Cold Spring Canyon Ruins - Part I
Hiking up Big Buck Uranium Mine Road
By Matt Marine, with Scott Duecker and Stephen Krohn
“Oh, Jesus. I can’t do this,” a voice called out from above me.
My friend was perched on a narrow rock ledge three stories up an almost vertical rock face. I saw the fear in his eyes and completely understood his view of the world at that moment. In fact, I had been in that exact spot not five minutes before and had uttered similar words. Any misstep or slip and he would be lucky to get away with just some broken bones.
To add to our predicament, my GPS was useless after having been crushed against a rock, we had unknowingly drifted onto the wrong trail and just looking at the bottom of the canyon five hundred feet below made me dizzy with vertigo. I glanced at my dog sitting next to me as she let out a small whimper. Maybe this wasn't a good idea. Conceding that that reaching the ancient Indian ruins still looming a menacing hundred feet above us was beyond my capability, my thoughts now turned to helping my friend down.
And how we were going to descend the rockslide that we had somehow managed to scramble up without dying.
The Challenge of Cold Spring Canyon Indian Ruins
Two hours earlier, I had been much more confident of my chances at completing the challenging hike to the Cold Spring Canyon Indian Ruins. All of us were.
“Last one to the ruins makes dinner,” Steve called out only moments into the hike.
“I’ll take two hot dogs and some baked beans,” I shot back. I knew I didn’t stand much of a chance at beating him to our destination, but maybe a little bit of trash talking would help my confidence. And I needed all I could get. After reading the information on this hike and given my health limitations (I have had two back surgeries and am trying to fend off a third), I gave my chances at making it about 50-50.
Cold Spring Canyon Ruins had been on my bucket list for more than a year after I read about them on a website regarding lesser known Indian ruins. These ruins are fairly well intact because of their difficulty to get to. First, they are way out in the middle of nowhere and typically 4WD is needed to get to the trail head. They are along Cherry Creek Road between the small towns of Globe and Young. Second, although the trail’s only about 3 miles roundtrip, it’s the elevation gain and climb at the end that makes it difficult. It is not an "official" trail, though it is fairly well known. The first 1.25 miles climbs about 1200 feet with a final 300 foot scramble up the side of the canyon in the last ¼ of a mile. And somehow I convinced my two friends Scott and Steve to join me on this adventure. The last one on our quest was my pup, Cammie, otherwise infamously known as Cat-dog. Although she loved going out on these exploration trips, she had no idea what she was going to be in for on this adventure.
The weather was sunny and a little warmer than I expected. My guess it was 75-80 degrees. Not hot by Arizona standards, but when I thought of climbing 1500 feet, I would have liked it to be 10 degrees cooler. I was laden with gear: small camera, GPS, water, backpack, leash, hiking pole, gun, small water dish and water for the dog, knee brace, EpiPen, long-sleeved shirt and hat. The one thing I forgot was my SPOT emergency GPS. Given the situation we would find ourselves in shortly, this could have been a really bad mistake.
Our 4WD vehicles were parked at the intersection of Forest Road 203 (Cherry Creek Road) and the old Big Buck Uranium Mine road to begin our ascent. The Forest Service constructed the old mining road in the 1950s to service the Big Buck Uranium Mine which has been closed for many years.
Big Buck Uranium Mine Road Sweat and Fears
This first section of the road is fairly easy to hike, even with the steep grade. It’s wide, open and simple to follow. We had to be careful of the small “baby heads” (round rocks about 6 inches in diameter) that litter the road as they could easily twist an ankle. I would find out later, that going up the road was much easier than coming down, when I was physically exhausted and my feet were blistered.
At about the ¼ mile mark, we came to a small open saddle complete with a rock fire pit. A person could camp here if they were inclined (no pun intended), there’s probably room for a few tents in the semi-flat places, but the cows in the area also enjoy this spot and finding a place without a multitude of cow pies may be difficult. Also, carrying camping gear up the road doesn’t seem worth it (driving up this road is not allowed nor recommended). There are other much better places to camp along Cherry Creek Road, look for my article on that coming soon.
"I don't feel like camping in a field of cow pies."
Shortly after the saddle, we crossed into the Sierra Ancha Wilderness area and the old mining road began to deteriorate from this point onward. Scott and I decided to take a short rest in the shade, while Steve used his binoculars to identify a couple of birds flitting from tree to tree nearby.
"We were always greeted by a gray breasted jay at each stop."
By the time I gave Cammie a drink and wiped the sweat from my brow, it was time to move on again.
Quick Video: Steve walking past us while we rested in the shade
We continued to gain elevation along the rocky road in the warm afternoon sun. Near the ½ mile mark we passed by a large house-sized rock to our left. Scott, who was reading directions off the Hike Arizona website, confirmed we were on the right trail. I created a waypoint on my GPS for this landmark and moved on.
It wasn’t long before I began looking for another rock that was supposed to be ahead of us. Although not as large as the one we’d just passed, it was special in a number of ways. First, it annotated a split in the trail and we needed to ensure we stayed on the correct one. A right leads to the Pueblo Canyon Ruins (an even more difficult hike), a left to the Cold Spring Ruins. Second, it had petroglyphs. I love petroglyphs and didn’t want to miss an opportunity to view them. Third, the directions stated that another set of ruins could be seen across the canyon to the northeast. And finally, fourth, we knew from the directions that most of the climb would be over until we came to the final push. I wanted to see level ground again.
Not sure if it was that I was tired from climbing or from anticipation, but the ¼ mile trek seemed more like ½ a mile (or maybe a thousand miles). A weary smile stretched across my face when we finally reached a large rock that should be the next marker.
Quick Video: Arriving at Petroglyph Rock
“I don’t see any petroglyphs!” Scott announced at first glance.
My smile evaporated. This had to be it. Cat-dog climbed up the rock from the opposite side (she loves climbing up rocks to get a better view). I looked for a fork in the trail that was supposed to be here. A faint trail to the left and one even less traveled to the right. Maybe. It was not as obvious as I would have expected. Back to the rock.
“I don’t see anything,” Steve said, confirming Scott’s assessment.
The sun was hitting the rock’s flat surface with full intensity and I knew that sometimes the way the sun shines on a rock’s face can greatly affect how (and if) petroglyphs can be seen. We moved in for a closer look.
“A swirl!” Steve exclaimed. “I see a swirl!” He pointed near the left side of the rock’s face.
At first, I didn’t see it. Then it was there. Very faint, but there. And it was connected to an arrow. It seemed to be pointing at the trail to the Pueblo Canyon Ruins and we wondered if that was its purpose. We searched for additional glyphs, but couldn’t see anything definite.
"You're crazy if you go to those dwellings up there."
- Steve, interpreting the swirl-arrow petroglyph
Next, we turned to the east and Steve brought up his binoculars. It didn’t take him long to find the Copper Fork Ruins across the canyon. They're right were you'd think they would be – in shadows of a grand rock outcropping. These might be viewable with a naked eye, but not mine as I could only see them with the help of Steve’s binoculars.
I climbed up on top of the rock for a better view of the area and to celebrate. I’d made it half-way. Woohoo. Although I knew the hardest part was yet to come, my back felt good and our directions said we’d get a nice break from the climb for a while. I put my chances of making it to the ruins now at 75-25. But my optimism would be short-lived.
Something Waiting to Pounce on us in the Shadows
We made sure we took the left fork and I relished that it was a slight decline. My thighs were burning and the break from climbing was more than welcome. We soon came to a sharp, narrow ravine with a spring that created a 25 foot marshy spot in the road. A dark canopy of trees lined the area, making it feel very ominous. As if in confirmation, Cammie froze and sniffed the air.
“Hold up,” I whispered to Scott and Steve who were a few feet in front of me (I was winning the dinner making contest).
Cammie is a cautious pup and I’ve learned to trust her instincts. More than a few times she’s alerted me to possible dangers well before I could see or hear them. We all stopped to listen. Nothing. My eyes tried to penetrate the dark, thick overgrowth, but to no avail. I sniffed the air. Maybe with my super-sensitive sense of smell, I could pick up what Cammie smelled. Nope. All I smelled was muddy cow pies.
Cammie began to back away and I can honestly say that I was a little bit freaked. I unsnapped the safety strap on my .357’s holster as I imagined a mountain lion waiting in the shadows for its prey to come have a drink of water.
Now, it seemed that prey might just be us.
Clicke here for Part II
Additional and Full-Sized Pictures From the Trip
Walking up the old mining road full of "baby head" rocks
Crossing into the Sierra Ancha Wilderness Area
Steve next to the giant house-sized boulder
Scott and Cammie hiking along the remnants of the mining road
This is the first view of where we were heading - a little intimidating
The swirling arrow on the face of the petroglyph rock - very faint in the bright sunlight
Cat-dog climbed on top of the petroglyph rock for a better view
Me, celebrating making it to the halfway point
The ruins across the canyon as seen through my camera's zoom lens
Some of the trail was difficult to follow
Our goal - The Cold Spring Canyon Ruins
Steve climbing the almost vertical rock wall (about where both of us turned around). The ruins could not be seen from where we were, but they were about 70 more feet above us
Topo map of the hike (Red=the ascent, Blue=the descent, Green=Cherry Creek Road)
Approximate profile of the ascent
Google Earth view of the hike (Red=best trail, Blue=the way we went near the end)
Have you been on this adventure? What did you think? Comments and updates welcome by clicking here.
No member comments yet.