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Skull Mesa Trail #248, AZ

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Rated  Favorite Wish List AZ > Phoenix > Phoenix NE
3.3 of 5 by 12
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Distance One Way 4.08 miles
Trailhead Elevation 3,577 feet
Elevation Gain 1,008 feet
Accumulated Gain 1,372 feet
Kokopelli Seeds 8.65
varies or not certain dogs are allowed
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16  2019-02-24 DarthStiller
5  2019-01-12
Skull Mesa and Chalk Canyon
24  2018-12-05
Skull Mesa and Chalk Canyon
14  2018-11-03
Rustic 7 Springs Ride from Bronco TH
25  2018-03-17
Skull Mesa Ruins
15  2018-03-04
Skull Mesa Ruins
34  2017-12-19
Seven Springs Inner Loop
30  2017-04-23
Skull Mesa - Cottonwood Creek Loop
Page 1,  2,  3,  4
Author HAZ_Hikebot
author avatar Guides 16,882
Routes 16,052
Photos 24
Trips 1 map ( 6 miles )
Age 22 Male Gender
Location TrailDEX, HAZ
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Preferred   Mar, Nov, Feb, Apr
Sun  6:11am - 6:33pm
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16 Alternative
Flora Nearby
Geology Nearby
Named place Nearby
Culture Nearby

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Skull Mesa Trail #248
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Prepping for a Grand Canyon hike at the end of the month, I finally crossed this one off my list. I was joined today by harem regulars Carey and Pammy. We followed the Cottonwood Spring Loop counter-clockwise out to Skull Mesa. We encountered some campers near the Skull Mesa / Cottonwood intersection who were also destined for the ruins at the far end of the mesa. Once we got to the top of Skull Mesa, we mistakenly continued to follow trail #248 east until we realized we were going in the wrong direction. No big deal, we worked our way back to our desired route. Not much of any trail to follow across the top of Skull Mesa to get out to the ruins. We had a great time exploring the ruins and enjoying the views before making our way back to Cottonwood Trail. We followed Cottonwood Trail all the way back to Spur Cross and then returned to much desired parking lot. This was my longest duration, longest distance, and greatest AEG hike! Can't wait to beat it.
Skull Mesa Trail #248
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I did the Seven Springs Inner Loop as a scouting trip for a point-to-point hike that I'll be doing later in December. I was not familiar with most of these trails, though after starting, I realized that I had been on Cave Creek #4 and Skunk Tank #248 before.

In any case, I decided to do it in a CCW direction, specifically:

Starting from Cave Creek TH, I went south on Cave Creek #4, south on Cottonwood #247, south and then west on Skunk Tank #246, south on Quien Sabe #250, east and then south on Skull Mesa #248, east and then north on Cottonwood #247, and, finally, north back to trailhead on Cave Creek #4.

The short section of Cave Creek #4 was straightforward, though it was cold starting off. I was feeling sluggish from not sleeping well the night before - one of our cats woke me up shortly after falling asleep. It was cold enough that I saw frost on the ground.

Cottonwood #247 crosses Cave Creek; fording the creek was easy, but I (initially) missed the spot where it headed uphill out of the creek. There was a sign and there were cairns; I just wasn't observant enough. #247 headed uphill for a while which warmed me up and got me to feeling better.

Soon thereafter, I was at the intersection with Skunk Tank #246. There was even more hiking uphill along this stretch, but it felt good because even more cobwebs were cleared away from my brain. It started looking familiar to me and I realized that I had hiked here many years ago.

Quien Sabe was scenic and easier to follow than I expected. I only referred to my GPS watch once to find my way back to the trail after a side path led me the wrong way.

Skull Mesa was probably the most fun due to the challenging route finding. I probably wouldn't have been able to figure it out without the GPS track. That said, there were cairns, but they weren't spaced closely enough to be able to walk from cairn to cairn. I think that cows might have grazed this area in the past, because there seemed to be an abundance of faint trails. I would follow one for twenty yards or so and then check my watch to see that I was off route. With the aid of my watch, I'd get myself back on route, sometimes finding a cairn along the way. I'd proceed a ways further along a likely looking path (or sometimes just wandering across the desert along no path), get off route, get back on route, etc, etc.

After a while of doing this, I found myself on a hillside wondering if the trail followed the contour that I was on - which sort of looked like a trail - or headed downhill or even back uphill. I consulted the map on my phone and found that it went downhill. When I got to the bottom, I located a well trodden trail and wondered how I ever missed it. That said, the trail wasn't visible from where I had been on the hill.

The Skull Mesa Trail started heading steeply downhill w/ switchbacks. Route finding got easier here, but the footing was less certain. I used both hiking poles to make it down some sections. The views were absolutely stunning here.

When I got to the Cottonwood Trail, I expected the going to be easy due to that section now being part of the Maricopa Trail. Shortly after leaving the intersection with the Skull Mesa Trail, the Cottonwood Trail entered Cottonwood Creek. The trail is routed to repeatedly cross the creek, going in a fairly direct fashion through islands of brush and trees. It's somewhat overgrown in this area, which means some amount of bushwhacking if you actually intend to follow the trail. I did two bushwhacking sessions between creek crossings before deciding to just walk in wide open dry creek bed. This was somewhat longer, but was a lot easier and quicker too. I suspect that it added somewhat to the overall distance that I hiked that day.

The Cottonwood Trail left Cottonwood Creek and went over a ridge. Soon thereafter, it crossed Bronco Creek and, shortly thereafter, I came to the intersection with the Bronco Trail. I continued on Cottonwood #247, walking in Bronco Creek for a while. The trail then headed up high the right (east) bank for a good while. I got slightly confused at the point where it turned to go up the bank because there was another path which continued onward for a short way lower along the bank. But, once I got up high on the bank, #247 was easy to follow.

It eventually headed back downhill and dumped me into Bronco Creek. Once in the creek, I checked the track on my GPS watch and saw that I (somehow) should have been high on the left (west) bank at this point. There didn't seem to be any obvious way to achieve this from where I was, however, since the bank was very steep and also densely vegetated. In retrospect, I should have probably backtracked south along the creek to figure out where the trail crossed over, but I didn't... Instead, I continued northward in Bronco Creek, keeping an eye on the diverging track that my watch showed. Shortly before reaching the Cartwright Ranch boundary, I noticed a faint trail heading up out of the creek; better still, there was a 247 trail marker! I headed up the faint trail and, after some amount of bushwhacking, encountered a much better trail, which I took to be the newer and rerouted 247 trail that I should have been on. This diversion undoubtedly added a bit more distance to my route.

At this point, it was fairly straightforward to get back to #4, and from there back to the trailhead. I did mess up slightly after getting back on #4, probably due to fatigue.

I really enjoyed this hike; winter seems like a good time to do it. I brought two 3L water reservoirs with me and drank about 4L of the 6L that I brought. The only water that I saw (that could be filtered) was in Cave Creek. There were a few spots in Cottonwood Creek which were damp. It may be that digging a short ways would have yielded water.
Skull Mesa Trail #248
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Kathy was bound and determined to help me with my bucket list and as a birthday present. Well the birthday present was supposed to just be a little hike at Gateway but we could never get our schedules together so Skull it was. At first I thot it was just going to be Kathy and me but then I find out Karl is going :scared: so that meant I had to be on my very best behavior and hike seriously. Kathy will let me slack off a little. Needless to say I was very nervous about this hike as I just didn't feel like I was in very good hiking shape just like when Wendy got me up the Rincons with a heavy backpack; however that hike was 1000 more AEG and less miles where this is less AEG and more miles and a lighter backpack.

The chariot arrived at 7:30, we stopped on the way to get fuel for the chariot and Karl's favorite fuel, IPA :D . And then it was on to drive the newly paved road to the TH. The parking lot has even been re-done. It was a bit nippy with the wind but we geared up and headed on out following OregonHiker's shortcut using the Cottonwood Trail after a mile on the Spur Cross Trail. Kathy and I had done the Cottonwood Spring Loop clockwise three years ago this month. This time we were headed the opposite direction.

We kept up a pretty good pace, well for me that is, ha! We hiked thru this one hillside where the Resurrection trees and yucca were plentiful. Something stabbed the side of my hand and it bruised immediately and a bump swelled up; never have had that happen before. It hurt for just a little bit but not enough to stop and whine. We almost bypassed the short cut turn off from the Cottonwood Trail when Karl, for whatever reason, realized that we needed to hike back just a tad and based on Larry's route, he did the same. There is a cairn marking the turn north.

This short-cut has an extra 100 gain as it takes you up the hill to a bit of a ridgeline walk which was a nice surprise. We enjoyed this new old trail. You eventually meet up with the regular trail that takes you over and up and down to the gate where we took a small break to fuel up for the hike up. And now the real work would begin.

The trail seems to take its time moving you up that mountain. Kathy and Karl kept assuring me the switchbacks would make it less painful and they were right. Every flat section no matter how short was a moment to catch my breath. I asked for one stop to take a couple pictures and catch my breath. Once when Karl was above he said we were over 1/2 done :) and so far, so good. Then a little higher he said we only had a couple more switchbacks; it was a happy surprise that we were almost there already. And at the barely there I started singing Happy Birthday to myself cuz now I could start counting the chickens I had been mentally counting for a couple weeks and the previous nite at the office Christmas dinner.

We hiked west to the viewpoint and the reports are correct, it is yucky hiking conditions up here with the grass and rocks. Fortunately we were at the lunch point post haste and SO WORTH IT, once again like I envisioned plus we had ideal conditions. I knew Kathy had brot something up to celebrate but I didn't know it was something even better than beer :o but champagne! And yes, proseco goes well with PB&J Crustable sandwich... not so well with the Coconut Pineapple water. It was so nice to be able to hang out and soak it all in for around 45 minutes. Once that first little snore came out of Karl, we knew he was lovin' it as well :lol: .

Karl had mentioned hiking to the high point but he had chips and salsa on his mind so down the mountain we went. And wow does it take a long time to get down since that trail is so slippery and rocky. It seemed like we were going down forever before we finally got sight of the gate. As we approached the turn for Cottonwood Spring, Karl had stopped and we walked slowly toward him as he had spotted some javelina. They were too far away to photograph but we did get glimpses of two sets of them. (I'm now thinking we saw them in the AM before Skull...?)

As we progressed on the trail we could see some more work had been done. That's just great! Hopefully they can continue with this as it's a nice little loop out here. We could see the fall color at the spring as we were hiking up to the Mesa. We did miss the crested saguaro but enjoyed seeing the other giant saguaros down in the wash. We took a break enjoying the green grass and yellow-leaved trees and one giant Cottonwood above us with some water slowly flowing below our feet.

From there it was a matter of some ups and some downs because you know as hikers: we hike up to hike down, it's what we do. It was a nice day but because of hiking into the sun, the video is not the best plus I apparently got some dust spots on the lens that I didn't know (the dust spots don't show on the pics, only the video). A lot of this part of the trail is slippery and quite a bit more down than up so you had to watch your step.

We had a post hike beverage and enjoyed sitting by the vehicle for a bit before heading to Encanto for chips and salsa and apparently chimichangas that are not called chimichangas anymore. I haven't had a chimi for at least a couple decades but it seemed the appropriate reward along with a very good prickly pear margarita overlooking the pond thru glass you hardly knew was there. Thx Karl and Kathy for driving me, hiking with and encouraging me, and then feeding me. It was well worth the wait! :y:

Video 1 to the Mesa (didn't hardly film much or take that many pics going up)
Video 2 at the Mesa and down to Cottonwood Spring
Video 3 in production 12-15-2016, finally 12-20-2016 Cottonwood Spring to Spur Cross TH

fall colors on the trees at Cottonwood Spring
Skull Mesa Trail #248
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this is my last two day weekend for a few weeks due to work
wanted something longer, different, interesting and not on south mountain
skull mesa has been on my radar, along with the inner loop with quien sabe peak
didn't feel like driving up to seven springs, so went from spur cross
got a late start but still had enough time to make the kickoff of the cardinals game :D
took spur cross trail to the point where cave creek trail begins
in a few hundred feet, cottonwood trail splits off
2.5 miles later, it intersects with skull mesa trail at a fence line
a rocky ascent to skull mesa
took a left at the top to check out the views
while not a peak, it's a nice high point
decided to hike east on the mesa
the trail became hard to follow, but i went all the way to the eastern edge and headed back right at my turn around time
really could have done without this part, as the footing was challenging, hiking over rocks and cactus covered by grass
huge mesa, and sometimes a little exploration is in order
it would have been nice if i had downloaded the track for skull mesa trail rather than following random cairns
my track will show that i wasn't very successful at following the trail
back down to the trailhead, and decided to finish on metate trail for some variety
the maps all say cave creek trail #4 begins at spur cross trailhead, but the sign says skull mesa trailhead :-k
found 247 and 248 slow going, with scree and loose rock, and a lot of ups and downs
will have to take that into account next time
still have quien sabe peak on my list
nice to get up north; it's been awhile
beautiful day
saw no one once i left spur cross trail
Skull Mesa Trail #248
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Skull Mesa Loop
It's been far too long since I've hiked out of Spur Cross. Especially since I live so close to it. There was a 70% chance of rain on the day, and with rain for two days previous, Cave Creek was sure to be running decently.

7:30 in the morning, and we were the first vehicle in the lot. We kept our feet dry by rock hopping the 1st and 4th crossings and going off trail to bypass crossings 2,3 5 and 6. I'd forgotten how steep it was in sections of Cottonwood #247 trail, just to get to the steeper Skull Mesa #248 trail. It was a temperate 55 degrees, but I was wringing wet and glasses fogging up from all the humidity.

Once on top of Skull Mesa, we made our way on the Skull Mesa "Trail" to the east side. The western portion is cairned and easy to follow. The eastern portion, not much to follow there. Still the rain held off, but we had periods of fog on top, and then rising fog from below as we started down.
35 seconds of sheer excitement :next:
The top of the mesa was pretty muddy, our shoes picking up extra weight along the way.

On the Quien Sabe #250, we decided to take a short cut to Cave Creek #4 down a wash. There some sweet geology and flora along the way. On Cave Creek #4, we got our first sprinkles of the day. Not enough to to put on the coat or break out the chrome dome.

We cut off Cave Creek #4, down to the 6L ranch area, on a spur trail. I'd never been here or read too much about the area. This is a nice area the I need to come back and check out. We stumbled upon some Glymps and Metates and it looks like there much more to see here.

Getting back from here was easier, since we no longer had to try and keep our feet dry, we just walked on through all the creek crossings

The Metate Trail and Towhee Trail are always fun to hit when in the area. Some of the biggest Saguaros in the state, mixed with all sorts of greenery
Skull Mesa Trail #248
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Quien Sabe Loop
Great loop hike. Highlights were the Quien Sabe Trail which I really enjoyed, and the Cottonwood Trail. The route finding on the Quien Sabe Trail was pretty straight forward, the trail is a little overgrown but the tread is well defined and the route takes a very logically path. The area where we did have a little challenge keeping on track was on the Skunk Mesa Trail, between Quien Sabe and before you make the decent down to the Cottonwood Trail. We would be on trail then at a blink of an eye we were off trail, repeat, repeat, repeat. After a bit of this, at Ryan's request, we picked a landmark and just headed straight for it. It worked out, got us to where we needed to be, and stopped the retracing we were doing.

The road to the TH was in really good shape, even with the recent storm. Saw no other hikers the entire day, but we did run into a camp set up in the creek bed of Cave Creek, right at the crossing of the Skunk Mesa Trail, so we had to walk right through their camp at 7 AM, while they were sleeping. IMO, not the best choice for a camp.
Skull Mesa Trail #248
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Quien Sabe Peak Loop
Been wanting to hit up the eastern portion of this area. Original plan was to start at the Bronco TH, but that upped the miles and at the time I really wanted to get home to see ASU play themselves into the Rose Bowl.

A balmy 19 degrees at the 6:30am start, 8:00 we finally hit 30 degrees, 40 degrees at 8:45, hit the low 50's in Cottonwood Creek for 40 minutes at 1pm, and then just hung mid 40's for the remainder. It really was not too bad when the wind laid down.

Highlights for me on this hike were
- Checking out the overgrown but still wet Quien Sabe Spring.
- The climb up and the views from atop Quien Sabe Peak.
- Skull Mesa & Cottonwood Trails between Quien Sabe intersection and where the Cottonwood Trail - Turns north.
- Checking out Bluebird Spring - Some pooling in the area
- Exploration of the now decommissioned Ashdale Ranger station (See Photos)

Todays Lesson
Quien Sabe (kee-en' sah'-be),
Translation = I do not know; lit., who knows? ... nunciation

Seven Springs Campgrounds and Ashdale Ranger station were built by the CCC (Civilian Conservation Corps) in 1933-34.

Ashdale Ranger Station Photo from back in the Day :next:

Accomplishments of the CCC in the US over the life of the program:
* Planted 1,255,000,000 tree seedlings over 1,255,000 acres of land
* Fought tree diseases on over 16,722,000 acres
* Installed 64,374 miles of telephone lines to assist in forest fire protection
* Constructed more than 3,400 fire lookout and observation towers
* Constructed 3,982,000 check dams for nation-wide erosion control program
* Constructed 41,000 bridges and 44,475 buildings of various types
Skull Mesa Trail #248
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Quien Sabe Peak Loop
6:33 am MST - 19 degrees in diminishing darkness to start. The high temp for the hike reached a balmy 53 yet stayed in the 42 degree range most. This was the first hike I have worn long johns an entire hike. The third shirt and balaclava were off/on over & over all day based on sun, ascending, descending, breeze, altitude and attitude.

7:39 am MST - Bruce decides to go on what he described as "a short spring hunt". I'm not into the side trips as much at 27.5 degrees fahrenheit so I took a break. Nearly thirty minutes passed. Which left me wondering... did he fall into the water, did he slip, ???, more importantly how am I getting home. The cold didn't destroy me much being bundled up so it all worked out.

The highlight of the hike was 9:30am off-trail to Quien Sabe ( Google and Webster pronounce different ) Peak. The light near to far was outstanding and photos were a poppin'. The peak was nice too but the front moved in and took a bit of the glory out of it.

From the peak we headed down and finished off Quien Sabe #250 then headed over on Skull Mesa Trail #248. We lunched on #248 in a nice breeze-less valley at 4k in some white chalk or limestone similar to what is found near Brown's Cave.

Next up was Cottonwood Creek #247, very nice. It had more life with unburned areas. Red hues in the soil gave it more characteristic too. Counted 8 signs at the #248/#247 junction.

Overall a good hike. Better weather conditions would have been more enjoyable. Take what you get!

These hikes are really an underlying quiz & bicker to near throat choking battles. Basically a review of the week's news to whatever. Unfortunately my poor memory does not serve well in these shenanigans. However even the worst participant ( yours truly ) scores a win or consolation prize on occasion.

[+1] Charles Lindbergh's Historic Flight - I correctly mentioned 1927, Bruce argued 1937 to later WWII.
[+0.25] After talking about last weeks hike for the FOURTH time I finally remembered the location of the hike.
[+-0] Who starred in "Earnest Goes to Camp" ( me - Jim P or B ) ( Bruce - Jim Williams )

On the return I was curious about checking out the old ( I'm guessing original ) Seven Springs CG. I thought it was an old trailhead but found out it was a camp ground. Complete with what appeared to be 220v( Bruce found ) & NG hook ups. Adjacent and likely the original historic element is the Ashdale Ranger Station built in 1934 with local materials. Not sure if it's the same structure but sure appears hearty and built to last. Currently not used. Just massive amounts of fencing materials in the back under video surveillance from what I read.

Completing the spur exploration loop we came upon...
Lat 33° 57' 44.3" N, Lon 111° 52' 34.2" W. Located in S07 T7N R5E
The gage was installed on February 25, 2009

Sent from no frills Text Editor

A couple cottonwoods in the final stages. Not much to see as most of the loop is burned from the 2005 Cave Creek Complex fire ( the third largest wildfire in the state of Arizona to date ).
Skull Mesa Trail #248
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Skull Mesa via Cottonwood Spring Loop
this is one of southpawaz's favorite hikes, so i wanted to see what all the fuss was about. i think i spotted another haz-er at the trailhead, since there was a guy who remarked about my haz shirt, but i couldn't be sure (was it oregon hiker?). we were off - i didn't want to dilly dally with all the hikers there for the guided tour. these trails were full of beautiful desert vistas, to be sure. and so lovely that the views were not full of city, even though it seemed like we were so close. it was a warm day for the end of november, and i'm not sure that i'd want to do this trail if it were any warmer. the cottonwood creek area was certainly picturesque with all of the color going on. once we headed up the skull mesa trail, i nearly lost my willpower to go (after all, it's not really a "peak"), but i persevered and the views at the top were well worth it. the footing on the way down - all the way down back to the parking lot - made us slower than the usual "downhill turbo cindy" as wendy likes to call it. yes, i'd do this loop again - perhaps in the spring. the two crested saguaros on this loop were amazing, too.

oh yeah - i must comment on the mexican fare that we tried to find on the way home. omg. so not good. the chile relleno was cold (the cheese was hard - not melted), and the beans were gray. i could not even look at it, let alone eat it. and southpawaz was kind in not naming the establishment, but i will: gorditos el tio. skip it - you'll be glad you did.
Skull Mesa Trail #248
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Skull Mesa via Cottonwood Spring Loop
Skull Mesa is just about my favorite destination for a good hike close in to town, and I've come to prefer hiking it as a spur off the Cottonwood Spring Loop traveled counterclockwise. Cindyl and I hit the trailhead just short of 9:00 and found the parking lot quite full. I spotted the ranger and a quick conversation with him revealed that he was leading a hike at 9:00, and it had received a mention in the newspaper so the crowd was about double his usual attendance. We set off before they headed out and quickly made our way to the Trail 247A turnoff and from there we saw no one until the very end of the day.

We worked our way east towards Cottonwood Spring, and as we crested the hilltop and started down we could see the Cottonwoods in full fall color. When we got down to the trail junction, we dropped our packs and took a break and some photos before starting up Trail 247 to the Skull Mesa junction. Along the we made a photo stop at the large crested Saguaro just off the trail, and then started the grind up to the mesa top. The rocky trail slowed us down as we made our way up, and we took our time, glancing back a couple times to enjoy the distant view of the golden oasis at Cottonwood Spring.

Eventually we made our way to the top, and headed for the southwest corner of the mesa, where we enjoyed the views and sat down on the rocks for refreshments and snacks. The weather was just about perfect, and we could have sat there longer but getting back to the truck in daylight was starting to come into question, so we pulled ourselves away and started back down. After passing through the gate, we headed along the trail to another crested saguaro nearby; just when I paused to check my GPS thinking I had passed it, cindyl looked up and it was staring right at us.

The lower part of the trail and the return along Cave Creek was uneventful; the creek has not yet started flowing so there were no opportunities for a slip and fall in the water, which was just as well since we were racing against darkness. We reached the truck just after sunset, and enjoyed some cold beverages before driving back into town for a forgettable Mexican dinner at a place that will remain unnamed.

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