This trail is an old rancher's trail/cowboy path that the forest service has hidden from the Cave Creek trail maps they produce. It runs from Cottonwood creek to the base of China wall, at a saddle below Bronco Butte.
The trail is faint and washed away in brief sections, I was able to find about 95% of it, but the remaining 5% may no longer exist. Route finding skills are needed for this seldom-travelled trail. I recommend you take along the Official GPS Route.
Although I did this in shorts, losing the trail may take you into some nasty bush. Stick to the trail, it's in good shape!
Cave Creek has a history of ranching dating back before I was born. This trail is part of an old rancher's network of horse trails that cowboys used to move cattle around in this area. On the way out I ran into a man who worked this area much of his life. I was surprised that not only did he know where I went, but that he knew the name of the trail and had been to the area many times before. Thank you for sharing your knowledge of the area!
From the Cottonwood Creek #247 trail, approximately 0.5 miles east of the intersection with #247A (not Skull Mesa), you will come across a trail sign for Cottonwood Creek. Interestingly, there is no other trail sign on this sign post. The Forest Service apparently does not wish for people to know about this trail, but the post gives it away! ;)
Head south up the obvious trail to a saddle well used by cows. From here, pick your way down the faint trail to the creek bed below and cross at the spot. Keep in mind that this trail was for horses, and use this to help you visualize where the trail will go...it is faint.
Now in the creek bed, decide if that first section seemed difficult to find or hike. If so, turn around now as that is as easy as it will get!
From the creek, ascend the trail as it gets to a bench and slowly bends to the south east. After a bit, I believe the trail used an old wash which is now overgrown. (I am told this is not the case, but the trail does not exist for about 100 yards. Follow the wash on either side until the trail appears again, crossing the wash a few times.
The trail becomes more well defined and will ascend over a hill and crosses a wash. On the other side, be sure to find the trail as it goes nearly underneath a crucifixion thorn tree. The trail will climb to a bench...and proceed to nearly disappear. Do not fret, for I believe I closely mapped the area. It took a couple tries...
Head up the fairly steep ridge and over a few small knobs, maintaining a gradual uphill grade. At one point you will reach a saddle where the trail may have braided, for I saw another trail going over a ridge as well as around. No matter, for you are done with the difficult part. From here the trail is very well defined and you follow it up along a ridge line. Along the way is a saddle with a magnificent neon green lichen covered rock outcropping. Stop a moment here and look up and to the east. You will spot the China wall, a geologic formation you will continue to head towards.
Continue following the ridge uphill and carefully follow it as it weaves amongst a drainage to the final saddle, which sits below China Wall and gives you a magnificent view of Pinnacle Peak, Lone Mountain, and many other views to the south-east.
Many will want to make a loop of this using the China Wall Trail, though routes from here exist both to a forest rd downhill and to the east, and to a road over a ridge and down a slope to the south. Access to these roads may be restricted.
None, bring plenty.
Camping is possible with water at the intersection of Cottonwood and #247A. Other places will be dry camping
Check out the Official Route and Triplogs.
This hike is listed as One-Way.
When hiking several trails on a single "hike", log it with a generic name that describes the hike. Then link the trails traveled, check out the example.
WARNING! Hiking and outdoor related sports can be dangerous. Be responsible and prepare for the trip. Study the area you are entering and plan accordingly. Dress for the current and unexpected weather changes. Take plenty of water. Never go alone. Make an itinerary with your plan(s), route(s), destination(s) and expected return time. Give your itinerary to trusted family and/or friends.
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