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Skull Mesa from Spur Cross TH, AZ

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Guide 76 Triplogs  0 Topics
Rated  Favorite Wish List AZ > Phoenix > Phoenix NE
3.6 of 5 by 32
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Difficulty 3.5 of 5
Route Finding 2 of 5
Distance Round Trip 12 miles
Trailhead Elevation 2,325 feet
Elevation Gain 1,942 feet
Accumulated Gain 2,850 feet
Avg Time Round Trip 6 hours
Kokopelli Seeds 26.25
Backpack Yes
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Photos Viewed All Mine Following
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16  2019-02-24
Skull Mesa Trail #248
5  2019-01-12
Skull Mesa and Chalk Canyon
24  2018-12-05
Skull Mesa and Chalk Canyon
25  2018-03-17
Skull Mesa Ruins
15  2018-03-04
Skull Mesa Ruins
6  2018-01-14 adv_trev
17  2017-12-22 KBKB
30  2017-04-23
Skull Mesa - Cottonwood Creek Loop
Page 1,  2,  3,  4,  5,  6
Author TerrySwicegood
author avatar Guides 5
Routes 0
Photos 52
Trips 4 map ( 35 miles )
Age 74 Male Gender
Location Litchfield Park, AZ
Historical Weather
Trailhead Forecast
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Preferred   Oct, Nov, Feb, Mar → Early
Seasons   Autumn to Spring
Sun  6:12am - 6:32pm
Official Route
5 Alternative
Fauna Nearby
Flora Nearby
Geology Nearby
Meteorology Nearby
Named place Nearby
Culture Nearby
Strenuous and Rewarding
by TerrySwicegood

Skull Mesa is a prominent feature of the landscape north and east of Cave Creek. Rising 4426 feet above sea level, it appears from the Spur Cross Trail Head much closer than one finds once the hiking begins. The rewards of this long and roller coaster ride, however, are considerable. The solitude of the high Sonoran desert....Cottonwood Spring, a hidden oasis...a few Petroglyphs, and the view from the summit make the day worthwhile.

Hike: You begin your hike at the TH of the Spur Cross Ranch conservation area. The trail goes northward past two restrooms and an administrative trailer then drops into the Cave Creek watershed. There are four creek crossings, the final of which takes you to the east side of the creek. At this point, some 2.2 miles into the trip, there is a large sign of the trail system of the area. At the sign go straight ahead, following Cave Creek trail #4 for 300 yards, then take a right onto trail Cottonwood Trail #247. Follow Cottonwood trail #247 past Cottonwood Springs to the junction of the Skull Mesa summit trail. There is a fence here... the Skull Mesa trail #248 turns sharply left. Pass some Petroglyphs on your left (within several hundred yards of the fence) and climb 1.1 miles (1100 feet elevation gain) to the summit.

At the summit we immediately turned left off the trail and walked about 300 yards to our lunch spot, a rocky outcropping on the edge of Skull Mesa, with magnificent views of Sugar Loaf, Black Mesa, Elephant Mountain, and the distant Valley of the Sun.

We noted that this year (November, 2005) the trail had deteriorated considerably due to heavy rains in the area, and a flash flood had climbed the banks of Cave Creek in October.

Check out the Official Route and Triplogs.

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2005-12-06 TerrySwicegood
    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 of 24 deeper Triplog Reviews
    Skull Mesa from Spur Cross TH
    rating optionrated 4rated 4rated 4rated 4
    Kathy was bound and determined to help me with my bucket list and as a birthday present. Well the birthday present was supposed to just be a little hike at Gateway but we could never get our schedules together so Skull it was. At first I thot it was just going to be Kathy and me but then I find out Karl is going :scared: so that meant I had to be on my very best behavior and hike seriously. Kathy will let me slack off a little. Needless to say I was very nervous about this hike as I just didn't feel like I was in very good hiking shape just like when Wendy got me up the Rincons with a heavy backpack; however that hike was 1000 more AEG and less miles where this is less AEG and more miles and a lighter backpack.

    The chariot arrived at 7:30, we stopped on the way to get fuel for the chariot and Karl's favorite fuel, IPA :D . And then it was on to drive the newly paved road to the TH. The parking lot has even been re-done. It was a bit nippy with the wind but we geared up and headed on out following OregonHiker's shortcut using the Cottonwood Trail after a mile on the Spur Cross Trail. Kathy and I had done the Cottonwood Spring Loop clockwise three years ago this month. This time we were headed the opposite direction.

    We kept up a pretty good pace, well for me that is, ha! We hiked thru this one hillside where the Resurrection trees and yucca were plentiful. Something stabbed the side of my hand and it bruised immediately and a bump swelled up; never have had that happen before. It hurt for just a little bit but not enough to stop and whine. We almost bypassed the short cut turn off from the Cottonwood Trail when Karl, for whatever reason, realized that we needed to hike back just a tad and based on Larry's route, he did the same. There is a cairn marking the turn north.

    This short-cut has an extra 100 gain as it takes you up the hill to a bit of a ridgeline walk which was a nice surprise. We enjoyed this new old trail. You eventually meet up with the regular trail that takes you over and up and down to the gate where we took a small break to fuel up for the hike up. And now the real work would begin.

    The trail seems to take its time moving you up that mountain. Kathy and Karl kept assuring me the switchbacks would make it less painful and they were right. Every flat section no matter how short was a moment to catch my breath. I asked for one stop to take a couple pictures and catch my breath. Once when Karl was above he said we were over 1/2 done :) and so far, so good. Then a little higher he said we only had a couple more switchbacks; it was a happy surprise that we were almost there already. And at the barely there I started singing Happy Birthday to myself cuz now I could start counting the chickens I had been mentally counting for a couple weeks and the previous nite at the office Christmas dinner.

    We hiked west to the viewpoint and the reports are correct, it is yucky hiking conditions up here with the grass and rocks. Fortunately we were at the lunch point post haste and SO WORTH IT, once again like I envisioned plus we had ideal conditions. I knew Kathy had brot something up to celebrate but I didn't know it was something even better than beer :o but champagne! And yes, proseco goes well with PB&J Crustable sandwich... not so well with the Coconut Pineapple water. It was so nice to be able to hang out and soak it all in for around 45 minutes. Once that first little snore came out of Karl, we knew he was lovin' it as well :lol: .

    Karl had mentioned hiking to the high point but he had chips and salsa on his mind so down the mountain we went. And wow does it take a long time to get down since that trail is so slippery and rocky. It seemed like we were going down forever before we finally got sight of the gate. As we approached the turn for Cottonwood Spring, Karl had stopped and we walked slowly toward him as he had spotted some javelina. They were too far away to photograph but we did get glimpses of two sets of them. (I'm now thinking we saw them in the AM before Skull...?)

    As we progressed on the trail we could see some more work had been done. That's just great! Hopefully they can continue with this as it's a nice little loop out here. We could see the fall color at the spring as we were hiking up to the Mesa. We did miss the crested saguaro but enjoyed seeing the other giant saguaros down in the wash. We took a break enjoying the green grass and yellow-leaved trees and one giant Cottonwood above us with some water slowly flowing below our feet.

    From there it was a matter of some ups and some downs because you know as hikers: we hike up to hike down, it's what we do. It was a nice day but because of hiking into the sun, the video is not the best plus I apparently got some dust spots on the lens that I didn't know (the dust spots don't show on the pics, only the video). A lot of this part of the trail is slippery and quite a bit more down than up so you had to watch your step.

    We had a post hike beverage and enjoyed sitting by the vehicle for a bit before heading to Encanto for chips and salsa and apparently chimichangas that are not called chimichangas anymore. I haven't had a chimi for at least a couple decades but it seemed the appropriate reward along with a very good prickly pear margarita overlooking the pond thru glass you hardly knew was there. Thx Karl and Kathy for driving me, hiking with and encouraging me, and then feeding me. It was well worth the wait! :y:

    Video 1 to the Mesa (didn't hardly film much or take that many pics going up)
    Video 2 at the Mesa and down to Cottonwood Spring
    Video 3 in production 12-15-2016, finally 12-20-2016 Cottonwood Spring to Spur Cross TH

    fall colors on the trees at Cottonwood Spring
    Skull Mesa from Spur Cross TH
    rated 5rated 5rated 5rated 5rated 5
    This was probably my most difficult and adventurous solo outing since I've been here in AZ. It was tough! I was never really tired on the ascent, although I had some doubt tiredness. I have a theory that your brain tricks your muscles into feeling more tired than they really are when self doubt kicks in. I was honestly never really sketched out at all, other than just wondering if it would be blazing hot on the return trip. I was also feeling the doubt of a previous Skull abort due to nausea and probably food poisoning.

    But I almost turned back at the Skull Mesa Trail junction for the final summit push. I don't know whether it was my Native American Cherokee ancestors urging me to join my Hohokam brethren up top (unlikely) my stubbornness (probably) or summit fever (totally) but I pushed on and up. The last mile is pretty straight up, but its never scrambling or anything too taxing other than you've already came 6 miles and probably 2500 AEG just to get to the final trail up.

    I didn't explore much once I got up top, I walked over to the left to the overlook area and snapped some shots, drank about a quart of water and then started back down. I want to go back when its cooler and explore up top more including exploring all the way back to the ruins. I just didn't for whatever reason but as hard as I worked, this hike was on MY terms, LOL.

    Along the return, I actually got a bit COLD from the wind having previously worried about getting too HOT. It really was goldilocks, to be honest, just right. Maybe a hair cooler would be optimal.

    I do have to say though that after doing Skull, the New River Mesa looks like even more difficult. It is ENORMOUS. It appears to make Skull look like child's play. #goals

    All in all a great day. My IT band let out a few exclamatory protests on the scree and pea gravel descent but nothing too bad.

    Looking like East End and Tom's Thumb on Sunday. I'm stoked.
    Skull Mesa from Spur Cross TH
    rating optionrating optionrated 3rated 3rated 3
    this is my last two day weekend for a few weeks due to work
    wanted something longer, different, interesting and not on south mountain
    skull mesa has been on my radar, along with the inner loop with quien sabe peak
    didn't feel like driving up to seven springs, so went from spur cross
    got a late start but still had enough time to make the kickoff of the cardinals game :D
    took spur cross trail to the point where cave creek trail begins
    in a few hundred feet, cottonwood trail splits off
    2.5 miles later, it intersects with skull mesa trail at a fence line
    a rocky ascent to skull mesa
    took a left at the top to check out the views
    while not a peak, it's a nice high point
    decided to hike east on the mesa
    the trail became hard to follow, but i went all the way to the eastern edge and headed back right at my turn around time
    really could have done without this part, as the footing was challenging, hiking over rocks and cactus covered by grass
    huge mesa, and sometimes a little exploration is in order
    it would have been nice if i had downloaded the track for skull mesa trail rather than following random cairns
    my track will show that i wasn't very successful at following the trail
    back down to the trailhead, and decided to finish on metate trail for some variety
    the maps all say cave creek trail #4 begins at spur cross trailhead, but the sign says skull mesa trailhead :-k
    found 247 and 248 slow going, with scree and loose rock, and a lot of ups and downs
    will have to take that into account next time
    still have quien sabe peak on my list
    nice to get up north; it's been awhile
    beautiful day
    saw no one once i left spur cross trail
    Skull Mesa from Spur Cross TH
    rating optionrated 4rated 4rated 4rated 4
    Well a bad day of hiking is still better than most anything else. Started off crisp and cool this morning when Brian, Jason and I hit the trail with Skull Mesa in our sights. Unfortunately Jason got sick along the way. So we stopped, pondered the situation and decided that it was better to turn around and head back to the car.

    Need to add this to the short list of hikes I need to do again. Thanks to Brian for the idea and inviting us.
    Skull Mesa from Spur Cross TH
    rated 5rated 5rated 5rated 5rated 5
    My first hiking failure since moving to AZ. I learned a valuable lesson to go with your gut (pun intended) feeling about your health. Woke up this AM feeling bad, thought I could fight through it. Made it to mile 7 and gastrointestinal issues arose that became scary and dangerous. At the springs on the way back, I wasn't sure I would make it back. Projectile, well you get the picture. Took all I had to get back to the car. Still 14 miles and 2800 AEG isn't bad. Sorry, guys...
    Skull Mesa from Spur Cross TH
    rating optionrating optionrated 3rated 3rated 3
    Skull Mesa Loop
    It's been far too long since I've hiked out of Spur Cross. Especially since I live so close to it. There was a 70% chance of rain on the day, and with rain for two days previous, Cave Creek was sure to be running decently.

    7:30 in the morning, and we were the first vehicle in the lot. We kept our feet dry by rock hopping the 1st and 4th crossings and going off trail to bypass crossings 2,3 5 and 6. I'd forgotten how steep it was in sections of Cottonwood #247 trail, just to get to the steeper Skull Mesa #248 trail. It was a temperate 55 degrees, but I was wringing wet and glasses fogging up from all the humidity.

    Once on top of Skull Mesa, we made our way on the Skull Mesa "Trail" to the east side. The western portion is cairned and easy to follow. The eastern portion, not much to follow there. Still the rain held off, but we had periods of fog on top, and then rising fog from below as we started down.
    35 seconds of sheer excitement :next:
    The top of the mesa was pretty muddy, our shoes picking up extra weight along the way.

    On the Quien Sabe #250, we decided to take a short cut to Cave Creek #4 down a wash. There some sweet geology and flora along the way. On Cave Creek #4, we got our first sprinkles of the day. Not enough to to put on the coat or break out the chrome dome.

    We cut off Cave Creek #4, down to the 6L ranch area, on a spur trail. I'd never been here or read too much about the area. This is a nice area the I need to come back and check out. We stumbled upon some Glymps and Metates and it looks like there much more to see here.

    Getting back from here was easier, since we no longer had to try and keep our feet dry, we just walked on through all the creek crossings

    The Metate Trail and Towhee Trail are always fun to hit when in the area. Some of the biggest Saguaros in the state, mixed with all sorts of greenery
    Skull Mesa from Spur Cross TH
    rating optionrated 4rated 4rated 4rated 4
    I have been wanting to do this hike for a while. I was planning on doing the 17 mile loop, but that didn't happen. I ended up stopping to take pics along the way and hanging out at the top and exploring too long. I was ok with that, since it was my first time on the trail. I really enjoyed the hike, not many folks out which I liked. There was water flowing in a few of the creeks and quite a bit of greenery. Not many critters running around.

    This is an interesting hike because most of the elevation gain is in one lump - going up the face of Skull Mesa. This weekend was much to hot for January, almost 70 by the time I hit the SE face. It was hot going up the 1500 ft face, but well worth it at the top. Great views of the valley all around. I thought the Juniper stands in the middle of the mesa were pretty cool and the sound of the wind in them made it feel like being in the higher mountains.

    I surprisingly drank all 4 liters of my water 2 miles before the end of the hike. I don't think I've ever done that on a winter hike. I will do this hike again, probably shoot for a day that is cooler or cloudy. I still want to complete the loop. I recommend this for anyone that hasn't hiked the area. It looks and feels different that both the Superstitions and McDowell's where I spend a lot of time.

    Some spring flowers blooming already
    Skull Mesa from Spur Cross TH
    rating optionrated 4rated 4rated 4rated 4
    Had been eyeing Skull Mesa for a while. Decided today was the day. Would be a nice way to see how my preparation for an upcoming Grand Canyon trip was progressing.

    Got to Spur Cross about 8am. Was about 40 degrees with a little breeze. First couple of miles were slow and stiff in the cold. Skull looked a long ways off. Finally got warmed up and started to kick it in gear some. Went in via 247A and Cottonwood Springs. Was making pretty good time, so I stopped to explore the area around the spring and then spent a little time at the crested saguaro just north. Skull was looking closer.

    Cached some water just up Skull Mesa trail to lighten the load for the climb. Its just up and up. Topped out and headed over to the edge to enjoy the views, take some photos and enjoy lunch. That's when I noticed my camera battery was about out of juice. No problem, got the cell phone as a back up. Had lunch and made some "guess where I am" calls. Heard some voices below, a couple of hikers headed up the trail. First folks I'd seen all day. Explored around some and started down.

    Caught the other crested saguaro on the way out and then enjoyed (not so much) the roller coaster that is the Cottonwood Trail.

    The Jeep was where I left it in the Spur Cross parking lot. Made the quick drive home for a good hot shower and a celebratory cocktail, always the perfect ending for a good day on the trail. All in all, it was a good day.
    Skull Mesa from Spur Cross TH
    rating optionrated 4rated 4rated 4rated 4
    I took the GPS Joe alternate 247A to the alternate alternate (see Mazatzal's to 247, then up the Skull Mesa Trail (248). My first time up there and I liked the route.

    I came armed with some GPS waypoints courtesy of Alladinsane and I was planning a speculative descent off the west side of the mesa toward some more POIs provided by Oregon Hiker.

    Seems like there's a lot to see on the mesa. Without a lot of searching I ran across 3 separate extensive areas of bedrock metates. There was scattered pottery but not a lot, and it surprised me that I didn't see anything that resembled a ruin - but with all that grinding people must have lived on this south end of the mesa. I'm curious how they got water...I don't know what the best source would be from that location.

    Getting off the west edge of the mesa was a little harder than anticipated. I had to traverse a ways before seeing a route that didn't disappear into a likely cliff. This took me farther north than I wanted so I combined the steep loose descent with a traverse back to the south toward my targets. I took it careful and slow.

    I passed a fort, some nice petroglyphs, and a ruin on my way down (thanks Larry). Glad my plan worked out but I won't be doing this one again.
    Skull Mesa from Spur Cross TH
    rating optionrated 4rated 4rated 4rated 4
    Perfect day for a hike. First two miles on the Metate and Spur Cross were scenic with water on the crossings but not so much where you have to get wet. Once on the Cottonwood Creek, remembered the roller coaster but forgot how rocky this trail was, which made for slow going. Skull Mesa was steep, very rocky and overgrown. Once up top was going to have a lunch but was harassed by bees. On the way down got hit with rain showers which ceased by the Cottonwood intersection did not chase me the rest of the way. Nice hike overall and will do it again

    Permit $$
    Spur Cross Conservation Area $3 per person

    Map Drive
    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
    2+ mi range whistle
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