Message #240:
From: AzTeC SW Archaeology SIG
To:   "'Matthias Giessler'" 
Subject: Spur Cross Archaeology
Date: Sun, 22 Jun 1997 15:25:34 -0700

Nasty battle for Spur Cross  -- A century ago, the U.S. Cavalry pushed
Indians off the high ground above Cave Creek, ending hundreds of years
of settlement in the lush Sonoran Desert just 30 minutes north of
Phoenix. You can still spot traces of that society: A complex network of
stone walls and petroglyphs, some almost a thousand years old, snaking
through the chaparral at Spur Cross Ranch. Now, the cactus-covered hills
are zoned for hundreds of houses -- and the focus of the nastiest fight
since the Cavalry galloped off. [Photo/Caption Michael Ging/The Arizona
Republic: The creek area through Spur Cross Ranch is unusual for many
reasons. Unlike most streams in Arizona, it hasn't been grazed in years,
so the plant life is flourishing. It flows year-round, and the mix of
plants along the creek is found along less than 1 percent of Arizona's
rivers and streams.]

Nasty battle for Spur Cross
By Kathleen Ingley and Michael Murphy / The Arizona Republic June 22,

A century ago, the U.S. Cavalry pushed Indians off the high ground above
Cave Creek, ending hundreds of years of settlement in the lush Sonoran
Desert just 30 minutes north of Phoenix. 

You can still spot traces of that society: A complex network of stone
walls and petroglyphs, some almost a thousand years old, snaking through
the chaparral at Spur Cross Ranch. 

Now, the cactus-covered hills are zoned for hundreds of houses -- and
the focus of the nastiest fight since the Cavalry galloped off. 

The stakes are high. 

Tucked up against Tonto National Forest, Spur Cross Ranch is crossed by
the only year-round stream in Maricopa County, which feeds the richest
type of wildlife habitat in the country. The ranch is an archaeological
treasure, too, with tantalizing clues -- including remains of multiroom
pueblos and human burials -- about the mysterious fate of the Hohokam,
the Valley's earliest inhabitants. 

On one side is the developer, who wants to build a golf course, a resort
hotel, 656 homes and a wastewater treatment plant on Spur Cross Ranch.
On the other is an unusual alliance of area residents,
environmentalists, Indian tribes and politicians, including Sen. John
McCain, who has given the issue national exposure. 

The Arizona Republican told National Public Radio recently that Spur
Cross "should be protected and left intact, if it's possible." 

Even Gov. Fife Symington is taking time out from his criminal trial to
explore ways to save the property. 

That fuels the hope of environmental activists and some Cave Creek
residents that this unique corner of Arizona will somehow be preserved. 

But developer John Lang says his plan for Spur Cross Ranch offers the
best shot at saving as much of the area's history and beauty as
possible. If it falls apart, he warns that far more houses will be
built, with far less attention to the environment, under zoning that the
county approved a decade ago. 

"This is not as much my opportunity," he said, "as Cave Creek's." 

On one point there's no dispute: Spur Cross Ranch is a scenic splendor. 

The property covers 2,154 acres of rugged hills north of the town of
Cave Creek - whether it's actually in the town is a matter of dispute.
It includes a striking gray rock formation called Elephant Butte, which
does indeed look very elephantine when seen from the appropriate angle.
Mountains and mesas rise in the distance, providing a dramatic backdrop
to pristine Sonoran Desert. 

For a biologist like Robert Ohmart, it takes just one word to sum up
Spur Cross Ranch: "Wow!" 

"It's like finding a diamond walking around," said Ohmart, a zoology
professor at Arizona State University. "Why wouldn't a homeowner love to
have a house sitting in it? It's got everything that wildlife and humans
want. Unfortunately, they're in competition for it." 

Maricopa County approved a plan to develop Spur Cross Ranch in 1984,
with amendments approved in 1987. It allows 1,035 homes and a resort
with 150 units. 

But nothing ever happened, because the developer, Norton Development,
lost the property in the real-estate downturn of the 1980s. The chief
investor in the property today is Cincinnati-based Great American Life
Insurance Co., controlled by tycoon Carl Lindner, a former business
partner of Charles H Keating Jr. 

The latest plan for developing Spur Cross Ranch was devised by Lang and
the Pinnacle Group of Scottsdale. If it gets a green light, they'll buy
Spur Cross Ranch from Great American. 

What does Lang have in mind? 

He explained while steering a golf cart through his Estancia development
nestled against Pinnacle Peak in north Scottsdale. 

Lang pointed to a home under construction there: Temporary fencing
around the site prevents workers from disturbing any desert plants on
the rest of the lot. Lang says he'll use such "building envelopes" at
Spur Cross Ranch. He also intends to build a third fewer homes than
Maricopa County approved a decade ago: There would be 446 houses on lots
of an acre or more, plus 210 villas. The resort would have 100 units
instead of 150. 

Lang stopped to point out a pile of boulders that juts out from
Estancia: It has traces of prehistoric settlements and was written up in
a report he paid for. He didn't have to. Arizona doesn't protect
archaeological sites on private land, except for some provisions
regarding human remains. Under Lang's plans for Spur Cross Ranch, his
archaeological consultant estimates that 40 percent of the sites would
be left intact; the rest would be studied before they were disturbed. 

Lang deftly steered the cart around the showery arcs of the irrigation
system. A startled heron flapped away from a pond on the edge of the

Adding a golf course is the biggest and most controversial change that
Lang is proposing. 

It's key to the low-density -- an overall average of 0.3 homes per acre
-- and "world class" development he envisions, with homes running from
$500,000 to more than $1 million. Without golf, he said, "You can't do
this. You won't be able to get people to put up the money." 

The fate of Spur Cross Ranch may hinge on who decides the question. 

Until recently, the decision was up to Maricopa County, because the
ranch was in an unincorporated area. 

But in April, Cave Creek voted to annex four square miles that include
Spur Cross Ranch. The annexation took effect in May, and the county
complied with Cave Creek's request for the files regarding any
development in the area. 

Cave Creek resident Daniel Israel and Great American Life Insurance have
filed separate lawsuits challenging the annexation. A hearing on
Israel's suit is set for July 15; a date has yet to be scheduled for
Great American's lawsuit. 

Meanwhile, Cave Creek has scheduled a hearing on Lang's plan for July
10, although the developer insists that the town doesn't have

Lang sees only one reason for the annexation: "It's being done to stop
us." Although three-fourths of the residents of the annexation area
signed the petition to become part of Cave Creek, he maintains that "a
silent majority" in the town opposes expanding its borders. 

Gary Schmitt, head of Friends of Spur Cross Coalition, said Lang doesn't
have "an iota of proof of that assertion." The coalition represents
1,000 people, mostly Cave Creek residents, opposed to Lang's

"They believe that that lifestyle and desert protection will be
undertaken more seriously with local control in the town of Cave Creek
than they would be in the county," he said. 

If the annexation survives legal challenges, the golf course is out. 

Cave Creek has banned new golf courses from residential developments,
allowing them only in commercial zones with a special-use permit. 

"We're on a disappearing aquifer up there," Mayor Tom Augherton said.
"Is a golf course an automatic property right?" 

The debate extends past the boundaries of Cave Creek to the Hopi
reservation, where tribal Chairman Ferrell Secakuku has expressed "grave
concerns" about the development and its possible impact on what are
believed to be ancestral Hopi sites.

Spur Cross has been surveyed several times, but experts have only begun
to understand the scattered series of villages and hamlets that once
occupied the landscape. 

Charles Redman, director of ASU's Center for Environmental studies,
believes the Hohokam used Spur Cross for food and materials that they
could not find in the Valley below. The prehistoric Native Americans
first settled in the Phoenix area as early as 100 B.C. They dug an
extensive and sophisticated irrigation system that sustained them for
centuries, until their culture collapsed mysteriously sometime before
A.D. 1400. 

Spur Cross has the rock outlines of what once were multiroom dwellings.
Archaeologists estimate that one site alone has 30 rooms, including
possible enclosed patio areas and large plazas. Redman's team, which
surveyed the property in the mid-1980s, uncovered a substantial pit
structure, a cremation area and several agricultural sites. 

The Arizona State Historic Preservation Office says the archaeology
there offers a "very valuable picture" of the Valley's earliest
residents, and it has said 82 of the 98 sites may be eligible for
inclusion on the National Register of Historic Places. 

Those who object to Lang's development have their own show-and-tell site
along the banks of Cave Creek. It's a 25-acre piece of State Trust Land
next to Spur Cross Ranch, which conservationists are taking steps to

A huge cottonwood, its gnarled and battered trunk at least five feet
across, towers over the creek, which flows year-round here. Orange
dragonflies dart around the stands of cattails that dot the banks; blue
gills flit through the water. 

The creek area through Spur Cross Ranch is unusual for many reasons.
Unlike most streams in Arizona, it hasn't been grazed in years, so the
plant life is flourishing. The differing elevations give the property a
variety of vegetation: The flood plain next to the stream is dotted with
honey mesquite trees, while the upland area is studded with saguaros. 

The mix of willows, cottonwoods and other plants along the creek is
"some of the rarest forest type in the West," zoologist Ohmart said.
Such habitat is found along less than 1 percent of Arizona's rivers and
streams, where it's often in poor condition because of grazing or
decreased water flow. 

The willow-cottonwood habitat is home to more species of wildlife than
any other in the United States. Just look at the birds, Ohmart says. He
estimates that at least 45 varieties nest along Cave Creek, from
roadrunners and yellow-billed cuckoos to great-horned owls. 

But add the chemicals and all the activity of a golf course, and Ohmart
warns that a lot of these creatures will disappear. 

Grass won't grow easily at Spur Cross Ranch, which has a shallow layer
of soil on top of bedrock. Environmental consultant Gail Clement, who
lives in Cave Creek, said, "They'll have to import a lot of fill, use
very extensive fertilizers to grow turf in that area." 

To prevent salts from building up in the soil and killing the grass, the
irrigation must be deep, taking water beyond the roots. 

Clement, whose work includes hydrology studies, said the water will then
move through cracks in the bedrock or along the space between soil and
rock, flowing downhill into the washes and creek. With it will come
nitrates, fertilizers, pesticides and herbicides. 

That's a worry for the non-profit Desert Foothills Land Trust, which has
preserved land along Cave Creek downstream from Spur Cross Ranch and
hopes to acquire the 25-acre parcel just south of the proposed

Executive Vice President Fred Rosenbaum has read the development plan
and its promises not to affect riparian areas. But he said, "There's a
certain level of healthy skepticism . . . as to whether that's

Lang said he plans to follow modern course management techniques that
minimize the use of chemicals. 

Runoff is less likely with today's sophisticated sprinklers, he said,
which shut off when it rains or humidity is high. Like Estancia, he
said, the course would be designed so any water from the course flows
into a lined pit and is pumped into ponds. In any case, the water won't
go deep enough to penetrate the aquifer, Lang said. 

The horses that riders take down the creek cause more pollution than his
golf course would, he added. 

Where the water for the golf course will come from is another issue. 

State law requires all new developments to have a 100-year supply of
water. Lang had planned to arrange a transfer of water from the Colorado
River Indian Tribes, which would be carried by the Central Arizona
Project canal. 

But tribal Chairman Daniel Eddy Jr. said that no commitment was ever
made, and that other tribes alerted him to their concerns about
archaeological sites at Spur Cross Ranch. 

In any case, says consultant Clement, the Central Arizona Project
doesn't have the excess capacity to carry water to Spur Cross in the
summer and winter. 

Lang blames opponents for sinking his planned deal with the Colorado
River Indian Tribes. 

"They were harassed," he said. 

He says he has another source of water, but when asked what it was, he
answered, "I'm not going to tell you that." 

Townspeople are misled in opposing the golf course, Lang said, because
they imagine that Spur Cross Ranch won't be developed if his plans are
turned down. Even if Cave Creek annexes the site, the county's earlier
zoning approvals would still stand. 

But some people hope there's another alternative. 

Artists Melissa Paxton and her husband have rented a home near Spur
Cross Ranch for years. They've seen the wild side of the desert, not
just the deer and bobcats, but the way Cave Creek rages after a storm.
They remember the way the creek became a torrent in 1993, blocking the
road to their house for two months; they had to cross over it using a
chair on a cable. 

"It's inappropriate to try to tame something like that," said Paxton, a
board member of the Desert Foothills Land Trust. 

She and others who dream of preserving Spur Cross have found unusual but
powerful friends in McCain and Symington. 

In February, McCain asked Interior Secretary Bruce Babbitt to study
whether Lang's proposed development would threaten endangered species
and Indian ruins at Spur Cross Ranch. 

Symington has visited the site and begun working with McCain's office to
seek a resolution. Among the options being explored is the possible
purchase of the property with state and federal funds or a land swap
with the state. 

"Our No. 1 concern here is if the developer isn't going to move forward
that he be compensated at fair market value for the property," said
Symington's spokesman, Doug Cole. 

"We want a solution that parties on both sides of this issue can be
happy with." 

To Cave Creek Mayor Augherton, the fight over Spur Cross Ranch is part
of a larger battle over whether urban sprawl blankets Maricopa County. 

There must be ways to grow, he says, that don't destroy the special
character of the Sonoran Desert that has attracted visitors and new
residents for more than a century.

Hohokam 1st to develop area
By Michael Murphy The Arizona Republic June 22, 1997 

Developers weren't the first people to view Spur Cross Ranch as a prime
home-building site. 

Even before Columbus discovered the New World, Hohokam Indians built a
series of hamlets and villages amid the cholla, creosote and ironwood
trees that cover the high ground above Cave Creek, which provides
year-round water. 

"The Cave Creek area was a real  attractive place to live 1,000 years
ago, just as it is now," said Tom Motsinger, an archaeological
consultant hired by developer John Lang to survey the Spur Cross

The Hohokams, the property's earliest inhabitants, probably began
developing Spur Cross about A.D. 600 or 700, colonizing more intensively
about 1000 or 1200. 

Their culture, which flourished in the Salt River Valley, collapsed
mysteriously before 1400. 

>From limited excavations, archaeologists have documented two 20-room
pueblos, a substantial pit structure, a ramada and a cremation area. 

After the Hohokam vanished, Spur Cross was unoccupied until Apaches and
Yavapais migrated to the area from the mid-sixteenth to mid-nineteenth

Anglos - and the U.S. military - converged on the Cave Creek area after
1863, when gold was discovered in the nearby Bradshaw Mountains. 

The Apaches were considered a threat to the miners, and after eight
years and numerous military engagements with U.S. troops, including one
bloody encounter along Cave Creek, they were forced out in the 1870s. 

The modern history of Spur Cross began in the 1920s, when the property
was turned into a dude ranch by three men who had met while serving time
in prison together. 

According to a history of the area written by local resident Frances
Carlson, one of the partners went on a 10,000-mile publicity tour to
draw city-weary Easterners to the ranch. Visitors were met at the train
station in Phoenix and driven to Spur Cross over a then-rough and
unpaved Cave Creek Road. 

One famous guest, breakfast-food magnate W.H. Kellogg, apparently was so
impressed with his visit that he sent the dude ranchers an Arabian
stallion from his ranch in California, according to Carlson's book. 

Spur Cross was sold in 1930, and after a brief stint as a working ranch,
it was again a dude ranch from 1945 to 1953. 

It was later sold for development.