While Karl was away on the MotherLode, Kathy wanted to do a little something; probably so she wouldn't have to stay home and worry. There were lots of choices but we opted for Spur Cross. It was somewhat sunny when we left my house but as we drove toward Cave Creek the cloud cover got lower and even more so once we hit the TH. And yep, it was cold.
We donned our hat and gloves, gave our entrance fee to the volunteers and headed on out.
At first I thot I had taken the wrong road as it's been awhile since I've been on this road, but I was correct. It was muddy in areas so we had to walk lightly. The cloud cover made for some interesting morning photos and it seemed quite dreary really. Haven't used the word dreary in quite some time so I had to look it up to make sure I spelled it right. As we crossed Cottonwood Wash, we heard coyotes so we stopped to listen and I actually got their voices recorded
(see video 1). I decided we should hike this clockwise because I at least knew we could find the signage to turn at 247 but had no idea where 247a came out at; however, I was constantly curious as to where it came back to the Spur Cross Road.
We continued our hike along the dry Cave Creek. Not one crossing with water. And that last crossing before heading toward the horse corral area was as flat as a pancake. No rocks or shrubbery or anything
in Cave Creek. It was quite bizarre to me. I had never hiked the area when there wasn't any water in the creek. After the horse corral it was all new territory to me. We were following along what they called FS 48. Very shortly after the corral area, I spotted the Skull Mesa TH sign across the creek.
It was interpreting the sign that presented a problem. The hike desc says go straight but straight on the sign shows further up 48 and then hang a right. For clarification, at the sign, straight is east, altho we got a nice picture as we went up 48 for just a bit
. And 500 feet later you hit the intersection with 247. FYI Bruce, I did employ Scout II for assistance. The sign there says 2 miles to Cottonwood Spring but we would learn that meant 2 miles to the place where they decided to put the sign for Cottonwood Spring (which was another mile to go from there).
, the trail condition is really super. There really is only one section between Skull Mesa intersection and heading down toward Cottonwood Spring that is like hiking on parts of the 252 over in Spur Cross where it's hard to see where the trail goes and it's a bit rocky. And there are parts going on 247a where the trail is a bit faint and rocky as well. However, for the steeper hills, the trail is a pleasant surprise.
, this is some roller coaster ride of a hike. The first section is where you get the most thrills going up the bigger hills
and the back section is the smaller hills. But it is a constant up and down pretty much the whole way.
, you cross through several fenced areas.
, there are many, many saguaros and many, many huge sagauros.
Today views of Skull Mesa and New River Mesa would come in and out of the clouds. Oh, and if you think you know where the trail might be going, we found ourselves wrong on our guesses a few times. Looking across from above the Rock Tank (did have water in the tank and a slow drip from pipe - there is also a recording camera there) area, it looks like the trail takes you straight up the hill but instead it veers northeast. Soon we would see a nice camping area and then we were hiking on a bit of a ridge line. And coming upon the Red Wall of Cave Creek is pretty cool. Photos can't really do it justice.
At 10:45 we reached the 2 mile Cottonwood Springs sign (from the Skull Mesa TH). We started at 8:20 or so from Spur Cross and didn't take any kind of break until the Spring at 11:30. We found that anytime we stopped, we got chilled rather quickly. A little before 11 we hit the Skull Mesa intersection. A person could spend a lot of time here just reading all the signs
. Once again the trail got a little muddy but not too bad.
We came to this one area where you could look high above the drainage and I saw a photo op. Glad I did as Kathy spotted the crested saguaro. I knew to look for it but not where. FYI - as you get down the hill from the Cottonwood Spring sign, there is a section that skirts a hill with a wide berth above the high drainage, it is in the drainage to the left (NE of the rock outcropping you stand on).
Next up was Cottonwood Spring. The
were on display as we dropped down to the spring. There was a little water here, enough to filter anyway. We didn't see the can on the tree but there are two large cairns marking the way for 247a (which is to the right (NW) and up the hill). It looks like there is a bit of a trail that continues straight too. Here we decided to have a quick break as it didn't seem too cold. While sitting I spotted the can down in some brush. I had gpsjoe's pic http://hikearizona.com/photo=120402
with me so I put the can back in the position per that picture.
Finally the sun was coming thru and as we headed up the hill, Kathy flushed out a big owl. Didn't get a real good look so it might have been some other big bird. It's fun climbing up from the spring and with the sun coming out, it was even better. We got some nice unhindered views of Skull Mesa as we headed west. Once to the top of the area, we encountered another fence. It looks like there had been two gates, a wooden one and a wire one. However, the prickly pear had totally taken over both of these gates that had been put over to the side. Which begs the question, how fast does a prickly pear cactus grow
? From what I gather 10-20 pads per year... Of course we found the old sign on the ground and off to the side that said please close the gate
The light was making everything look so crisp and colorful; especially the green of the cactus and flora to the reds, yellow and browns of the soil. We did notice during parts of our hike the very white tops of the saguaros. I thot it was new growth but I don't really know. I did get one close up picture. We continued on our way and as we rounded this one side of a hill, we saw a complete change of scenery that included many yuccas and resurrection trees. It was really something (north exposure). And then as soon as we left that side we were back to normal vegetation. Altho Kathy did spot an ocotillo that had all these small curved branches with new growth on it; very odd for an ocotillo.
Much to our chagrin we continued the roller coaster action down and up drainages. We would try to guess where the trail would go but for the most part we were wrong
as we would end up climbing again. I kept thinking we would end up coming out by the cattle guard/FS boundary area. We did pass by what I call a saguaro wanna-be-palm-tree as it was growing with a small bend in the bottom of its trunk. Another one had a blow out toward the bottom of its trunk. We also passed over this most interesting rock that would crumple in your hands when you picked it up.... must have been some sort of compressed sand. Anyway, it was
to break it up in your hands (see video 4 I think).
We eventually ended up on a road of some sort. There is a view point you can take before continuing on the road which eventually veers to the west and joins up with Spur Cross Road less than a mile from the TH. There are two white boulders at this junction but nothing to indicate it's 247a. Not too far from the TH Kathy spotted some deer looking at us. Probably 1/2 dozen including two littler ones. They all looked healthy. I got several pics but one is really good I think. Of course, the sun was NOW finally out in almost full force as we completed our hike.
We finished the day at El Encanto. It is a wonderful way to wind down 2013. Like many others, Kathy slows down her pace to allow me to be in Tibbermode so thank you. I did a few movies since this is a new area for me. Plus, there isn't much on the internet at all about this awesome loop. Definitely would not want to do it in warmer temps though.
Video 1 from TH toward Rock Tank: http://youtu.be/zaCkhHirlKg
Video 2 from Rock Tank area to Cottonwood Springs area: http://youtu.be/NCi25GZa4AY
Video 3 didn't upload successfully, will try again this evening 12/23/2013, now available 12/26/2013 http://youtu.be/0rj7_PngD_w
Video 4 is pending upload to youtube 12/24/2013, now available 12/26/2013: http://youtu.be/P9nIY1kw164