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mini location map2020-09-05
22 by photographer avatarJohn10s
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Packard Trail #66Prescott, AZ
Prescott, AZ
Hiking avatar Sep 05 2020
John10s
Hiking14.00 Miles
Hiking14.00 Miles
 no routes
1st trip
Linked none no linked trail guides
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TboneKathy
This was my first hike in the Sycamore Canyon wilderness, and I was excited to start with this trail because of the impressive off-trail Sinaguan cliff dwellings near the end of the route. I'd hiked at Henderson Flat a few weeks prior and hoped I'd have time to make my way over to the Packard ruins, but it didn't work out that day, so this was a good way to see Sycamore Canyon, hike a new trail, and finally see the cliff dwellings.

We'd kept an eye on the forecast--it was supposed to be dry in the afternoon but hot, with highs right around 100°. I was impressed with the scenery right from the beginning. Even from the parking lot, the view down into Sycamore Canyon and the greenery around the Verde River was spectacular. We hiked down to the river and crossed, then started the steady climb up toward Packard Mesa. The view back toward the parking lot was interesting--it's located on a plateau next to a cliff, and there's a big cave in the side of the cliff. There wasn't time to check it out today, so all I could do was take some pictures with a zoom lens.

The scenery along Packard Mesa wasn't terribly impressive, at least not in the area immediately around the trail. The views looking toward the red cliffs of Sedona were great, but the "trail" itself wasn't very well defined as it took us north/northeast through low trees, shrubs, and prickly pear. That part of the hike felt longer than the mileage indicated because the landscape along the trail was fairly repetitive.

Just before the intersection with Sycamore Basin Trail #63, was passed Sycamore Tank. I was surprised to see that there was water in the tank given how dry it's been this year...it was hardly overflowing, but still quite a bit of water. A little farther up the trail we reached the end where Packard intersects FR 181 and Henderson Trail #53. It was interesting to see the other end of Henderson and the continuation of the forest road--I'd heard it got pretty rough after Henderson Flat, but this part didn't look too bad.

I didn't have a specific route to the cliff dwellings, but I had the coordinates and soon found an unofficial side trail that was easy to follow and led up toward the cliffs. I'd read that the ruins are located in a lava cave, and before long we started to see black volcanic rock, so I knew we must be getting close. At the top of the saddle I saw a "Respect the Ruins" sign, and the view looking over the other side was fantastic, with Sycamore Canyon below and Sedona/Casner Canyon farther to the north, and the San Francisco peaks along the northern horizon.

The trail switched back a few times on the other side of the ridge and then took a turn, ascending steeply up to the lave cave with the cliff dwellings. I was thoroughly impressed--I'd seen pictures, but these were more impressive than expected. On the left was one cliff dwelling with well-preserved, mortared walls and a partial ceiling. The front wall was build down the side of the slope and looked like it might be two-levels high as we approached, but it was a single-level structure. The right side had a lower dwelling and an upper dwelling located in the lava cave. It looked like the wall of the lower ruin on that side had collapsed and slid down the hill, but a doorway and some partial walls remained. The upper room, protected from the elements in the cave, was in very good condition. The ceiling was fully intact, and the back of the room opened up into the cave, which extended upward for quite a distance but appeared to have some bats.

We took a break in the shade for lunch and then explored the ruins. The left structure had some modern enhancement for reinforcement, with a steel support added to hold up one of the wooden ceiling beams that had cracked and likely caused/contributed to the partial roof collapse. The craftsmanship on the structures was cool to see up close--the ceiling logs were cut very evenly and tied in place with some kind of rope/twine, and the vertical support beams had a ring of thicker rope circling the top where they met the ceiling beams. That spot provided great protection from the elements--it was a hot day, but the temperature inside the ruins, especially in the upper one in the cave, was very comfortable.

The open area in between the structures had two short, partial beams sticking up out of the ground that looked like they'd been cut off, so there may have been another structure in the middle at some point. We saw an old corn cob and some small pottery shards. One of the shards sitting on top of the walls was bright green in color...not sure if that was something left behind in recent years or if the natives had green dye. I've never seen painted shards at any of these sites and haven't read anything suggesting that the Sinaguans painted their pottery, so I'm guessing that was left behind in modern times.

We still had a return hike of roughly seven miles in the afternoon heat, so we started back toward the trail that would take us back across Packard Mesa. We kept a good pace for the first mile and a half, but the heat really started to affect my hiking partner along the mesa--I was happy it was mostly flat/downhill the whole way out. We took a lot of breaks, and the small thermometer we had with us was reading ~105°, so it had gotten a little hotter than expected. That stretch across the mesa felt a lot longer than three miles, and I carried her backpack to help lighten the load. Even on the downhill, we kept a slow pace and stopped frequently because she was physically drained by the afternoon sun.

The hike out ended up taking a lot longer than expected. There were some dark clouds over Sycamore Canyon, and rain would have been very welcome at that point, but it looked like any precipitation was evaporating before it hit the ground. We finally got back to the Verde River, and wading through the cool water was very re-energizing. We finished later than expected with that slow return from the ruins, but the long shadows of early evening were beautiful as we looked back over Sycamore Canyon and the river from the parking lot. Our round-trip hike was ~14 miles...the heat made this one tougher than it normally would have been, but the cliff dwellings were spectacular, and this was a great intro to Sycamore Canyon. Another day, I'd like to come back and make it a loop hike from Packard to Parsons with another visit to the ruins.

water 1 out of 5water less than maxwater less than maxwater less than max Sycamore Tank 1-25% full 1-25% full
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