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Eagletail Mountains Wilderness - Ben Avery Trail (north)

Summary: The Eagletail Mountains Wilderness (which was created with the adoption of the Arizona Desert Wilderness Act of 1990) is located just south of I-10 about 50 miles west of Phoenix. The 15 mile range of the Eagletail Mountains (the remnant of a volcanic dike that formed nearly 20 million years ago) form the northern boundary to the wilderness, while the southern portion consists mainly of open desert and washes. Trails are faint to non-existent in the area and water is scarce. Map, compass and maybe a gps are necessary for cross country travel. A hike from the northern Ben Avery Trailhead to the Indian Springs area and beyond is described.
Directions: Courthouse Rock Trailhead: From Phoenix, drive west on I-10 to exit 81 (Harquahala Valley Road & Salome Road). From the exit ramp turn left (south), drive across the bridge over I-10 and turn right onto Harquahala Valley Rd. After 5.3 miles turn right onto Courthouse/Centennial Rd (which is well graded dirt). After 6.9 miles you'll hit a fork in the road with a sign for the Eagletail Wilderness on to the left. Stay right at this junction on a natural gas pipeline maintenance road (which is somewhat rougher dirt). Drive 4 miles, ignoring any roads which branch to the left, until you see another wilderness sign on the left. Turn left on this road towards the obvious formation of Courthouse Rock and drive 1.5 miles to a parking area and kiosk (this road has one rocky section which would likely prove difficult for a passenger car).
Road Conditions: High Clearance Vehicle
Navigation: Moderate to Difficult
Length: 5 miles roundtrip to the petroglyphs, however you can extend the hike as long as you'd like
Date Hiked: January 2004
Weather Conditions: Partly cloudy and cool
Required Skills:
Hike Description: From the kiosk, walk south through the fence and follow an old jeep road that winds its way around the west side of Courthouse Rock. After 15 minutes or so the path enters a wide and sandy wash which you will follow for another 15 minutes or so. Along the way you'll cross a fence; where the wash narrows, look for a jeep road which exits the wash on the left hand side. Follow the road as it heads west, then turns south to parallel a cliff band, winding its way in and out of a few minor drainages as it does so. After about 20 minutes of walking on the road, the path crosses a very wide wash then follows this wash along the left side. After about 10 minutes of walking look for a small, dark mesa on the left that sits by itself apart from the other basalt cliffs in the area. The mesa resides in the Indian Spring area of the Wilderness, which contains evidence of some of the earliest Native American occupation in the southwest. The most noticeable of which are the many petroglyphs that cover the rocks on this mesa. The area is believed to have been an important cultural and ceremonial site dating back to about 1500 BC. You will see two distinct styles of petroglyphs on the rocks. The oldest are approximately 3500 years old and were made in the Western Archaic style - identified by rectilinear designs such as grids, ladders, zigzags beehives and bulls' eyes (these are most prevalent in the area). The more recent were made in the Gila style, which is common to the Hohokam and peoples after 500 AD. These include abstract curvilinear designs and human and animal forms (and are much more interesting in my opinion). You'll also see some graffiti (one dated back to 1903), but most of it does not appear to be very recent. Please preserve the area by leaving it as you found it. If you decide to continue on, the Ben Avery Trail bends left around this basalt mesa and follows the wash as it travels between basalt cliff bands. If you have good eyes, you might spot additional petroglyphs on the rocks on either side of the wash. As you continue down the wash, the cliff bands slowly give way to rolling hills, then to wide open desert. The 'trail' follows the wash south, but there is no marked path and the open desert really doesn't make for a very interesting hike. You'll need a map, compass & maybe gps if you plan to negotiate the trail any further. When ready, return the way you came.
Rating (1-5 stars): to the end of Indian Spring wash and back
the rest of the Ben Avery Trail
The author and his wife hiked to the petroglyphs at a brisk pace in about an hour. I then had the brilliant idea to hike the remainder of the Ben Avery trail, while my wife drove around and picked me up. Unfortunately I did not count on the facts that: 1) the trail was non-existent, 2) the other trailheads in the Wilderness are difficult to reach and not marked. I followed the wash south about 10 miles to within a mile of Nottbusch Butte when I hit my bail out time. I realized I needed to be further east, but without a map, did not have a clear idea of where the trail should be. To be safe, I retraced my steps (for a total of a 20 mile hike), reaching the Courthouse Rock Trailhead at sunset. Unfortunately, my wife was still looking for me at the other trailheads (not sure that she had located the correct one), so I hiked another 6 miles along the road until I was picked up by a fellow hiker who my wife had enlisted to find me (Paul and son from Glendale - many thanks!). If I stress carrying: map, compass & gps several times in the above description, now you know why.
Maps: A map of a portion of this hike can be found here - 399KB.
Books: Exploring Arizona Wild Areas - Scott S. Warren
Photos: Click picture for larger view, click your browser's 'Back' button to return to this page.

Courthouse Rock at sunset.

The Eagletail Mountain range.

Western Archaic petroglyphs
from about 1500 BC
Gila style petroglyphs from
after 500 AD
Indian Spring wash. The non-existent Ben Avery Trail
& rogue tire tracks. Motorized vehicles
in Wilderness areas are illegal!.