A hidden gem, Black Mesa is a wonderful day hike that leads to a summit on top of cliffs overlooking the spectacular Salt River, one of Arizona's principal rivers. The summit is a waypoint of the Salt River Wilderness, and from the top, you get a full panorama of the river and the mountains surrounding it, from a perch nearly 2,500 feet higher.
Located at the south end of the Sierra Ancha, Black Mesa is easily visible from state highways AZ-188 and 288, surrounded on its south and west by giant cliffs. Lake Roosevelt sits below to the west, and the broad sweep of the Mazatzal Mountains off west, highlighted by the Four Peaks. A good forest road comes close to the base of the mesa, while a lesser forest road leads almost to the top, although the road appears to not have seen a vheicle in years. Despite its "mesa" status, the summit has 1,074 feet of prominence.
Black Mesa viewed from state route AZ-288
The summit is rarely climbed. The log held less than ten entries as of 2012 (dating to 2004). The lower slopes are grassy with hedgehog and prickly-pear cactus, while higher up, saw grass, agave, some mountain oak and smatterings of pinon surround the top. You have a very good chance of being the only person up here.
Wildlife is abundant. On my hike, we had a diamondback rattlesnake come into our camp, and I spooked a large javelina as I neared the summit.
Diamondback rattlesnake making himself at home in camp.
From US-60 between Globe and Miami, go north on AZ-188 for about a dozen miles to the turn-off to state route AZ-288, signed for Young. Black Mesa is visible almost immediately, a broad-topped mesa surrounded by huge cliffs.
Follow AZ-288 as it descends toward the Salt River and Lake Roosevelt. Come to an old truss bridge spanning the Salt River after about 5 miles, then drive another two or three miles through the settlement of Rock House to Cherry Creek Road (Tonto National Forest Rd 203) on the right. Everything is well-marked and easy to locate.
The hike follows an old track amid pleasant high-desert flora (and fauna, so be on the lookout)
Cherry Creek Road (FR-203) is graded dirt but washboarded. Follow this road for four miles up into the hills, with Black Mesa's impressive pallisade of cliffs directly above you. The road achieves a highpoint, bends left then drops into the Chalk Creek drainage. Look for FR-3271 on your right. Follow this decent road in about 0.5 mile to a gate. Park here. This is the nominal trailhead.
Cherry Creek Road is maintained but receives enough traffic to be washboarded. It is passable by passenger vehicles, but it can be steep and narrow in a few sections. Wet weather or snow may make the road muddy or closed if the snow is too thick or the streams raging too heavily. FR-3271 has a deep-cut ditch where it diverges from Cherry Creek Road. A passenger vehicle will probably not be able to pass it.
The road past the gate deteriorates badly. It's best to park back at the first gate. There is ample space for camping.
Your camping view
The whole point of doing the hike!
Salt River from the summit
There is an excellent camping area near the gate, plus a few other nice pullouts along FR-3271. There are also some places to pullout along Cherry Creek Road.
Four Peaks and Lake Roosevelt
Follow the road past the first gate and under a set of power lines, coming to another gate. Beyond the second gate, the road gains up the slopes then comes to a bend. Follow the road to the top.
It appears the road never sees a vehicle or ATV. The grass had grown in a uniform manner obscuring the ruts, and in places, the road was only evident by the lack of larger vegetation. About a quarter-mile short of the top, leave the road and travel cross-country through a mix of low trees, scrub, grass, rocks and cactus, until you come to the summit rim. The top is marked by a pole in a cairn. The views down below are breathtaking, some of the best in the state!
From the first gate it's about three miles and 1,200 feet of gain to the top. Allow a few hours; there's no need to rush this peak.
Trip Report, 4-29-12
Panorama of the Sierra Ancha with Aztec Peak in the distance.