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Strenuous and Rewarding
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 creek's east side. 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. We 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.