Usery Mtn Reserve - Wind Cave Trail
August 19, 2004

After work I drove to Maricopa County's Usery Mountain Reserve and hiked the Wind Cave Trail and the Merkle Trail. These are hikes #15 (4 miles) and #16 (1 mile) respectively in Stewart Green's book. Temperature was in the high 90s. The following is information from a sign on the Merkle Trail:

Twenty-five million years ago, much of the area southeast of Phoenix was experiencing violent volcanic activity. Three massive volcanic calderas, located in the Superstition Mountains, erupted. Calderas are underground volcanoes that collapse after erupting and form a depression or crater.

The ash and debris from these eruptions make up most of the rock in the Superstitions, Goldfields, and Usery Mountains, and can be seen here in this light-colored stripe across Pass Mountain. This formation is called volcanic tuff.

Pass Mountain rises to an elevation of over 3,300 feet and is the most recognizable mountain in the Usery Mountain Range. Pass Mountain is also known as Scarface because of the tuff formation across its top.

Tuff is formed by layers of lava and ash that cool and weld together. The yellowish-tan colored tuff of Pass Mountain contains a significant amount of quartz particles. These quartz particles produce a distinctive glow in the late afternoon sun. The rock above the tuff layers is mainly basalt.

Wind Cave Trail leads to a wind-eroded alcove that has been formed in this layer of tuff. This trail is moderately difficult and offers a spectacular view of the east valley.

The Usery Mountains begin east of Red Mountain and extend into the Goldfield Mountain Range.

Go to for an excellent map of the park.

To reach the trailhead from Scottsdale, go south on 101, east on 60, north on Ellsworth Road (exit 191) 6.6 miles to Usery Mountain Reserve entrance. Park entrance fee is $5. The yellow arrow points to Wind Cave.
The Wind Cave trailhead.
Saguaros are scattered on the hillside.
The lower portions of the trail are well graded and maintained. It was a pleasure to hike.
The trail gets a little rougher as you approach the cave, but it is by no means in bad shape.
Almost there.
I was somewhat disappointed when I reached the cave, as it is really just an overhang.
Nevertheless, the views from the cave were outstanding. This is the view northwest towards Scottsdale.
The view from Wind Cave towards the shooting range. The shooting was very audible despite the distance.
This plant is hanging from the ceiling of Wind Cave. I suppose the cave itself is more impressive in the spring rather than in August. I should probably be impressed that anything green can be found this time of year.
This sign is just a few feet from Wind Cave. I don't want the reader to get the idea that I take a lot of risks when I hike. Quite the contrary, since most of my hiking is solo, I am extra careful. Stewart Green's book describes this trail as "often rocky, but good." Therefore, I decide to proceed with caution.
It appears as though this was a good trail at one time. There are a few spots that might bother a novice. But it is generally a good trail: I wouldn't give it a seconds thought if I was with a group. Someone has painted white arrows on the rocks to identify the route. In a few places it would have been easy to go the wrong direction without these arrows.
It's only .4 miles from Wind Cave to the top of the mountain, and the view from the top is spectacular. I'll bet most people turn around at Wind Cave: they are missing the best part of the hike!
Another trail, another day. (Pass Mountain trail?)
Looking to the Superstition Mountains Lost Dutchman State Park.
The trail circling the small mound is the Merkle trail. The arrow points to the Wind Cave trailhead.
My car.
Me at the top with the Superstitions in the background.
On the way down I saw three other hikers and I asked one to take a picture of me.

This was one of my favorite Phoenix-area hikes.

A "note" on safety...I am in Phoenix on business, staying in a hotel. I leave a post-it note in my hotel room indicating my destination. If I turn up missing, I'm sure my hotel room would be checked. This should make it easier for someone to find me.
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Copyright © 2004 by Bill Qualls. Last updated August 19, 2004.