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Name: Pueblo Canyon Ruins Author's Rating:
Author: Matt Marine Avg. User Rating: Not rated yet
Type: Hike Difficulty: (Extreme)
Time: 6 - 8 hours (includes time exploring ruins) Region: Central Arizona
Length: 6 miles (roundtrip) Elevation gain/loss/change: ~ +2966 ft / -1165 ft / +1791 ft (one way)
Type: Out and back Avg Elevation: 4800 ft
Best time to go: fall, spring, winter Fees: NA
Fitness rating: High Educational Merit: Medium
Danger/fear rating: High Scenic Beauty: High
Hours of Operation: NA Last updated: November, 2014
Short Description: A difficult and dangerous hike to some of the most intact (and inaccessible) ruins in central Arizona
Geocaches: A few geocaches in the area: Look Behind You; Ragen Canyon Cache; Devils Chasm
References / Contact Information: Pueblo Canyon Hike Arizona; Pueblo Canyon Ruins Video; Arizona Hiking
Points of interest: Pueblo Canyon Indian Ruins; Cherry Creek
Special Considerations: This is a difficult trail. A very difficult trail. The elevation and map do not tell the entire story. It is more difficult than they show. There are some dangerous places you will need to cross where a slip could lead to a long fall and your death. Some GPS coordinates and information provided on the web show the ruins on the south side of the canyon. This is incorrect. The ruins are on the north side of the canyon. Route finding can be difficult. GPS can be helpful, but may not get accurate readings inside the canyon. Please be respectful of the ruins. Do not underestimate this hike.
How to get there: Head north out of Globe on Hwy 188. Turn north on Hwy 288 and drive for almost 7 miles until you reach Cherry Creek Road. Drive on Cherry Creek Road for about 22 miles until your reach Waypoint 001 at the trail head we used. I believe there is better parking and quicker route to the "Cow Palace" at the road at Waypoint WPT001A. Click here for directions.

Trail Description

Note: I only completed a portion of the trail during my hike. Two of my friends were able reach the ruins, so I am relying on their recollections for much of the trip. Although I trust their observations and judgments, anytime there are multiple people involved, discrepancies can arise. My GPS was not able to gain a quality signal within much of the narrow canyon. When I downloaded the track upon returning home, I found that not only did the GPS not receive a signal, it would give incorrect readings and switch from side to side of the canyon. This may be one reason for the incorrect GPS coordinates I had to start with.

Click the following to read the feature story regarding my "A Most Beautiful Failure" while trying to reach the ruins and "A Most Beautiful Success" for the story of those who made it.

The Pueblo Canyon ruins are well known for being some of the most undamaged and intact ruins in Arizona. This is largely due to their inaccessibility and how dangerous they can be to reach. First, it's a long high-clearance 2WD/4WD road trip to reach the trail head. Typically, the road trip and the hike can't be done in one day, so camping is involved. Then the trail is steep, long (relatively) and dangerous. If you have a fear of heights, this is not the trail for you. If you're fit, crave adrenaline and bushwhacking to lead to some truly spectacular scenery and ruins, then this may be for you.

The Pueblo Canyon ruins are actually a series of ruins that are set in a notch of a narrow canyon with shear cliffs above and below the ruins. The only way to reach them without a helicopter or climbing gear is a narrow path thousands of feet above the canyon bottom. This place would have been extremely difficult to conquer. No wonder the native people decided to build there.

There are some large buildings in this site, with a few being multiple stories high. Some of the ruins have portions of the floors and roofs intact.

At first, the trail follows an old uranium mining road that's been shut down for a long time. While on the road, the climb is almost continuous and fairly steep. When you leave the road, the trail becomes more of a bushwhack and route finding can be difficult. The trail can be very dangerous along certain sections. You need to walk behind a waterfall at the edge of the canyon. If water is running, this can be slippery. If the water is frozen, this may be too dangerous to pass. On the north side of the canyon, you will need to traverse a very narrow section of the trail right on the edge of the sheer canyon wall. One misstep and you will die.

When you get into the canyon, the scenery is spectacular and can be worth the trip even without reaching the ruins.

General Information and History

Click here to view the scanned pages from a 1934 book written on the cliff dwellings in the area.

The Pueblo Canyon ruins are located in the Sierra Ancha Wilderness. Sierra Ancha means "Broad Range" in Spanish. The area has a great deal of Indian ruins, most of which are difficult to find and access. Pueblo canyon is probably the most famous of these ruins.

Some general information on the area from the Ruins of the Ancient Indian Ruins in Arizona website:

"The ruins of the Sierra Anchas present somewhat of a mystery to archeologists. From 500 to 950 AD the region stood at the boundary between three distinct traditions: the Mogollon to the east, the Hohokam to the west, and the Sinagua to the north. Then about 950 AD a new culture—the Salado—appeared, occupying a region almost 100 miles across with the Sierra Anchas near its center. Tree ring dating of timbers used in construction indicates that the Anchan ruins were built and occupied over a relatively short seventy year period, from 1280 to 1350, which would make them Salado in origin. However, certain elements of the architecture, tools and pottery show a strong Mogollon influence as well. Adding to the mystery is the fact that the ruins are constructed in extremely inaccessible locations, raising the possibility that defense against invasion was a strong motivation. It has been suggested that this may have been the remnants of an older or hybrid community that managed to cling to its traditions for some time after the surrounding area was occupied by the Salado. At the present time, archeologists simply refer to the inhabitants as the "Anchan Tradition.""

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The Trail

Note: Although this trail is well-known, it is not an "official" trail and has few (if any) markers. Route finding can be difficult. Highly recommend a good GPS with accurate waypoints, maps and instructions. Your GPS may have trouble getting a strong signal in the canyon and may be useless. Make sure you are comfortable hiking without this aid if it does not function properly. See Special Instructions for other information and possible dangers of this hike.

Getting to the trail head is an adventure in itself. Although some high-clearance trucks may be able to make it, I highly recommend a 4WD vehicle.

There are two options for the trail head. We parked at Waypoint WPT001, where Cherry Creek Road (FR 203) and the old Big Buck Uranium Mine road (now closed) intersect. There's room for only a few vehicles off the side of the road here.

Another option, which should be a shorter and less steep hike to the Cow Pie Palace is parking at Waypoint WPT001A. There's a sign on the small hill to the left side of the road. I have not been on this route. It connects with the other route after less than a 1/2 mile, so it won't make or break your adventure.

Directions from WPT001: Head up the Big Buck Uranium Mine road as it ascends into Cold Spring Canyon. Watch out for the "baby head" rocks that litter the road, they can twist an ankle in a snap.

After about 1/4 of a mile, you will come to a fairly open area with a rock fire pit in the saddle at Waypoint WPT002. This is called Cow Pie Palace for obvious reasons. Keep heading up the mining road.

Very soon you will enter the Sierra Ancha Wilderness area and the road becomes a little less traveled.

About 0.6 miles into your hike you will pass by a large house-sized boulder on your left at Waypoint WPT003. This is "House Rock".

Keep climbing up the road for about another 0.25 miles until you reach Petroglyph Rock at Waypoint WPT004. This rock will be very obvious and on your right. It's about 10-12 feet high and has a flat face that looks over the canyon. A swirled arrow is barely visible (in the sunlight) on the left end and seems to be pointing to Pueblo Canyon. If you have good eyes or a pair of binoculars, you can see the Cooper Fork Ruins across the canyon.

The trail splits here. The right fork goes to Pueblo Canyon Ruins, the left to Cold Spring Canyon Ruins. You want to take the right, though the trail may be difficult to see. You will be on the correct trail if you keep climbing. If you start to descend after Petroglyph Rock, you're on the Cold Spring Canyon trail.

The trail becomes much less traveled at this point. Although it appears to still travel along an old road, it is overgrown in spots and can be hard to follow. Keep climbing up the side of the canyon for another 0.2 miles until you reach a small canyon at Waypoint WPT 005. Take the sharp right to continue up the trail.

I believe it is around here that the "road" ends (or the trail deviates from the road). The trail climbs out of the trees for a short distance on a small shelf and you get a nice view of Cherry Creek Canyon to the east. After a short distance, the trail will begin to curve to the left and almost head back the way you came in and about 0.1 miles from WPT005, you will come to the Y-intersection at WPT006.

Take a right at this Y-intersection. The left appeared more traveled, but this leads nowhere. I believe others have taken this way by mistake also, contributing to the trail wear. The GPS waypoints I found from Hike Arizona have a Waypoint that leads to the left. This is not correct. Take the right.

Route finding becomes more difficult from here on out and there's a lot of bushwhacking involved. The trail is narrow and you will be pushing your way through the brush, climbing over and under trees and scampering up and down small hills.

Continue your hike for another 0.15 miles until you reach Waypoint WPT007. The trail curves to the left here and begins to take you into the canyon.

Keep hiking along the south side of the canyon. At approximately 0.2 miles from WPT007, you will see the ruins across the canyon from this location (or very near it). It was here that I realized I had the wrong coordinates for the ruins (the one's I had located them on the south side of the canyon). Already tired and exhausted, I decided not to continue since it would be another 3 miles (round trip) to make it to the ruins. And those three miles were not going to be easy miles.

Two of our group decided to continue and make a play for the ruins. I gave one my GPS, but it struggled to have a good signal from this point out. From the image on the map page, you can see that GPS tracking became widely erratic. The track and GPS coordinates I show on my maps from this point on is only an approximation and was hand drawn by me. I took my best guess as to the location of the trail.

Hiking along the canyon for another 0.4 miles, you will come to a second lookout (WPT009) where you can see the ruins. This one gives you a much closer view of them.

It is at least another 0.6 miles to the apex of the canyon at Waypoint WPT010. Since the track is hand drawn, I do not have all the small ins-and-outs that you will be taking on this portion of the trail. My guess is that it's more like 0.7 to 0.8 actual miles. While on this side of the canyon, you will pass under a boulder and behind a waterfall (if water is flowing). This can be very dangerous if the ground is wet, or worse, icy. Be very careful.

There is a small set of ruins on this side of the canyon next to the old uranium mine. I don't have accurate GPS coordinates for these.

After reaching the apex, you will begin hiking on the north side of the canyon. My guess is it's about 0.3 miles until you reach the first ruins. There ruins continue along the ledge you're walking on. There are some very dangerous sections of this trail here. One misstep and you fall a thousand feet down to the bottom of the canyon. You will have a very bad day.

There are at least three sets of ruins here, all about a little more than a hundred yards apart. From the feature story on this hike, A Beautiful Success, Dale Brech describes the ruins:

"It was only perhaps fifteen minutes later that we came to the ruins on the west. As could be seen across the canyon, these indeed were in good shape. There were about eight or nine sections, or apartments, and each one had one or two rooms that went rearward under the cliff. The ledge was fairly wide at this point, so it accommodated the deep cliff dwellings easily. The rear-most rooms under the cliff appeared to be where they stayed warm. Black soot still covered the walls and ceiling. Tiny doors led from room to room, and Scott and I had to duck to get through. The adobe bricks were held up with posts and planks likely cut from the foliage on or near the cliff. This set of ruins looks like it had hosted multiple two story buildings. The second floors were long gone from all of the structures.

Only a couple minutes further to the east, we moved to the center set of ruins, and this is when we found our eyes had deceived us. Standing in front of us was a glorious three (maybe four?) story building, constructed of the indigenous rocks. This explained why we couldn’t see it from the other side. It blended in very well. Standing at the foot of it now, it was by far the best set of ruins of the whole bunch. The “tower”, if you will, only had a door on the bottom and a window on the second floor that faced the canyon. Otherwise, the canyon face wall was only rock. On the inside, wood beams still spanned from wall to wall, marking where floors once sat. The cliff side of the tower, or inside wall, was a vertical, clean faced cliff that stretched for the three or four stories of the tower before it reached the overhang of the cliff above.

Exiting the tower, there were still more two story apartments attached to the east. These also had the well protected wooden remains of the beams and some flooring. However, the furthest east most structures showed us what the original floor looked like. These ruins were another couple minutes along the path to the east, and were just a small set of ruins of three or so rooms. One structure still had the second floor hatching, showing small cuts of the tree forming the floor sitting upon medium size cross timbers.

Hopefully the residents had covered this with grass, though, as that floor did not look very comfortable to walk or sleep on. I had heard reports that this floor was still in place on the second floor, but when we were there, one side had already fallen."

When you're doing exploring the ruins, head back the way you went in.

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