) on the Spur Cross Trail. Follow this wide old Jeep road (aka Forest Road 48) for 1.8 miles (hopping the creek several times) to an abandoned circular corral area where you’ll find a tiny “trail” sign pointing south. Follow the generic signs (there’s no “Limestone Trail” signage) to a narrow, rocky path that veers west heading steeply uphill. From here, this sketchy, un-maintained 2.3-mile segment vacillates between easy-to-follow and essentially—invisible. No worries, though—if you think you’ve lost the trail, just take a deep breath and scope out the intermittent rock cairns that mark the faint sections, leading hikers past two springs at the base of Sugarloaf Mountain. The worst route-finding challenges end at a fancy trail marker etched out of stone where you’ll veer left (east) heading toward Spur Cross and continue 0.4 miles to the Elephant Mountain junction. From here, stay on the main, wide trail (straight ahead) and hike another 0.3 miles to the Tortuga Trail junction. The quickest way back to the trailhead is to head left at this junction and follow the Tortuga Trail for 0.7 miles to the Spur Cross trail junction. Hang a left here and continue 0.6 miles back to the parking lot. LENGTH: 6-mile loop RATING: moderate-rocky, loose footing, creek crossings ELEVATION GAIN : 1000 feet GETTING THERE: Spur Cross Ranch Conservation Area is located approximately 35 miles north of central Phoenix. Interstate 17, State Route 51, and Loop 101 can all be used to reach the park. From the intersection of Carefree Highway and Cave Creek Road head north on Cave Creek Road about 2.5 miles to Spur Cross Road. Turn north for approximately 4.5 miles to the public parking area on the right. As of summer 2016, the road is 100% paved.  INFORMATION: www.maricopa.gov/parks/spur_cross/Directions.aspx FEE: There’s a $3 per person daily fee. PLEASE BRING EXACT AMOUNT. The self-serve pay station does not make change. Free maps are usually available at the kiosk.

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