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Keyhole Sink Trail, AZ

Guide 22 Triplogs  2 Topics
  3.4 of 5 
no permit
81 22 2
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Difficulty 1.5 of 5
Route Finding 1 of 5
Distance Round Trip 1.75 miles
Trailhead Elevation 7,054 feet
Elevation Gain -118 feet
Accumulated Gain 208 feet
Avg Time Round Trip 1.5 hours
Kokopelli Seeds 2.79
Interest Historic
feature photo
Photos Viewed All Mine Following
9  2021-09-05 John10s
3  2018-06-28 Iceburn
4  2017-06-12 leonesiegel
5  2017-03-18 LindaAnn
16  2014-06-22 azbackpackr
1  2012-09-29 erussell
10  2011-10-19 coollikeacoatimu
7  2010-05-14 squatpuke
Page 1,  2
Author Randal_Schulhauser
author avatar Guides 71
Routes 98
Photos 9,967
Trips 1,009 map ( 9,248 miles )
Age 61 Male Gender
Location Ahwatukee, AZ
Historical Weather
Trailhead Forecast
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Preferred   May, Jun, Aug, Sep → 8 AM
Sun  6:11am - 6:35pm
Official Route
0 Alternative

hook, line, and sinker?
by Randal_Schulhauser

Likely In-Season!
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Some History
The San Francisco Volcanic Fields have some 600 plus remnants of tectonic activity visible today throughout the Flagstaff area. Mount Humphreys and Sunset Crater may represent some of the more famous examples, but volcanic lava flows are also responsible for some lesser-known geologic features such as Keyhole Sink.

This particular feature acts as a giant catchments basin funneling snowmelt or rainfall into a dammed box canyon. This has served as a reliable water source for wildlife and ancients across the millennia. Consequently, this has served another purpose as a reliable ambush site for four-legged and two-legged predators alike.

The Sinagua people have left examples of their architecture (see Elden Pueblo Ruins, Williams Clover Site Ruins, or Walnut Canyon Ruins) and their rock art (see V-Bar-V, Honanki Ruins, or Wupatki Crack-In-Rock Ruins) throughout the San Francisco Volcanic Fields. These ancient people are thought to have left their marks in the basalt cliffs of Keyhole Sink. They have depicted deer entering the box canyon and the subsequent successful hunt. These rock art depictions are visible today on the rock art panels located in Keyhole Sink.

As you travel along Route 66 towards the TH parking, you will notice Sitgreaves Mountain to the north across some open prairie. Although Sitgreaves' 1851 expedition and Beale's 1857 expedition passed within sight of the Keyhole Sink area, there is no recorded evidence of them having stopped to take water here.

The Hike
Leave your vehicle in the Oak Hill Snow Play Area parking lot. We made an initial "mistake" heading south from the parking lot, following the trail to the snow play support buildings, and climbed up Oak Hill. We found it "odd" that there was no mention of Keyhole Sink on any signage within the Snow Play Area and decided to retrace our steps and check out the north side of Route 66.

Gazing across the parking lot to the opposite side of Route 66, I could pick out a green gate interrupting the fence line. As you get closer, signage indicating Keyhole Sink Trail becomes visible. Mileage is listed at 1 mile from the TH to the Keyhole Sink.

Pass through the gate and follow the blue blazes marked on the trees in regular intervals. It turns out that this trail is popular with cross-country ski enthusiasts explaining the need for frequent blue blazes as fresh snowfall could make the route a bit of a mystery. The trail follows a gentle incline past some limestone outcrops. Continue to follow the blue blazes as the sounds of civilization disappear and the rustling sounds of Quaking Aspen leaves takes over. There are several aspen saplings close to the trail with larger specimens along the incline slopes. Towering Ponderosa Pines dominate the ledges as you notice cliffs beginning to converge into a box canyon. Keyhole Sink must be close by!

Sure enough, just around the corner, you come to a fenced area with a guest register and interpretive sign. The interpretive sign features the aforementioned rock art panel showing deer entering the box canyon with hunters at the ready along the cliff tops. There is also a sign posted as a reminder of the effects of thoughtless vandalism on our ancient heritage. No word that the perpetrators have been uncovered.

Sign the guest register and pass through the gate entering the Keyhole Sink. Dark basalt cliffs standing more than 25 feet high form a natural enclosure and effectively dam the water flow. A large pool of standing water pushes against the far-end cliffs. We chose the path heading to the left side of the pool, and we could begin to make out a large rock art panel at its terminus. The rains from earlier in the day made it difficult at first to pick out the rock art examples, but with slow and careful examination many begin to jump out. The enclosed area also has an abundance of wildflowers and insects. We even discovered some small grass snakes scurrying from underfoot.

When you exit the enclosed area, follow the faint trail along the wooden fence line to the north through the aspen saplings. There is easy access to the top of the basalt cliffs. From this upward vantage, one can survey the entire Keyhole Sink area. One can imagine waiting from these cliffs for a deer or elk to enter the box canyon...

This is an easy trail that provides some unexpected seclusion while so close to civilization. There are wildflowers and wildlife with a rock art payoff at the end of the trail. What's not to like? I'd also be interested in seeing this area under a fresh blanket of snow. Enjoy!

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.

Leave No Trace and +Add a Triplog after your hike to support this local community.

2007-08-26 Randal_Schulhauser
    WARNING! Hiking and outdoor related sports can be dangerous. Be responsible and prepare for the trip. Study the area you are entering and plan accordingly. Dress for the current and unexpected weather changes. Take plenty of water. Never go alone. Make an itinerary with your plan(s), route(s), destination(s) and expected return time. Give your itinerary to trusted family and/or friends.

    Permit $$

    Map Drive
    Paved - Car Okay

    To hike
    From Phoenix: Take Interstate 17 north about 150 miles to Flagstaff until you reach the junction with Interstate 40. Continue west on Interstate 40 about 18 miles until you reach exit #178 for Parks Road. Travel north on Parks Road about ? miles until you reach the junction with historic Route 66. Travel west on Route 66 about 4 2 miles until you see a brown sign indicating Oak Hill Snow Play Area & Keyhole Sink Trail. There is a parking lot on the south side servicing both recreational opportunities. The Keyhole Sink TH is on the north side of Route 66.

    My GPS noted 192 miles traveled from Ahwatukee to the Oak Hill Snow Play Area parking lot. Travel time was just under 3 hours, including a couple of short stops for coffee, gasoline, and an early drive-through lunch we ate at Montezuma Castle.
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