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Cave Creek Canyon East Side, AZ
mini location map2016-02-07
10 by photographer avatarOregon_Hiker
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Cave Creek Canyon East Side, AZ 
Cave Creek Canyon East Side, AZ
Hiking avatar Feb 07 2016
Hiking10.20 Miles 1,617 AEG
Hiking10.20 Miles   6 Hrs   42 Mns   1.52 mph
1,617 ft AEG12 LBS Pack
1st trip
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My last venture on the west side of Cave Creek Canyon to search for signs of ancient Indian habitation was not very successful. This led one HAZer to suggest perhaps it was time for me to find a new haunt. So this time I decided to revisit an area on the east side of the canyon that has always intrigued me. A 1974 report titled "Archeological Investigations In The Cave Creek Drainage" described a pueblo style ruin with 20 rooms in an area above Cave Creek Trail #4 on the south side of Chalk Canyon. I have been to that area on two previous hikes over the last 4 years and never found a ruin which quite seemed to match the description and location described in that document. However the area had been quite rich in scattered pottery sherds.

I put together a plan for this day hike that would take me to some likely appearing nearby locations that I had not explored on the previous trips. Being delayed by some grandpa duties with the GKs, I didn't leave the Spur Cross parking lot until 10:45 am. On the way up the canyon I passed a cowboy leading a group of tourists on horseback. He warned me that he had recently seen two "buzz worms". Not what I wanted to hear since I would be thrashing my way through brush and areas of tall grass once I went off trail. These guys sometimes exaggerate to make the experience more exciting for their customers but I decided to increase my level of vigilance. As I started up CC Trail #4 I encountered two backpackers headed for Spur Cross. When asked where they had been their response was "hunting for pigs up on a flat area". I would later come across what I'm sure had been their campsite on a flat area on the hillside above CC Trail #4. It was good to see that other than foot prints and an impression of sleeping pads in the soft dirt, they had pretty much left the site as they had found it. Snooping around the flat area where they had camped I soon spotted a few pottery sherds and the barely visible remains of a couple of ancient rock walls. Something I had missed on my previous two hikes. Further up the hillside I encountered a strange set of petroglyphs which I had also missed before.

On the way to my planned destination I took a quick look at a previously found ruin site which hadn't seemed to match the 20 room pueblo description in the archaeology report. At that time I thought it looked more like some low rock retaining walls for what might have been small gardens. Don't know where my head was on that trip because this time I saw the outlines of many rock walled rooms hidden in the bushes over a fairly large area. This obviously must be the site referred to in the report. Pottery sherds, some up to 3x4 inches were scattered all over the place. All of the walls had collapsed to a height of less than 2 feet. This ruin location was on the west side of a large flat area covering an estimated 60 to 80 acres. I crossed this large flat area to reach a small high bench protruding into Chalk Canyon where I thought there might be ruins. On the east side of this flat area I found another scattering of pottery sherds just before I started the traverse across a steep hill side to reach the small bench. Upon reaching a small bench protruding into Chalk Canyon a quick check of my gps indicated it was the wrong bench well above my planned destination and there were no signs of ancient habitation. I stopped to eat lunch at this location and took some zoomed photos of the bench below - it didn't look productive and the route from there back to the trail was probably choked with cats claw so I looked up hill. There were some likely looking hilltops just below the cliffs of Skull Mesa so I changed plans and headed for those hilltops. There were pottery sherds on the first hill top. This hill had been hiding a very small valley nestled between it and the side of Skull Mesa which could have been used by the ancients for garden plots or perhaps it had a productive mesquite orchard. I continued south across several flat hilltops overlooking the large flat below. Along the way I located several more sites with pottery sherds and two sites with small one to three room ruins.

On this hike and on two previous hikes to this area I have found the 60-80 acre flat bench on the east side of the canyon below Skull Mesa to be surrounded by evidence of habitation. This includes many sites with scattered pottery sherds, at least two petroglyph sites, one pueblo style ruin with approximately 20 rooms and several smaller 1 to 4 room ruin sites. The quantity of pottery sherds would seem to indicate habitation by many people perhaps over several generations. The attraction must have been this large flat area where they could have been doing some dry land farming. The curious thing is that the location is far from perennial water sources although at that time there may have been springs nearby in Chalk Canyon and along the side of the canyon. Another explanation is that it is just one more site where the women carried the water. ;)
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Chalk Canyon Skull Mesa
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