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Picacho Mountains Petroglyph Sites, AZ

Guide 28 Triplogs  2 Topics
  3.3 of 5 
230 28 2
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Difficulty 1.5 of 5
Route Finding 1 of 5
Distance Lasso-Loop 3.58 miles
Trailhead Elevation 1,752 feet
Elevation Gain 134 feet
Accumulated Gain 178 feet
Kokopelli Seeds 4.47
Backpack No
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Photos Viewed All Mine Following
5  2020-03-29 AZLOT69
18  2020-03-28
Desert Walk plus
5  2016-12-10 D_Slinky
10  2016-01-17 Ysabet
28  2015-01-15 TheNaviG8R
24  2012-01-16 Hansenaz
12  2010-11-29 Alston_Neal
26  2009-11-07 cabel
Page 1,  2
Author Randal_Schulhauser
author avatar Guides 71
Routes 98
Photos 9,967
Trips 1,009 map ( 9,248 miles )
Age 61 Male Gender
Location Ahwatukee, AZ
Historical Weather
Trailhead Forecast
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Preferred   Nov, Dec, Jan, Feb → 9 AM
Seasons   Late Autumn to Early Spring
Sun  5:38am - 7:26pm
Official Route
1 Alternative

Glyph Hunt
by Randal_Schulhauser

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A recent trip to the Deer Valley Rock Art Center made me aware of a significant cluster of petroglyphs located in the Picacho Mountains. Having climbed Picacho Peak on more than one occasion, I've been curious about accessing the mountain range on the east side of the I-10. After a little bit of research on the web and I discovered that archeologists had cataloged more than 4000 petroglyphs at 19 distinct sites, with some of the more spectacular displays located at the northern reaches of the Picacho Mountains. Compared to the 1000+ petroglyphs cataloged at the Deer Valley Rock Art Center, another 1000+ at the V-Bar-V Ranch, and 1500+ at the Painted Rocks Petroglyph Site, I figured with 4000+ there are good odds to view some glyphs!

With my daughter Hannah home from university for March Break, we headed out on a recent Saturday morning. When you exit the I-10 and travel along Hwy 87, the Picacho Mountains dominate the eastern horizon. Our maps showed East Cornman Road as a direct route east from Hwy 87 to 1st Petroglyph Site along North Start Road. This proved to be a mistake as access is blocked by private lands and threatening signs indicating "Trespassers will be shot!". By-passing the private lands via some off-road trails also proved to be a dead-end due to locked gates near the Central Arizona Project canal. We were back on-track when we traveled Houser Road to Brady Pump Road.

At the boundary for Arizona State Trust land near the large white silo tower beside the Central Arizona Project canal, we started to display our permit tag on our vehicle rearview mirror. The dirt road had many washouts and deep ruts from the recent rains. Bumpy would be too kind of a word to describe the ride. Much to our surprise, as we "mucked" our way through a few slick sessions, we encountered a road grader busy at work making repairs filling the ruts with gravel. With a suddenly smooth road, we quickly arrived at the parking lot for the 1st petroglyph site.

When I parked my truck and exited the vehicle, the first rock encountered seemed covered from end-to-end with petroglyphs. In fact, it appeared that the glyphs were overwritten multiple times including some recent graffiti. The mid-day sun was soon obscured by some quick moving clouds. The softer light revealed petroglyphs on just about every visible rock! We wandered around the perimeter of this boulder strewn hill from the west side to the south side. A cluster of rock art suggesting fertility or pregnancy (stick figures with hollow circles in main body) was found. We continued to find petroglyphs along the south side, albeit more scattered in their concentration. We even found what appeared to be a turtle petroglyph. As Hannah continued to the south, she was startled by a javelina resting in some shaded cover. Not wanting to encounter more boars, we decided to retrace our steps and continue back along the west side of the 1st petroglyph site.

We wandered along the north side of the first hill and didn't note any additional glyphs. Near a large standing saguaro skeleton, there is a small cluster of boulders covered with desert varnish. Noting this prime ingredient for rock art, we investigated closer and were soon rewarded. This 2nd petroglyph site seemed to incorporate rock formation features into the rock art. Many of the individual rocks have 4 or 5 parallel lines pecked into the surface.

I could spot a 3rd petroglyph site on the west side of the second hill. The rock art style appears markedly different at this site... more psychedelic in my opinion. The rock face seems flatter at this site and may have contributed to the style difference. With noon approaching, it was time for a light snack. We soon continued along the south face of the second hill. Petroglyphs are clustered at a 4th site where a third hill begins. The location of these glyphs isn't necessarily obvious. The path between the 3rd, 4th, and 5th petroglyph sites passes through a saguaro forest. As you approach the 5th petroglyph site, the rocks are considerably weathered and so are the petroglyphs. Careful examination is required to discern the shapes.

The loop I've described visits 5 of the 19 petroglyph sites reported in the Picacho Mountains literature. I'd be interested in hearing from others who've visited the other sites and maybe disclose their location. The time we spent at the sites was remarkably peaceful. We only encountered 2 Jeeps making a circuit together along the trail. This route could be an interesting mountain bike journey or a base camp for some hiking opportunities in a remote location. Enjoy!

Check out the Official Route and Triplogs.

Gate Policy: If a gate is closed upon arrival, leave it closed after you go through. If it is open, leave it open. Leaving a closed gate open may put cattle in danger. Closing an open gate may cut them off from water. Please be respectful, leave gates as found.

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

2006-03-20 Randal_Schulhauser
    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.

    Permit $$
    AZ State Recreational Land Permits
    For hiking, driving & sightseeing purposes, you seek the recreational permit.
    Under "Recreational Land Use" in the link above.
    2020 - $15.00 individual
    2020 - $20.00 family limited to two adults and children under the age of 18
    Plus $1 processing fee
    The permitting process quick, you will be emailed your permit instantly.

    Land Parcel Map

    Map Drive
    FR / Dirt Road / Gravel - Car Okay

    To hike
    From Phoenix: Take I-10 east towards Tucson approximately 55 miles to exit 211 for Hwy 84/Hwy 87 to Eloy. Merge onto Hwy 87 north towards Florence. Drive approximately 4 miles along Hwy 87 to Houser Road. Turn right onto Houser Road and travel east approximately 5 1/4 miles to Brady Pump Road. Turn left onto Brady Pump Road and travel north approximately 3 miles until the pavement ends at the Central Arizona Project canal. A cluster of buildings is associated with the CAP, including a tall white silo tower. The end of the pavement marks the beginning of State Land Trust property.

    NOTE: State Trust Land Permit is required to enter area. This can be obtained in person by visiting the Arizona State Land Department at 1616 West Adams Street, Phoenix, AZ 85007. Check out the permits link above for more information. Your vehicle must also display a valid permit tag.

    There will be several dirt roads radiating near the junction with the white silo tower - Take the one furthest left - there is a low, rusty Pioneer Gravel sign at the intersection as well as a State Land Trust sign. (There is no longer a cattle guard at this turn ---->)Choose the dirt road heading due north that crosses a cattle grate with State Trust Land signage. Travel 1 1/4 miles north until you reach a 'T' junction with another dirt road heading due east. Turn right onto this road (North Start Road) and travel 1 3/4 miles east until you reach the foot of the Picacho Mountains. There will be a parking lot on the south side of the road at the first rock art site. Rock Art will be everywhere on what appears to be a huge pile of dark boulders that completely covers the hill's west side. Additional rock art sites can be found around the perimeter of the Picacho Mountains. Note that black desert varnish is the fundamental ingredient for a petroglyph. Use this fact as guidance to search for additional rock art panels.

    From Tucson (alternate route): Take Hwy 77 north from Tucson approximately 20 miles to the junction with Hwy 79. Take Hwy 79 northwest towards Florence. Drive approximately 25 miles to East Deep Well Ranch Road. Turn left onto East Deep Well Ranch Road and enter State Land Trust property.

    Continue southwest on this dirt road for about 3 1/2 miles until you reach North Start Road that will head west to the foot of the Picacho Mountains. North Start Road will pass an abandoned mine after about 4 1/4 miles and an active gravel pit after about 4 1/2 miles. The first rock art site will be on the road's left side after traveling nearly 6 3/4 miles along North Start Road.

    GPS route summary:
    1. First petroglyph site and parking lot, south side of North Start Road; 32o 50.021'N, 111o 23.019'W, mile 0.00, elevation 1752 ft.
    2. Second petroglyph site, near large standing saguaro skeleton; 32o 49.969'N, 111o 22.671'W, mile 0.79, elevation 1781 ft.
    3. Third petroglyph site, near large flat boulders covered with desert varnish; 32o 49.826'N, 111o 22.636'W, mile 0.97, elevation 1789 ft.
    4. Fourth petroglyph site, next to saguaro forest; 32o 49.699'N, 111o 22.322'W, mile 1.45, elevation 1818 ft.
    5. Fifth petroglyph site, near extremely weathered boulders; 32o 49.582'N, 111o 22.104'W, mile 1.74, elevation 1886 ft.

    See GPS overview map and detailed map for off-road route to the Picacho Mountains Petroglyph Sites.
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