Sierra Anchas Wilderness History and Features

One of the country’s oldest Wilderness, Sierra Ancha (Spanish for “broad mountain range”) was designated Primitive Area by the Forest Service in 1933 and Wilderness in 1964, as part of the original Wilderness Act. Old roads for uranium exploration in the 1950s are now grassy, rocky trails. Rough, scenic and somewhat inaccessible, the area includes precipitous box canyons, towering vertical cliffs, and mesas with remnant pine standards or post-fire New Mexican locust trees. Elevations range from 4,000 feet near Cherry Creek to Aztec Peak at 7,733 feet. The 20,850-acre wilderness excludes roads on its eastern and western flanks and an experimental forest to the southwest.

Sierra Ancha Experimental Forest
With first research plots in 1925, Parker Creek Experimental Forest was established in 1932 for watershed management research. It was expanded to present 13,255 acres and renamed Sierra Ancha Experimental Forest in 1938 for research into effects of grazed and ungrazed vegetation on water yields. The Civilian Conservation Corps installed weirs and equipment for measuring water flows in the 1930s on several creeks. Most watershed studies have been concluded and results published. Now the Forest Service only maintains Workman Creek gauge for long-term hydrologic data (although ironically this is not in USGS NWIS water flow database).

Sierra Anchas Fires
The 2000 Coon Fire started in May in the south end of the wilderness, and burned about 9,600 acres; at least $4.6 million was spent combating what officials thought was caused by an unextinguished campfire (  The 2016 Juniper Fire, also in May, began with a lightning start on Juniper Flat northwest of the wilderness and burned more than 30,000 acres, reburning some areas previously burned in the Coon Fire. Although this fire was ‘managed’ as a wilderness fire without direct suppression, five hot shot crews (usually about 20 persons each) and 300 other personnel monitored the fire at total cost of $11.6 million
In the odd world of federal fire budgets, a large temporary interagency organization is lavishly funded to manage a fire, more funds often spent on watershed restoration measures such as hay bales or seeding, but postfire facilities restoration is responsibility of host unit with no funding. The Tonto National Forest got a $280,000 grant for Sierra Anchas trail work over next two years.

Sierra Anchas Cliff Dwellings
Most people who visit the Sierra Anchas come to visit cliff dwellings in the steep canyons, generally scrambling up from Cherry Creek road. The Arizona Ruins site has good information on two more famous dwellings and links to other sites. For good photos and speculations try Many websites offer instructions for how to get to/find various ruins in five canyons as well as ruins along Moody Point Trail and above Workman Falls on Forest Road 487.