Monday, May 25, 2015

Hiking the Superstitions

May 18, 2015 © Thomas J. Kollenborn. All Rights Reserved.

The Superstition Wilderness Area offers more than 140 miles of improved system hiking trails.
Hiking is one of the most popular outdoor activities in Arizona. The Superstition Wilderness Area, a part of the Tonto National Forest, offers more than 140 miles of improved system trails. Two of the most popular trailheads are First Water and Peralta. By far, Peralta Trail Head receives more visitors and hikers during the winter season than any other trailhead.

The turnoff to First Water trailhead is located northeast of Apache Junction on State Route 88 (Apache Trail) some 4.7 miles. Turn right on the First Water Road (FS 78) and drive 2.6 miles to the trailhead. Equestrians are restricted to the lower parking lot while hikers use the upper parking lot.

The upper parking lot often fills during the winter months and the lower parking serves for as an overflow parking lot. The Tonto Forest no longer requires a daily parking fee at either.

If you choose First Water as your final destination there are several hikes that can be enjoyed, depending on your physical ability. Hiking southeast along the Dutchman’s Trail FS 104 from First Water toward Brush Corral is an easy hike. Forty years ago the Barkley Cattle Company maintained a brush corral in the center of this large valley flat, hence the name.

This large valley flat is known as Boulder Basin. The distance between First Water Trailhead and Brush Corral is about 5.5 miles. From Brush Corral, Weaver’s Needle is visible to the south. This 4,553-foot spire dominates the mountainous region east of Superstition Mountain. According to legend the “Dutchman’s” mine is hidden somewhere within view of this prominent landmark.

Weaver’s Needle was named after Paulino Weaver, a mountain man, trapper, guide and prospector. Weaver was born in Tennessee in 1797 and died near Camp Verde, Arizona Territory in 1867.

Weaver first arrived in the area about 1830 and was involved with the gold rush to the Bradshaw Mountains in central Arizona in 1863. He earlier guided Captain John Phillip Cooke and the Mormon Battalion across Arizona to California from Santa Fe, New Mexico in 1846. Weaver’s Needle was named in his honor in 1853. The “Needle” was a prominent landmark along the Gila Trail and the oldest Anglo-American named landmark in the region.

From Brush Corral, a hiker can walk on to the base of Weaver’s Needle on the Dutchman Trail FS 104 and visit Ed Piper’s old campsite. Not much remains at the site today, but in the early 1960’s this was a bustling prospector’s camp. Look to the east and you will see a large boulder and carved on this boulder are the letters W – A – T – E – R. East of this boulder you can find what’s left of Piper’s spring. The spring in this canyon was once protected with a concrete cover protecting the precious water from contamination. The hike from Brush Corral by way of Granite Pass to Piper’s Camp is a challenging hike. Most of the 3.2 miles is an uphill grade.

Another beautiful hike is up East Boulder Canyon. Many trails begin or meet at the Brush Corral area. It is best to carry a wilderness map if you are not familiar with the area or acquire a copy of Jack Carlson and Elizabeth Stewart’s book, Hiker’s Guide to the Superstition Wilderness.

There are many books written about the Superstition Wilderness Area. You might check with the reference desk at the City of Apache Junction’s Library for a bibliography on the Superstition Wilderness Area. There are several bibliographical sources about the Superstition Wilderness on the Internet.

Another challenging hike is from Brush Corral. This is a walk up and over Bull Pass on the north end of Black Top Mesa. The climb up Bull Pass is extremely steep and requires a person to be in top physical condition. The view from Bull Pass is spectacular and well worth the effort.

Once in Bull Pass, a climb to the top of Black Top Mesa can be rewarding. At the south end of Black Top Mesa are located the legendary Spanish Hieroglyphic (sic). If one chooses to continue down the eastside of Bull Pass and into Needle Canyon the scenery is spectacular and history abounds in the area. Wildlife can often be observed in the small tributaries that drain into Needle Canyon.

Hiking of Needle Canyon provides a nostalgic step back into the history of prospecting in the area. Glen Magill, Al Morrow, John Pierce, Edwin Buckwitz, Joseph Roider, Sims Ely, Jimmy Anderson and many more searched for gold and treasure in Needle Canyon.

If you choose to make some of these hikes we suggest you let somebody know where you are going and when you expect to return. Be sure to take enough water and carry a map of the region. These hikes are recommended only during the winter months (November to March) because of the extreme desert temperatures during the summer months.

I would suggest before trying a wilderness hike that you consider Lost Dutchman State Park for your first trip. The park has very well maintained trails that guide you beneath the western façade of Superstition Mountain. You might also consider the hike up Siphon Draw from Lost Dutchman State Park. However, we would suggest the Siphon Draw hike for only experienced hikers.

Good luck and enjoy your hike into this Sonoran Desert wonderland.