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Henderson Trail #53
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mini location map2020-08-08
18 by photographer avatarJohn10s
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Henderson Trail #53Prescott, AZ
Prescott, AZ
Hiking avatar Aug 08 2020
Hiking4.00 Miles
Hiking4.00 Miles
 no routes
1st trip
Linked none no linked trail guides
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Henderson Flat was on my list for more than a year after hearing about several Sinaguan cliff dwelling sites in the area, but uncertainty about the road conditions always made it a lower priority. I'd read everything from "fine for passenger cars when dry" to "high clearance 4x4 absolutely necessary", and it's more than a three-hour drive from Phoenix without a lot of other great hiking options in the immediate vicinity as backup plans. But I finally got around to trying it out, wondering for the whole drive if the last seven miles of FR 181 would force me to change plans or if I'd finally see Henderson Flat.

FR 492 and FR 354 had some light washboarding but would be fine for any vehicles. High clearance is definitely a good idea for FR 181, with some particularly rocky stretches in the last mile before Henderson Flat, but I never had to use 4x4. We parked near the "trick tank" and the old bunkhouse at Henderson Flat and crossed FR 181 to the trailhead. My initial impression of the area was that it looked a lot like Sedona--not surprising, I guess, since Sedona isn't very far away, but it's easy to forget how close they really are because it's a two-hour drive. Back when the natives inhabited the cliffs, they didn't have to worry about roads, of course.

I'd downloaded the route for Henderson Trail but only had vague directions on the location of some of the ruins. Based on maps, it looked like it might be possible to hike to Packard Ruins, so if time permitted, my ambitious goal was to check those out as well. The first surprise was that Henderson Trail isn't much of a trail...the trailhead sign might as well say, "Here's the starting point, now you're on your own." A few hundred yards after the sign I double checked the GPS and realized I was off the route, and even when I was right on top of it, there wasn't really a trail to follow, so we followed some washes and moved in the general direction of the GPS route while taking the path of least resistance through the brush. We eventually connected back up with FR 181 and followed that for a while before deciding to just head directly toward the cliffs to the east to start exploring.

Coincidentally, well off the "official" route, we came across cairns and a fairly well-defined trail. As we headed toward the area where I suspected the first set of ruins was located, I noticed a very nice multi-room cliff dwelling up on a narrow ledge along the canyon wall. I first climbed up the opposite side the canyon and found another cliff dwelling on top of a ridge, but there wasn't much to see--there was the faintest hint of rocks arranged in a square, and if I wasn't specifically looking for it, I probably wouldn't have noticed it as anything of significance.

I shifted my focus back to the large cliff dwelling across the canyon and climbed back down and started up the other side. This was a very slow process because of loose rock and thick, sharp undergrowth. The last stretch of the climb to access the ledge where the ruins were located was terribly brush-choked, and my shorts got shredded by branches. My hiking partner stayed behind while I finally reached the ledge, navigated a narrow passage, rounded the corner, and finally reached the ruins.

The site has two or three distinct rooms, and the outside edge of the structure was built flush with the ledge. The walls had quite a bit of mortar intact, with some wooden beams still in place. One of the taller walls looked like it originally had a doorway that had been sealed off and covered with mortar. Another wall had an extremely short passageway along the ground that was only about two feet tall...did the Sinaguans have cats or dogs? The vast majority of the Sinaguan ruins I've seen around the Sedona area are single-level structures, so it was interesting to see a multi-level example.

We made slow progress back down into the bottom of the canyon and up the other side, following a different route back toward the trailhead and hoping we'd be able to find a safe route down. Along the way, I noticed a small cliff dwelling in an alcove across another canyon, and we eventually made our way down the back of the canyon and I was able to check out the cliff dwelling up close. That one was little more than a small couple of walls that were mostly deteriorated. The rest of the hike back to the trailhead was a straight shot but very slow because of all the bushwhacking, and our pace was so slow that we only covered about four miles despite being out most of the day. There definitely wasn't any time to make my way over to the Packard ruins, so that'll have to wait for another day, but I was happy that the road conditions make it possible to see Henderson Flat and the exploration was a success.
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