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Locating 3 Sierra Ancha Cliff Dwellings, AZ
mini location map2012-10-11
14 by photographer avatarOregon_Hiker
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Locating 3 Sierra Ancha Cliff Dwellings, AZ 
Locating 3 Sierra Ancha Cliff Dwellings, AZ
Hiking avatar Oct 11 2012
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1st trip
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There are three lesser known (outside of HAZ) Sierra Ancha cliff dwelling sites that I have wanted to see for myself for at least two years - sites V:162, V:163 and V:164. Because these sites were located in difficult to reach areas of the Sierra Ancha canyons they have had few visitors over the years. The first HAZ members to locate these sites did it through research of old archeology reports and many hours of off-trail exploring in the Sierra Anchas. They have been discrete about the site locations to prevent damage to these treasures from over visitation but I would like to also think they don't want to spoil the fun of finding these sites on your own.

After two years of poring through the old archeology reports, scanning cliffs from distant view points and trying to glean info from HAZ photos and triplogs I had determined where two of the sites were located. I confirmed these locations by carefully studying telephoto pictures taken from distant viewpoints. I was fairly certain of the third site's location somewhere along a 100-200 yard long cliff face but did not have visual confirmation. Of course knowing the site locations is one thing, being able to get to them without risking life and limb is another.

At this point in my research I decided to play it safe and consult with HAZ member, bart01, on the best routes to take in accessing these sites. I knew from his triplogs that he had been to all three sites and was the first HAZ member to find one of the sites. When I sent him my pictures confirming I knew where two of the sites were located he graciously offered to lead a hike in to the sites. I had been discussing my searches with Grasshopper for some time. It wasn't until bart01 made his offer that Grasshopper admitted to having been to one of the sites but had been reluctant to reveal that info to a new HAZ member for the reasons mentioned earlier in this triplog. The three of us made a plan to hike into V:164 and time permitting, V:163 on Thursday, Oct 11. Bart01's Dad and his dog Muesli would join us. They would make it a day hike returning to the Phoenix area on Thursday evening. I decided to make it a 4 day camping trip giving me time to look for the third site and do other explorations.
After spending the first night camped high on Aztec Peak with it's fantastic views and a spectacular sun rise, I met the others on Thursday morning for the hike into V:164. Our hike that day led us through dense thickets of thorn bushes, scrambles up steep hillsides, along cliff ledges covered with cactus and an encounter with a black tailed rattlesnake. There were many breaks to remove cactus spines from our hides. I even had one stuck in my face. We reached the ruin which was small but impressively intact hidden in the mouth of a cave. The floors of two rooms were littered with 800 year old corn cobs and many pot sherds. The corn cobs were only 4 to 6 inches long, much different from the corn of today, and probably much more adapted to growing in the desert climate during the short summer rainy season. We returned to our cars late in the afternoon with no time left to hike to V:163. My hiking buddies departed and I would attempt to hike into the remaining two ruins on my own over the next two days.
I camped that night at the Billy Lawrence Trailhead, one of my favorite camp sites in the Sierra Ancha high on a cliff top with great views of the surrounding desert mountains. The wind blew hard that night with thunder and lighting flashes off and on all night, frequent rain squalls and several noisy hail storms. But I was snug and dry sleeping in the back of my FJ Cruiser. The morning dawned cold and clear. After a hearty breakfast and many cups of hot coffee I set out for V:163. This one was much easier to get to but still well hidden. The only obstacles I encountered were dense thickets of thorn bushes and another black tailed rattlesnake who was too cold to even offer a rattle in warning. This ruin was not as large as the first and had no corn cobs and few pot sherds - evidence of more frequent visitations by modern man.
That night I camped at the same location but the night was much calmer with no thunderstorms. The next morning I drove to my starting point for the hike into V:162 Getting to this ruin was the most difficult of the three. The terrain was not as difficult as the route to V:164 but without bart01 leading the way I had to find my own path across steep rock slides, heavy brush and confusing multiple levels of cliff ledges. This ruin is at a higher elevation than the other two and has impressive views of deep cliff walled canyons below its ledge high on a cliff. There were more rooms in this dwelling and the rooms in the rear were better preserved because they were further back in the cave protecting the mud adobe of the walls from rain. I did not stay long because I was anxious to find a different route for my return to avoid the Africanized bees encountered on the way in. I was stung twice on that day. Once by a yellow jacket early in the morning on my forehead between my eyes while in a compromising position doing my morning duty. Then later that day by a bee near the ruin. At least I didn't encounter any rattlesnakes that day. I successfully found a shorter and safer return route and enjoyed a peacefull evening in camp. The next morning I did some exploring around camp before heading for home and found what appeared to be an old ore processing(crushing?) site a short distance up one of the side canyons. A quick check of the Sierra Ancha Mine Survey indicates that this was the site of an active asbestos mining and milling operation active in the 1930s and intermittently until as late as 1968. This find made it a nice ending to a great trip to the Sierra Anchas.
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