Monday, February 18, 2013

Trails of the Superstitions

February 11, 2013 © Thomas J. Kollenborn. All Rights Reserved.

View from Summit 5024 looking east over the Flat Iron.
View from Summit 5024 looking east over the Flat Iron.

The Superstition Wilderness Area is filled with many beautiful and mysterious areas. Searching out these special places has been a lifetime avocation of mine. I worked on a cattle ranch for several years, hiked the trails as a young man and continue riding the trails throughout adulthood. My love for the history, beauty and solitude of region has not diminished in any way. I continue today hiking and walking in the Superstition Wilderness Area and even enjoying it more because it has been saved from development.

Many years ago a gentlemen asked me what was my favorite hide-a-way in the Superstition Wilderness. This certainly was a difficult choice for me because I had so many places I loved and cherished within this rugged mountain wilderness of deep canyons and towering spires. Wandering the trails and remote regions of this wilderness was as exciting as gathering the history and legend of the region. After a moment of indecision, I decided to make my choices of favorite locales in the wilderness.

The first one was the rugged interior of Rough’s Canyon that flowed into Fish Creek Canyon in the eastern portion of the wilderness area. This canyon is beautiful in its transition through desert flora to high-mountain flora. Water is generally found year around in this canyon making it an oasis in the desert. The canyon floor is filled with house-size boulders making it almost impossible to hike through. An old cattleman named Floyd Stone once told me he got a horse down into the canyon and actually had to build a trail to get him out.

Knowing old Stone and his ability with livestock I didn’t doubt his story at all. He ran the old Reavis and Tortilla allotment for a couple of decades with his father-in-law John A. "Hoolie" Bacon. The early inhabitants of the Superstition Wilderness build cliff dwellings in Rough Canyon and these ruins today are a mute testimony to their survival instincts of almost millennium ago.

Another favorite location in the wilderness is Log Trough Canyon. This canyon is filled with large Ponderosa pines and thick underbrush. It is extremely difficult for a man or women on horseback to negotiate the trail along the canyon’s floor. Near the head of this canyon there are some old "trigger-traps" used to catch wild cattle. The brush in this canyon was so thick it was impossible to work cattle on horseback in the old days. Cattlemen like William J. Clemans, John A. Bacon, and Floyd Stone would tell you, "a good cow dog was worth a dozen good cowboys in this brushy country."

The beauty and solitude of Log Trough Canyon is unique. Several years ago I spent several hours watching a clearing among the towering pines of this canyon. As the wind rustled through the tops of these pines and the rays of the sun broke through into the clearing a young doe browsed on the deep green grass that covered the floor of the clearing. It was such a tranquil scene it mesmerized me for several minutes. This was the kind of beauty and tranquility you found in Log Trough Canyon.

Another favorite location is the top of Weaver’s Needle. I am quite convinced I will never climb to the top of Weaver’s Needle again, but my experience climbing the "needle" in the 1950’s and 1960’s will live with me forever. I really don’t consider climbing the "needle" a technical climb, however it is highly recommended only for experienced rock climbers or mountain climbers. An old friend of mine, Clay Worst, climbed the "needle" in an emergency in the 1960’s and I doubt very much he would recommend the average person to undertake such a climb. I don’t encourage anyone to climb Weaver’s Needle unless they are in good physical shape and experienced at rock climbing.

There was an old retired Navy photographer name Dewey Wildoner who mastered the climb when he was seventy-two years old. Dewey was a veteran hiker and climber. He celebrated his birthday while camping out over night on top of Weaver’s Needle. Dewey was a dedicated photographer of the Superstition Mountains during the 1960’s and 1970’s. Dewey shared his photographs and slides with the public by doing slide programs on the Superstition Mountains in the 1960’s. Many people in the Apache Junction area knew Dewey as "Superstition Curley".

The climb to the top of Weaver’s Needle is a very exhilarating experience. Once on top, the view is spectacular. Looking to the northeast and into Needle Canyon is a magnificent view. The three or four times I have climbed the Weaver’s Needle the wind blew constantly on top. There is a small area cleared for putting up a tent. Over the years a lot of people have climbed Weaver’s Needle safely, but as a word caution, many have died in their attempt to climb the "Needle" also. It is by no means recommended except for climbers with professional training.

I love the ride down into Reavis Canyon from the Reavis Ranch Trail. This ride or hike produces one of the truly scenic locations in the Superstition Wilderness Area. At the end of the trail is the spectacular Reavis Fall when there is sufficient water flowing over it. The fall drops over a basalt ledge and the water falls one hundred and ninety-six feet into a large plunge pool. The best time to visit this area is during the winter months.

Another favorite trip of mine is a hike or ride to the top of Summit 5024 on the top of the northwest end of Superstition Mountain. I have been climbing Superstition Mountain since 1951. My last trip up Siphon Draw Trail was in the April of 2002. The hike up Siphon Draw can be somewhat crowded if you do it on a weekend during cool weather. Of course the higher you are up the trail the fewer people you will encounter. Ninety per cent of the hikers abandon the climb at the base of the first stretch of slide rock. From this point on, the trail is almost vertical and requires considerable care to prevent injury. My last trip up Siphon Draw required almost four hours and thirty minutes too complete. The view from Summit 5024 towards Mesa and Phoenix is spectacular on a clear day. Superstition Mountain is the line of demarcation between rural and urban Arizona.

The other choice to the top Summit 5024 is by horseback. A trip I do not recommend anymore. Yes, a horse can make it to the top of Summit 5024, but it could be the horse or the rider’s last trip anywhere. The endurance of the animal you are riding will depend whether or not you can make it to the top. The average horse is not in good enough shape to make the climb to the top of Summit 5024 without considerable preparation. The ride to the top includes loose talus debris, shear drop-offs exceeding 500 feet, steep inclines of 50 degrees or more and along trails so narrow there is absolutely no room for error in judgement.

A calm horse is a real necessity for this trip. The horse must be use to walking on solid rock, slanted slide rock, loose talus debris and must not become panicked when slipping on rock. I haven’t owned a horse in the past ten years that I would trust on such a trip. The climb to the summit 5024 requires about three hours and thirty minutes and the return trip requires only about two hours. I am certain the Summit Trail is not a forestry system’s trail, therefore probably shouldn’t be used. Also the summer months are not the time to try these trails. Many of the trails I have mentioned in this column are not known as system trails and are not part of the Tonto National Forest trail system. Most of the trails were used prior to Wilderness status in 1964.

These are my favorite spots in the Superstition Wilderness Area and I am sure other people have their favorites. The beauty of the wilderness is enjoying the solitude and tranquility away from the congestion of our cities, their sirens, traffic and lights. Thanks to the vision of conservators such as Leopold, Pinchot, and Muir we today enjoy the beauty and solitude of these wonderful wilderness areas. If it where not for men like these we would be looking at a large hotel on the Flat Iron and cable cars running up and down Superstition Mountain in our backyards.

For information about the trails on most of these hikes pick up a copy of Jack Carlson and Elizabeth Stewart’s book, Hiker’s Guide to the Superstition Wilderness. In fact, any serious hiker should have a copy of Carlson and Stewart’s three hiking books on the Superstition Wilderness Area. Most of these trails will be in their books. Most stores and museums in the valley carry these books.