Since it was only thought to be a hike past a cave followed by a loop up and around a long wash and back to the car I had planned on referring to this hike as the Cave and Wash Tour
. But to our pleasant surprise a more accurate description would be the Cave, Cat Scat, Skunk & Slot Canyon Tour
When I first laid eyes on this cave from afar a few months back I knew it was only a matter of time and opportunity before I would hike to it. Reaching to within a 1/2 mile of it while on my 12/5 4x4 recon trip was all it took to bring it to the top of my to-do list. But instead of taking the long and rough tooth-rattling
2+ hour 4x4 trip in from SR 79 on the west through Cottonwood Canyon, we decided on the longer-by-highway but shorter and relatively smoother dirt-road drive in from the east on Battle Axe Road. Just over an hour from home to Battle Axe Rd and another hour to the designated trailhead. From there we drove absolutely as far as the Samurai would go including some extra effort which brought us within .3 mile of The Cave, albeit on the other side of the mountain.
Prepared to hike all the way around the mountain if need be, after scanning the terrain upward I felt it was worth a shot to head up, find an opening across the top and over to the other side. I didn't think Tracey was too enthused about that idea because it did look very steep, but being the good trooper she hung in there and followed me all the way up and over. I must admit it wasn't as simple as that because the terrain was very steep and very loose to boot. So being methodical, very slow and careful is how we took it. Once over the top we found the terrain much more stable and with the back of the cave in plain sight it was just a matter of selecting the easiest route to the cave. In a manner of minutes I was climbing up into it. I made the mistake of telling Tracey there weren't any artifacts or the like in it so of course she no longer saw a need to climb up herself. Next time I'll just say, Wow! You gotta see this!!
and then maybe she'll make the effort.
Ok, now that we've been to the cave what next? With all manner of terrain and interesting formations around us it would have made little difference which route we took back around the mountain, we would not have been without something of interest. To begin with we headed north across some rolling terrain then cut toward the wash below. Just before reaching the wash we came upon a distinctive rock that reminded me of a dromedary camel, the one with two humps. (See photo set) What to do here... climb up and over or go around? With a quick glance at the steep and uncertain terrain Tracey didn't hesitate a moment before saying I'll go around
. But with the fascination factor kicking in I wasn't about to let something like this to stop me. Within a minute or two I was almost to the saddle and ready to say it was a piece-of-cake when a whole section of the terrain I was standing on let loose and started sliding.
Luckily I was already stepping onto a more stable rock and was able to escape the small avalanche. After that small episode I was a bit more careful on my climb to the highest point where I took a few photos of our route this far.
Once off the dromedary we headed straight for the wash below. We had barely started along the wash when we spotted some large cat prints almost 5" across the pad. Due to the rain I experienced when I drove along the upper part of this wash a few days before, I knew they were pretty fresh prints. OK, there's a good-sized mountain lion around these parts so we'll keep that in mind as we continue up the narrowing and deepening wash. The prints continued as did we until we found ourselves in a slot canyon. As it narrowed we got the feeling it wouldn't be long before we hit a dead end, or at least would have to climb up to continue. It was a dead end for us... but not the cat, as there were no prints going back as we were forced to do. As we headed back some distance to a point we could more easily climb up and detour around and above the dead end slot we found a dead skunk that we had neither seen nor smelled on our way into the slot. Whether it was a weird wind shift or not, we now could smell it but it wasnt very strong.
When we arrived just above where we were stopped, again we saw the cat prints so the mountain lion must have taken a good leap to escape what was a dead end for us. The same thing happened a second time when we came to the next dead end. This time once we got above it we stayed up there while we scouted the next slot and sure enough it ended even sooner. So from that point we detoured along the west side of the canyon to avoid the steep terrain to the east. No longer in the canyons we saw no more of the cat prints.
Eventually we came to where it opened up again immediately below a man-made concrete weir. Tracey wasn't sure we could climb up that section so we didn't drop down into it until making our way around to the weir and it looked easier. It was easy to drop down but after taking a few photos it took a bit more effort to get out. I managed to get enough grip from my Teva's to climb up where we dropped in but Tracey tried another way that provided vegetaion to provide some grip.
Now that we were out of the narrow, rocky part of the canyon it changed into a very wide and smooth wash, the same one I had driven a few days before on my recon trip. The going was pretty easy, that is if you call walking along the soft sand of a beach easy. Never-the-less we continued on around the mountain because it didn't provide any other way over. Along the north end of our loop we were practically in the shadow of a butte that gave the appearance of a thumb, which necessitated a number of photos.
As we started heading south to our vehicle we walked along a new section of the Arizona Trail, completed just a few weeks or so ago. Once we were down in the wash where the Red Mountain Mine Road used to be (it's only good for extreme rock crawlers now) we turned off the AZT and headed on down the large bouldered wash to our start point. After our White Canyon adventures last month we didn't expect to find anything to rival those boulders but these were close.
Although we took our time exploring many of the features along the hike, we had more than enough time to do some more 4x4 recon on the way out Battle Axe Road, so we did, including another run through Walnut Canyon which Tracey had not seen. She got a chance to see just how rough a terrain the Sammy could handle with ease. Oh yeah, while Tracey had gate duty, I had to help on the last barbed-wire & stick one. Shortly I'll post another set of photos as well as writing up another 4x4 triplog of the adventures we had on the 4x4 recon part of our day.