Third time up in this area after doing the Cave Creek/Skunk Tank Loop and Bronco Trail #245 in February. Started at 6:10 a.m. to minimize sun exposure, heat, and still leave time in the rest of the day. Also to avoid crowds, though up there you might see one person on trail all day.
It’s interesting to see what areas the fire affected, and what it did not. Deep in the canyon the trees are healthy and leafy. Lots of flowers, of many varieties, mostly small. (Lots and lots of heather.) Best I’ve seen in Phoenix this spring. Cave Creek is well down the past three months, but still flowing up to the end of the canyon. After that it dries out, to where the last couple of miles to Spur Cross TH it is bone dry. In that and other ways Cave Creek #4 to Spur Cross TH is really a tale of two trails. The first four miles, and the other eight. The first four, mostly good trail surface, lots of flowers and greenery, still flowing water, shade, birds. I actually made slower time on it than I planned because when I was last there my stupid camera failed to take a picture of a modern pictograph — sounds better than “90 year old graffiti” — so spent a very slow mile after the second crested saguaro, searching every rock. I need not have bothered, it was obvious, and right before the final major creek crossing: “A.B. April 7, 1917”.
One thing both sections of trail had in common: Lots and lots of black bear scat.
I took a break at the foot of the Skunk Creek Trail #246 ascent. I got a bunch of those hay stems that like to get in the eyes of your boots, except they got stuck through my shoes. (I was not expecting the creek to be so low, so I wore my mesh water hiking shoes.) After that you spend a mile or two walking near the creek, through reeds and grasses, and more of those hay things. Very uncomfortable. Then I caught a prickly pear through the side. Ouch. Lots of snake tracks in the sandy bits of this area. About mile six, I realized the prickly pear spine was still in my shoe. I tried to pull it out, and when it did not want to, realized it was actually stuck in my foot. *yank* With great foresight, I always bring extra socks, so after trying to also clear the hay bits, and realizing how futile that would be, I switched socks. Much better.
About mile 8, I had my first up close & personal encounter with a rattler. I walk with my head down, scanning the trail for critters and poor footing, saving my site seeing for still moments, and still I almost stepped on him. He was a solid burnt orange color, no pattern that I could see. All the way across the trail, head hidden just to my left, so at least two visible feet, about 1.5″ diameter. (Any ideas on species?) As I jumped back, he contracted into an S-shape and began furiously rattling. Tried to grab my camera, but by then he had slithered off. I continued after a few minutes.
Miles 5-10, the trail surface is mostly very rocky. While the southern leg of the trail is mostly exposed, there are quite a few shady areas, even at 11am or noon, in the side canyons on the west side of Skull Mesa. I didn’t see any javelina in Chalk Canyon. My wife saw javelina at the Spur Cross TH though. (She said the lot was also very crowded early in the morning, but by the time I showed up down there a little after noon, there was only 3-4 cars left.)
Distance: 13.12 mi.
AEG: 1,432 ft.
Time: 4h 52m