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Deadman Mesa Trail #17, AZ

no permit
122 12 2
Guide 12 Triplogs  2 Topics
Rated  Favorite Wish List AZ > Camp Verde > Verde S
2.5 of 5 by 4
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Difficulty 3 of 5
Route Finding 3 of 5
Distance One Way 5.6 miles
Trailhead Elevation 4,476 feet
Elevation Gain -1,865 feet
Accumulated Gain 665 feet
Avg Time One Way 4 hours
Kokopelli Seeds 7.82
Interest Perennial Waterfall & Perennial Creek
Backpack Yes & Connecting
varies or not certain dogs are allowed
editedit > ops > dogs to adjust
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7  2017-11-19
Stehr to Childs via Fossil-Verde
20  2017-06-24
Verde River / Deadman Mesa
10  2015-02-14
Verde River #11 - Twin Buttes to River
22  2014-08-30
Twin Buttes to Fossil Creek
57  2014-03-15
East Verde River
3  2011-04-16
Verde River #11 - Twin Buttes to River
10  2006-05-29 desertlavender
Author jacobemerick
author avatar Guides 31
Routes 71
Photos 795
Trips 96 map ( 1,037 miles )
Age 34 Male Gender
Location Gilbert, AZ
Historical Weather
Trailhead Forecast
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Preferred   Apr, Mar, Nov, Oct
Sun  6:14am - 6:25pm
Official Route
5 Alternative
Named place Nearby
Quieter Part of Fossil Creek
by jacobemerick

Scenic adventure that drops off the tip of Deadman Mesa and follows Fossil Creek before ending at the Verde River Trail. Can be combined with a few other routes, including Ike's Backbone or the creek itself, to make a long dayhike or even multi-day outings. Also happens to be the furthest northwest trail in the Mazatzal Wilderness.

Reaching the trailhead is the first challenge and, depending on your vehicle, could add up to 7 miles to the official route. FR 591 is a rocky, unmaintained track that descends 1300' after leaving Fossil Creek Road, getting progressively worse the further out on Deadman Mesa it gets. There are multiple washed out sections and steep drops, plus the rocks that make most of the road are hungry for soft tires.

The trailhead itself is unsigned and largely unremarkable. Deadman Tank, a few large trees, and a few sections of fence are strewn around, and there is no obvious spot to pull off a vehicle (assuming one got a vehicle out this far). The first mile or so mostly continues on the two-track, with a cairned path at .5 miles cutting off a western curve. At 1.1 miles the now-heavily overgrown track finally ends with a small turn-about. A cairned footpath continues on, sometimes obscured by grass or greedy bunches of prickly pear, until the tip of Deadman Mesa at 2.0 miles. There are some big views looking out over the Fossil Creek valley to Verde beyond.

Now comes the descent. An iconic 'doorway' shows up, with the remains of an old gate tucked between a large tree and rock outcropping, and then the trail tumbles down 1400' to Fossil Creek. The first half of this drop slides along the eastern side of basalt fins before coming to rest on a small flat. From here the trail twists to the west and leaves the ridge of Deadman Mesa behind, zig-zagging down a steep, grassy hillside. The cairns at this section are large and numerous but may be hard to pick out due to overgrowth.

Thicker clusters of trees show up at 3.4 miles and the trail becomes hard(er) to follow this close to the creek. That's fine - just head towards the sound of rushing water. The trail basically disappears for the next few miles anyways. There are a few flat spots for camping here, nothing obvious or developed. There are also some great pools for cooling off at this point.

Now comes the fun part: follow Fossil Creek downstream beyond the Hardscrabble Creek confluence. There are very few cairns along this section (I only found a handful in one spot in 2017) and no tread to speak of. One could simply jump in the creek and splash through the deep pools and over the waterfalls or try hiking along the overgrown banks. If you do the latter, steep cliffs along the creek will force somewhere between 4 and 8 crossings, many of them 'wet' crossings. Based on the enclosed nature of this creek bed and its apparent ability to flood-out any sort path I can only wish you good luck on this section. At least it's pretty.

A small, likely dry drainage flows in from the east side at 5.0 miles. Get to the east side of Fossil Creek and, near where the dry drainage meets the creek, bushwhack up the crumbling bank. This is a short, unpleasant experience. Above the bank there is the remains of old track and a few cairns. The cairned path climbs up the hill, going south then east then south again, and is sometimes hard to track through fields of foxtails. Aim for the saddle to the southeast if things get hairy. The junction with Verde River Trail has a few huge cairns built up but is unsigned. From here you could follow this new trail left to Twin Buttes Trailhead, right (mostly straight) towards the East Verde / Verde River junction, or turn around and backtrack to Deadman Mesa.

Water Sources
Fossil Creek is a year round and wonderfully clear source. Deadman Tank appears unreliable at best.

While there are no obvious campsites along the creek, there is plenty of shade and all that water to 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.

2017-07-15 jacobemerick

    One-Way Notice
    This hike is listed as One-Way.

    When hiking several trails on a single "hike", log it with a generic name that describes the hike. Then link the trails traveled, check out the example.
    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
    Deadman Mesa Trail #17
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    It’s been almost 7 years since I last hiked this section of the Verde River trail. I remembers the trail being rocky, but not this rocky. Did someone bring in more rocks?
    The FS put in a new trail-head sign with the correct mileage to the river. There’s also a new vehicle barricade at the wilderness boundary. The barricade is interesting as in it won’t keep any determine people out. Plus it’s not necessary because the TH has posts that block all vehicles except motorcycles.

    The hike down to the river was slowly than expected due to the ankle twisting rocks along the way. On my final descent to the river, I spotted 3 canoes going down the river.
    I saw cows all the way down to the river. I was surprised to see them that far out. The Verde river trail got choked out by the vegetation along the river. I found it easier (and cat claw free) to follow the cattle paths by the river. The East Verde River crossing was more than I expected. I had to go up and down the river to find a good crossing spot.

    Once I crossed the East Verde, the trail went into a grassy shaded area. This helped with the warm temps. I heard some noise and came across the canoes people setting up camp by the river bank. We chatted a bit. I went back to the well-worn trail and it ended at a Verde River overlook. I went back and forth from the last known cairn to the overlook. I couldn't find any other trails. I pulled out the GPS / HAZ track and it showed I just off the trail. The GPS showed that the trail started to climb up and pull away from the river. I still couldn't find it. Then I bushwhacked up a ridge to where the trail should be. I came across a path!, But then I saw something ahead of me. It was a cow :o ! The ‘trail’ lead me to another trail?!?! I was on a series of cattle paths. I set 3 o’clock as my stopping point. If I wasn't on THE trail by then, I would turn around. This is not an area you want to be hiking in the dark. At 3:05 I turned around . The GPS showed I was crisscrossing the trail and I never saw a cairn ( just cattle prints) ](*,) . Or any evidence I was on THE trail. It might be easier to hike this section from south to north.

    Along the way back I looked for the Dead Man’s Mesa / Fossil Creek intersection sign. I saw it 7 years ago. I found the trail, but not the sign. The temps were perfect when I started out and got very warm by the river. It got very cold on the way back when I got above 5,000 feet.
    Deadman Mesa Trail #17
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    Twin Buttes to Fossil Creek
    Returned to Twin Buttes over weekend. Just a quick trip down to the Fossil for some rest and relaxation.

    Blanco and I started just before 7:30 on Saturday. Ideally, I would have liked to hit TH a little earlier, but that was about the best we could do for driving up from Phoenix that morning. Made it to Fossil Creek in about four hours on the dot. We certainly felt some of the heat of the day, but for the most part were sparred its wrath and were playing in the creek by 11:30.

    After some fun in the water we both took extended naps. I was still trying to shake a cold so only did some very minor exploring. Initially, I planned on finally picking up where ever Deadman Mesa Trail climbs out of that area and preparing for a loop the next day, but I lost my patience for that section of trail near the Fossil and decided with warm temps I would just out and back it anyways. There was also water the whole way on our return route and Deadman Mesa was unknown, so we went with the safe route on day two.

    Left camp earlier then day before on Sunday, hiked out in just under five hours. I was surprised to see the TH bumping when we arrived, all orv people but they were friendly enough.

    Blanco and I did just fine with the warmer temps, warm but nothing too unbearable. Blanco rocked his pack both ways and was able to cool off in tanks at four miles, and eight miles, just about perfect distances for the ground we were covering and the hotter weather. Over night temps were perfect for sleeping was able to go pretty light for the trip with no rain fly or sleeping bag.
    Deadman Mesa Trail #17
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    The idea for this trek came from reading the blog of someone who found some pretty nice cliff-dwellings in area of the northwestern Maztzals called the Gorge, the details were vague and it was not clear whether they were found along the East Verde or in one of the side canyons leading into the Gorge. So I made a big loop in route manager utilizing Saddle Ridge Trail #14, the Gorge the East Verde, and Verde River Trail #11. I showed the loop to a couple of HAZers and was a little disappointed to find out someone had already pretty much did the same loop. I thought for a minute I had designed quite the unique off trail back-pack adventure, but of course somebody had already did it, no worries though I knew it would be a good rugged adventure, and I felt I was kind of overdue for one. Bob P joined me for most of day one.

    The trip into the Gorge went smooth, I actually overshot my own route by a mile and half because I had hiked in so quick with Bob, I did not realize I was so close to where I wanted to turn-off by the time we split and I hiked another two miles before realizing I wanted to turn-off long ago.

    Speaking of splitting, Bob seemed to have had a pretty ambitious route planned for entering the Gorge, so I thought best with dogs and a four day pack to stick to my route and meet him near L.P. Canyon. Bob went on to find a pristine set of petraglpyh, a full elk's head mount, and I got a much steeper and rockier descent into the Gorge. I only went back about six tenths of a mile before saying pumpkin it and taking the quickest route I could find into the sheer sides of the Gorge, rather than the gentle northern slopes of my intended route. In hindsight, I should have stuck with safer first route, as I nearly took Blanco out with a couple boulders that some how managed to find his five hole. I actually almost took Bob out with one as well, I think it was the heavy pack, I was not light on my feet at all..

    Had a great time in the Gorge with Bob. We both really enjoyed the scenery in there, the sheer drops, tinkling water falls, deep pools, and mini oasis. Speaking of sheer drops, I was actually relieved to have Bob with me, I would have obviously had to navigate the drops in the canyon regardless, however, it was nice to have company. Bob actually led the way on most, and I cringed as the dogs confidently followed him along 10 inch wide paths a 100 or so feet above the canyon floor, lined with agave for good measure. However, these walks on the wild side were few and generally negated by a quick little "Yahtzee" trail or two that made travel down the Gorge not as horrible as I had thought it could be. I left Bob at Green Horn Canyon and continued down stream towards the East Verde where I almost immediately encountered one of my biggest fears, another huge water fall, we got through it and one more fine, but we were all very happy to be finally reaching camp along the East Verde. I was beat and the dogs were beat, day one ended up being a 14 mile day, with 8-9 of those miles being off trail, oh and I was wearing a four day pack..

    I kind of changed my plans I intended to spend two nights along the East Verde, but after not finding the ruins, I decided to just push through to the Big Verde and plan something from a base camp there. The East Verde was beautiful, I started the morning off trying to stay dry and taking the steep out of the way bypasses the cattle take for the deeper spots, however, I think the law of diminishing returns quickly kicked in for me, and I decided they were too hard on the dogs, too over-grown half the time and annoying, so I just started plopping the pack on my head and wading through the river. This actually was a decent strategy in parts where it got thick I just took the water. Although, I learned quickly how a waste deep wade can turn into an arm-pit and neck deep wade. But it really was not that bad, reminded me of trout fishing back home. I camped early after hitting the Verde, I stayed in a really nice spot located in a side canyon off the Verde River Trail. The camp site was awesome and it became even more rewarding when the discovery of a piece of pottery led me to climb three levels of hills to find the largest Pueblo style site I have every found blindly. Just a really large compound with large sections of preserved walls and defined rooms, I have not seen anything that large or preserved outside of the Agua Fria monument area, so that helped alleviate the disappointment of not spotting in cliff-dwellings the previous two days.

    The nights were all great, did no rain-fly for last two. The full moon almost literally made it hard to sleep it was so bright. I scaled back day three because Cup seemed a little stiff in the morning. But by scaled back I mean we only hiked the Verde River Trail to Dead man Mesa Trail to Fossil Creek then up to Hell's Hole via Hard Scrabble, then an off-trail cross country route back to the Verde River Trail where we took a nap at camp and went back out again after the temps cooled. Side note Hell's Hole was not that impressive, and I think we need to work on an official route for Dead man Mesa Trail, hike bot seems way off, I followed a well cairn path to Fossil Creek and it was considerably different than hike bot, and I find this is usually not the case?? Likewise, am I the only one who could not follow Dead man Mesa Trail once it hits the Fossil Creek area? I ended up just wading back and forth looking for something that resembled a trail, and think ultimately I just took a series of cattle trails. Hard Scrabble Creek was a bush whack and wet going up to Hell's Hole, so we climbed out there and just rode the contour lines back to the trail while stumbling across ruin sites and ravines that always looked much work at first glance. However, I considered it a success because we never had to drop back into the Fossil or Hard Scrabble Creek drainage's and I was done with creek walking for a while.

    Our second hike of the day consisted of following the Verde River Trail past the confluence with the East Verde and towards High Water Trail, but I am not going to lie, I lost the trail after awhile and turned back, it can be tough to follow in spots. However, the parts where we were on trail were pretty cool, you go through a mesquite and hard wood forest that provides a a great canopy through a grassy stretch full of nice spots to camp and close to the river. But then I lost patience with trying to follow the trail and turned back. We actually went back up the East Verde River a little to find the fishing pole and case that I had found the day before, but also left along the trail. I cached that pole and case and will now only need a reel and line if I want to go fishing down there. I explored a few hills, dogs were showing signs of being beat, and it was warm out, so we headed back to camp.

    I only did some modest exploring on way out, I went out to Ross' Tank to gain an idea of the canyons leading into the Gorge, and marveled at their depths and drop offs. Then I thought I wonder which one Bob climbed out of? Then the thought crossed my mind, maybe he is still climbing out of one.

    Hike out was nice for training Blanco around cows, pretty much indifferent to them now. He was never really bad before, but occasionally he would run up to and startle them, not cool when they have horns. I swear the dogs smelled the car when we hit Twin Buttes Road because they found a second wind. I don't know why I felt I had to scale it back for Cup she finished stronger than ever. In the end the miles were not all that crazy for four days, but they were definitely rugged with about half of the total coming from off trail miles. I was also able to just get some nice chill time around the campsite, finally finishing my book on the English Civil War, so if anyone ever wants to discuss the underlying implications of the Presbyterian and Puritan led Parliament overthrowing the Catholic Monarchy and Charles I feel free to P.M. me. Finally, I did not find the set of ruins I was looking for, but it gives me an excuse to come back.
    Deadman Mesa Trail #17
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    This seldom used and remote northern Mazatzal Wilderness- Deadman Mesa TR#17 (out of Strawberry,AZ) is a slow/tough 4x4 HIGH clearance only hiking trail to reach, BUT the last 1.6mls of hiking "down from" 4300' at Deadman's Mesa Plateau ending point "down to" 2815' at beautiful, clear, and strong flowing FOSSIL CREEK was well worth the pain and agony of 5.7mls of additional one way, very rocky FR591 and semi-trail hiking to reach this Deadman's Mesa Plateau ending point where the real hike payoff begins..a most scenic -1485' ridgeline hike drop to Fossil Creek visible on the west side, rugged Hardscrabble Canyon/Creek on the east side, and the Verde River gleaming in the distant south.

    The last time I was still hiking after dark to reach my TH end was last March'08 while finishing up the last segment of the tough Sierra Ancha- Moody Point TR#140. This was not the plan that Ken and I wanted to happen again, but due to a very late 10:40am hike start(due to leaving town late, me getting us on the wrong 4x4 TH access road, us not safely able to drive the entire 6.2mls distance on FR591 to the actual TH start, and a 7 mile +2765' hike back out), I ended this hike 35 minutes after dark at 6:55pm totally wasted :sweat: and pleased :GB:

    Here are some "key" waypoints for a planned hike on this alternate trail access to beautiful FOSSIL CREEK(with a nice shaded,sand beach campsite right next to F/C):

    ..FR708/FR591 intersection out of Strawberry: N34 24.139 W111 34.428
    (5.2mls west on FR708-Strawberry Rd, From Hwy 87)
    ..Alternate TH Parking(~2.62MLS IN ON FR591 before going down hill) IF you own a stock '95YJ Jeep with P225R15 tires :lol: : N34 22.892 W111 36.266
    ..Actual TH Parking and signed Hike Start for TR#17(~6.2mls in on FR591..close to Deadman Tank): N34 21.855 W111 38.835
    ..Intersection of Deadman Mesa TR#17 and Fossil Creek: N34 19.509 W111 39.769

    Permit $$

    Map Drive
    Strictly 4x4

    To hike
    Starting at Strawberry, AZ...

    Head east on Fossil Creek Road. Drive 5.2 miles to FR 591 on the left (south) side. Turn down FR 591 and drive 7 miles, or at least as far as you can. Unspecialized vehicles will probably want to park right off of Fossil Creek Road, there is a pull-off here and everything. More ambitious vehicles could attempt to make some, if not all, of the drive to the trailhead.
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