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Sears Point Petroglyph Sites, AZ

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Guide 14 Triplogs  3 Topics
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Distance Round Trip 1.45 miles
Trailhead Elevation 420 feet
Elevation Gain 61 feet
Accumulated Gain 61 feet
Avg Time Round Trip 2.5 hours
Kokopelli Seeds 1.76
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15  2019-03-09 Hansenaz
33  2018-01-20 Hansenaz
13  2017-09-26 GrottoGirl
12  2016-05-19 Ysabet
63  2014-03-30 Grimey
13  2011-12-18
Along the Gila Trail - Dec2011
12  2010-11-27 kbunny
28  2010-07-24 cabel
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   Dec, Jan, Feb, Nov → 8 AM
Seasons   Late Autumn to Early Spring
Sun  6:22am - 6:29pm
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From the Sears catalogue
by Randal_Schulhauser

While researching the Picacho Mountain Petroglyph Sites, I became aware of a significant cluster of petroglyphs located on the volcanic basalt outcrops along the Gila River between Yuma and Gila Bend. I set off for Sears Point on a recent Saturday morning determined to cross this hike off my "To Do" list.

When I exited the I-8 at Spot Road and doubled back east along the frontage road to Avenue 76E, I found a vast, empty wilderness broken only by the occasional patch of black volcanic rock. As I continued north along the dirt road towards the Gila River, I could begin to make out the Eagletail Mountains on the horizon. With lush greenness approaching from the north, it could only be the Gila River. The dirt road dipped down into the flood plain and became a potential sand trap. Word of caution here... do not attempt to drive this section if it has rained recently! The double-track path is a bit of a maze zigzagging back and forth avoiding pot holes, mud holes, and the like. It will soon emerge at the Sears Point trail head.

Hiking Sears Point Petroglyph Site
Sign the trail register at the trail head kiosk. Assuming the register is accurate, I'm the first visitor in 8 days! No sounds of civilization here, only a light breeze rustles through the ample mesquite bosque punctuated occasionally by a woodpecker drilling away... love it!

After signing the trail register, I gazed to the immediate south and could see some rock art near the upper ridge. I scrambled up a visible trail looking back at the trail head. As I continued to climb, I entered "Glyph City". Some of the panels look remarkably similar to Painted Rocks and Picacho Mountain sites. I walked past a boulder covered in glyphs only discernable when I had the sun situated at my back. This serves as an important lesson when searching for glyphs... don't give up easily, lighting can make rock art invisible!

The light trail heads south and follows an inner contour just below the upper rim. As you gaze to the west, the area has an appearance of being inside a crater. Given the volcanic landscape, this could be the explanation for the landscape. The trail to the south soon disappears, as does the frequency of petroglyphs. I found single glyphs scattered about in this area. Where the inner rim trail begins to bend to the west, I heard distinct buzzing sound... I'd stumbled into a bee hive! Holding my breath (recalling a biologist friend had told me carbon dioxide allows bees to track their perceived enemies), I scrambled down the slope into the inner basin.

I decided it was time to explore the ridges to the north side of the trail head register. I was soon rewarded! Pipettes, crosses, and various animal forms figured predominantly on this panel. I suspect these panels are visible from the trail head register.

I continued to follow an outer contour trail with views of the Gila River flood plain. Another large panel came into view. Whimsical animal forms are featured on multiple panels in this area. As you continue to the west there are boulders covered in rock art. From the boulders, look back for great views of the petroglyph panels. This alcove area has enough shelter to provide us pristine rock art.

Continuing west, another outcrop with rock art panels comes into sight. Below the panels are boulders covered in rock art. Further to the west, there is significant rock fall and the glyphs begin to disappear. Some graffiti markings from early settlers and travelers is evident.

I popped up on top of the mesa and began following the aboriginal trail to the west. The aboriginal trail takes you to the west end of Sears Point. From this vantage, you have a great view of the Gila River flood plain. I noticed a faint trail following the contour below the rim. A number of rock art panels can be found here.

Some History
The Sears Point area has at least two miles of basalt cliff edges that exhibit petroglyph panels. It is estimated that several thousand petroglyphs exist within the area. Many different design elements have been observed on these panels, including curvilinear, rectilinear, anthropomorphic, zoomorphic, abstract, and stylistic figures. In several places, flat basalt rocks were used for petroglyphs to mark trails. Several major petroglyph panels may be associated with Native American myths and legends. The Sears Point area also has historic graffiti. Many of these historic names and dates have been affiliated with early trappers, "49er" gold rush groups, and early settlers who passed through the area between 1840 and 1900. The area embraces a wide array of archaeological sites, including rock alignments, cleared areas, intaglios, petroglyphs, and aboriginal foot trails. The Arizona BLM has designated this site an ACEC. ACEC stands for Area of Critical Environmental Concern. It is an area of public land where the BLM has determined that; "Special management attention is required to protect and prevent irreparable damage to important historic, cultural, and scenic values."

I couldn't find any information about the origins of the name "Sears Point". Would appreciate hearing from anyone who knows.

This little-known site combines many of the rock art elements seen at the better-known Painted Rocks Petroglyph Site. Both are located along the Gila River corridor utilized by the Ancients, early Spanish explorers, and 1800's settlers as an important travel route. I didn't explore the southwest mesa or the isolated mesa further west - will save those for another time. My home library contains a couple of books on the topic of rock art. Having visited these impressive glyphs, I'm very surprised that Sears Point isn't mentioned in either of them. Maybe it's time for a new "definitive bible" to be released. Enjoy!

Check out the Official Route and Triplogs.

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

2006-04-17 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
    Sears Point Petroglyph Sites
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    I'd only been to the lower Gila once before, guided by Mike and Ali. I was impressed with the setting and all the petroglyphs left by the people who lived along the formerly flowing river. So a trip to Sears Point today seemed like a good idea.

    The description and triplogs on HAZ provide excellent information. I'd describe this as a semi-public petroglyph site: it's on BLM land with an informational kiosk, but the Sears Point BLM website no longer exists and there are no signs directing you. It's an obscure and rough 7-8 mile dirt/sand road through the desert to get there but was no problem for my Subaru. The road's really not that bad though it's pinched in a couple places by wash-outs. The sign-in book at the last parking area showed about a dozen parties have been there so far this year.

    The great petroglyph panels start right above the parking area and continue along the cliff band overlooking the river. There are petroglyphs everywhere.

    I had planned to not spend too much time at the main popular area and instead to walk to more distant buttes to see what was there. Unfortunately I had to replace batteries in my Garmin and my saved route disappeared! Can't understand the gremlins in that machine...a check when I got home showed the route was still in memory. Didn't matter much - I pretty much walked the planned route anyway.

    The glyph quality/density dropped off as I continued along but there were still plenty of them. There was also an impressive number of interesting inscriptions left by 19th century migrants heading west. At one point I recognized a glyph as one I'd seen on my previous trip to the lower Gila - I hadn't realized I was close to that area. Anyway that was a good place to turn around and loop back. I enjoyed following the old trails (many of them supposedly dating back 1000 yrs) back and passed a couple ancient stone circles.

    Impressive place! I'll be back...
    Sears Point Petroglyph Sites
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    Along the Gila Trail - Dec2011
    Along the Gila Trail - Dec2011

    Put some miles on the F-150 today dodging rain showers and retracing a section of the GILA TRAIL while on the "trail of the ancients" from;

    Casa Grande Ruins National Monument =>
    Hohokam Pima National Monument (aka "Snaketown") =>
    Patio Area Petroglyph Site =>
    Gatlin Site - Gila Bend =>
    Painted Rocks Petroglyph Site =>
    Sears Point Petroglyph Site =>
    Antelope Hill Petroglyph Site =>
    Confluence of Gila River with Colorado River near Yuma AZ? => Unexplored territory for this author (but suspect the area is rich in ancient artifacts...)

    Missed out on a "drive-by" of the Fortaleza Ruins between the Gatlin Site and Painted Rocks Petroglyph Site => viewtopic.php?t=2915#p32656

    I've embedded in a HAZ FORUM post a reference document I used researching the GILA TRAIL => viewtopic.php?t=6627 . Thought I would share with HAZ members.

    I'd appreciate hearing from anyone with some "insights" on rock art near the confluence of the Gila and Colorado Rivers. I've never had a chance to explore this area and suspect there are some significant sites. :wrt:

    Started the day heading down the I-10 towards Casa Grande searching out the "Snaketown" site near Gila River bridge. From the NPS website;

    "Hohokam Pima National Monument was authorized by Congress on October 21, 1972, to protect an ancient Hohokam village known today as "Snaketown." Excavations in the 1930's and again in the 1960's revealed the site was inhabited from about 300 BC to around 1200 AD and may have had up to 2,000 inhabitants. Following the last excavations, the site was completely recovered with earth, leaving nothing visible above ground. The Monument is located on the Gila River Indian Reservation and is under tribal ownership. The Gila River Indian Community has decided not to open the extremely sensitive area to the public. There is no park brochure, passport stamp, picture stamp or other free literature available. Snaketown was first excavated in 1934 by the Gila Pueblo Foundation, under the direction of Harold S. Gladwin. Between 1964-1965, a second excavation was led by Emil Haury. The two expeditions discovered that the site contained more than sixty midden mounds. A central plaza and two ovel shaped fields were surrounded by pit houses, and an elaborate irrigation system fed the nearby fields in which beans, maize and squash were grown."

    My home library has many historical photos from the principal archeologists from the "Snaketown digs" and I recall some of the artifacts are on display at the Casa Grande Ruins National Monument. I conduct a drive-by of the Snaketown site bounded by the I-10 on the east, the Gila River on the south, Maricopa Road on the west and Riggs Road on the north. The site is completely buried, unkown, and returned to nature. Check out the 2009 video archive posted by University of Arizona commemorating the excavation's 75th anniversary =>

    I now head towards the village of Maricopa and Hwy 238 in search of the Patio Area Petroglyph Site => A chance to explore before a squall line comes in from the south bringing some serious rain. Time to head out.

    A stop at the Shawmutt Trainspotting Loop yields some interesting clouds. The dogs are appreciative of the chance to stretch their legs after that bumpy escape along the 4x4 tracks from the Patio Area.

    Next up is the Gatlin Site. A sad, lonely spot after the acrimonious divorce between the Town of Gila Bend and the Arizona Archeological Society.

    A stop in Gila Bend to pick up some 'burgs and we make the trek out to the Painted Rocks Petroglyph Site to enjoy lunch in the pouring rain!

    Sears Point and Antelope Hill (was also going to check the nearby Texas Hill rock art site, but had enough rain for one day) are up next before the stretch run home to catch the 2nd half and OT of the Cards game...
    Sears Point Petroglyph Sites
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    Fascinating, remote, totally worth the frequently treacherous 7 miles of dirt road through the desert (lots of potential sand-traps; high-clearance vehicle definitely recommended!)

    The site consists of a series of black basalt mesas surrounded by sandy/rocky dry riverbed and palo verde-covered desert. From the trailhead there is a mesa to either side, and a sandy rise in front of you. No clear trails, but whatever route you choose it is easy to pick your way through the rocks. Bring a compass, or climb to the top of a mesa to see where you are.

    Hiking straight up the rise from the trailhead takes you into a saguaro-studded "bowl" full of black volcanic rocks and surrounded by mesas.

    To get close to the petroglyphs requires a brief scramble up one of the mesas. We avoided the one to the left (south) because of reports of beehives. The right-hand (north) mesa seems to have the most glyphs anyhow.

    As you climb the north mesa, find your way around to the far side where you can walk along the ledge next to several petroglyph panels. A sort-of trail follows the ridge just under the mesa-top. From here it is easy to climb up on top, where you can walk for quite a ways, with amazing panoramic views of the entire site, surrounding desert, distant mountains - and few signs of civilization in any direction save a trailer here and there, and the freight-train line along the interstate to the south.

    It is also easy from up-top to see the contours of the dry riverbed and imagine what the site might have been like with the Gila flowing through it, and how it would have been an obvious way-point for travelers following the river. Perhaps half a mile to the northwest is another volcanic mesa; we didn't hike out to that one but clearly it would be possible to spend hours exploring this incredible site.

    We camped in the parking lot and had the desert to ourselves all night!(It is BLM land so primitive camping is allowed; campfires are restricted in the summer months, but a summer visit would be inadvisable as this is open desert with no shade.)

    A note on finding the trailhead: it is actually a bit more than a mile that you have to double back along the I-8 frontage road until you come to the left turn at Ave 76E. There is a turn before this, next to what appear to be some old ranch ruins - don't take that one! 76E was signed. It deadends at the trailhead parking lot.
    Sears Point Petroglyph Sites
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    A return visit to explore some areas we weren't able to cover previously. Although the forecast was a high of 110 degrees F, we were blessed with overcast skies and the odd rain shower! The rumbling of thunder echoed through the Gila valley creating a unique, if not eerie setting.

    We found some minor clusters of petroglyphs along a ridge trail to the southeast. This trail follows the extreme east side of the basalt walls. Additional glyphs can be found by contouring down the slope and into the wash. As we headed north back to the BLM sign-in kiosk there are isolated boulders along the slope covered with rock art.

    We continued along the northwest ridge trail reviewing the major panels the site is renowned for. Matt pointed out that the sun symbol seems to consistently appear on every major panel. Don't know the significance of this observation...

    As we reached the extreme northwest ridge (technically Sears Point proper), we were rebuffed again by an extremely active bee hive! Beating a hasty retreat down the slope into the flood plain of the Gila River, we could see to the south what appeared to be a potential ruins site. From a distance, the site looked very similar to Crack-In-Rock. Although we didn't locate any rock art at this site, there is a curious rock arrangement that could be of archeological significance. We surmised the purpose to be an ancient hearth site, but we're just guessing...

    From this site there are numerous "cultural trails" radiating in various directions. We chose the route heading east. We didn't see any rock art along this route, but did locate a couple of rock alignments and numerous cultural trails.

    I'm often asked how I find out about these relatively obscure hiking sites. The Arizona BLM website contains many links to archeological sites. Check out;
    Sears Point Petroglyph Sites
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    With Matt Bond.

    Original plan was to hike Pinal Mountain, specifically the Icehouse/Telephone/Sixshooter loop hike. But found out before we set off that the area is closed as a fire precaution. Needing an alternate destination, we decided to take in the petroglyphs at Sears Point as well as Texas Hill and Antelope Hill.

    I'll do a write-up on the two "hills" later in the week...
    Sears Point Petroglyph Sites
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    Incredible petroglyph site that leaves you wondering why this is such a secret? Word of warning about the deep sand traps through the Gila River flood plain leading up to the trail head - thought I was going to get stuck a couple of times but managed to get my 2WD F-150 through it. Some of the mud holes showed evidence of stuck vehicles! Also had one of my first bee encounters while exploring the southern rim. Managed to escape by scrambling down hill while holding my breath. Guess my biologist friend is right when he says that bees track their perceived enemies by detecting carbon dioxide...

    Permit $$

    Map Drive
    High Clearance possible when dry

    To hike
    From Phoenix: Take I-10 east towards Tucson approximately 10 miles to exit 164 for Queen Creek Road/Hwy 347 towards Maricopa. Drive approximately 28.4 miles to Hwy 84. Turn right onto Hwy 84 and travel west approximately 5 1/2 miles to I-8. Merge onto I-8 West and travel towards Yuma approximately 75 miles until you reach exit 78 for Spot Road near milepost 79. On the north frontage road, head east for about 1 mile to Avenue 76 E. Travel 7 miles north along this dirt road until you reach the designated parking lot near the Gila River. The parking lot entry marks the beginning of Bureau of Land Management (BLM) property.

    NOTE: No permit is required to enter area. Call 1-602-417-9200 for more info.

    GPS route summary:
    1. Spot Road exit 78 from I-8; 32o 50.151'N, 113o 21.448'W, mile 0.00, elevation 512 ft.
    2. Avenue 76 E; 32o 50.359'N, 113o 20.125'W, mile 1.00, elevation 532 ft.
    3. Sears Point Archaeological Area; 32o 55.737'N, 113o 22.181'W, mile 7.00, elevation 427 ft.

    See GPS overview map, GPS Interstate Exit map and detailed map for route to Sears Point Petroglyph Site trail head.
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