Remote terrain, a notoriously overgrown, difficult-to-follow route, rattlesnakes galore and a miserable drive to the trailhead on bumpy roads are just a few of the obstacles encountered on the way to the Devil’s Chasm archaeological site. But they’re old hat to Valley hiker Joseph Pellegrino, who prefers challenging, quirky adventures.
Getting to the 700-year-old Native American cliff dwellings takes planning and careful navigation. “The route is very difficult and not used that much, so it’s hard to stay on the trail,” Pellegrino says. “It’s rocky and there is bushwhacking, some boulder climbing, and there are ropes to help pull yourself up [the steep ascent to the ruins].”
Located in the 20,850-acre Sierra Ancha Wilderness in Tonto National Forest near the town of Claypool, roughly 100 miles northeast of Phoenix, the dwellings are remarkably well-preserved because they’re built into sheer clefts that rise roughly 1,900 feet above the treacherous topography of Devil’s Chasm. The U.S. Forest Service dates the prehistoric dwellings built by the Salado people to around 1280-1350 CE, and archaeologists think the site may have had up to 15 rooms.
Although the route is short, even experienced hikers should prepare to spend all day completing the rigorous trek. “I took along my GPS, three liters of water, sandwiches and gummy bear trail mix for the hike that took me eight hours,” the Scottsdale automotive worker says.
With years of Arizona hiking experience behind him, very little about backcountry travel fazes Pellegrino. But there was one thing that did surprise him about the ruins. “I was amazed at how small the doorways were,” he says.
With his experience and outdoor skills, Pellegrino and his hiking partners finished the hike nearly unscathed. “No need to name names, but two of my hiking buddies ripped their pants in the behind.”
IF YOU GO:
Sierra Ancha Wilderness Area
LENGTH: 3 to 6 miles round trip, depending on route
RATING: very difficult
ELEVATION: 4,000-5,960 feet