Tuesday, February 6, 2018

Super Superstitions

Over the holidays I went home to visit the fam in Pennsylvania. While I was home it was one of the coldest stretches of weather that they've had in a long time, and I'm not exactly the biggest fan of the cold. Only on the day that I was leaving (and I was there for 3 weeks!) did it ever get above freezing. I was over it. I was flying into Las Vegas, where I left my car at a friend's house, and then I was free to roam for a couple more weeks before I started the new job in Malibu, CA. But where, oh where should I go?
Flying into Vegas

I thought about picking out a destination and itinerary while I was still home but decided against it. There's something that I just love about last minute trips. Seeing which way the wind blows and following that breeze to explore a new spot. So I waited to make any plans until I got out West. All I knew was that I wanted somewhere warm and where I wouldn't have to cache water if I was backpacking. I spent one night in Vegas and then the next day after a delicious brunch with my friend I parked my behind in a Starbucks and started to do a little scouting. I was debating between the Grand Canyon, Death Valley, the Mojave Natural Preserve, Page, AZ and Anza Borrego State Park. Out of all of those I decided to go with the Superstition Mountains in Arizona.

Yeah, I know, not even an original option, but I had heard this name pop up here and there on different groups that I was a member of on Facebook and I decided to randomly look it up and it looked fabulous....and it was warm. My bones needed defrosting. There was also a chance that I could discover the Lost Dutchman's Gold Mine that was rumored to be in the area and become rich. Decision done!
'Dry' Lake Bed after it poured in Vegas

I did a little more research that day and then started to head South. I found a sweet spot to camp that night for free (free camping is da best!) close to Laughlin that was right on Lake Mohave in the Lake Mead Recreational Area that was called Telephone Cove. It was a 4 mile bumpy, dirt road that had great views on the way in and out and led to the Lake with camping right on the shore, bathrooms included. Score. 😉
Telephone Cove Camping
The next day was reserved for a little bit more planning sprinkled with a good amount of driving. I headed to Phoenix and stopped at the local REI to score a map of the Superstitions and grab some more fuel. Getting there.
Canyon Lake
My Golden Adventure Bullet parked at Tortilla Flat Campground
Tortilla Flats where I bought my Tonto Pass
I ended up driving a bit on the Apache Trail Scenic Drive (88) to stay the night at the Tortilla Flat Campground. I only drove a portion of this road but apparently it's 42 miles long and super scenic the whole way. Going to have to check it out in its entirety another time. At least I got to pass by Canyon Lake and have a sneak peek at some of the scenery that I would encounter on the trail. Gettin' gettin' gettin' super excited!

The campground was supposed to be $12 but their machine was broke so I had to purchase a Tonto Forest Day Pass that cost just $8 and used that as my camping pass. The facilities were super clean, flushing toilets and views to boot! Well worth the splurge (hehe) on accommodations for the night to prep my food and gear.
Prepping for my trip
My Itinerary
Day 1: First Water Trailhead --> Dutchman's Trail --> Peralta Canyon Trail -- 7 Miles
Day 2: Peralta Canyon Trail --> Dutchman's Trail --> Whiskey Springs Trail --> Red Tanks Trail --> Dutchman's Trail  -- 11.25 Miles
Day 3: Dutchman's Trail --> Bull Pass --> Black Mesa Trail --> Second Water Trail --> First Water Trailhead Parking Lot -- 7.5 Miles
Total Mileage: 25.75
Superstitions Trails Map at Peralta Trailhead
The first day that I hiked in I got a tad later start than I desired (around noon) and I parked at the overflow parking lot for the First Water Trailhead because a bunch of people were pulling in there so I just assumed the main parking lot was full. This was a decision I knew I would regret on the final day as soon as I started hiking the 1/2 mile to the main parking lot. But at least I was finally off! Goooo adventure!!
I was super stoked once I started hiking, checking out the environment and surroundings I was encompassed by. I've hiked in the desert before, but the Sonoran was new to me and I got to see quite a few new plants and cool cacti along the way. Closer to sunset I passed by a group of guys camped by a pretty sweet rock structure with a view of the Weavers Needle. Yep, I could tell this was going to be a good trip.
From L to R: Saguaro, Jumping Cholla, Buckwheat Cholla, Prickly Pear
Peralta Canyon Trail
There were established camping spots everywhere, from mediocre, to damn near perfection for the outdoors(minus the lack of water). I was pumped. I decided to stop ahead of when/where I thought I would camp when I found a sweet spot with the Needle just diagonally from me. This was a great decision. I heated up my leftover quinoa dish from the night before and cracked open a chocolate stout to celebrate my solo trip. Only bummer about this night was the headache I was already getting from being slightly dehydrated and the occasional voices I heard from the neighboring campsite. I hoped that I would have more of a solitary experience while out in this wilderness area but alas, wherever I camped I still heard humans, which was a tad disappointing, but also ok. I’m glad that people are out there enjoying these wild places.
Camping below Weavers Needle
Second day I started out pretty early. I hiked past the needle, staring at its 1,000 feet of grandeur towering above the surrounding landscape, wondering about any climbing routes it might have to the top and then I hoofed it up to Fremont Saddle where all the day hikers started to appear out of thin air. And boy did they ever.
Weavers Needle from Fremont Saddle
The trail from Peralta Trailhead up to Fremont Saddle is a pretty darn popular one and I encountered hordes of people on my way down, especially since it was a Sunday. Definitely not experiencing solidarity today.

After chatting with the ranger at the trailhead about the water supply on different trails I decided to keep with my 2nd plan and head to Whiskey Springs Trail (1st plan was head to the Coffee Flat Trail to Red Tanks Trail to Hoolie Bacon Trail but didn't know of a water source along that route), find water there and then head to Red Tanks Trail and possibly spend the night somewhere along there.

Out I headed on the good 'ol Dutchman's Trail again trying to separate myself from the zoo of people that were trying to get a glimpse of the Needle that I got to sleep right beside the night before. The views went on forever across the Coffee Flats as I headed East stretching my legs to get up and around the Miner's Needle, pausing and staring up at an occasional saguaro, fascinated by how tall (they can grow to over 40 feet!) and massive they can get, even though they don't even grow their first 'arm' until they are 75 years old!
Peralta Trailhead Parking Lot

This whole time I’m hiking I’m trying to practice power over the influence of the mind because I knew I didn’t have enough water and whenever you know that fact just try thinking about something else! I tried to redirect my thinking to the beauty of what was around me and anything else that could literally distract me from the physical pain that I was feeling (did I mention that my pants were also a tad too hot for the weather and oh yeah, I was also developing some pretty sweet blisters). Shakes head at rookie desert backpacking mistakes.
Leaving Coffee Flats
It worked for a good amount of the way but I admit when I made the climb up and around the Miner’s Needle I was spent, and also completely out of water. I wanted any type of liquid possible. Anything, give it to me noooowww!!! I ran into a group of hikers that were doing a stint for the SCA and they advised me exactly where the best water spot was along the way and it wasn't far on the Whiskey Springs Trail. Yay!! Finally some liquid bliss!!!
Whiskey Spring Canyon
I attempted to grab some water from some pools that were leftover from the rains that happened a few days earlier before I got to the better source but I could barely even get a quarter of a liter in my Nalgene and when I did it was pretty darn yellow. I know I said I would drink anything, buuuuttttt..... I was so ecstatic when the better water source finally presented itself, even if it was just a small, stagnant pool. It was clear and ready to be consumed by me. My mind could finally take a break and focus more on the beauty of the area instead of where they would find my body. Chug-a-lug. Once you have water everything is divine! Ahhh sing it from the mountaintops!!
My sweet water source

 I finally met up with the Red Tanks Trail and headed West. My goal was to at least make it past Bluff Spring Canyon and Peter’s Trail before I stopped for the night, and that I did. I saw a few good campsites that were occupied along the way and then I decided that I wanted to stop for the night and found this spectacular site right below Black Mountain. Done and done. I was exhausted from the day and ready to reeeeeelax, unwind, and watch the sun disappear behind the rocks.
2nd Camping Spot below Black Mountain
Divine. Yes, there was trash on the side, but look at that view of Black Mountain! I stayed a not too chilly, zero wind night here and then woke up pretty early to hike on out, hopefully enjoy the landscape a bit more (do you SEE that fiery sunrise???) and then of course drink as much water as my heart desired at my car. Even though I filled up and had enough at this point, it was still the desert and I was going to be conservative with what I had.
I hiked up and over Bull Pass to the Black Mesa Trail where I finally started to see day hikers again.
Bull Pass
Finally I ran into the Second Water Trail where quite a few horse groups passed me by and then slinked my way to the First Water Trailhead where I had to go that extra stretch of dirt to the overflow parking lot wahhh wahhh. But alas, my car was there and I was going to sit and relieve my feet of their blisters and agony, ahhh…and drink more water of course. ALL the water. Have I mentioned how great water is yet?

After recovering at my car for a bit I finally decided to hit the road again and headed back out towards Apache Junction where I had to stop at Goldfield Ghost Town to grab an overpriced ice cream and be fascinated by the tons of tourists that were sauntering around in their Sunday's best.
Goldfield Ghost Town
Overall, the Superstitions were amazing, although they definitely were a challenge. I knew it was a place I wanted to head before I got into the crowds that would be around the Grand Canyon, little did I know there would still be throngs of people. The Peralta Canyon Trailhead is apparently one of the most popular trailheads in Arizona. With good reason. The sights are magnificent. The weather, grand (at least when I was there). The trails were fairly easy to follow with signage everywhere and the bounteous amounts of saguaros and jumping chollas dotting the landscape was fascinating for the eyes. I would highly recommend taking a drive on the Apache Trail, getting out of your car to take a hike, and maybe even take your chance at finding some gold too. Stay a while, just remember to bring enough water, you won't regret it. 😉

If you want to hike here or check out the area, peruse these helpful resources:

Tonto National Forest Service Page with link to the latest water report

Popular Trails, Their Mileage, and Elevation Gain

Superstitions Map

Weavers Needle and the Lost Dutchman's Gold Mine

Lost Dutchman State Park

Visit the Superstition Mountain Museum

Plants and Wildflowers of the Superstitions

How the Superstitions got their name

Drive the Apache Scenic Trail

Maybe read this one AFTER you take your trip here:

12 People Who Vanished Looking for the Lost Dutchman Treasure

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