Some History: The Sierra Ancha Wilderness area was established in 1933 as a primitive area noted for an abundance of archeological sites. Of particular interest are the prehistoric Sierra Ancha Cliff Dwellings found throughout the steep canyons of the Cherry Creek watershed. Built on ledges and in crevices between 1250 A.D. and 1350 A.D., construction consisted of stone slabs and blocks set in mud mortar, plastered over, with roofs and floors of heavy timber beams layered over with branches and grass and finished with alternating layers of earth and stone.
So why did this architectural experiment last for only 100 years, seeming to disappear forever? One theory suggests that an extreme drought that enveloped the southwest dried up most of the lower reaches of Cherry Creek and other tributaries. The upper reaches would still have seeps and springs that flow year round. Noting that all cliff dwellings have a perpetual water source near by, suggests that construction may be driven by having found a reliable water supply. As water returned to the lower reaches of Cherry Creek, abandonment was inevitable.
Another theory suggests that the cliff dwellings were defensive structures to protect the inhabitants from a prolonged inter-tribal conflict that gripped the southwest during these ancient times. A return to peaceful times combined with a growing trend of mass migration and tribal assimilation may have stimulated abandonment of these sites.
Whatever the purpose, cliff dwellings along Moody Point Trail #140 are an example of this architectural experiment conducted about 700 years ago. To find out more, check out "Echoes in the Canyons - the Archeology of the Southeastern Sierra Ancha" by Dr. Richard C. Lange (reference http://www.uapress.arizona.edu/BOOKS/bid1742.htm ).
The Hike: The U.S. Forest service describes Moody Point Trail #140 as "the most difficult trail in this Wilderness". It also indicates that "the trail may be vague and difficult to follow in places" and suggests "west-to-east (downhill) travel highly recommended". With this advice in mind, I will describe this challenging, route-finding endeavor, as a shuttle hike.
Travel along FR203 (aka Cherry Creek Road) to the East TH. On this particular November day, we are treated to fall colours within Cherry Creek valley. We set up camp at the Leisure TH prior to shuttling a vehicle to the West TH. Retrace your route along FR203 and head up towards Young along Hwy 288 turning at FR487 beside Workman Creek.
Start your hike from the road closure barrier at FR487 near the "Falls" camp ground. There will be a steady ascent of 400 feet over 2/3rds of a mile along the closed Forest Road before you reach Workman Creek Waterfall. You will be surrounded by a thick Douglas Fir and Ponderosa Pine forest on all sides within Workman Creek Canyon.
FR487 is bracketed by a sea of yellow flowers as you continue 2.7 miles from the West TH to reach the Ranger's Cabin near the Moody Point TH sign. You are now at the maximum elevation of 7215 feet for this hike.
As you begin the downhill decent along the original Moody Point Trail #140, you will encounter a series of switchbacks near the headwaters of Deep Creek. The area is a jumble of regeneration and deadwood from the April 2000 Coon Creek Fire. A couple of windfall trees blocked the trail leading to some acrobatic balancing acts as we negotiated up and over the tree trunks.
At mile 4.0 from the West TH you will encounter the intersection with Rim Trail #139 described elsewhere on HAZ. The elevation is now 6675 feet. Take advantage of a couple of large rocks near the trail intersection to sit and rest the legs.
Around mile 4.5 you will reach a relatively flat section with a thin layer of sandy soil. You will soon be trekking beside Moody Point. The upper reaches of Devil's Chasm will be visible near the trail.
At mile 5.5 there will be a rapid change in vegetation as you leave the pine forests behind and enter the high desert scrub lands. Route finding is most difficult in this section as it is a labyrinth of rocks and tall grass obscuring any cairns marking the trail. Elevation drops 1200 feet over the next mile. Surest route appears to be following the ridgeline down to a saddle.
At mile 6.5 you will begin to traverse a long saddle. When the saddle begins to slowly ascend, stay to the west side of the ridgeline contouring around 5200 feet. This will keep you at the same elevation as the wash that breaks the ridgeline around mile 7.3. Follow the wash down to a grassy mesa.
At mile 7.6 the trail will make an abrupt turn to the north to traverse a grassy mesa with steep slopes to the base of a cliff band. Look up to the cliff band to the immediate west. At the base of the rock wall you will capture your first glimpse of the cliff dwelling ruins. There is no defined trail up to the ruins. The 400 foot scramble up to the base of the cliff band is treacherous at best! We made it up by creating a series of switchbacks connecting various game trails.
At mile 8.2 you will encounter the first set (southern most) of ruins which has been reduced to a pile of rubble with only small section of wall still standing. The middle set of ruins has about 6 adjoining rooms, each at a different state of deterioration. Some of the mud plaster walls have discernable fingerprints from the ancient architects. The third set (northern most) of ruins has also been reduced to a pile of rubble. Only a small section of wall remains. For whatever these cliff dwellings lacked in creature comforts, they certainly made it up with a breathtaking view!
Scramble back down to the Moody Point Trail and continue the relatively flat traverse north along the grassy mesa. At about mile 8.9, the trail will bend to the east and descend through scrub growth that includes manzanita thickets. At about mile 9.2 you will cross a grassy saddle that contains a Sierra Ancha Wilderness Boundary sign (or half-sign at the time of this writing!).
As you pass the sign, another steep decent will take you to another grassy saddle marked with rising mesa to the immediate east. The path will contour to the south and east around this higher elevation before beginning the rapid decent down to Cherry Creek. Rock cairns are intermittent at best. You will encounter a barbed wire fence when you reach the western shore of Cherry Creek at about mile 10.3. Follow the fence in a southerly direction until you reach the gate.
When you pass through the gate, maintain a northerly bearing as you cross Cherry Creek. A combination of rock cairns and wooden curbs will guide your route across the flood plain. The Cherry Creek flood plain contains an unusual mix of flora and fauna. At mile 10.5 you will enter the dry wash of Leisure Canyon. The trail will emerge along the southern side of the wash following it to the Leisure TH located at FR203. Having completed this shuttle hike you will have traversed 10.9 miles.
Summary: This is a tough hike, both physically and mentally. Route-finding is challenging given the extreme overgrowth and lack of trail maintenance. This wilderness hike will take you from tall pines characterized by Douglas Fir and Ponderosa Pine to the Sonoran desert characterized by giant Saguaros all within 11 hiking miles. Elevation will peak at 7200 feet and drop to 3000 feet during those 11 miles. Top it off with a set of Sierra Anchan Cliff Dwellings and you have one sweet hike... Enjoy!
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.
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.