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Sierra Ancha Elephant Rock Arch and Mesa Ruins, AZ
mini location map2022-07-03
28 by photographer avatarJohn10s
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Sierra Ancha Elephant Rock Arch and Mesa Ruins, AZ 
Sierra Ancha Elephant Rock Arch and Mesa Ruins, AZ
Hiking5.99 Miles 1,550 AEG
Hiking5.99 Miles   7 Hrs   24 Mns   1.27 mph
1,550 ft AEG   2 Hrs   40 Mns Break
1st trip
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Elephant Rock Arch was the second hike of the day for us a few weeks ago, and we ran out of time to reach the arch, so we started there today. It was a comfortable but humid morning in the low 70s, and it the cooler temps felt great after a few weeks of local hiking around Phoenix. Early on, I came across a small snake along the looked like a garter snake, but hopefully someone can confirm the specific variety [ photo ] .

It didn't take long to pass our turnaround spot from a few weeks ago, and we made our way up and down several drainages. One stretch was choked with wild raspberries and other thorny brush, but the forest opened up a little more as we approached the ruins site and got our first views of Elephant Rock and the arch. There were a few scattered pieces of pottery around the ruins, which were badly deteriorated, as others have noted. But it was interesting to see where the natives built and wonder if the arch had any significance in that decision.

It looked like a long, steep climb up to the arch from that point, but it wasn't bad. We dropped down a rocky slope into another drainage, which had some pools and plenty of poison ivy at the bottom. There were some low walls (probably not native?) next to a large boulder in that area. It was a steady climb south up the ridge to toward the arch, but the area exceeded expectations, with multiple natural windows/arches, tunnels, hoodoos, and formations in addition to impressive views overlooking the Cherry Creek drainage. To the north, we could see the unnamed canyon on the far side of Elephant Rock Mesa, which we planned to get a closer look at later. And there was an intriguing mesa and peak to the northeast [ photo ] . If I had to guess, based on the map I'd say Gunsight Butte and Castle Peak or Peak 6419, but feel free to confirm or correct me on that :).

Before we went up to Elephant Rock Arch, we spent some time exploring the tunnel/window below, and the cool breeze blowing through felt great after the humid climb. The geology in that area was beautiful, with reddish swirls on the gray rocks. We spent more time enjoying the arch and the other small arch/window nearby, but darker clouds started to gather, so we cut things shorter than we otherwise would have.

[ youtube video ]

On the way out, we hiked north along the mesa to a viewpoint overlooking the unnamed canyon below. That was another rewarding Sierra Ancha vantagepoint, with the classic orange cliffs, caves, spires, and formations: [ youtube video ] . We relaxed there for a while and stayed closer to the west edge of the mesa as we hiked back, where we could enjoy the views down into the canyon on that side.

When we'd almost reconnected with the route we'd followed to the arch on the way in, I took a short detour to a small hill nearby. I wasn't expecting to find anything, but it turned out there was a second ruins site there. The walls were badly deteriorated at this site, too, but this one was larger than the first and appeared to have multiple rooms and a perimeter wall. We didn't see much pottery, but it was a nice surprise to unexpectedly stumble across a second site--I hadn't seen any pictures or descriptions of this one on HAZ. This one also had views of Elephant Rock, though the arch wasn't visible because of the angle.

[ youtube video ]

The remainder of the hike was uneventful, and the early clouds and afternoon thunderheads never turned into storms, fortunately. We'd talked about hiking to the Hell's Hole ruins today if time permitted, but that didn't work out, so that'll wait for another day. The 100% off-trail miles were slow, and we took our time enjoying the landscape and geology today. Despite being a lower-mileage day, it was a fun one and nice to get back to higher elevations and cooler weather, and there was a lot of impressive scenery packed into a six-mile hike.
 Flora [ checklist ]
[ checklist ]  Century Plant
 Geology [ checklist ]
[ checklist ]  Natural Arch
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