Had wanted to do some of the trails in the Tonto just off the Spur Cross Ranch and this was the day for it. Got on the Spur Cross trail a little bit later than I wanted - a little after 7am. Because of the mountains didn't feel the sunlight until I was almost 2 miles into my hike at the Tonto map board (Where the Cottonwood and Cave Creek trails start). I could have used that sunlight too! Windy conditions, made for a chilly morning.
Though most of my hike involved other trails, I posted this hike under the Quien Sabe because it was the only trail which I did completely. Started the loop off going clockwise on the Cave Creek Trail#4. The trail rose steadily until it crested a ridge. From there it stayed within the same elevation zone, give or take a couple of hundred. The trail was (surprisingly) easier to follow than I anticipated. Much of this trail varied from noticeable to grassy indentations in the soil. I was on this trail for about 6 miles. I passed three hikers going and a trail runner coming out.
At about 8 miles in to my hike I came to Skunk Tank Trail#246. This trail too was surprisingly easy to follow. This trail climbed steadily along Skunk Tank Canyon taking me to Skunk Tank. This spot was labled as such on the trail. It didn't look like much. It was a small and primarily dead grove of some sort of deciduous tree. I saw two roadrunners (flying
, after I had startled them) on this trail, but that was it. Views were nice, but I was still enclosed by higher mountains so it was limited to the nearby area.
At around the 10.5 mile mark I hit the Quien Sabe trail. (Interestingly, at the beginning of the Tonto Forest, where they have their trail board, they indicate the Quien Sabe as the easiest of trails...... NOT!) At the Quien Sabe juncture the trail starts off as a trace and disappears from there. The only reason I knew where the trail "should be" was becasue it follows an old mining road that has been cut into the side Quien Sabe Mountain. The "trail" was easy because the grade of the "road" was mild and the cut in the hill distinctive and easy to see. The road was overgrown with all kinds of prickly and thorny things. The trail was followable until I crossed Matty's Fork (a creek bed, which was trickling). At this point I loss the cut in the hill... and the trail. After some bushwacking I came upon the trail again near the Skull Mesa Trail connection. Worth noting, about .5 miles in on the Quien, I got a fantastic view of valley and the mountains from Camelback to the Estrellas.
After the Quien Sabe, the Skull Mesa Trail#248 was a walk in the park. The Quien intersects the Skull trail which goes east-west. I took the westward direction, which climbs a ridge that goes up the backside of Skull Mesa. The trail was faint but followable. As I climbed, I came across logs spiked into the ground to help control run off, which I took as confirmation that I was on a trail. Reaching the top was an exhilerating feeling.
The mesa was much larger than I anticipated. If one wanted to, you could spend quite a bit of time up there. Between trail use and cairns it was pretty easy navigating the mesa. There's a "Y" in the trail near the southern edge of the mesa. The westward trail took me to a lookout point that gave a great view of Cave Creek, the mesa off to the west, and of course the Phoenix valley. This lookout point is at the edge of a sheer drop so walk the rocks with care. The Skull trail comes off the mesa with a series of steep switchbacks. I never fell, but I slid and rolled my ankels numerous times during my descent. And it didn't seem to matter how careful I was. Very frustrating
. A lot of elevation change with little mileage. I'm not sure if its better to ascend or descend this portion of the trail.
At about the 16 mile mark I came to the Cottonwood Trail#247. The Cottonwood goes in an east-west direction and once again I took the westward direction. At this point, I had a great view of the lookout point I was just at 30 minutes ago. Hard to believe that I came that far down in such a short time. The Cottonwood Trail is well used and easy to follow. There is quite a bit of elevation change and the trail is rocky so I had to watch my footing to avoid any skiing. (It's no fun skiing without snow
). The surrounding scenery was beautiful! The foliage was vibrant, and the lay of the land engaging.
At the 18 mile mark, I hit the Spur Cross Trail and I was heading toward home.
It definitely took longer than I thought to do this hike but I would do it again. There are a lot more trails out there, so I hope to get out there again soon.