Bleached Human Skulls
As I'm about to log my 100th hike on HikeArizona.COM, thought I'd write up a new trail description to commemorate the occasion. This hike was originally titled; "Coon Creek - Lower Ruins", however, since we were thwarted in our attempt to actually locate any ruins, we are temporarily going with the title; "Coon Creek - Lower Canyon Trail".
When I wrote the hike description for "Coon Creek Ruins" I received an email alerting me to the presence of additional ruins along Coon Creek. One set of ruins was described as "near the road and Coon Creek with barely discernable features" and the other as "overlooking Coon Creek at the Salt River, it is a hilltop (ridge top) site". Starting with these clues I began to research these ruins to confirm their existence and find more precise location.
A literature search and topographic map search proved futile. An internet search did yield references to Indian ruins at Coon Creek published by Salt River rafters! An April 6, 1992 logged account indicated; "The last morning, we climbed to the defensive, terraced Indian ruin at Coon Creek and returned to camp through the small narrows". Another rafting tour indicates that on Day 4 at 1:00pm; "Coon Creek is our destination for the afternoon, which offers a small shady stream and a unique geologic formation, the Devil's Post Pile. This is an example of basaltic columnar jointing, which even has another set of Indian ruins at the very tip. There may be time to hike up to this tremendous view of the valley, or cool off in the shade under the trees!" There is even an interesting tale of lost gold at Coon Creek as first published in the January 1977 edition of Lost Treasure Magazine. Check out http://www.losttreasure.com/statetales/taleAZ.cfm for the "Missing Gold Ledge of the Sierra Anchas". This summarizes the 1870's tale of Private Sanders from Fort Apache AZ upon a failed scouting mission; took a more direct route to the fort. Striking Coon Creek, he turned down it, knowing that all southward running canyons would eventually empty into the Salt River. After traveling along the creek bottom for nearly 10 miles, he came to a waterfall over a steep drop. Private Sanders soon found; the source of the gold - a fantastically rich section of the quartz ledge, eight inches wide by 3 yards long that was nearly half gold! Sanders completed his remaining 24 months of enlistment before returning to Coon Creek. No more was heard about Sanders until shortly after the turn of the century when two cowboys were hazing some cattle down out of the Sierra Anchas. They were pushing the cattle down Coon Creek when one of the cowboys saw a gleaming white object half buried in the sand. Dismounting, he found that the white object was a bleached human skull. He scouted around and found the rest of the skeleton, then about four feet further on he found a second skeleton. Nearby were the charred ruins of a cabin. Deciding that the decent thing to do would be to bury the two skeletons, the cowboys began to dig a grave within the area outlined by the charred walls of the burned-down cabin. Turning over a good sized hunk of quartz, one of the cowboys picked it up, rubbed it clean revealing a strip of gold nearly an inch wide with the name "SANDERS" neatly lettered into the gold.
Armed with these factoids, our group of intrepid hikers met early one morning at a local Starbucks and headed off to the Sierra Anchas determined to locate ruins and several gold nuggets. At the trailhead parking, take note of the overhead high voltage transmission lines. These will prove to be useful landmarks to judge distance, location, and time during your hike. Also look for sawn branches to help locate the faint horse trail that zigzags across Coon Creek multiple times as it meanders down to the Salt River. TIP OF THE DAY - When passage is doubtful, stay to the east side of Coon Creek. Following this tip allowed us on multiple occasions to relocate sawn branches marking the faint horse trail. There are numerous game trails to lead you off-course!
The trail heads south from the parking area into a lush riparian setting marked by tall cottonwood trees and small gurgling waterfalls. This will rapidly transition into a typical Sonoran desert setting marked by some monster Saguaro cacti. As we emerged from the cottonwood grove, we accidentally followed a game trail that contoured up the west side slope (remember the TIP OF THE DAY). This did offer an excellent view of the Coon Creek valley with the Salt River Wilderness visible in the distance.
Undeterred, we tracked down the slope and located bushes with sawn branches marking our faint horse trail. We soon came upon the first of many zones where Coon Creek is contained by a natural form of concrete - most unusual...
Our horse trail continues to track within the Coon Creek valley as the terrain alternates from open natural concrete to tangled cottonwood groves. As you get closer to the Salt River, Coon Creek will begin to "box-up" forming a canyon. Some rock climbing skill and agility is required to avoid getting wet.
As you emerge from the narrows of Coon Creek Canyon, you are greeted with a sweeping view of the Salt River. Also found what appeared to be a beaver lodge at the confluence. There was multiple evidence that beavers were in the area!
A search to the east and west side of Coon Creek at the Salt River did not yield any Indian ruins where we thought were likely locations. Think we found the feature referred to as the "Devil's Post Pile" in one of the river rafting accounts. Also found some faint rock art on the east side when I climbed up the scree to the cliff face. With the time now 3:00pm we decided to end the search for the ruins and head back to the vehicles parked at the trail head.
The "Coon Creek - Lower Canyon Trail" is a combination overgrown horse trail-bushwhack-boulder hop hiking in a unique wilderness location full of archeological significance and legends of lost gold. I would appreciate hearing from anyone who has actually visited the ruins near the confluence of Coon Creek with the Salt River. With more exact directions (GPS co-ordinates?), our hiking group has vowed to return and produce photographic evidence. I would also appreciated hearing from anyone who knows more about Saunders cabin ruins and legends of lost Coon Creek gold. I will update the trail description and title accordingly... Enjoy!
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.