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Picacho Mountains Petroglyph Sites, AZ

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Guide 25 Triplogs  2 Topics
Rated  Favorite Wish List AZ > Phoenix > Phoenix SE
3.3 of 5 by 3
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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
Avg Time Round Trip 2.5 hours
Kokopelli Seeds 4.47
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Photos Viewed All Mine Following
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
21  2009-02-07 Randal_Schulhaus
1  2008-09-13 nyhiker
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
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Preferred   Nov, Dec, Jan, Feb → 9 AM
Seasons   Late Autumn to Early Spring
Sun  6:10am - 6:29pm
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Glyph Hunt
by Randal_Schulhauser

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. A little bit of research on the web and I discovered that archeologists have catalogued 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 catalogued 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 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 literature for the Picacho Mountains. 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.

    Most recent Triplog Reviews
    Picacho Mountains Petroglyph Sites
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    I did this a little different than most visitors. When I got to the end of the pavement there was some mud, and rather than risk a car adventure I decided to walk across the desert to the petroglyph site. This isn't hard to do, just one fence to slip under and it only took about 45min. While approaching these low hills I made the decision to just look around...not try to see it all. I've never been good at spotting petroglyphs and decided this might be my chance to succeed....a bit like a crummy fisherman (which I also am) being led blindfolded to a private trout farm...bound to have a good day.

    I had Randall's GPS track loaded and hit the area away from the main parking lot. It was great to spot my first one (apparently not part of a popular grouping) and in a few more minutes I hit the doubt one of the main site's referred to in the description. The petroglyphs here went all the way up the north slope of the small hill and I followed them up to the top. I continued along the top heading south and didn't see any more till the last drop to the next saddle. I wondered if the next hill would also have north facing glyphs and headed up a ways but no dice.

    I headed back via the main parking lot which is next to a lot of petroglyphs as well...though this area, with heavier traffic, seemed not as nice to me. There were two jeeps and a minivan in the lot - guess the mud wasn't that bad. Walked back across the desert, heading toward the water "silo"....very enjoyable....and I can always go back and find more!
    Picacho Mountains Petroglyph Sites
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    Picacho Mountains Petroglyph Sites - REDUX

    When Joe B. made his move out of the Ahwatukee Foothills, he mailed me one of his books that was cluttering up the home library - "Petroglyphs of the Picacho Mountains" by Henry D. Wallace and James P. Holmlund. This 1986 publication was contracted by the Tucson Aqueduct Project (TAP, now CAP - Central Arizona Project) to mitigate archeological impact by the project through the Picacho Mountains.

    Much appreciative of this unexpected gem, I've been waiting for the opportunity for a return trek to these rock art sites having new context plus tips about many more sites. That opportunity presented itself today with Lynn and Skippy...

    When I wrote the Hike Description back in March 2006, my only reference was Dave Wilson's "Hiking Runis Seldom Seen" and an anecdotal reference made at the Deer Valley Rock Art Center alluding to 4000+ petroglyphs in the Picacho Mountains. With the Wallace and Holmlund archeological survey in hand, I'm surprised at the efficiency we had uncovering the North Pass and Shelter Gap sites. We'd identified 6 sites; the survey lists 8 sites in this area - not bad for a bunch of amateurs...

    On this day, we revisited the North Pass and Shelter Gap sites for a redux and a first look at Shelter Gap sites "E" and "F". Don't know if we actually found the panels associated with sites "E" and "F" since we only saw isolated single glyphs near the saddle. Shelter Gap is so named for the large number of small shelters within this geologic feature. Look for associated U-shaped rock formations characteristic of small shelters.

    The Wallace and Holmlund survey indicates that the 2nd largest concentration of glyphs is at the Picacho Point area - the extreme westerly projecting ridge from the Picacho range. Lynn and I traveled Brady Pump Road to its southern terminus at an aqueduct pumping station. Without locating an access route across the aqueduct and past the pumping station, our attempt to explore the Picacho Point sites were thwarted. I'd appreciate hearing from anyone who's been to the Picacho Point and/or Kristo sites...
    Picacho Mountains Petroglyph Sites
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    Aborted a ridge hike due to unbelievable wind. Headed up then came back down. I was nearly blown off the ridge which reminded me of a bad experience at Joshua Tree in the 90's. Otherwise a very nice day. The terrain is very easy travel.

    Hiked through some of the lower desert that was wind blocked by the mountains.
    Picacho Mountains Petroglyph Sites
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    Another visit to the petroglyph sites after a morning "backcountry" tour of Compound B at Casa Grande National Monument. Also took Mike Mattes on his first visit to the area. Despite advance warnings that snakes are now out in full force, didn't see a single slithering reptile all day!

    First stop was at what I dubbed in the hike description as "Site 1". Encouraged by Joe's recent hike log, we climbed a little higher on the north side and encountered some glyphs Hannah and I missed during our first adventure. While Mike and I were exploring near the summit on the north side, a Jeep pulled into the parking lot. This was our only human encounter all day. The two occupants were armed with Dave Wilson's "Hiking Ruins Seldom Seen" and were trying to locate the glyphs.

    Second stop was at "Site 3". Also climbed to the summit of this cluster of petroglyphs. Some individual, albeit weathered, rock art can be found scattered about the higher elevations.

    A tip from Joe also led us further south from the initially described "triangle". "Site 6" can be found near the cattle gate on three truck sized boulders.

    Site 6
    N32o 49.191'
    W111o 22.520'
    elevation = 1906 ft

    Continued exploring further south. Only saw the occasional scattered (and extremely weathered) rock art. Trail extremely sandy in spots, but managed to negotiate in my 2WD F-150 without incident...
    Picacho Mountains Petroglyph Sites
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    Arrived about 9:30am. Four vehicles in the first lot so I bypassed the Minnesota senior citizens. None of which had permits that I could see.

    Took the first right, which I guess a car could negotiate if it wasn't recent plowed soft edge. North Star has been plowed flat as a pancake, but it's a good two feet below the other terrain. I roamed around a hillside for awhile. Which became the routine, drive - roam a hillside, drive - roam a hillside.

    After completing Randal's triangle I ventured off into the desert to scout the roads. It's a maze and I documented some until my GPS fried in the sun. Luckily after cooling it down it revived at home. There's plenty of rock strewn hillsides to hunt. The roads are not wide like the Tecate Baja 1000, rather tight hugged with pristine desert foliage.

    I didn't hike more then a mile total in various areas. Randal's triangle would be a good mountain bike. Venturing on further can lead into some deep sand sections you wouldn't want to bike.

    I came across the tail end of a hill with a boulder the size of a house at the base. The boulder was split into 4 perfect pie slices. I can't imagine how it got there, the hill wasn't even close to being high enough for a fall with such results. It must have fallen from the sky.

    On the return I checked out the main site which was free of visitors. This is obviously the main attraction. Not only is the hill covered in blackened cracked rock but views from the top are sweet. It's so peaceful looking towards Phoenix. If I didn't know better I'd figure maybe a dozen people lived in the distance, not three million :o

    The entire area is great for exploring!
    Picacho Mountains Petroglyph Sites
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    This was an off-road + hiking adventure with my daughter Hannah. With some research I've found multiple references to "19 large petroglyph sites in the Picacho Mountains". I would consider "Site 1", and "Site 3"significant, and the other 3 sites mentioned in the hike description as being isolated outliers.

    Would be interested in hearing from others that have been to any of the other 17 large petroglyph sites in the Picacho Mountains. Would be particularly interested in finding out where the rock inscription "Kisto - Killed by Apaches Dec. 1871 Pima Indian" is located.

    Reference weblink;

    to view photo.

    Think the area merits a return visit. Given the prospect of many miles between the undescribed petroglyph panels, will probably bring the mountain bikes next time!

    NOTE: State Land Trust permit required to access the area.

    Permit $$
    AZ State Land Recreational Permits are available for an individual ($15.00), or a family limited to two adults and children under the age of 18 ($20.00).

    Land Parcel Map

    Map Drive

    To hike
    From Phoenix: Take I-10 east towards Tucson approximately 55 miles to exit 211B 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. There is a cluster of buildings 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. 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 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 west side of the hill. Additional rock art sites can be found around the perimeter of the Picacho Mountains. Note that black desert varnish is 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 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 left side of the road 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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