Backpacked Roger's Canyon Ruins (trail #110) with a small group 11/11/2017. The plan was to hike in, explore the ruins, and then camp just beyond at Angel Spring. There were 2 major variables on this trip; whether we could get to the trail head with the available vehicles, and whether any water would be present at the nearby springs.
The first obstacle of getting to the trailhead was neatly handled. Two of the trip participants owned a Jeep Liberty so their vehicles were used for the carpool. To further improve our odds of getting to the trailhead, I researched the available routes and found a report indicating that FR172 had been graded a few years prior and afforded easy access to Woodbury trailhead. The stretch from Woodbury to Roger's Trough (our destination) was reported to be slightly more difficult. Our drive in found those old reports to be largely accurate. The route was easily passable to regular cars until we got past the Woodbury trailhead. There were only a few genuinely rough spots after and the whole route could be managed with a 2wd vehicle of moderate ground clearance in dry weather.
The 2nd variable of water would end up turning our backpacking trip into a day hike despite our best efforts to find a campsite with water. We were well prepared for that possibility with each member of the party carrying 4 liters of water and prepared for the possibility of a hike out the same day
The hike started out easily enough with some early sections of the hike being relatively steep and some slipping on loose gravel was experienced. The were a multitude of creek crossings but all of them were dry. We reached the intersection of Reavis Ranch South (trail #109) 50 minutes after leaving the trailhead and were making good time. The trail was not difficult to follow but was frequently overgrown with thorny vegetation. The members of the party that chose to wear shorts regretted their decision. It did not appear to be a particularly well traveled trail.
We stopped to take a brief rest and eat some lunch just after covering 3 miles. No water was found at Roger's Canyon Spring but the views in this section of the canyon were spectacular. We encountered a few other groups of hikers at this point but the trail was not overly crowded.
Continuing on we soon found ourselves at the ruins. They were not obvious from the trail and a conversation with another hiker is what brought our attention to their exact location. The short path up to the ruins is relatively steep and a placard is there to give some information on the site. A bearing was taken from the main cave which suggest the ruins location I originally had marked on my map was slightly farther east than their actual location.
At first glance there does not appear to be much left of the cliff dwellings. Aside from smoke stains on the walls and a partially collapsed wall there was not much evidence that the cave had been occupied. Further inspection revealed a set of hand and footholds going up an interior cave wall. The holds did not appear to be in rock but rather a surface made from the same mud/mortar material that was used in the stone wall seen nearby. Attempting to use them to ascend was deemed highly risky without protection and likely to cause damage to the historic structure. A sketchy path (probably grade 4 rock) was found that looped around the section with the holds and some careful scrambling revealed a larger cave with a considerably more impressive dwelling in it.
This 2nd floor cave contained a dwelling with 3 rooms. The largest of the three rooms had a mortar covered, flat, thatched roof. The covered room opened up into one of the uncovered rooms which in turn opened up to the rest of the cave. It was not clear whether the 2nd and 3rd rooms were unfinished or were never intended to have a roof. There were not sufficient debris present to suggest that an existing roof collapsed and the slightly lower walls on the open rooms seems to indicate that they never had one. Perhaps the open rooms were for warm weather sleeping with the closed room reserved for winter? At any rate it was fascinating to see such a well preserved and remote piece of history.
As our exploration of the cliff dwellings finished up we began to direct our thoughts towards finding a campsite for the night. Given that the first spring we passed was completely dry, and we had seen no signs of water anywhere along the creek bed, the possibility of there being no water available seemed considerable. I decided to scout ahead with another athletic member of the party to see if the spring at our intended campsite (or any of the springs in the area) were running. That way if there was no water available, and we had to hike back, most of the group would have an opportunity to rest and would be spared an extra 3 miles of hiking with all their gear. So we left our bags with the group, who were still exploring the ruins, and headed out in search of water.
There were two other springs in the area; Angel Spring and Hole Spring. Angel Spring was the closest and according to the topographical map also featured a flat area that would be suitable for camping. There were plenty of good spots for camping. In fact there were several locations with fire pits and logs to sit on but the spring itself was dry. So we continued north to Hole Spring. There was an arete and a series of narrow cliffs to the west of the trail which were well pocketed and might contain additional cliff dwellings. I may explore this area further on a future trip as it appears less well traveled than the earlier parts of the trail. We quickly made it to and past Hole Spring despite the trail being heavily overgrown in several places and forcing us to use the watercourse to proceed for a significant portion of the hike. Hole spring and the entire creek bed was completely dry so we turned back to return the to group with the bad news.
When we arrived back at the ruins we found the rest of the party lounging in hammocks or taking pictures of the fall foliage. They were disappointed to hear that our trip had to be curtailed due to lack of water but I planned to check Roger's Spring on the way back so it was still possible that we might find a suitable campsite for the night. The hike back was not difficult with everyone's pack being ~ 4 lbs lighter due to water consumption. It was getting dark around the time we reached the intersection with Reavis Ranch South and we had to use headlamps to continue on. It also got noticeably colder at this point and extra layers were added by some to keep warm. At this point the trail became steeper and the party needed to stop to rest more frequently.
Seeing that half the party was now proceeding at a slower pace I took the faster portion ahead with the intention of scouting out Roger's Spring for water while the remainder caught up. This worked out nicely as we were able to leave the fast group at the junction of West Pinto (trail #212) to wait for the remainder of the party. Once again I took the most ambitious hiker of the group (who was by now quite footsore) and went in search of a water source. Once again we were disappointed. the hike up the hill was challenging in the dark and the trail was overgrown and difficult to follow once it got into the trees. We were able to find the water pipelines and Roger's spring but it was little more than a muddy puddle. There was also no suitable place in the vicinity to set up camp as the trail was very steep without open or flat areas suitable for tents. Feeling thoroughly defeated we turned back to return to the group, which was completed by the slower members of the party as we were hiking back down to the West Pinto trail junction.
Having failed to find a suitable campsite we returned to Phoenix for a huge dinner as compensation.
On the whole, things went as well as could be expected. The trailhead was easier to get to than anticipated and the route planning for the off-road portion ensured that we got to our intended destination without any trouble. The available data suggested that water might not be available this time of year and everyone carried, and ended up using, their contingency water supplies to hike out the same day. The ruins were intriguing and well worth visiting, I look forward to further expeditions in this area.
When I return to The Superstitions I will bring a few gallons of water and some firewood in the vehicles we drive in. That way we can camp at one of the many car camping spots along the forest road if we end up having to turn a backpacking trip into a day hike due to lack of water.
Link to downloadable topographical maps:
Link to hike video:
[ youtube video ]Foliage
Some trees were displaying fall colors, primarily yellows. probably late in the season.