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Agua Fria Wandering, AZ
mini location map2021-02-13
29 by photographer avatarJohn10s
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Agua Fria Wandering, AZ 
Agua Fria Wandering, AZ
Hiking10.40 Miles 827 AEG
Hiking10.40 Miles   6 Hrs   40 Mns   2.19 mph
827 ft AEG   1 Hour   55 Mns Break
1st trip
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I’d driven by Agua Fria many times on I-17 and finally decided to check it out. I didn't have a chance to start researching any info about hiking options until the night before I planned to go, and I was surprised by how little is available online. Since BLM manages the site, it's not a typical national monument with well-marked trailheads and abundant visitor information, and even HAZ had very little in the way of GPS routes and directions. I like the more primitive nature of Agua Fria and was happy to see that specific details about the sites weren't readily available all over the internet, but it required some last-minute scrambling to figure out where I wanted to start on Saturday morning, and by the time I put together a plan for the Perry Tank Canyon and Rattlesnake Ruins, I still wasn't entirely sure exactly what I would see or if I'd actually identified the spots I wanted, so expectations were low going into the day.

We planned to park near Perry Windmill but ended up parking ~2.5 miles north at New Windmill because the road started to get rough and rutted. In hindsight, there was just one rough stretch before the road smoothed out again, so we could have continued to Perry Windmill without much trouble...good to know for next time. High clearance is needed, but 4x4 is not necessary as long as it's dry. From New Windmill, we hiked south/southwest across the the desert prairie toward the powerlines along the north rim of Perry Tank Canyon.

Just below the rim, we started to see petroglyphs, including some unique varieties that I'd never seen before. In two areas, we saw drawings where a rectangular background was etched out to form the shapes of human figures, creating dark figures against a lighter background. We'd read about the duck petroglyph and were excited when we found it on the side of a boulder. The body and feet of the duck were well-defined, but the head was a little faded. It wasn't until I got home and looked again at pictures on HAZ that I realized that the duck petroglyph we saw ( [ photo ] ) was not the same duck in the pictures that others have posted ( [ photo ] ), which means there are multiple duck petroglyphs out there. Based on descriptions, I think they're close to one another, but we didn't realize at the time that there was another one out there.

We started to see pottery shards nearby and went up higher on the rim to look for the ruins and soon found the main Perry Tank Canyon complex. As others have described, the site is overgrown and the walls are fairly deteriorated, but it was still an impressive spot, if for no other reasons than the number of rooms and the sheer quantity of artifacts. There was one small "respect the past" sign, but it was otherwise unmarked. There were so many pottery shards that it was impossible to look down anywhere in/around the ruins without seeing any, and some of the pieces were very large and made of thicker clay than I've seen at other sites. Some of the pieces were large enough that the curvature of the pot was visible, and we found some nice pieces with thicker edges that formed the top rims and/or the flatter bottoms of bowls or pots. There was also some variety in the colors, with some pieces formed from brighter red clay, some with flecks of brown/gold mixed in, and others with bands of lighter clay mixed in. [ youtube video ]

Just west of the large complex was a smaller set of multi-roomed pueblo ruins with more artifacts. There, we found an extremely smooth grinding stone and more pottery shards, including some large pieces with rims/edges of pots. I found one piece of pottery with part of a design painted in black on the clay--the only painted piece we came across. It felt like we could spend hours there and continue finding new things, but we wanted to do more exploring, so we eventually had to tear ourselves away. [ youtube video ]

We followed the north side of the rim to the east, looking for a flatter spot to cross over to the other side of Perry Tank Canyon. Along the way, we found what was likely another grinding stone, then another set of petroglyphs that included a "big-handed" figure that looked like it was waving. We found a good route down to cross the creek, which had some pools of water. As we scrambled up the boulders on the other side, we found two rock slicks where the natives did some grinding.

On the south side of the canyon, we headed in the general direction of Bob's Tank and started to see an increasing number of pottery shards on the ground, leading us to another complex of ruins. This site had a brown sign similar to the one at Perry Tank, but the writing was worn off. I assume this one was the Rattlesnake Ruins, but given the lack of information, I'm still not entirely sure.

We continued west past Bob's Tank, which was dry, and along the south rim out to a point jutting out into the canyon. The views looking east down Perry Tank Canyon were fantastic, but we didn't find any more ruins in that area. The sky was starting to get dark and the forecast had a chance of rain, so we decided to turn around there rather than continue exploring--driving out on the dirt roads would be "interesting" if it rained. We crossed the canyon at the same spot near the rock slicks, then connected with FR 9025 and caught a glimpse of Perry Windmill to the south as we headed in the opposite direction toward our starting point. The afternoon clouds and the shadows all over the Bradshaw Mountains and NE toward Prescott Nat'l Forest were fantastic.

We finished with a little under 10.5 miles and have plenty of reasons to return for another visit. It was a very nice into to Agua Fria, and I know we only scratched the surface of all the interesting things to see out there. And there's at least one more duck to find :).
 Meteorology [ checklist ]
[ checklist ]  Sunrise

dry Bobs Tank Dry Dry
water report recorded in the field on our app Route Scout
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