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Cave Creek Indian Ruins at Chalk Canyon
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mini location map2018-10-28
5 by photographer avatarMandaBearPig
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Cave Creek Indian Ruins at Chalk CanyonPhoenix, AZ
Phoenix, AZ
Hiking9.09 Miles 1,080 AEG
Hiking9.09 Miles   4 Hrs   28 Mns   2.16 mph
1,080 ft AEG      15 Mns Break
1st trip
Linked   none no linked trail guides
Partners none no partners
I was set to delete this route and post nothing but I always say you learn from your mistakes, so I figured I should practice what I preach. Warning: do not follow my route trace unless you want an unnecessarily anxiety-ridden experience.

I want to note that I'm not a novice hiker, though I am an out of practice one. I grew up in rural southeastern Arizona and spent my early twenties in Tucson. Outdoor activities have been a part of my life from birth. The last 6 years I lived on the Southeast Coast where "hiking" is limited to beaches and swampy boardwalks. Needless to say, my route finding & bushwaking skills have declined.

Set out early this morning with the intention of exploring the ruins at Chalk Canyon following the official route trace. I had selected this hike earlier in the week, imported to Route Scout, and moved on with the humdrum of weekday life. Therein lies my biggest mistake - failing to review/print the route description before heading out or, you know, bringing along a dang map and compass.

Trail conditions were excellent if a bit muddy in spots. It was cool, slightly breezy, and the creek was running well given all the rain we've had this monsoon season. Unable to avoid wet feet at several crossings. The trail was washed out in a couple places but cairns and Route Scout got me through. Scared up a pair of mule deer near the border with Tonto NF, otherwise didn't see a single soul.

Upon arriving at the Skull Canyon trail head, I made my second mistake. Rather than heading up the trail counter-clockwise, I decided to take the clockwise route (FR 48) as it looked to be a gentler ascent. If I had reviewed the route description, rather than relying on a GPS trace, I would have know this was a mistake. Rather than following the established trail up to the mesa, my choice took me along the creek, following the base of the mesa. This is important later.

I only realized my mistake when I came upon the petroglyphs. They jump out at you after rounding a bend, an absolutely spectacular grouping. After exploring the area a bit and finding several more glyphs which aren't visible from the trail, I had a sudden realization. I remembered the route guide recommending a steep hike down from the ruins to this boulder field. That meant I would have to ascend the steep cliff up to the ruins. I scouted around a bit but could make out no clear path up. At this point, my intuition was screaming at me to call it a wash and head back towards the car. I made the decision to ignore my feelings and try to pick my way up the cliff.

Dumb decision. I consider myself a pretty level-headed gal, but there were several moments during the climb that I was wracked with anxiety and sure I was going to tumble to my death. Lots of loose rocks and things were much steeper than they appeared from below. As I stated above, my route finding skills have seriously declined. The only thing that kept me going - I felt sure that once I topped out onto the mesa I would be able to easily see a trail. This assumption was based solely on the way the route trace appeared in Route Scout. If I had reviewed the route guide prior to heading out, or brought a map, I would have seen that the pueblo ruins are about 100 yards west of the trail.

I popped up onto the mesa literally into the pueblo ruins. Unfortunately at this point I was so shaken that I didn't take any time to explore or take photos. I was concerned about my phone battery dying and fixated on finding my way back onto the GPS trace as, you know, I did not bring a map and had no idea how to find the trail. After wandering atop the mesa for quite awhile and struggling to find my way to any semblance of a path towards the trace, I made the decision to simply head back down the cliffs the way I came up. What followed was essentially a controlled slide on my rear back down to FR 48. I encountered quite a few hikers and equestrians on my return.

While I was never truly lost, as I knew generally where I was and how to get back to a trail by heading down towards the creek, I did engage in some seriously dangerous behaviors due to a lack of planning and judgement. I consider myself lucky to have gotten up and down that mesa with only a few scrapes and prickly pear pokes.

I want to be clear that Route Scout worked beautifully. This looks to be a semi-regularly traveled route based on the tracks I encountered, and there are no issues with the GPS trace itself. The issues I encountered today were all of my own making. At the end of the day I did get to see some amazing petroglyphs and had a lovely morning of secluded hiking (minus my terrifying rock climb). I'm going to let this serve as a lesson on being prepared, over-estimating my abilities, and over-relying on GPS technology to keep me safe and on-track. I will definitely be returning to complete this loop, prepared and humbled, in the future.
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