Maricopa Trail + Park Foundation

Maricopa Trail: Bronco – Spur Cross


A tree damages in the 2005 Cave Creek Complex Fire frames Tonto NF views

Wildfires can be as confusing and they are devastating.  Sometimes they roar through a forest in take-no-hostages fury while in other situations, they hopscotch over the land creating a random patchwork of destruction and untouched swaths.

A stock tank on the Brono Spur Cross segment of the Maricopa Trail is a wildlife refuge

The 2005 Cave Creek Complex Fire that swept through Tonto National Forest north of the Valley resulted in a combination of heartbreaking ruin and pockets of unscathed life.  One fluke is the survival of a stand of junipers along Cottonwood Creek, an intermittent stream below Quien Sabe Peak. A point of pride of the restoration efforts of the nearly 14 miles of fire damaged trails that connect the Bronco Trailhead at Seven Springs Road with Spur Cross Ranch Conservation Area is the mending of the route that passes by the  mile-long juniper haven that escaped the blaze.

The Bronco Spur Cross segment of the Maricopa Trail feels feral and remote

Heavy brush and debris was cleared away from the evergreen passage, enabling hikers to admire the trees instead of battling through scrappy thickets.

The reclamation work has been a years-long endeavor with numerous organizations and volunteers contributing time and materials. A major push that wound up this year put the finishing touches on the project.  From January through February crews from Maricopa County, Tonto National Forest and the American Conservation Experience completed four week-long hitches to repair Segment 20 of the Maricopa Trail which incorporates forest routes Bronco Trail #245 and Cottonwood Creek Trail # 247.

Hikers follow the route through the rugged backcountry of the Cave Creek Mountains

Crews camped and worked to clear brush, locate and restore historic cairns, repair tread and place trail markers at half-mile intervals along the route. Flagstaff-based American Conservation Experience is a non-profit organization for young adults ages 18-25 who are considering careers in land management, conservation or other outdoor fields.

Sugar sumac trees are common along the trail

Participants serve 3-to-12 month terms under the tutelage of industry professionals. In addition to performing needed work, associates gain valuable knowledge and hands-on experience.  During the two-month Maricopa Trail restoration undertaking, crews repaired or built 170 drainages, fixed 10 water bars and built or fixed 23 cairns while clearing the trail of rocks and hazards.  Crews were assisted by The Backcountry Horseman Association of the East Valley which hauled in tools and food taking some of the load off the sweaty work.

Far reaching views are highlights of the Bronco Spur Cross segment of the Maricopa Trail

Thirteen years after the fire, the classic trails that run beneath desert mesas and peaks

are revitalized and gaining traction as must-do hiking destinations. The land surrounding the route is healing slowly but steadily.

Dead trees bearing black scars of the blaze stand among emergent sprouts and spotty islands of survivor mesquite, sugar sumac, scrub oak, yuccas and blooming cacti.  Part of the joy of hiking this section of the Maricopa Trail is seeing how, with a little help from McLeod tools, rakes and human effort, the forest is bouncing back.

Although there may be fewer junipers, those that remain are cherished finds and reminders of the whims of Nature and our role in preserving irreplaceable resources.

With major work in the in the rear-view mirror, the Maricopa Trail continues to grow and evolve into a world-class recreational hub. There’s still plenty to do and anticipate. Major goals for the 300+-mile Valley- circumnavigating route include linking county parks, metropolitan areas, municipal trails and communities with a non-motorized, open space corridor that will protect natural and cultural resources from development.

Per Dwana Taylor, Maricopa County Parks and Recreation Public Information Officer, trail users can look forward to greater connectivity, new trailheads and spurs to the Hassayampa River Preserve and future Vulture Mountain Recreation Area in Wickenburg.

LENGTH: 13.6 miles one way (Bronco Trailhead to Spur Cross)
Hike 2.6 miles on Trail 245 to the stock tank at the east fork of Bronco Creek. for a 5.2-mile round trip with an elevation range of 3,700 – 4,234 feet.
RATING: moderate

ELEVATION: 2,400- 4,224 feet


Bronco Trailhead:

From the intersection of Cave Creek Road and Pima Road in Carefree, continue 11.6 miles north on Cave Creek Road which turns into Seven Springs Road/Forest Road 24 to the Bronco Trailhead on the left.  The last 3 miles of FR 24 is an all-weather gravel road suitable for passenger cars. 


American Conservation Experience