Black Mesa • Salt River Area • Sierra Ancha
• Salt River Wilderness
• Central Gila County

Date: April 29, 2012 • Elevation: 4,354 feet • Prominence: 1,074 feet • Distance: 6 miles • Time: 3 hours and 15 minutes • Gain: 1,220 feet • Conditions: Sunny, pleasant • Teammates: Just me

Black Mesa as seen from state highway AZ-288

The old truss bridge over the Salt River

The lovely wilderness in which we camped

On the hike, the road goes up the mesa. Still early morning

Another uphill shot, about 3,900 feet

The summit area

Summit and benchmark (inset)

View of Salt River

More Salt River

Wonderful views from the top!

Pan shot as I descend. That's Aztec Peak back there

Another view

More looking down views

Four Peak, Lake Roosevelt and the Sierra Ancha country

Coming back to my truck

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Prominence Peaks


This particular Black Mesa is an impressive highland, surrounded by cliffs, located in the southern Sierra Ancha near Lake Roosevelt. Beth and I were on a fast weekend of camping and hiking, getting out of town for a couple days. Yesterday I had hiked Kings Crown (Northeast) Peak near Oak Flat between Globe and Superior. We stocked up on goods in Globe and drove north out of town, heading north toward the Anchas, still barely after 12 noon.

Our intended highway was AZ-288, which spurs off of AZ-188, the main “back way” between Globe and Payson. AZ-288 is famous for being unpaved for about 40 miles as it works its way toward the isolated town of Young. We had driven up to Young back in 2005 while camping at Workman Falls and hiking Aztec Peak. As we drove north on AZ-188 out of Globe, we were merrily talking and somehow I missed the turn-off to AZ-288. I didn’t even realize something was amiss for about another 15 miles, at which time we had come to the Roosevelt Dam at the end of the Apache Trail. How embarrassing it was to realize not just the error, but the magnitude. But the day was still young and we weren’t pressed for time, so we drove back, got on AZ-288, and all was in balance with the universe again.

The drive down (literally) AZ-288 is quite scenic. It’s a narrow road and it drops steeply (about a 5-7% grade) for about five miles until it comes to an old single-lane truss bridge spanning the Salt River, where it feeds into Lake Roosevelt. Along the way, we has outstanding views of Black Mesa and the bigger peaks in the Anchas. Another highlight is an old derelict bus dating from about the 1960s sitting abandoned along the highway. It is colorfully painted in many styles: graffiti (the artistic kind), psychedelic, partridge family, and so on. Surprisingly, it’s in good shape and not completely thrashed and shot out as one would expect for anything standing alongside a road in Arizona.

Past the bridge we drove through the community of Rock House, then another mile to Cherry Creek Road (Forest Road 203). We went right (northeast) onto Cherry Creek Road, which is wide and dirt hardpack. It’s well-maintained and sees consistent traffic, so it degenerates into washboard ruts quickly. It was a slight chore to drive, but it was short, only four miles, the last couple steeply up a small canyon. The land here is wide-open desert with much flora including saguaro, some that were blooming. We topped out on a rise then dropped briefly into the Chalk Creek drainage. Here, we turned right onto lesser FR-3271, drove about 300 feet and parked in a clearing with a fire ring. This would be our camp for the afternoon and evening. Comment on the road: a passenger car can handle Cherry Creek Road as long as it’s driven slowly and with care. The FR-3271 spur is pretty good, but a deep-cut ditch separates it from the main road, so just getting onto it may not be possible unless it’s regraded.

We arrived here about 1:30 in the afternoon and spent the day exploring and relaxing. The whole area was stunning. Big desert summits and hills surrounded us on two sides, while we were elevated enough to have 40-mile views north and east, looking at innumerable nameless summits as far off as the Fort Apache Nation. This was a real treat as we had no real idea what to expect before we came. The immediate area was covered in desert grasses, hedge-hog cactus, ocotillo, prickly-pear and scraggly junipers. Many of the lower cacti and flowers were blooming. It was extremely lovely.

I was kind of bushed from this morning’s hike and had set up my campchair in the shade of the truck, while Beth was in her usual spot, the passenger seat of the truck’s cab. At one point I dozed, propping my feet up on our cooler. When I awoke I saw a pattern nearby my truck’s tire—it took me a couple moments but I realized quickly that I was looking at a two-foot long diamondback rattlesnake! He (she?) was just minding its own business, probably just enjoying the shade while it slithering from point A to point B in search of tasty mice to eat. Of course, I scanned the area for any others but saw none. I told Beth and she watched it from her seat, and we both took photos of the snake with the camera. Then, it was time to compel it to move along. I stomped the ground from my seat, about 5 feet away. It just coiled back a little (too far to strike) then started to circle around the tire and nose up into the axle area. I hustled around to the driver’s seat and started the engine, and it promptly slithered off into the nearby brush.

We had no more snake encounters but we certainly kept an eye out for them. This was the closest we had come to a rattlesnake here in Arizona, and we were able to really get a good look, not jump back in terror like our other encounters. Normally, just regular walking around camp would have scared him off, but as I was dozing, the whole place was still, and he probably had no idea we were even there. As the sun set and the day cooled, I walked some of the nearby roads for photographs and possible other snakes to look at. By evening, the temperature was very mild and nice. Once darkness fell, I went to sleep in the back of my truck, the plan to be up and walking at first light the next morning. Not that this is a long hike, but it was going to be warm, and I wanted to be done so we could be back home in mid-afternoon.

The next morning came and I was suited up and walking at 5:45 a.m. as the sun was still shielded behind the eastern peaks. The hike looked easy: a road most of the way up lenient slopes, then some cross-country to seek out the true summit. I followed the road about a half-mile to a gate, dummy-locked with a chain. The road to here was good, but after the gate, it worsened considerably. It drops below some power lines, then comes to another gate. After this second gate, the road gains up a hillside and traverses across a slope, coming to a bend after about a mile from where I had started the hike. So far, so good.

The road turns right here, and continues up the long, consistent slope of the mesa. By the looks of it, the road seems to not have seen a vehicle for many years. The whole hillside, including the road, was covered in a low grass of uniform height, including the ruts which usually suppress any growth even years after the last vehicle. The hillsides were also covered in prickly-pear cactus, agave plants and wildflowers, but very few actual trees. The uphill slope was very gentle, and most of the hike had the effect of being on “slightly sloping” flat ground. I made great time, never really stopping at all to rest except to remove layers. Higher up, the road Y’s a couple times, and in time I started to sense the summit in the distance. The trees started to increase ever so slightly. When the road started to angle across the slope rather than up, I left the road and started the easy quarter-mile off-road segment toward the top.

I didn’t get more than two steps when I heard some rustling. Rousting some deer is not uncommon, but this rustling was very “beefy” and frenetic. Next, I hear some “boom-boom-boom” hoof-prints, then I see the culprit: an adult male javelina, bolting down the slope about 100 feet ahead of me. My first javelina sighting! I’d seen these creatures from a vehicle and in books, but never up close like this. They are peccaries, related to pigs, and look like hairy wild boars. They can be real bastards: they are notoriously mean and protective of their brood and their territory. The males have tusks and can weigh 70+ pounds, and they will fight. This guy was running away and there were no others, suggesting he was alone, which was great news for me. Next to a bear, scaring up a javelina can be the worst thing a hiker can do. I let him tear downslope and out of sight, then I stood for a few moments in silence in case there were others. Fortunately the terrain up here was open and I could see most everywhere. Still, I made extra noise as I hiked, making hand-claps, shouts and banging my staff against rocks. Thankfully, I saw no more javelina, and in a few moments had arrived to the lip of the mesa, a ragged edge of rocks and brush set atop huge cliffs and with million-dollar views down onto the Salt River and the canyons and ranges beyond.

The top is very flat so it took me a few minutes to scout it and locate the top-most rocks, the bench-mark and a summit log. Someone was here a couple months ago, but going back to 2004, I was about the 10th person to sign in. The views down into the Salt River Gorge were remarkable, and even from this high up I could hear the gentle low roar of the water. The Salt is fairly energetic here (Beth and I rafted it in 2003). It can have white-water sections and other challenges like any other major river. Looking south and west I had uninterrupted views over Lake Roosevelt and the Mazatzal Mountains with Four Peaks way off in the distance. I stayed for about 20 minutes, to enjoy the views and rest a little, before heading back.

Going down was easy. I was back to the road in 10 minutes, then I made a steady jog-walk downward, stopping once or twice for photographs. I was back to the lower road and the gates after an hour, and back to the truck at 9 a.m. in very pleasant conditions, Beth enjoying the morning sun. The round trip had taken me 3 hours and 15 minutes and had been well worth it. I was truly impressed by the views up top and wonder why this hike doesn’t get the press that others do. After packing up, we left the area and drove home via Globe and Superior. It had been a good weekend and we were well rested and energized from our brief trip.

Snakes and Flowers

A diamondback rattler decided my truck tire was a good place to hang

Beth took this photo using the zoom feature sitting inside the truck

Hedgehog cactus bloom

(c) 2012 Scott Surgent. For entertainment purposes only. This report is not meant to replace maps, compass, gps and other common sense hiking/navigation items. Neither I nor the webhost can be held responsible for unfortunate situations that may arise based on these trip reports. Conditions (physical and legal) change over time! Some of these hikes are major mountaineering or backpacking endeavors that require skill, proper gear, proper fitness and general experience.