The Hieroglyphic Trail

The Hieroglyphic Trail in Tonto National Forest is a great hike if you want a nice workout and don;t have all day.


This past Sunday Gerry Moore and I took the hike. It is convenient because the trailhead is only fifteen minutes from my house. It is basically a two hour hike, round-trip, plus whatever time you want to spend enjoying the wilderness.

Misnamed, the writing on the rock walls are petroglyphs (pictures in rock) and not hieroglyphics, which are actually a language. The glyphs date back 800 to 1200 years, and were left by the Hohokem tribe when they resided in this area. Historians disagree on their meaning – records of hunts? Efforts of the medicine men to teach the origin of the world to young Hohokem? Maybe just grafitti by bored Hohokem teens?

They are located at the end of the main trail, an upward hike over winding rock trails. Just before the petroglyph walls, there is an odd rock the size oaf a kitchen table, with seven round holes drilled into it. The holes are about 5-inces in diameter and about 8-inches deep. It was likely used as a pestle for grinding meal or flour.

Around the bend the trail requires a little caution – children seem to have no difficulty navigating it. You have to pick your path carefully and it requires a little climbing to get around. There are a couple ponds that flow most of the year around, sometimes more than others. It is not recoomended that you attempt to drink this water, as the spot is a popular destination and as aresult the water is not potable.

The glyphs cover one major basalt rock wall, and if you inspect the surrounding rocks carefully you will find many more. Unfortuantely careless people have climbed over the inscriptions, ensuring their destruction. And some small-minded pinheads have added their own grafitti. People like that should be shot – all it would take is one time to set an example and put a stop to that sort of behavior.

Further up the trail is a natural rock cave that would have served as protection for a small group of people. And experienced hikers can continue further. By experienced, I mean people not wearing short pants and runnign shoes, carrying more than one bottle of water with them. The trails are ill-defined, and it requires basic rock-climbing skills.

With the recent, uncharacteristic rains, the desert was green and lush. Gerry had never been to the desert when it was this green, and a botanist at heart, he was excitedly cataloging the variety of plants, including rare varieties of moss and fern that are not typical in the desert climate.

The two-hour hike was sufficient to introduce a burn into my thighs and calves, as I have not hiked in almost a year. With the new work hours, I really have no excuse, and need to get out more often. As a reward for burning calories, we hit Superstition Skies for a few ice cold brews before heading home.

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