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Saturday, January 24, 2009


RED CREEK Tonto National Forest Crystal clear, gurgling waters, red rock cliffs, shady mesquite forests and towering canyon walls make hiking Red Creek an especially relaxing experience. A tributary of the Verde River, Red Creek creates a narrow band of green in the desert and supports abundant plant and animal life. Simple and serene, the trail follows the creek and 4x4 roads. Stream hopping is a major feature of this hike but the creek bed is gravel (not mud) and the water is anything but deep or treacherous. The creek emerges from the canyon at about the 3-mile mark and trickles into a desert wash with big-sky views and miles of river rock underfoot. On the near horizon, a ribbon of green jutting over the desert ridges is a sure sign that a major water source is nearby. Keep following the trickle and it will lead you to the rushing waters and sandy beaches of the upper Verde River. LENGTH: 8 miles out-and-back RATING: Easy ELEVATION CHANGE: 400 feet GETTING THERE: From Carefree, follow Cave Creek Road (which will turn onto FR 24) for 32 miles to the FR 269 junction (Bloody Basin Road) and turn right. Go about three miles and turn left onto FR 18 and proceed for roughly 2.5 miles. Park in a dirt turnoff just before the steep descent to Red Creek. Expect to spend 2.5 hours on dirt roads. NOTE: FR 18 is very rough and requires at least a high clearance vehicle.


HAUNTED CANYON Superstition Wilderness Tony’s Cabin is still standing, as it has for decades, at the edge of a sycamore-lined creek in Haunted Canyon. Abandoned long ago, it serves now as a shrine to a camaraderie of hikers who have never met. The weathered log building is lovingly maintained and stocked with canned foods, matches and other survival essentials, like beer, by outdoors enthusiasts just passing through. Be it a stash for the lost or an offering to the spirits that inhabit the wilderness, you too can become part of the tradition by depositing a can of beans of your own. Undulating and traversing a variety of terrain, the Haunted Canyon trail starts out as an easy-to-follow stroll, but quickly demands more of your quads and route-finding skills. Views from the high ridgelines into the forests and meadows are worth the effort. Keep in mind that the downhill sections on the way in become uphill slogs on the way out. Except for some tortured looking cottonwoods, and the calls of fugitive owls, the trail does not seem haunted. Native Americans slapped the moniker on the canyon as a determent to outsiders. But, slag heaps and tailings ponds along the drive to the trailhead are ample evidence that phantoms are no match for the lure of copper. LENGTH: Optional. 7.5 miles out and back RATING: moderate - difficult ELEVATION RANGE: 3,200 – 4,900 feet GETTING THERE: From Phoenix, take Hwy 60 east past Queen Creek to the Pinto Valley mine exit (FR 287). Follow the paved road almost 3 miles to the mine entrance. Turn left and follow the “public access” signs. Keep bearing left until you reach the Trail 203 sign. INFORMATION: Tonto National Forest, Superstition Wilderness

Thursday, January 22, 2009


SKULL MESA Tonto National Forest There is an intoxicating muddling of time and place on the trails leading to Skull Mesa. Hohokam symbols, chipped into rock 800-years-ago, embellish sun-drenched niches and along a wash, fresh javalina prints follow a trickle of water. Located just a few miles north of Cave Creek in the Seven Springs recreation area, the Skull Mesa trail system feels feral and remote despite its proximity to town. For a leisurely stroll, the first 1.9 miles along a creek-side horse trail is flat and scenic, flanked by red cliffs and cottonwoods. After that, the excursion becomes more challenging requiring ridge running along crumbling sandstone and narrow cholla-lined footpaths. At the Trail 248 junction, climb the 27 steep switchbacks to the 4,285-foot low summit. (The 4,590-foot high point is another 1.3 miles to the east.) Descend in time to enjoy weatherworn ruins, solstice markers and skulking coyotes among the yucca and scurrying quail. LENGTH: 12 miles round-trip RATING: difficult ELEVATION: 2,410 - 4,285 feet GETTING THERE: From Phoenix: Exit 101 at Cave Creek Road. Go north on Cave Creek Road to Spur Cross Road. Follow Spur Cross Road to several yards before the Conservation Area gate and park in the large dirt lot on the right. FEE: $3 daily fee per person. Bring exact change for the self-serve pay box. THE ROUTE: Follow Spur Cross Trail north for 1.9 miles (hopping the creek a up to a dozen times depending on water levels) to the Skull Mesa trailhead--marked by a large forest service map/sign on the banks of the creek.  Follow Cave Creek Trail #4 briefly and go right to connect to Cottonwood Trail #247and hike roughly 3 miles to the Skull Mesa Trail #248 junction paying attention to cairns and trail signs as it is very easy to loose the trail in some spots. From the 248 junction, grunt your way up to the top of Skull Mesa. This report describes the hike to the low summit. However, the hike can be extended to explore ruins on the mesa and/or connected loops using the Tonto NF maps. NOTE: this is an all-day hike. The route undulates continually, so the elevation gain feels like much more, that’s why it’s smart to carry plenty of food, water and emergency supplies when hiking this route.
INFO: Spur Cross Ranch Conservation Area: and
Tonto National Forest:!ut/p/c5/04_SB8K8xLLM9MSSzPy8xBz9CP0os3gDfxMDT8MwRydLA1cj72BTSw8jAwgAykeaxcN4jhYG_h4eYX5hPgYwefy6w0H24dcPNgEHcDTQ9_PIz03VL8iNMMgycVQEAIzTHkw!/dl3/d3/L2dJQSEvUUt3QS9ZQnZ3LzZfME80MEkxVkFCOTBFMktTNUJIMjAwMDAwMDA!/?ss=110312&ttype=recarea&recid=35253&actid=50&navtype=BROWSEBYSUBJECT&position=BROWSEBYSUBJECT&navid=110160000000000&pnavid=110000000000000&cid=FSE_003714&pname=Tonto+National+Forest+-+Skull+Mesa+Trail+248