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Saturday, December 8, 2018


Agua Fria National Monument
Confluence of Badger Springs Wash & Agua Fria River
Petroglyphs along Badger Springs Wash Trail
Anybody who has travelled  Interstate 17  between Phoenix and Prescott has inevitably sped past the Agua Fria National Monument. The placid rolling hills and boulder fields that are visible from the freeway belie a wilderness of wind-swept grasslands, deep canyons, extinct volcanic features and hundreds of historical resources.
Hikers on the Badger Springs Wash Trail
Proclaimed a national monument by President Bill Clinton in 2000, the 70,900-acre, Bureau of Land Management supervised tract is rich in Native American cultural sites that date to between 1250 and 1450. A.D. 
Steep cliffs flank the Agua Fria River
The remains of more than 400 structures and petroglyph (rock art) panels dot the area. Although most of these delicate and irreplaceable sites reside off-the-radar far from even the worst of the rough roads that criss-cross the monument’s remote mesas and tree-lined drainages, two official trails offer short hikes to some of the area’s most impressive sights.  For those with a high-clearance vehicle and the fortitude to get through a white-knuckle section of edge-clinging dirt road, the massive footprint of Pueblo La Plata on the rim of Perry Mesa above Silver Creek offers walkable exploring. But for a longer, tougher hiking experience, take the Badger Springs Wash Trail.
Willows and cottonwoods thrive in the moist sandy soil.
Trees on Badger Springs Wash Trail turn gold in early winter
Located just over a mile from the freeway, the mile-long trail follows a sandy drainage corridor that empties into the Agua Fria River.  Just before trail’s end, petroglyph panels on crags flanking the wash’s east side bear dozens of etchings of animals, humans and artful designs.  As with all archeological resources, please to not touch, alter or remove anything.  The river’s edge marks both the end of the official route and the beginning of a memorable backcountry adventure into a steep-walled gorge with numerous obstacles. Hiking beyond the confluence of the wash and the river is safe to do only when water levels are low.  Do not attempt this hike during rain storms as there is a high potential for deadly flooding. Also, during very wet periods, the route may be impassible.
Perry Tank Canyon seen from Richinbar Mine
Petroglyphs date to between 1250 and 1450 A.D.
High water levels foiled our canyon exploration on 12-8-18.

From the river-wash confluence, it's possible follow the waterway  in either direction, but the most dramatic scenery can be found when you head right (south).  This bend in the river is flanked by the inky black basalt spewed by 4042-foot Joe’s Hill—a dormant shield volcano.  (Joe’s Hill is visible as a low mound directly to the east across from the Black Canyon Rest Area on I-17.)  The twisting course is a mix of soft sand, parched mud fields, acres of boulders, drop pools, rivulets and islands of cottonwoods.  Running water continually changes the landscape, so you’ll need to hunt-and-peck your way through the quagmire. Be alert around puddles and sandbars because groundwater can create invisible sinkholes and spots of quicksand. Use a hiking stick to test ground stability. Throughout the trek, rusty relics of area mine operations rest crumpled in crevasses. Roughly 2 miles from the confluence, Perry Tank Canyon flows in from the east and, although not visible from the canyon floor, the ruins of Richinbar Mine sit on the lip of the canyon 700 feet above.  Even though the hike to this point hasn’t been very long, the irregular route and constant scrambling will tax your stamina more than you think.
When accessible, the canyon hike is rocky and challenging

Highly-skilled, properly outfitted trekkers can opt to continue slogging through either canyon, but for a day hike, this makes for a good turn around point. 
Running water scribbles lacy rivulets in Badger Springs Wash
LENGTH: 1-mile to the river
RATING: easy, then difficult
ELEVATION: 3100-2900 feet
From Phoenix, travel 40 miles north on Interstate 17 to the Badger Springs Road exit 256.
Continue 1 mile east to the trailhead.  A high-clearance vehicle is recommended on the rough dirt and gravel road. 
Bureau of Land Management
Friends of the Agua Fria National Moument

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