September 13, 2013

First Water Creek

The creeks are flowing right now in and around the Superstition Mountains due to lots of late-season monsoon rain. It's still pretty hot outside in early September in the Sonoran desert to do any long hikes. Keep in mind that it'll be in the 90's by noontime. The perfect compromise to this problem today was to do the Dutchman Trail #104 via the First Water Trailhead as an up and back hike. I have done segments of this trail as part of the 9 mile loop hike in Black Mesa Loop. By doing it as an up and back hike, you can keep an eye on the weather and return when things start heating up. The other benefit to following First Water Creek is that you can just wade through the creek to cool off. We went a little over a mile up the trail before turning around, but if you go further up, there are sections that almost necessitate some creek-walking -- fun, fun, fun!

From the First Water Trailhead, follow the trail 0.3 mile until the first sign split where you will veer to the right on the Dutchman's Trail #104. From here, you stay on the Dutchman's Trail so this is the perfect hike for someone that doesn't like to do a lot of route finding. The temptation is there to veer to the left along the romantic-sounding Second Water Trail, but don't do it. If you want to follow First Water Creek, you will want to take the Dutchman's Trail. Not that the Second Water Trail isn't scenic -- see Hackberry Springs Loop -- but you will have to travel farther to see this much flowing water. Rarely do I see other hikers traveling this direction on the Dutchman's Trail. Today we didn't see another soul! We did run into a Friday the 13th, phantom-like horse-sound that frightened the bejesus out of us, only to discover that it was a large, extended family of Gambel's quail scurrying out of some jojoba bushes and up a cliffside. The vegetation was so thick and green from the recent rains that it was more reminiscent of a jungle than a desert at certain parts along the trail.

The other really cool thing about hiking right now is that September is traditionally apple-picking time, right? And this trail is no exception:

Yes, our desert-style apple harvest looks a bit more like the juicy, red Prickly Pear fruits. Those little harmless-looking white spots on the red fruit are actually quite sharp, and after picking this beast I had to remove some spiny barbs from my fingers. The fruit is a little sweet and full of seeds. I can see why the preferred eating method would be jam or wine. It kind of reminds me of a pomegranate but not sour.

Length: 2 to 7 miles as an up and back, depending on how far up the trail you go
Elevation gain: 300 feet
Time it took us: 1.5 hours as a 2.5 mile hike
Dogs okay: yes
Fees: No Tonto Pass required at this trailhead (at this time)
Directions: The First Water Trailhead can be accessed from metro Phoenix by US 60 east to Idaho Road and head north. At the intersection of Idaho Road and Highway 88, turn right and head northeast on Highway 88 towards Canyon Lake. After Lost Dutchman State Park, the First Water Trailhead, also known as Forest Road 78, will be on your right after milepost 201. The actual trailhead is about 2 miles down the dirt road, which is bumpy but passable without a 4-wheel drive.

March 6, 2013

Lost Goldmine-Cougar Loop

"Wasn't it snowing there a couple of weeks ago?"

Yup. Here's today ---->

Here's February 21st: (link)

Summer's scorching temperatures come on all too quickly in the Sonoran desert. After 16 years here, I have learned that it's freezing one day and too hot the next. We embrace this glorious spring while it's here. 

That's why I elected to play hooky from everything today and get outside in the lovely 79 degree weather before we get rain on Friday. Our schedules, probably like most of the country, are really complicated so you just have to seize the day from time to time and follow nature's call.

Having a touch of spring fever, I was determined to find wildflowers today. Unfortunately, with the cold temperatures and snow we had recently, wildflowers are making a later appearance this season. I knew the only way I was going to find these elusive Mexican gold poppies was to find a south-facing, lower elevation hillside. We've had enough rain so I knew they had to be out there somewhere, but I haven't seen any of our local county or state parks posting definitive sightings. 

Back to my trusty Superstition Mountains. Where I found snow on the northern flanks two weeks ago, today I found wildflowers on the southern flanks along the Lost Goldmine Trail. I have only done parts of the 9.5-mile Lost Goldmine Trail: the section leading to Broadway Cave, the section leading up to the hieroglyphs, and the far eastern section near Peralta Trail (which was pre-blogging.) One of the main reasons I haven't done the whole thing is it would require either (a) leaving a car at each end, or (b) doing an 19-mile round-trip hike -- neither option seems particularly fun to me. I like loop hikes. I don't want to see the same scenery twice. 

Often when I'm out on the trail, I think: "Who the heck took the time and energy to make this beautiful trail for all to enjoy?" I just can't imagine doing it. I think many people in life talk about taking on big projects and making positive changes in the world, but few actually follow through with plans. For the wonderful mountain bikers that made the Gold Canyon Trail System, you are all awesome! I hope you know how much enjoyment you have given hikers, bikers, and horse-riders with all of your labor. And these folks maintain the trails, too -- unbelievable! Lost Goldmine Trail was made by Superstition Area Land Trust volunteers in conjunction with Tonto National Forest, but the Cougar Trail that allows us to make a manageable 5-mile loop, sprung from volunteer mountain bikers. I highly recommend checking these trails out. If you are a hiker, I'll have you know that I didn't pass a single mountain biker on a midweek afternoon out there. No fears about getting run off the road, and they are polite anyway. 

When you start out at the Cloudview Trailhead (I know this as the Hieroglyphics Trailhead but it is actually on Cloudview Road so there you go), you will follow the trail up the hill with everyone. Once at the top, there will be clear signage pointing either left for the Hieroglyphics Trail or right for the Lost Goldmine Trail -- go this way. If you hike this trail in the next few weeks, you will see clusters of poppies and lupines about 1.5 miles down the trail. Here's a sampling: 

If you're too late in the season or weather destroys the flowers, there are still plenty of interesting landmarks along this trail: a Saguaro with a dislocated shoulder, a tree fort, and a sentinel grove: 

Just remember to pay attention at around mile 2.3 because there is not an actual sign that says "Cougar Trail" when you are approaching from this direction. The sign says "<--- Lost Gold --->" and you will bear right up the hill here like this:

The Cougar Trail is beautifully maintained and a fun series of up and down hills, washes, and "meadows" like this:

There is another slightly confusing trail split when you come to the Gila Monster Trail turn-off. Just remember that you are making a clockwise loop so you will always be bearing to the right. When you get to the sign that says "2GM" you will bear to the right like this and stay on the Cougar Trail:

And when all else fails, just follow the horse droppings! Just kidding -- it is easy route finding! Enjoy!

Length: 5 miles
Elevation gain: 300 feet
Dogs okay: Yes
Fees: None
Directions: From metro Phoenix, take US60 east to Gold Canyon and exit left (north) at Kings Ranch Road (a streetlight.) Follow Kings Ranch Road approximately 3.5 miles until you see the brown and white trailhead sign where you will bear left and continue following the trailhead signs. You should not hit any dead-end streets while you follow these signs until you hit Cloudview Road where you will turn right. The Cloudview Trailhead parking lot is at the end of the road.

February 21, 2013

Massacre Grounds

We had a rare snowfall in Apache Junction last night, so I decided before bed that I would wake up early and go hike today in my beloved Superstitions. Knowing that the snow would melt quickly this morning, I chose a north-facing slope to hike along, and the obvious choice was the Massacre Grounds trail. I hadn't been out along this trail since 2010 when the trail was basically following rock cairns alongside a popular target shooting area. The new trail begins at the Crosscut Trailhead parking area along the Firstwater Trailhead dirt road just past mile marker 201 and Lost Dutchman State Park along AZ 88 (the highway that goes to Canyon Lake.) The new trail adds a little bit of length to the hike so it is now nearly 6 miles long for the total up and back to Massacre Falls. However, we weren't interested in doing the entire trail length this morning because we were just snow searching! The snow-tipped mountains and cacti are just stunningly gorgeous together. It's so hard to believe that this area sees temps above 110 degrees Fahrenheit for the majority of the summer. I only passed one other hiker this morning, and he assured me that the waterfall is running so for those of you that want to do the full 3 miles up, it will be well worth it. I went a mile and a half up the trail today and ended near the first set of rock spires to get some beautiful views of the mountains. I stopped by a large, over 6-foot tall, granite boulder, and listened to the snow melt on the nearby bushes like the sound of running water. By the time I returned to the trailhead parking area around 10:30, most of the ground snow was gone, but it's still on the peaks and could make for a wonderful hike through the weekend.

Length: 5.8 miles
Elevation gain: 1000 feet
Dogs okay: Yes
Fees: None
Directions: From metro Phoenix take US 60 east to Idaho Rd. (AZ 88) exit and head north (left) following it past Lost Dutchman State Park and turn right at the Firstwater Trailhead turnoff past mile marker 201. The Crosscut parking area is 1/4 mile on the right and is easily passable without 4WD. The Massacre Grounds trail begins on the far left side of the parking area.

Just FYI, here's a link to a previous post I did about the Massacre Grounds if you're interested in the history:

Jojoba bloom
Lichens likin' snow
Four Peaks