Tommy J. DeBardeleben

Spur Cross Ranch Conservation Area

Fast Flight Facts

Target Species:  An interesting mix of both Sonoran desert and riparian species

Elevation: 2300-3000'

Habitat:  Both Upper and Lower Sonoran desert; Mesquite, cottonwood, and willow habitat along Cave Creek

Overall Birding Rating: 4

Difficulty: 1-5 (Easy to Very Difficult)

Birding Type: Easy to Difficult Hiking

Facilities:  Parking, Restrooms

Fees/Ownership:  $3.00/ Maricopa County Parks and Recreation

Closest Town or City/How far from Phoenix:  Cave Creek /30 miles east-northeast of Phoenix

Getting there:  Reached from Spur Cross Road, which is just north of Cave Creek

Overview:  The Spur Cross Ranch Conservation Area is owned by the Maricopa County Parks and Recreation, and is one of the newer additions to the Parks and Recreation.  This area has a diverse selection of habitats within the park's limits, which is highly made up of Lower Sonoran desert.  Upper Sonoran indicators are found in higher elevations.  Cave Creek flows through Spur Cross, and adds riparian habitat along the creek banks.  The riparian habitat is highly made up of mesquite, although there are several nice stands of willows with a few cottonwoods along the creek.  About ten miles of trails make up the hiking system here, some of which are short and convenient for all hikers.  Neighboring Spur Cross is the close by Jewel of the Creek Preserve, which is an amazing but small desert riparian preserve.  Trails from Spur Cross even connect with Jewel of the Creek Preserve, making it easy to explore both places in a morning.  The habitat variety in the Spur Cross Ranch Conservation Area will make this location a worthwhile stop throughout the year.

Some of the bird life in the Spur Cross Ranch Conservation Area that may be seen throughout the year will include Gambel's Quail, Red-tailed Hawk, White-winged Dove, Greater Roadrunner, Anna's, Costa's, and Black-chinned Hummingbirds, Gila and Ladder-backed Woodpeckers, Gilded Flicker, Ash-throated Flycatcher, Verdin, Bell's Vireo, Cactus and Bewick's Wrens, Black-tailed Gnatcatcher, Curve-billed Thrasher, Phainopepla, Lucy's Warbler, Canyon and Abert's Towhee, Black-throated Sparrow and Northern Cardinal.  The riparian habitats may hold many additional species throughout the year, especially during winter and migration.  Bird along the Cave Creek crossing when accessing the trails for better results.  Along Cave Creek there is also open grassy habitat, which is good for sparrows and buntings during migration and winter. 

Birding Tip:  The Spur Cross Ranch Conservation Area ranges in from easy to very difficult hiking wise.  Good birding may result in taking some of the easier trails and shorter loops through the area.  One of the better loop routes will be discussed here, based on length and habitat covered.  A good route to take would be to start hiking the trails that branch off near the entrance to the area.  The Spur Cross Trail is the main trail through the area and can be taken in two directions from the access point.  Take the west option, which crosses Cave Creek.  Once crossing Cave Creek, one will start hiking on the Spur Cross Trail towards the Dragonfly Trail.  From the Spur Cross Trail, take the Metate Trail, which goes for 0.8 miles.  The Metate Trail goes through the mesquite habitat along Cave Creek, and also gives better access to the riparian habitat.  The Metate Trail isn't really part of this loop, but does provide excellent birding for an extra half-hour or so of hiking.  When on the Metate Trail, try taking the Towhee Trail, a 0.2 mile loop that goes right back to Metate, which is another productive little loop.  After reaching the end of Metate, head back to the Spur Cross Trail.  Take Spur Cross for 1.3 miles until the Dragonfly Trail is reached.  Then take the Dragonfly Trail for 1.5 miles until the intersection of Jewel of the Creek Preserve is reached.  One may go to Jewel of the Creek Preserve from here, or continue on the Dragonfly Trail.  Either way, by heading out of the Preserve or the Dragonfly Trail, it loops right back to the parking lot of the Spur Cross Conservation Area.  This loop hike is 3.5 miles.  It goes through desert habitat with some good riparian habitat along Cave Creek, and eventually goes to Jewell of the Creek Preserve, which is filled with cottonwood and willow riparian habitat.  If wanting to hike this loop, consult a trail map when arriving at Spur Cross.  The maps give easy overviews and directions.

Directions:  From the Loop-101, take the Cave Creek Road exit.  Head north on Cave Creek Road for just over 12 miles.  On the north side of Cave Creek Road is Spur Cross Road.  Take Spur Cross Road 4 miles north until it ends at the parking lot and pay station to access the Spur Cross Ranch Conservation Area.


Spur Cross Ranch Conservation Area Maps

Spur Cross Ranch Conservation Area eBird Data


Scenes and Sights from the Spur Cross Ranch Conservation Area:


Bird life of Spur Cross Ranch Conservation Area:

Bells Vireo


Back to Area 11-Cave Creek

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