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.