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Cherry Creek | January 2022: An Unbelievable Journey

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Descriptions do NOT do justice to this trail. Photos can't really portray it accurately either.


You see, Cherry Creek Trail is more than just visual splendor, it's an unbelievable immersion into everything that makes Arizona remarkable. When you're not diving thousands of feet deep into a number of red rock canyons, you're greeted with the the scent of autumn in the mid-west, and the rushing sound of water - literally everywhere. I've NEVER seen this much water in Arizona. Ever. There are several unexpected surprises as well, such as cabin hide-aways, flat grassy plains, and something new around every turn on which to feast your eyes.


Unfortunately, this trail's days are numbered. Between impending closure under the Tonto NF Travel Management Plan and the irreversible doom of soil erosion - this trail will unfortunately fade away unless something is done about it. We noted a number of areas where the trail soil is loose and granulated, wearing away with each passing rain and some areas literally sliding down the mountainside in many places.


My recommendation:

Run it and experience it while you can. Like... now. Either by government action or the next Monsoon, this trail might be inaccessible the next time you think of it.


The Group's Take: 

This is a wonderful trail that is a solid moderate. It's literally a once-in-a-lifetime trail due to many threats to its continued existance.


Jeeps and 4Runners (and smaller rigs) should be good on this trail. No full-size rigs due to many width concerns. Gladiators and Tacomas may drag their tails in a few areas. 


There are a few "obstacles" that may continue to degrade over time due to soil erosion - however our group had zero issues. If you run this, don't go alone. Consider making it an overnighter and camp around mid-way through the trail.


You can read the original trip planning thread here.

Please note this was an Offroad Passport Club members-only event. Account required to see the content. View membership options →


Attendees: @4x4tographer @theksmith @Ken Ford @kaspily @Bradywgn71





Here's one of about 8 creek crossings we made with plenty of flowing water. Note the very healthy deciduous trees everywhere.




Here's a wonderfully well-preserved cabin. The inside was pretty well provisioned with emergency supplies like water, propane canisters, lanterns, canned foods. There was a nice plaque on the wall that described the history (dating back to 1890) and stories about the grounds - a portion of which was farmed by the inhabitants of this little hideaway.





Here is a prime example of the erosion occurring in many areas along Cherry Creek Trail. The erosion can't be easily repaired as you'd need to shore up the soil below (which in many places had 50-60ft drops). You also can't exactly "move the trail" away from the drop-off as there is a mountain in the way. The trail can be run with any "Jeep width" vehicles, but full-size rigs will not fit in quite a few spots.




Off-camber was the name of the game in many places. This area is another good example of soil erosion.







Every turn presents you with a new jaw-dropping vista and backdrop for some awesome photos.




This area was the most "sketchy" due to a washout of the trail. However we found that with the right line you could make it across with minimal drama. As all of our rigs had good departure angles, it wasn't much of an issue. However our Gladiator and Tacoma-driving friends might drag a tail.





A good look at the departure angle on this section.




Again.... unbelievable views pretty much everywhere. 











This trail was Chris-Approved :) 



On the way out, we popped by a short 2.5 mile side trail to check out some 800 year old Solado cliff-dwellings that were incredible. From the parking area its "only 200 yards", which in ORP-speak means it a lot more. In reality, it's about a 2000 ft hike that is largely easy. To get to the dwellings, someone had built a stone cairne to mark where you should scramble up the rocks about 50-60 ft.


I won't post directions to the ruins here in order to help preserve them. If you'd like directions on how to get to them, please PM me.


Photo by @kaspily



The rock face: 




Mysteriously, Ken's camera stopped working the moment he stepped inside! 😱



Many of the original timbers are still holding up some of the structure. It looked like it was multi-story at one point in time. 




Note the great condition of the stucco/mud on the interior walls. My own house doesn't even look that good and it's only 15 years old!




Here's the view from the cliff-dwellings. I'd say that's a million dollar view. Can you imagine what it looked like 800 years ago?




The drive past Lake Roosevelt home was amazing as well. Depending on elevation, in the distance we could see rain storms and snow storms occurring all around us. We even had a shot at a pot of gold.




Roosevelt Bridge:







Edited by 4x4tographer
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That bridge pic is really good.


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thanks for posting Ryan, great photos as always!

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Excellent write up and amazing photos @4x4tographer! The ones of the rainbow and the bridge are stunning. It's sad to see the degradation of this trail, because it really is a beautiful place to experience. :( 

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Thanks so much for posting the trail report with so many excellent photos.   Makes me even sadder that I had to miss it...   Looks like I need to get off TDC and "Git Er' Dun' ! ! !

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Thanks Ryan for leading this trip.

Had another great Off Road Passport experience as usual..... :)

Another memorable Saturday exploring with a great group of folks !

Incredible views and the icing on the cake was definitely the Indian Ruins.

The fact that they are so pristine and mostly intact and not a typical busy

tourist spot. 


Again, thanks so much for putting the trip together and looking forward to wheeling with you again.  

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Wow awesome trip report! Makes me think about changing up tomorrow's plans...

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Looking like we were one of the last groups to get to ride Cherry Creek Road. It is now reportedly impassable. Coords: 33.88115, -110.89576


Shortly after this section where the road surface was very soft and loose.





Erosion has caused part of one of the shelf roads to slide down the mountain and is now too narrow for full sized vehicles. Narrow SxS or quads might make it. The cliff face would need to be blasted out to make it wide enough, unless more material could be added to widen the road again. It's about a 50ft drop into the creek to the East.


Video on Instagram here - last "slide" on the post has a video of this spot. https://www.instagram.com/p/ChHrpTKu14C/




Here's a photo of the same spot, from the opposite side of the rock jutting from the cliff-face. You can see the rock in the background - Note the state of the trail erosion in January of 2022.




Edited by 4x4tographer
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If my google map search was accurate that spot is way before the ranch that is just past the first crossing of Cherry Creek.   I wonder if it will eventually be made passable again?  Or do you think the folks in the ranch head out North? 



Edited by WILL E

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2 hours ago, WILL E said:

If my google map search was accurate that spot is way before the ranch that is just past the first crossing of Cherry Creek.   I wonder if it will eventually be made passable again?  Or do you think the folks in the ranch head out North? 




Hey Will! Nope, this spot is about 6 miles north (as the crow flies) of the closest private land out there, 12 miles north of the main paved Cherry Creek crossing point. 


I certainly hope and dream they'd repair it, but it's extremely doubtful. Tonto National Forest is attempting to shut the trail down permanently. 


Long story short (or as short as I can make it ;) )

Some buffoon cartographer decided to use a straight-edge to draw the wilderness borders for the Sierra Anchas rather than aligning the area's boundaries along the road itself, like you see most places in AZ. Because of this, and despite the road's existence well before the wilderness was created, the road is now "illegal" as roads can not existing within the borders of a wilderness area. 


It would take a literal act of congress (who I'm sure we can agree don't give two shakes about motorized land access issues in the west) to change the borders to align with the road. As a result, the USFS has decided to cut motorized access to the road entirely where it first crosses into the wilderness area on both the north and south sides of the road.


The trail is technically open until Tonto NF publishes their new updates to the MVUM later this year. Once that happens, the trail will be officially closed. I highly recommend running any of your favorite Tonto trails at risk of closure sooner than later.


Here's an example of the road's "intrusion" into the wilderness area (dark green).




This is a real crying shame. This trail is unbelievably beautiful and is lined with 800 year old cliff-dwellings from the old Solado People. History and beauty out the waazoo. Lightly travelled - we didn't see another soul the entire day.


By and large, the trail was in very good shape when we went in January of 2022 - with a few small exceptions where the trail was washed out. I just don't see how they'll even make an attempt to repair it without a large public outcry - we can't even get the Apache Trail repaired.

Edited by 4x4tographer
Spelling is tough!
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