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Skull Mesa Ruins, AZ
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Overview: Ruins of an ancient Verde Hohokam pueblo and fort reward you for this arduous hike. Skull Mesa is the large, flat mountain north of Cave Creek. It is in the middle of the Cave Creek / Seven Springs trail system of the Tonto National Forest - approximately 31 miles of interconnected trails. This description is for the hike from the Spur Cross Conservation Area at the southwest up to the mesa and on to the ruins. Skull Mesa can also be reached from the northeast starting from the Seven Springs campground. This Spur Cross route is steeper but slightly shorter. For many people, the drive to the Spur Cross trailhead will be shorter and easier than the drive to the Seven Springs trailhead. The Seven Springs route will be described in a separate trail description.


In the Falcon book, Hiking Ruins Seldom Seen, Dave Wilson describes the history and archeology of this site. He also describes proper etiquette when visiting ancient ruins.
The basics of his rules of etiquette are:
1) Do not lean, climb or walk on walls or roofs
2) Do not pick up an artifact then place it somewhere else
3) Do not touch rock art
4) Do not chalk rock art
5) Do not take pottery
6) Do not build fires

Hike: From the Spur Cross trailhead, start north on the old dirt road. You will make your first crossing of Cave Creek on well-placed boulders and then enter the Tonto National Forest. You will cross Cave Creek 3 more times and end up on the east side. The crossings are normally shallow if water is running, but you will need to hop across on some boulders if you want to stay dry. At 2.2 miles you reach the trailhead for Cave Creek Trail #4. (elevation 2,394 feet). Continue on. You will reach Trail 247 in about 200 yards at 2.33 miles 2,425 feet elevation. Turn right. Cross a small creek bed and begin the up & down through the hills, talus & scree. You will climb 250 feet in about 1/3 of a mile. You reach Cottonwood Springs at 3.35 miles. This spring appears to have perennial water. Continue on past the lava flow and the Trail 247 marker until you hit a gate and a junction at 5 miles 3,180 feet elevation. Cottonwood Trail 247 continues on, but you will turn left on Trail #248. The fun begins with a series of steep switchbacks.

You reach the mesa at 6 miles 4,250 feet elevation (33 55'46"N, 111 55'21"W). Follow the well-cairned trail for eight or ten cairns to the east until you get past the rock outcropping and onto the main part of the mesa. If you head due north on reaching the mesa, you will eventually have to climb over the rocks and they get higher as you go out on the mesa. Up until now, the trail has been well-marked and easy to follow. Now you will leave the trail and bushwhack north across the mesa. The ruins are just off the northwest edge of the mesa. Your goal now is the right edge of the mountain range in the distance. During the summer I have encountered rattlesnakes in this area so proceed with appropriate caution. The Cave Creek Complex fire in 2005 charred the mesa. At 6.7 miles (33 55'87"N, 111 55'22"W) you will find an area of black boulders and petroglyphs. Now head northwest to the edge of the mesa. Your goal is the third peak from the left of the mountain range in the distance (see photo). At 7.8 miles you will actually leave the mesa and descend into the first small saddle. Here you will start clambering over the boulders. You will work your way down then back up through another saddle and then down and across the last saddle. Here you will find the ruins of the pueblo. Continue through the saddle, past the pueblo and up a small hill to the ruins of the fort at 8.3 miles (33 56'56"N, 111 55'54"W). Leave anything you find for others to enjoy. Read the Rules for Ruins in the overview above. Enjoy the spectacular views and head back to the trailhead.

There are ruins on Elephant Mountain to the southwest and St. Clair mountain to the east that "should" be visible from here. I could not find them through my binoculars, but I wasn't exactly sure where to look or what to look for.
Description 38 Triplogs  2 Topics
RatedFavorite  
Wish List 12
 Region
 
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 Phoenix NE
HAZ reminds you to respect the ruins. Please read the Archaeological Resources Protection Act of 1979 & Ruins Etiquette
Statistics
clicktap icons for details
Difficulty 4 of 5
Route Finding 2 of 5
Distance Round Trip 16.6 miles
Trailhead Elevation 2,345 feet
Elevation Gain 1,970 feet
Avg Time Round Trip 8-9 hours
Kokopelli Seeds 26.45
Interest Off Trail Hiking & Ruins
Author Al_HikesAZ
Descriptions 11
Routes 89
Photos 2,643
Trips 241 map ( 2,306 miles )
Age 85
Location Scottsdale, AZ
Photos
Viewed All Mine Following
15  2017-02-11 lindaagm
16  2016-04-15
Skull Mesa from Spur Cross TH
JasonCleghorn
3  2016-03-05
Skull Mesa from Spur Cross TH
lwbenso
5  2016-01-21
Spur Cross Loop
Oregon_Hiker
26  2014-12-25
Cave Creek Trail #4
friendofThunderg
37  2014-01-21 AZWanderingBear
44  2013-12-27 The_Dude
7  2013-11-30 Hiking_Fool
21  2013-11-27 Hansenaz
10  2012-03-20 mazatzal82
38  2012-03-11 WilliamnWendi
14  2011-12-26 mazatzal82
Page 1,  2,  3
Historical Weather
Trailhead Forecast
Radar
Forest Tonto
Backpack   Possible - Not Popular
Preferred   Nov, Dec, Jan, Feb → 7 AM
Seasons   Autumn to Spring
Sun  5:23am - 7:26pm
Route Scout
import queue
Official Route
 
Alternative Routes
 
Water
Nearby Area Water
Black Mesa - Cave Creek
same trailhead
11.7 mi
3,100 ft
Skull Mesa - Cottonwood Creek Loop
same trailhead
17.1 mi
3,500 ft
Skull Mesa from Spur Cross TH
same trailhead
12.0 mi
2,850 ft
Spur Cross Loop
same trailhead
5.5 mi
600 ft
Cave Creek / Cottonwood Loop via Spur Cross
0.0 mi away
24.5 mi
3,950 ft
Cave Creek Indian Ruins at Chalk Canyon
0.0 mi away
9.5 mi
1,657 ft
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Canyon Tree Frog
Cardinal
Coyote
Desert Cottontail
Flame Skimmer
Javelina
Mallard Duck
Mule
Mule Deer
Phainopepla
Queen Butterfly
Western Diamondback Rattlesnake
Flora
Agave varietals
Cheatgrass
Chia
Christmas Cholla
Chuparosa
Common Sunflower
Cottonwood
Desert Honeysuckle
Desert Marigold
Desert Phlox
Desert Rock Daisy
Fleabane
Globe chamomile
Indian Paintbrush
Juniper
Owl Clover
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Prickly Pear
Saguaro
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Wild Cucumber
Geology
Basalt
Tuff
Turquiose
Meteorology
Moon
Sunburst
Named place
Black Mesa
Cave Creek
Continental Mountain
Cottonwood Creek
Cottonwood Spring
Dirt Trough Creek
Elephant Mountain
New River Mesa
Rock Tank Spring
Skull Mesa
Spur Cross Ranch Conservation Area
Sugarloaf Mountain
Culture
Aircraft
Cactuscat Pose
Gila Petroglyph Style (Abstract)
Gila Petroglyph Style (Anthropomorphic)
Gila Petroglyph Style (Zoomorphic)
Gila Plain
Gila Red
Hohokam Mano and Metate
Hohokam Rock Slick
Intrepid Back Shot
Perry Mesa Style - Abstract
Perry Mesa Style - Zoomorphic
Spring Box
Stone Dwelling
Rewarded with Ruins
by Al_HikesAZ

Overview: Ruins of an ancient Verde Hohokam pueblo and fort reward you for this arduous hike. Skull Mesa is the large, flat mountain north of Cave Creek. It is in the middle of the Cave Creek / Seven Springs trail system of the Tonto National Forest - approximately 31 miles of interconnected trails. This description is for the hike from the Spur Cross Conservation Area at the southwest up to the mesa and on to the ruins. Skull Mesa can also be reached from the northeast starting from the Seven Springs campground. This Spur Cross route is steeper but slightly shorter. For many people, the drive to the Spur Cross trailhead will be shorter and easier than the drive to the Seven Springs trailhead. The Seven Springs route will be described in a separate trail description.


In the Falcon book, Hiking Ruins Seldom Seen, Dave Wilson describes the history and archeology of this site. He also describes proper etiquette when visiting ancient ruins.
The basics of his rules of etiquette are:
1) Do not lean, climb or walk on walls or roofs
2) Do not pick up an artifact then place it somewhere else
3) Do not touch rock art
4) Do not chalk rock art
5) Do not take pottery
6) Do not build fires

Hike: From the Spur Cross trailhead, start north on the old dirt road. You will make your first crossing of Cave Creek on well-placed boulders and then enter the Tonto National Forest. You will cross Cave Creek 3 more times and end up on the east side. The crossings are normally shallow if water is running, but you will need to hop across on some boulders if you want to stay dry. At 2.2 miles you reach the trailhead for Cave Creek Trail #4. (elevation 2,394 feet). Continue on. You will reach Trail 247 in about 200 yards at 2.33 miles 2,425 feet elevation. Turn right. Cross a small creek bed and begin the up & down through the hills, talus & scree. You will climb 250 feet in about 1/3 of a mile. You reach Cottonwood Springs at 3.35 miles. This spring appears to have perennial water. Continue on past the lava flow and the Trail 247 marker until you hit a gate and a junction at 5 miles 3,180 feet elevation. Cottonwood Trail 247 continues on, but you will turn left on Trail #248. The fun begins with a series of steep switchbacks.

You reach the mesa at 6 miles 4,250 feet elevation (33 55'46"N, 111 55'21"W). Follow the well-cairned trail for eight or ten cairns to the east until you get past the rock outcropping and onto the main part of the mesa. If you head due north on reaching the mesa, you will eventually have to climb over the rocks and they get higher as you go out on the mesa. Up until now, the trail has been well-marked and easy to follow. Now you will leave the trail and bushwhack north across the mesa. The ruins are just off the northwest edge of the mesa. Your goal now is the right edge of the mountain range in the distance. During the summer I have encountered rattlesnakes in this area so proceed with appropriate caution. The Cave Creek Complex fire in 2005 charred the mesa. At 6.7 miles (33 55'87"N, 111 55'22"W) you will find an area of black boulders and petroglyphs. Now head northwest to the edge of the mesa. Your goal is the third peak from the left of the mountain range in the distance (see photo). At 7.8 miles you will actually leave the mesa and descend into the first small saddle. Here you will start clambering over the boulders. You will work your way down then back up through another saddle and then down and across the last saddle. Here you will find the ruins of the pueblo. Continue through the saddle, past the pueblo and up a small hill to the ruins of the fort at 8.3 miles (33 56'56"N, 111 55'54"W). Leave anything you find for others to enjoy. Read the Rules for Ruins in the overview above. Enjoy the spectacular views and head back to the trailhead.

There are ruins on Elephant Mountain to the southwest and St. Clair mountain to the east that "should" be visible from here. I could not find them through my binoculars, but I wasn't exactly sure where to look or what to look for.
© 2006 - 2017 hikearizona.com

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.

-
    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 $$
    Spur Cross Conservation Area $3 per person


    Directions
    Map Drive
    or
    Road
    FR / Dirt Road / Gravel - Car Okay

    To Spur Cross Trailhead
    I-17 North & Exit 233, which is SR-74 the Carefree Highway. Head east on Carefree Highway 9.9 miles to Cave Creek Road. Head North on Cave Creek Road 2.6 miles to Spur Cross Ranch Road. The road jogs a bit here but you go 4.0 miles to the parking lot.

    It is a well-graded dirt road. As it nears the parking area, the road leads past a large green house, through a tall gatepost and past a corral. There is a large signed parking area. Along the road about 75 yards northeast of the parking area, there is a self-pay station and a small informational kiosk with rudimentary maps. Pay the fee and carry the stub with you.

    From PHX (I-10 & AZ-51) 35.8 mi - about 57 mins
    From TUC (Jct 1-10 & Grant) 144 mi - about 2 hours 26 mins
    From FLG (Jct I-17 & I-40) 133 mi - about 2 hours 10 mins
    90+° 8am - 6pm kills
    stay out of the scorching sun
    prehydrate & stay hydrated
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