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This hike will take you to the site of a Hohokam habitation ruin on the top of a 300 ft high bluff overlooking Cave Creek at Chalk Canyon, approximately 4 miles upstream from the Spur Cross Park trailhead. A hike to this location is described in the 2nd edition of "Hiking Ruins Seldom Seen" by Dave Wilson. Archaeologist William Holiday described this site in a 1974 report as having 30 pueblo-type rooms with one room larger than the rest. This is just one of at least seven habitation type ruins in this area scattered on the benches between the canyon bottom and the top of Skull Mesa. All but one are on the east side of the creek. Most of these ruins appear to have had a defensive type wall around the exterior of the ruin except on the sides protected by a cliff or very steep canyon wall, as is the case for this ruin. The sites typically cover an area of about 100 by 50 yards. Holiday estimated that these ruins were occupied around 1200 A.D. based on the type of pottery sherds found at the sites. The Hohokam food supply was primarily from cultivating corn, squash, and beans supplemented with mesquite beans, paloverde beans, saguaro fruit, and other wild plants. Meat from hunting rabbits, deer, bighorn sheep, and other animals was probably a small part of their diet. Holiday concluded that there was insufficient arable land in this area of Cave Creek Canyon to support the number of people living there. He surmised that much of their food came from larger cultivated fields found in flat areas along Cave Creek below the canyon's mouth and was supplemented by smaller plots in the canyon bottom and on flat areas of the benches near the dwelling sites. Tending these fields would have required a one-way commute of about 10 miles. The reason for locating their dwellings up in the canyon may have been the availability of perennial springs, and perhaps the better defensive positions offered there.
The hike's starting point is the Spur Cross Ranch Conservation Area's parking lot, a Maricopa County Regional Park. There are no restrooms at the parking lot, but well-maintained outhouses are located past the entrance gate, approximately 0.2 miles from the parking lot. There is a per person entrance fee (current info found in Fees/Permit section) at the trailhead for everyone except residents of the town of Cave Creek who helped finance the purchase of land for this park with a local tax levy. From the parking lot, walk north along the road a short distance to the entrance gate where the fee box is located. Continue to follow the road north past the outhouses staying to the right at the fork in the road at that location. The road remains on the east side of Cave Creek for about a mile. The old Spur Cross Dude Ranch site can be seen along the west side of the creek shortly after you pass the outhouses. Nothing remains of the ranch buildings except some foundations, so use your imagination. There was a ranch-style main house, several guest houses, and a small swimming pool. There was even a short airstrip along the creek bottom used by one of the ranch owners, Warren Beaubien, to commute to the ranch from his home in Santa Ana, CA., in his private plane. Tragically, he died from burns received when his light plane crashed and burst into flames on approach to the landing strip in 1953. On the bench just above and west of the ranch site are three Hohokam pueblo-type ruin sites. Although located close to one of the Spur Cross trails, these sites have "Closed Area" signs blocking access for a closer look. The park ranger periodically gives a guided tour of these sites. A schedule for these guided hikes can be found on the Spur Cross Park website.
At approximately 1 mile from the outhouses, the road/trail crosses to the west side of Cave Creek, and a short distance later enters the Tonto National Forest. The trail continues up the canyon's bottom, following an old forest road, FR48, crossing the creek several times. Be prepared to do some rock hopping to keep your feet dry if water is flowing in the creek. At approximately 2.2 miles from the parking lot, after the trail crosses over to the east side of the creek, you will come to a trail intersection with a large sign showing a map of the trails. The ruins at Chalk Canyon can be reached either by continuing up the canyon or taking the Cave Creek Trail #4 to the right at the sign. The "official route" for this description follows CC #4 to the ruin site, so at this point, turn right and follow the old roadbed. After a short distance, you will pass the intersection where Cottonwood Trail #247 forks off to the right. Continue to follow the old road as it turns north and climbs up to a saddle about 1 mile from where it left the creek. At this point, CC Trail #4 traverses a hillside for about 0.7 miles and then drops down into the bottom of Chalk Canyon and climbs back up the other side. After the trail climbs out of the canyon and levels out, proceed about another 100 yds and then head due west off-trail. You will have to meander around some prickly stuff but try to continue bearing west until you reach the rim of the bluff overlooking the creek below. Keep your eyes open for the random petroglyphs that are scattered about this area on dark boulders. When you reach the rim, turn right and proceed along the rim, keeping an eye out for the ruins' collapsed rock walls. This site's inhabitants had a great view of the canyon below and the New River Mesa on the west side of the canyon and Skull Mesa on the east side. One of the rooms is more well preserved than the others and has been excavated on the interior to reveal the fitted rock walls just below ground level. The original rock walls were held together with a clay-like mortar. Over the centuries, the clay was washed away by the rains resulting in the collapse of the rock walls. The roofs were made of horizontal log rafters with layers of sticks and reeds across them, then covered with clay. The logs have long ago disintegrated. You will find pottery sherds scattered around the site. According to the 1974 archaeology report by William Holiday, the Cave Creek sites' pottery is primarily Wingfield Plain and Gila Red, without painted decorations.
There are two options for the return route. Option #1 is to return the way you came. Option #2 for the more adventurous is to hike down the steep canyon side to the creekside trail below and follow that trail downstream to form a lollipop loop. Warning... the hillside is steep, and you will have to pick your way through a small thicket of thorn bushes at the bottom. The reward is a field of large boulders directly below the ruin site, probably the largest collection of petroglyphs found at one location in the Cave Creek Canyon area. There are also some bedrock metates at this location. This petroglyph site is on the old 6L Ranch property, abandoned long ago, but the land is still privately owned. The iron gate and a "No Trespassing" sign are located a short distance from the petroglyphs down the return trail. The "No Trespassing" thing is no longer enforced. Hikers and equestrians regularly visit this area. About 0.8 miles from the petroglyph site, the return trail crosses the creek a couple of times. The remains of a relatively large mining operation can be seen to the west just above the canyon floor. A short section of the creek here seems to always have water in it, so there must be a perennial spring somewhere along that stretch. Another 0.8 miles and you arrive back at the trail sign where CC #4 trail starts. From there, retrace your incoming trail down Cave Creek to the Spur Cross parking lot.
Check out the Official Route and Triplogs.
Gate Policy: If a gate is closed upon arrival, leave it closed after you go through. If it is open, leave it open. Leaving a closed gate open may put cattle in danger. Closing an open gate may cut them off from water. Please be respectful, leave gates as found.