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Black Mesa Ruins and Agua Fria Exploration, AZ
mini location map2021-03-06
21 by photographer avatarJohn10s
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Black Mesa Ruins and Agua Fria Exploration, AZ 
Black Mesa Ruins and Agua Fria Exploration, AZ
Hiking6.39 Miles 1,354 AEG
Hiking6.39 Miles   7 Hrs   10 Mns   1.46 mph
1,354 ft AEG   2 Hrs   48 Mns Break
1st trip
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I recently learned about some ruin/petroglyph sites north of Black Canyon City that I wanted to check out and planned to combine that with a stop at Black Mesa Ruins, which I hadn't previously visited. I turned out that the area I planned to park to access the first ruins sites was on private property, so I had to change plans and ended up making Black Mesa the first stop of the day. We started in Black Canyon City ~1.5 miles south of Black Mesa and followed a wash most of the way before climbing out for the ascent up the south side of the mesa.

The ruins were visible up on the ridge for the majority of the hike, and as we got closer, I started to see a few pot sherds and a lot of petroglyphs on the rocks nearby, including some designs that looked like giant footprints and a flat, light-colored boulder with a swirl/wave pattern etched into the surface. The ruins were impressive--the layout was similar to the Perry Tanks Canyon ruins, with mortarless stacks of dark rocks forming the walls, but the walls here were taller, thicker, and much more defined.

The complex had quite a few rooms, a fair amount of pot sherds, and great views...if you can ignore I-17 and civilization down below. Like many of the ruins built on high points, there were small windows or ventilation holes built low into the walls, which was impressive here given the 6+ foot thickness of the outer wall in some places. Like many, I'm sure, I've driven by the Bumble Bee/Crown King exit countless times without ever knowing that I could look up and see the ruins from the interstate.

We took a break in the shade of the ruin walls and then started the "exploration" part of the day, moving in the direction of the other ruin/petroglyph sites that I wanted to see. We headed north/northeast across the top of Black Mesa and then made our way down the north end to the canyon below. Along the way, we passed a wash with some pools in the bottom, and the large, flat-sided boulders looked like prime locations for petroglyphs. With a closer look, sure enough, there was some rock art. One panel included a large animal and a few more common drawings, and I found a standalone petroglyph on the opposite side of the wash that looked like a stick figure with an oval-shaped head and antlers or antennae sticking out on top.

Unfortunately, we ran out of time to reach the two other ruins sites, coming up just over a mile short of the location before we needed to start back. But the exploration turned up those additional petroglyphs and confirmed that the route I'd mapped from Black Mesa to the other sites would work, so we'll come back to see those another day. On the return route, we were able to bypass Black Mesa and saved some time by avoiding going all the way back up/down but had still to climb up and around some steep cliff areas in the washes. It was a short hike mileage-wise but interesting to see the ruins and explore more of the area, and we saw five or six deer, a turtle (dead, unfortunately), a lot of rabbits and birds, and zero other people :).

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