Johnson: Hiking the Superstition Wilderness
Column: Hiking Arizona
The best spring wildflower displays I have consistently enjoyed over the past 50 years of hiking in Arizona have been in the Superstitions.
Often when people talk about finding the hidden gold left by the mythical Dutchman, I reply with, “Every spring I find more gold scattered across the landscape than you could ever count: gold poppies, golden brittle bush, desert marigold and more.”
Riches can be measured in more than one way and the delight to the eyes can’t be measured here. But where to begin?
WEST OR EAST
By far, the trailheads on the west side of the wilderness area are more likely to be busy, that is crowded with hikers from the Salt River Valley, looking for a secluded getaway. Yet, they’re as likely to find solitude here in the winter as they are to find the Lost Dutchman’s gold nuggets. The Peralta and First Water trailheads are quite popular though others along the Apache Trail will also be busy, especially on weekends. My favorite route is a series of trails that form a loop around Miner’s Needle. While the trails are well marked, it is easy to get confused due to the many unofficial trails created by treasure seekers of one form or another. So, pay attention. Just because the path is well worn, that doesn’t mean it will take you where you want to go.
Trailheads on the east side of the wilderness are higher in elevation, hence a little cooler, maybe a little wetter, but that’s a big maybe in the Arizona. Pinto Creek is a good example. Also, a section of the Arizona Trail cuts through the east end of the Superstition Wilderness. This is where you will find solitude and lots of it. The trailheads are by far, much more off the beaten path. You may also find evidence of ancient inhabitants in the form of pueblos or cave dwellings. It’s not that Indians did not inhabit the west end of the area, but the evidence there is more likely to be in the form of petroglyphs.
Having grown up, so to speak, in the superstitions, I have many fond memories, leading groups, rock climbing, and backpacking, while sharpening my survival and orienteering skills. There are probably few trails that I haven’t been on and many places where no trail existed.
In an effort to demonstrate that wilderness was not just for the rich, like my college professor told me, I set out to prove otherwise by walking to and through each wilderness area in the State. This was one area I walked to from Phoenix and through from First Water to Roosevelt Lake.
It took 3.5 days to cover about 55 miles within the area designated as wilderness. I made the trip during a dry spell, yet found enough water to meet my needs, though not always where indicated on topographic or Forest Service maps. A javelina led the way to one pool in a secluded canyon. I stumbled upon the remains of a pueblo south of Two Bar Mountain and got lost one time, forcing me to backtrack a few miles. The trail on the map did not materialize on the ground.
Such is life hiking in Arizona.
Nevertheless, the Superstition Mountains or the more expansive Superstition Wilderness Area are both well worth the effort to explore – now before the temperatures rise.
Next: Hiking in Death Valley National Park.
Ted Johnson is a columnist for The Daily Courier. Reach him by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.