Cooper Forks Canyon Cliff Dwellings, AZ

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Difficulty 5 of 5
Route Finding 3 of 5
Distance Round Trip 4.52 miles
Trailhead Elevation 3,790 feet
Elevation Gain 1,200 feet
Accumulated Gain 1,200 feet
Avg Time Round Trip 7
Kokopelli Seeds 10.52
Interest Off-Trail Hiking & Ruins
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Photos Viewed All MineFollowing
22  2020-12-19
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23  2018-02-17 MesaWeekenders
2  2015-03-15 jameslcox44
31  2015-03-12 jameslcox44
20  2014-05-03 CannondaleKid
25  2014-03-22
Cherry Creek Road FR 203
32  2014-03-21
Cold Spring Canyon Ruins
Page 1,  2
Author Randal_Schulhauser
author avatar Guides 71
Routes 98
Photos 9,967
Trips 1,009 map ( 9,248 miles )
Age 62 Male Gender
Location Ahwatukee, AZ
Historical Weather
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Preferred Mar, Apr, Oct, Nov → 8 AM
Seasons   Autumn to Spring
Sun  5:29am - 7:30pm
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Nearby Area Water
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Vertical Endeavor
by Randal_Schulhauser

Dave Wilson's book "Hiking Ruins Seldom Seen" describes the Cooper Forks Canyon cliff dwellings as "one of the more intimidating archaeological sites described in this book". With guidance from this book and confidence heightened through conversations with a couple of hikers that have successfully made the trek, a group of us recently accepted the challenge of hiking to the cliff dwellings.

The Sierra Anchan wilderness contains some of my favorite hiking adventures. Having previously hiked to the ruins in Coon Creek Canyon, Devil's Chasm, Cold Spring Canyon, and Pueblo Canyon, I've stared across the Cherry Creek Canyon at the ruins sitting high up against the cliffs on the east side and pondered how to hike to them. These are known as the Cooper Forks Canyon cliff dwellings and are visible to the unaided eye from FR203, particularly from Pottery Point. I've heard tales from fellow hikers who've attempted to reach these ruins; a classic "You just can't get there from here" conclusion could be made.

Start your hike from Pottery Point (GPS coordinates 33o 50.368 N, 110o 51.934'W, mile 0.00). There's a plaque at the inside of the hairpin turn FR203 makes at the point that describes the "Cliff Dwellings of the Sierra Ancha". The plaque notes "Tree-ring dates from the logs that roof the cliff dwellings tell us that they were built about 650 years ago, two centuries before the first Europeans and long after the nearby valleys were occupied. We can only speculate where the cliff dwellers came from, and why." Travel down FR203 about 500 feet towards the abandoned mining road (GPS coordinates 33o 50.327 N, 110o 52.032 W, mile 0.11). We had previously encountered a tarantula crossing along this forest road close to the intersection with the abandoned mining road. Traces of this mining road can be found before FR203 makes a 90 degree turn to cross Cold Spring Creek. Follow the mining road down towards Cherry Creek.

About halfway down to Cherry Creek, the mining road disappears and the path drops into Cold Spring Creek (GPS coordinates 33o 50.173 N, 110o 51.761 W, mile 0.42). Take note of the cairns for the return trip exit from the creek bed. Cold Spring Creek is a boulder hop with many twisted trees blocking the path. Make your way along the creek bed until you reach Cherry Creek. Take note of the unique boulders along the way. All shapes, colors, and compositions seem to be represented. The speckled conglomerate boulders are certainly unique!

At the junction of Cold Spring Creek with Cherry Creek (GPS coordinates 33o 50.104 N, 110o 51.551 W, mile 0.42) a fine riparian setting unfolds. Follow Cherry Creek north. It is possible to travel on either side of Cherry Creek as we took the east side on the way to the ruins and followed the west side on the way back. Both sides will require some boulder hopping and potential bushwhacking!

You will soon see Pueblo Creek on the west side (GPS coordinates 33o 50.379 N, 110o 51.600 W, mile 0.97). We encountered the remains of a deer skeleton at this point. The accumulation of flash flood materials... logs, boulders, and other debris, made us speculate that perhaps this deer was also a flood victim.

Continue along Cherry Creek until the junction with Cooper Forks Creek (GPS coordinates 33o 50.582 N, 110o 51.650 W, mile 1.22). A clear view to the ruins is offered at the junction. The path from Cooper Forks Creek/Cherry Creek to the cliff dwellings can best be described as "follow the ridgeline". As Dave Wilson's book states, "The climb rises roughly 1,200 feet over a distance of about 0.75 miles". For some reason, the height looks twice that as stated! We tracked up Cooper Forks Creek a few hundred feet until we encountered a cairn (GPS coordinates 33o 50.662 N, 110o 51.580 W, mile 1.33) in the creek bed at a cow path/game trail scrambling up the creek sidewall to the north. Our route confidence increased when we spotted another cairn at the top of the steep scramble (GPS coordinates 33o 50.665 N, 110o 51.610 W, mile 1.36).

Continue along this faint path that will contour to the top of a small plateau (GPS coordinates 33o 50.718 N, 110o 51.619 W, mile 1.43). Head straight for boulder outcroppings. You will begin to ascend a boulder field with loose skree (GPS coordinates 33o 50.813 N, 110o 51.578 W, mile 1.55). When you pop-up to the top of this boulder field (GPS coordinates 33o 50.892 N, 110o 51.544 W, mile 1.65), a view of the cliff dwellings helps to reassure you are on course!

Make a heading towards a rock slide opening between two cliff walls. We dubbed this "the chute" for obvious reasons (GPS coordinates 33o 50.938 N, 110o 51.469 W, mile 1.74).

Beyond "the chute" lies a lengthy rock slide area (GPS coordinates 33o 50.975 N, 110o 51.409 W, mile 1.81) requiring a parallel crossing along an obvious path. Traverse with due care... a misplaced step may result in 1000 ft rock slide to the bottom of Cooper Forks Canyon! You will soon reach the cliff dwellings (GPS coordinates 33o 51.023 N, 110o 51.289 W, mile 2.02). On this particular trip, we left our campsite at Pottery Point at 7:20 am and arrived at the ruins at 10:10 am. This should allow plenty of time for exploring... and that we did!

To the extreme west side of the archeological site are the ruble remains of 2 rooms. The state of disrepair is probably a direct result of the maximum exposure this site has relative to the other rooms. The cliffs had minimal overhang at this point and the rooms have maximum sun exposure from sunrise until very late in the afternoon.

Moving from west to east, you next encounter an interesting cluster of 2 story rooms with the floors partially intact. Inside the lower left hand structure is evidence of charcoal and soot from what we suspect were either cooking or heating fires. There is an additional room further back as the structure encloses a natural cave. Unbelievable people have carved their initials on the side of the entrance.

The single story structure that is part of this cluster on the front and right is perhaps the best preserved with all walls and roof intact. The rooms next to this structure and to the east have partially collapsed. As we sit in the shade and ponder this lost civilization, we are offered an excellent view of the west side of Cherry Creek Canyon.

The east wing rooms are joined together. This can be determined only by shuffling along a ledge and climbing up the cliff to the highest and most easterly room.

We spent nearly 2 hours at this site... truly one of the archeological wonders of the American southwest. I can attest that the effort is proportional to the reward for this strenuous, technical, and remote hike. Enjoy!

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This is a difficult hike. Arrive fit and prepared or this could get ugly.

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2005-09-18 Randal_Schulhauser
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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.

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Map Drive
High Clearance possible when dry

To hike
From Phoenix: Take Hwy 60 (Superstition Freeway) east 75 miles to Globe/Miami. Turn left (northwest) onto Hwy 188 (GPS coordinates 33o 24.976'N, 110o 49.711'W) and drive 16 miles to the intersection with Hwy 288 (GPS coordinates 33o 33.936'N, 110o 56.782'W). Take Hwy 288 towards Young. In about 4 miles you will cross the Salt River Bridge (GPS coordinates 33o 37.187'N, 110o 55.299'W). Travel another 2 1/2 miles until you reach FR203, also known as Cherry Creek Road (GPS coordinates 33o 38.570'N, 110o 57.085'W). Follow FR203 for about 22 miles until you reach the trailhead at an abandoned mining road. FR203 typically has 4 water crossings year-round - 1st is Coon Creek at mile 8.6 (GPS coordinates 33o 41.396'N, 110o 50.663'W), 2nd is Cherry Creek at mile 11.3 (GPS coordinates 33o 43.177'N, 110o 49.054'W), 3rd is Cherry Creek at Ellison Ranch at mile 18.4 (GPS coordinates 33o 48.231'N, 110o 50.180'W) and 4th is Devil's Chasm Creek at mile 20.6 (GPS coordinates 33o 49.390'N, 110o 51.619'W). Take note of weather conditions since flooding can make these crossings impassable and even with low water, the possibility of getting stuck is very much real. In wet weather, countless washes pass over FR203. Beyond Ellison Ranch, FR203 is described as a "Primitive Road" subject to little or no maintenance. Be prepared - sharp rocks cut my sidewall on this recent trip (good thing I had a full-sized spare)!

Pottery Point (GPS coordinates 33o 50.368'N, 110o 51.934'W) can be used as a base campsite about 500 ft further up FR203 from the abandoned mining road. My GPS noted 121.57 miles traveled from my workplace in Tempe to the Pottery Point campsite. Travel time was just over 3 hours.
90+° 8am - 6pm kills

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