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Cooper Forks Canyon Cliff Dwellings, AZ

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Guide 18 Triplogs  1 Topic
Rated  Favorite Wish List AZ > Globe > Young S
4.3 of 5 by 8
HAZ reminds you to respect the ruins. Please read the Archaeological Resources Protection Act of 1979 & Ruins Etiquette
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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
Avg Time Round Trip 7
Kokopelli Seeds 10.52
Interest Off Trail Hiking & Ruins
varies or not certain dogs are allowed
editedit > ops > dogs to adjust
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Photos Viewed All Mine Following
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
14  2013-12-26 Johnnie
24  2013-02-26 evanshiker
Page 1,  2
Author Randal_Schulhauser
author avatar Guides 71
Routes 98
Photos 9,967
Trips 1,009 map ( 9,248 miles )
Age 59 Male Gender
Location Ahwatukee, AZ
Historical Weather
Trailhead Forecast
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Preferred   Mar, Apr, Oct, Nov → 8 AM
Seasons   Autumn to Spring
Sun  6:12am - 6:19pm
0 Alternative
Fauna Nearby
Named place Nearby
Culture Nearby
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 half way 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 composition 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 side wall 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!

Check out the Triplogs.

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

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

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.

Most recent Triplog Reviews
Cooper Forks Canyon Cliff Dwellings
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Having done Pueblo Canyon, Cold Spring Canyon and Devil's Chasm (twice) for whatever reason we had never gotten around this one so it was about time we checked this one off our list.

Our early start from Mesa meant no traffic to deal with so arrived at the Cold Spring/Pueblo/Cooper Forks trailhead in a shade under 2-1/2 hours. Due to our early breakfast we took just enough time for an energy bar and drink and with a last equipment check we were on our way. I really wanted to take a beeline south into the canyon and follow it east to Cherry Creek, but Tracey wasn't ready for that quite yet so we followed Cherry Creek road to the intersection with Cold Spring Canyon where you go up to Cold Spring/Pueblo or down for Cooper Forks.

We followed the old mining 'road' almost all the way to the creek before taking a more direct line to the creek. It had been so long since I had read the description/triplogs and only recalled something about staying on one side most of the way. So when it looked more open on the east side we crossed at the first opportunity (where we wouldn't get wet anyway) and it went quite well. But when we reached a point of getting wet, backtracking to cross, or climbing a bit higher, we climbed and followed the cow paths along a 'shelf' above the creek. Not finding a good point to drop down we continued until it was obvious nothing looked better any time soon and turned around. But this time, not wanting to backtrack any farther than necessary we were more likely to take on a riskier descent than when we hoped for something easier. In the end, it worked out fine and we were down to the creek and hustling to the fork. Most of the climb their was a pretty distinct trail but other times there were so many different paths and scattered cairns that it was easier to find our own route.

When we got to the part just below Peak 4143 (the 'hilltop' ruin peak) instead of continuing on to the cliff dwellings we took a direct line up to the saddle just north of the hilltop, circled around and climbed up a pretty easy slope to the ruin that appeared to be more likely an observation point than long-term habitation. Took some photos here then slid down the 'river of rock' to hit the trail and continue on to the cliff dwellings.

We ate lunch at the dwellings, dawdled for a while then hit the trail. Tracey didn't enjoy all the rivers of rock on the way down (there being more along the trail than our ascent route) but what do you do but keep moving. Ok, since it had warmed up more than expected we stopped at every shade tree for a few moments.

Once at the creek, for the return trip we crossed to the west side early and stayed there all the way until turning west at the mouth of Cold Spring Canyon instead of continuing to take the same route as we did earlier. We stayed in the wash boulder-hopping up to the fence-line which we followed to the gate. From there we followed the remnants of the road up toward Cherry Creek Road. We'd both emptied our CamelBaks and the extra climbing/rambling we tacked on was taking its toll and we were feeling pretty wiped out. So once we were directly down-slope from the Cherokee we decided to shorten the agony and made a bee-line up the slope. While the hike turned out to be quite a bit more than anticipated, it was well worth the trip!

I posted some photos on HAZ, the full set is on my site as usual. No videos this trip as I was paying more attention to other things like...
1. Getting used to and making slight adjustments to my new H.A.W.G. NV CamelBak pack. Yup, after 11 years of use/modifying/patching the old CamelBak it was time.
2. Getting used to using/adjusting/changing settings on the Garmin 62st. Not that I was ready or eager to, but my 76CSX gave up the ghost the day before this hike so now it was a matter of necessity. Still not ecstatic about it but by setting it to record a point every 15 seconds the trip computer was nearly as accurate as the 76CSX was so I'll deal with it.
:-({|= you say... :whistle:
I still don't like that it always seems to keep the last point in memory for the trip computer. In this case, I turned it on and cleared the memory, but all it took was one step and it reads 43.25 miles! (which of course is the direct-line distance from home to the TH.) Man! If only it were but a 43-mile drive, I'd probably hike out here every week.

Ok, so I cleared it AGAIN and we were good to go.
Cooper Forks Canyon Cliff Dwellings
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For a 2.25 mile day hike that is a tough 3hrs 20min one way hike(with breaks & exploring), why would I rise before dawn, drive in my semi-open windy/noisy Jeep for 4 hours, ~23mls of which were on a dusty, washboard, high clearance/4x4 road..and..then turn around at 3:15pm and endure the same thing over again??: Why, simply because it was ALL worth it!! :BH:

I have had this Sierra Ancha cliff dwelling hike in my favorites listing for over a year now. Ken-topohiker and I had the opportunity this Saturday to join Randal Schulhauser(HAZ-hike description author) and Mike M. for this fun, challenging, and rewarding hike. See Randal's 5/3 trip log for more details.

I do believe that I enjoyed the hike in this special area in-along perennial flowing Cherry Creek as much as the actual Cooper Forks Canyon Cliff Dwellings themselves. The scenic views along this multi-colored rock & boulder creek bed, the grand smells of fresh Spring sycamore trees, surrounding and distant views going up(+1200') to the cliff dwellings and coming back down are just spectacular!

Some advise and two important GPS coordinates we would like to share with you:
When you complete the hike section down the old mining road/trail and arrive at Cherry Creek, you will be at GPS Coordinates: 33o 50.032'N 110o 51.612'W (this is important for your return trip to know where to leave Cherry Creek on the not so obvious trail up). While hiking north in Cherry Creek towards the Cooper Forks Creek drainage, hike/stay on the west side of Cherry Creek and try to keep from crossing over to the east side of Cherry Creek UNTIL AFTER you pass the Pueblo Canyon drainage area. Anytime after you pass this P.C. drainage area and AT or BEFORE you arrive at GPS Coordinates: 33o 50.609'N 110o 51.659'W, you should cross Cherry Creek over to the east side. Note: This last referenced GPS Coordinate(on the east side of Cherry Creek) is where the faint/cairned beginning trail takes off and up the north ridgeline of Cooper Forks Canyon to the cliff dwelling. As Randal notes in his 5/3 triplog, there is an old 50gal rusted steel drum and campsite/fire ring at this GPS Coordinate. Also, don't look for the Cooper Forks Canyon Creek drainage into Cherry Creek as your intended point of it is completely covered with overgrowth/boulders and not easily visible from Cherry Creek.

On our way back down Cherry Creek Rd(FR203), we stopped for 10 minutes to "re-set" the LEISURE TH sign for Moody Tr#140 that someone had knocked over..again!
Cooper Forks Canyon Cliff Dwellings
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Cooper Forks Cliff Dwellings

Arranged for a 7am rendezvous at the Gold Canyon "Jack-in-the-Box" off Hwy 60 where Hank (Grasshopper), Ken, Mike grabbed a coffee and headed off to Cherry Creek in search of Sierra Anchan cliff dwellings. Cooper Forks Cliff Dwellings was our agreed destination. With recent reports of high water at the Ellison Ranch crossing and an impassible washout at Devil's Chasm, I can report back that both were eminently passable. The water levels of Cherry Creek have returned to what I will call "typical". You can see evidence of extremely high water levels in the recent past by looking at flotsam and debris wrapped up the trunks of creek side trees about 3 feet!

We parked at the FR203 Trail Head and set off down the abandoned mining road trail along the north side of Cold Spring Canyon towards Cheery Creek about 11:00am. I can report that boulder hopping down the last section of Cold Spring Canyon is no longer necessary. A trail has been blazed on the south side of Cold Spring Canyon making the trek down to Cherry Creek a breeze!

Once at Cherry Creek, progress is slowed by the boulder hopping and debris from recent flooding. We slogged our way past the confluence with Pueblo Canyon and eventually found ourselves at the confluence with Copper Forks Canyon. Our destination was visible in the distance. In retrospect, the frequent creek crossings (and soakers) could have been avoided by staying on the west side of Cherry Creek.

At the junction of Cooper Forks and Cherry Creek, we found the remains of a campsite at the northeast corner, complete with fire ring and a 50 gallon steel drum barrel (how did that get there?). We found some cairns marking a faint trail up the ridgeline on the north side of Cooper Forks Canyon.

The loose scree is still as challenging as I remember from our first visit. Eventually we made it through the scree chute and the relatively straight shot across a talus slope to the cliff dwellings.

Once at the ruins, we unpacked our lunches and explored the 3 distinct ruin clusters. Sadly, the second floor from the middle cluster seems to have collapsed since our first visit. I scanned the cliffs and interiors of each room searching for evidence of rock art mentioned within the literature. I can't report having located any rock art at the site.

Having spent a good hour at the ruins, we made our way back to the trail head arriving about 5pm. Great time swapping stories with Mike, Hank, and Ken. I'm sure another trek to a set of ruins will be in the near future...
Cooper Forks Canyon Cliff Dwellings
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the terrain isnt that difficult, do not cross the creek until you have to it is a much easier hike on the side closest to the "trailhead" if you can call it that, there is small sections of trail to follow here and there, wear long pants there are a lot of thorny bushes in the area
Cooper Forks Canyon Cliff Dwellings
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Went with a determined group of hikers wanting to visit these cliff dwellings. With Eric Stewart, Matt Bond, Denis Evans, Eric Cope, Duane Bigelow, John Day, Riley Kimbal, Mike Mattes, Ken Schoepen, and Wendy Jones.

Mike and Ken took a different route following Cooper Forks Creek way up until you could almost directly contour across to the ruins. We arrived at the ruins at 10:10 am, they made it at 11:30am. Can't say which route is easier...

Suffered a flat tire on the way up - rock slashed my sidewall on FR203 between Ellison Ranch and Devil's Chasm. No problems negotiating Devil's Chasm on the way in. On the way out, another story. Both John's Jeep and my F-150 needed to be towed up by Matt's Toyota Tundra!

Great time had by all. Plotting our next adventure - Comb Ridge maybe?

Permit $$

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 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 trail head 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 there are countless washes that 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 work place in Tempe to the Pottery Point campsite. Travel time was just over 3 hours.
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