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49 by photographer avatarMudhole
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Indian Mesa RuinsPhoenix, AZ
Phoenix, AZ
Hiking avatar Oct 09 2016
Hiking1.12 Miles 406 AEG
Hiking1.12 Miles   1 Hour   18 Mns   0.91 mph
406 ft AEG      4 Mns Break7 LBS Pack
1st trip
Linked none no linked trail guides
Partners none no partners
Finally decided to knock this one off of the bucket list, and also get my first GPS route, triplog, and photoset uploaded to HAZ! I'm always exploring the north side of Lake Pleasant in my truck, and I had been back in this area 4-wheeling on Cow Creek road but didn't realize that the ruins were right above me to the south of the trail.

I started later in the day on Sunday than I had planned, but laziness had gotten the best of me in the morning so I didn't leave the house until 1:30pm. I live within 30 minutes of Lake Pleasant, so I knew I had time to get out to the ruins and check it out while there was still daylight. Off I went with a light pack of a few liters of water (wasn't sure how close I could actually drive to the ruins) and some snacks and my trusty multitool with pliers that I always bring as my cactus thorn extractor. I decided to approach the trailhead from the west on Cow Creek road, not trusting that the eastern access from the I-17 wouldn't be gated. Even if the path was open and the riverbed was clear, I know of a few steep obstacles on that side which would be difficult for even the most well-equipped 4x4 rigs. Off to Castle Hot Springs road I go...

The lake levels were low, so I was a go for crossing the lakebed on the drive in at Humbug Creek. The gate there is still closed, but the drive-around is still well intact. Sand and fine silt were to a minimum in the creek, so there were no issues getting across. Once through what I call "Pinstripe Alley" - a tunnel of mesquite trees overgrowing the trail - there was only 1 other set of tire tracks for the next mile. Then, all signs of other vehicles completely disappeared. This eastbound stretch of Cow Creek road has seen little use in the past couple of years, and it was the most barren I've seen it for quite some time. Nice and peaceful, so I took it slow and enjoyed the scenery on this clear day.

The last mile to the trailhead of the ruins was very washed out, and 4x4 plus some high clearance is highly recommended. Mixtures of rock obstacles, river rock boulders in sand, and off-camber washouts are all througout this stretch. Take it slow, find your line, and you'll be fine.

I arrived to an open gate (no gate at all, actually) about 1/4 mile short of the cairned trailhead to the mesa. I parked at the fence since this is posted as a restoration area and I didn't want to add my tracks to the erosion of the area. It's nice that the trail is wearing down more each year, hopefully to a point where this is a hike-in area only.

The trailhead is marked very well with a few large cairns, and a visible trail. Up you go for a very short distance to the saddle between the mesa with the ruins, and the small mountain to the west. The trail is steep in some sections, and the ground is covered in crumbling gravel which can get slick once in a while. I'm fine going uphill on slick gravel like this, but I'm horrible at going downhill on it so I was already dreading the return trip in some sections. It's easy to lose your way in a couple spots on this trail, so if it looks like it disappears, just stand there and scan up the hill and you'll see the natural path.

The last little jaunt up to what I call the "front door" of the ruins (southwest face of the mesa) is a fun little scramble up about 6' of rock with 3 great footholds to push you up. It's a sit-downer coming back down but stable with hand-holds to get down safely. Once at the top, you pass right by the heritage site sign. I was hoping that there wouldn't be any signage as I feel that big signs take away from the seclusion of such a great spot. However, I get it, and I understand that many people who visit sites like this are so tempted to do incidental damage, thinking it's no big deal to pick up a little pottery shard or move a rock to sit down on. Total distance from my truck to the top of the mesa is just over 1/2 mile, so this barely qualifies as a hike at all. Of I go to explore the ruins.

The main complex of the ruins is to your immediate left, out on the western point. It's a great fortified position because the walls below it are undercut and steep, making an enemy approach very difficult. There are also reinforcement walls along the sides in quite a few spots, making it even more secure. The foundations of the walls are still decently intact, but the height of the walls is lacking. Typical for a ruins site out here in AZ, unfortunately. Years of people digging through them for trinkets and trophies has unfortunately destroyed them, but this site was one of the better ones I've ever seen. Considering it is rumored to have been built/used up to and older than 1,000 years ago, I've seen 400 year old ruins in far worse shape.

To the east of the main complex lies the larges and most intact of the ruins. It's a free-standing building with the front door entrance still intact, and the walls are 4-6' high still. You can really study the layers of rockwork from the ground to the higher parts of the wall. What I found most interesting was how the construction style changes after about the first 3'. This means either the builders ran out of "choice" rocks and moved on to the less-desirable shapes, or the ruins were destroyed and rebuilt at some point in history, or maybe these ruins were attempted to be "rehabilitated" by westerners to preserve them. Either way, the bottom half of the walls was much better built, with tight fitting rocks placed strategically, and filled with soil mortar that was still holding.

The sun was setting and it was time to go. I spent about 1/2 hour up at the ruins just looking around. I spotted well over 100 pottery shards of "average" size (size of a quarter, some smaller, some larger). Some were red clay colored on both sides, and some had some black on the inside of the pot. I always love finding ones with black in/on them as they seem to be more unusual in the ruins I've explored. I wish I could remember which Native American nation these predominantly belonged to, as Arizona's Native American history is so fascinating how many different tribes shared and used these buildings over the centuries. Lots of trade activity in this region took place, leading to lots of variety in the artifacts discovered at these sites.

I'm really glad I made this trip. The hike was just a walk up a hill. The drive into where I parked took far longer. Great way to spend a Sunday afternoon, even in the 95 degree October heat.
"Keep close to Nature's heart... and break clean away, once in a while, and climb a mountain or spend a week in the woods. Wash your spirit clean." - John Muir
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