Spur Cross Ranch Conservation Area near Cave Creek, Arizona is one of the best parks in Maricopa County because of a diverse terrain, a variety of hiking trails, stunning mountains, and a beautiful creek flowing through the park. Park rangers offer interpretive hikes, where they talk about wild flowers and desert plants, wildlife, birds and insects, the history, geology, and archeology of the area, and also about the Hohokam, who lived in this area long ago and left their petroglyphs.
This spring, the Sonoran desert is very fertile and looks like a garden, blooming with a colorful display of wild flowers. One of the best trails to see the bloom is Tortuga trail. It is a moderate hike with a few ascends in the beginning and a gentle descend in the end. Combined with Spur Cross trail, which is also popular for watching wild flowers, it makes a 3.4 mile loop.
At the beginning of the trail a hiker crosses the quiet and serene waters of Cave Creek. The creek is shallow and every rock can be seen at the bottom of the clear flowing stream. Surrounding mountains, tall saguaro cacti, and bushes growing on the bank are reflected in the creek.
After the crossing there is a dense thicket of Mexican Thistle growing along the trail. The thistle’s graceful and elegant pink flowers are intermixed with white, cotton like balls of the seeds, which they produce. Who would think that a weed can be so beautiful?
When someone looks closely, the flower’s thin and delicate tubes of petals have a cool yellow color in the middle, which gradually turn into white and then into pink creating a magically beautiful sphere.
Close to the beaten path of the trail there are patches of Wild Heliotrope. These tiny blue flowers with round petals crowd around boulders and along the trail. High rising stocks of Agave Cacti compete in height with saguaros. Agave are not in bloom yet, and it’s a good reason to come back and check it out later.
At the point where Tortuga trail crosses Metate trail, Dogweed flowers create a sheer yellow cover underneath saguaros, which stretch their arms to the sky.
Creosote bush has beautiful yellow flowers additionally to the fluffy round grayish seeds.
Further along the trail, there is a threesome of golden poppies, surrounded by miniature lilac bells of Scorpionweed. Here, at Spur Cross, they are buddies and often grow together, competing in brightness and beauty.
When the trail ascends the hiker gets into the purple realm of Coulter’s Lupine, which grows in wide swaths along the trail and on the slopes of the mountains.
Clusters of the fluffy pink heads of Owl Clover grow amidst the Lupines. Their companionship and a combination of colors looks particularly pretty and can be seen frequently along the Tortuga trail. They adorn the trail and make the desert look like a meadow.
However, orange cups of Desert Globemallow, which also grow along the trail still reminds us that we are still in the desert.
Another frequent companion of purple lupine is the tiny lilac Broad Leaved Gilia, whose tender color and delicate star like petals compliment the bold purple color and straight posture of Lupine.
Ocotillo start to bloom with its branches all covered with tiny green leaves and orange tussles of flowers on the top of its branches.
Just before a steep ascent to the top of Tortuga trail there are a few flowers of Desert Hickory. Its white long petals of uneven length radiate from a yellow center like a light from a glimmering star.
These beautiful flowers are surrounded by purple tiny bells of Scorpionweed and pink brushes of Owl Clover.
On the other side of the trail, a cluster of Desert Marigold flowers shine like little suns. This flower remains open even on an overcast day.
The trail to the top has lots of yellow Brittlebush flowers on the side which are mixed with the fluffy seeds of Mexican Thistle.
At the top of the mesa there is a spectacular view of Elephant Mountain. At times, dark clouds are ready to spill rain and cast dark shadows onto the mountain, creating a dramatic backdrop.
The trail becomes even at the top and presents another awesome view of the desert covered with lush green grass. Amidst this grass there are elegant light purple Desert Hyacinths. They look pretty exotic for the desert.
At the crossing of Tortuga trail and Spur Cross trail there are lots of Mexican Thistle. The wind blows away plenty of the white cotton fluff of the Thistle’s seeds. Here, Tortuga trail turns into Dragonfly Trail which heads down to the creek.
There are more Golden poppies surrounded by tiny Scorpionweed amidst green grass on Spur Cross trail. The final spectacle on Spur Cross trail is the fluffy lilac heads of Desert Hyacinths rising in the middle of a sheer yellow carpet of Dogweed flowers.
However, if a hiker continues on Dragonfly trail there are more wonders ahead. There is a rock with prehistoric petroglyphs. One can only guess what ancient Hohokam artist had etched on the dark surface of the boulder. It looks like a walking elephant with its trunk raised up. Or maybe it is a scorpion?
Some cacti are in bloom. Magenta colored flowers cluster on the top of Strawberry hedgehogs.
There are yellow Fiddleneck close to the bank of the creek among lush grass. The trail follows the creek, which is lined with mesquite trees, cottonwoods, and saguaro cacti.
There are interesting boulders along the trail. One is cracked in the middle with a flat rock wedged into the crack. It looks like a giant hand hammered the rock into it.
Another granite boulder has a distinct dark and porous line about one inch wide in the middle. Was it a volcano eruption or an impact caused by a giant meteorite? The geology of Spur Cross is enigmatic and mysterious.
The creek has the most picturesque and pleasing views at the point where Dragonfly trail crosses it. It looks like an immersion into a pastoral green world. Tall saguaros and cottonwood trees are reflected in the calm water of the bubbling stream, which sounds like the music of nature. Blue dragonflies hover and swirl over the creek. White and colorful butterflies flutter around.
After the crossing the trail climbs uphill. It is adorned by yellow brittlebush from one side and by purple lupine from the other. There is a saguaro cactus with two tiny branches, which look like popped eyes. The view of the creek down below is magnificent. There are two benches, where hikers can rest and enjoy views of the creek and the surrounding area. It’s quite possible to see deer from the top because wildlife is attracted to the water.
Dragonfly trail is a moderate, 2.4 mile hike. If combined with Tortuga trail it is 4.7 miles of awesome hiking experience.
Spring time at Spur Cross Recreational Area is a very rewarding and unforgettable experience for all, whether it’s a bee, a butterfly fluttering from flower to flower, or a hiker with a camera.
To learn more about desert flowers and plants and how Native Americans used them for food and for medicine take a guided hike with Kevin Smith, a park ranger. He provides visitors with lots of information about the area. Based on a catalog of wild flowers we got during one of his tours, we could identify many of the native plants