If you stay alert on this hike, it’s easy to spot the stegosaurus. But you’ll have to navigate a convoluted trail system to get to it, and that’s not so easy.
The stegosaurus-shaped rock outcropping looms above Dinosaur Wash with its head twisted back over a scaled spine frozen in a posture that looks like the losing side of a Jurassic joust.
This signature basaltic formation is the only “dinosaur” you’ll see while trudging through the eponymous wash that’s part of the Sophie’s Flat Trail system north of Wickenburg. What you will see are spectacular desert vistas, hardscrabble gullies, volcanic peaks and a matrix of sandy washes.
Although it’s just a few miles north of town, the trail system has a Wild West, middle-of-nowhere feel. The looped trails are blandly named A, B, C, D and E, but they’re anything but boring. The core A Trail begins at the Sophie’s Flat trailhead where there’s ample parking, a horse staging area and restrooms.
A map kiosk shows the trail layout that belies a confusing start, missing signs and several tricky turns. The trek to Dinosaur Wash involves linking the A, B, C and D trails for a 9.5-mile out-and-back hike.
The most difficult route-finding happens near the start where, after descending to a sprawling arroyo, the A Trail gets swallowed up in shifting sands. Although there are signs in the wash, they are tough to find. However, once the A Trail begins its first uphill ascent, signage becomes clearer. From beginning to end, it’s a challenging hike with continual dips, climbs and calf-burning slogs through beachy washes.
After 3 miles, the best views of the hike come at a mountain pass between Creighton Peak and Red Top where the serpentine course of the Hassayampa River and tendril drainages whittle through ragged peaks and chiseled canyons.
From the pass, the route dives down toward the destination. Watch carefully for another befuddling junction where the trail meets two A Trail sign posts near a giant boulder. Look for an unsigned path that heads north between the two signs. This is the D Trail that leads to the wash.
As you trudge downhill among ocotillos and hedgehog cactus, keep an eye out for the stegosaurus rock formation looming out from the cliffs. Some say it looks more like a bear, lizard, hawk or boa constrictor. Regardless of what one might see in the lithic form, it’s an entertaining point of contention and a great photo opp.
Hang a left where the path dead ends at the wash. You might want to tie a bandanna here (take it with you when you return) because beyond this point, there are no trail signs and this junction is easy to miss on the way back.
The next mile of hiking is the icing on the cake for those who have managed to get through the maze. Dinosaur Wash expands and contracts as it wiggles through sections of a broad dry river course, stony corridors and box canyons built of churned and jostled lava flows, sculpted sediments and fossil stream beds.
Look for chunks of blue basalt tossed with red sandstones, an old mining claim and rock pockets dripping with pack-rat middens.
Other than the pain of hiking through sand and a few minor down climbs, reasonably fit hikers should be able to get to the 4.97-mile point where a slickrock drop-off would require more serious scrambling to continue another mile to the Hassayampa River, Mistake Mine Ruins and Box Canyon. The drop-off makes a good spot to take a break and discuss (or argue over) whether the dino rock is a bird, reptile or mammal before heading back the way you came.
Hike directions: From the Sophie’s Flat trailhead, follow A Trail for 1.1 miles to B Trail. Follow B Trail to the 1.88-mile point, veer right and follow C Trail to the 2.39-mile point and turn left on the A Trail. Follow A Trail to the 2.91-mile point and connect with D Trail. Follow D Trail less than a mile, drop into the obvious course of Dinosaur Wash and head northwest (left). Hike to the 4.97-mile point and turn around at a slickrock drop-off.
Length: 9.5 miles round trip.
Elevation: 2,337-2,789 feet (1,100 feet cumulative gain).
Facilities: Restroom, map kiosk.
Getting there: From Phoenix, take Interstate 17 north to Carefree Highway/State Route 74 (Exit 223). Go 30 miles west on SR 74 toward Wickenburg, turn right at U.S. 60 and continue to just before the Hassayampa River Bridge traffic circle in Wickenburg. Turn right on El Recreo, go 0.25 mile and veer right onto Constellation Road. Continue 2.7 miles, turn left onto Blue Tank Road and drive 1.3 miles to the Sophie’s Flat trailhead on the right. The last 4 miles are on undulating dirt roads suitable for sedans.