“Lost” in the Superstition Mountains: A conversation

Okay, maybe we weren’t ‘lost’ in the purest sense, more like disoriented. But in the Superstition Wilderness, there’s a fine line between being disoriented and lost. It all boils down to the quantities of confidence, water supply and daylight.

Always download the map to a GPS or phone. Don’t depend on cell phone service, as it’s usually spotty. Carry a paper map as a back up, as well as plenty of water, emergency provisions, first aid kit.

“We just came down this path the last time we were here a few years ago, right?”

“No, I think we came down from a different trailhead, but we’re still coming out in the same place… at least I think. It all leads to about the same place.”

“Yeah, I don’t remember this at all.”

“Doesn’t this trail go past Hackberry Springs… where we saw the mules last time?”

“I think so.”

 

“Wait, I think we’ve gone too far down First Water Creek! Aren’t we supposed to cut back up the hill toward Garden Valley?

“It all looks so different now, after just a couple of years.”

“It’s been more like six years… Yep, it’s way overgrown now. All the rain and snow melt.”

“Oh.”

“Yeah, we don’t want to get turned around like we did that time when we started down into Boulder Canyon and thought we were headed to Hackberry. That would’ve been a long day of hiking.”

“Okay, this looks all too familiar now.”

“Yep. This is Garden Valley. I can see Weaver’s Needle.”

“Now we’re back at the intersection of Black Mesa and Second Water Trails. So, the First Water Trailhead should be up past that rise.”

“Should be. We have to cross First Water Creek again.”

“Hey, look! More poppies! Boy, I bet Lost Dutchman (state park) has a bunch in bloom right now!”

What was supposed to be a five-mile loop turned into a 7.5-mile loop. When we arrived at the main First Water parking lot, it was full so we were forced to turn back and park at the staging area. We began our Hackberry Springs/Garden Valley Loop from there, heading down toward First Water creek, unknowingly passing by the old windmill and corral area, and wallking along the creek on the west bank, heading north, and ultimately missing the turn heading east. When we realized our error, we reversed course, crossed over the creek and come up around the bluff at Hackberry, gradually along the ridge to Garden Valley. Not having gone this clockwise direction before, most of the territory appeared unfamiliar.

We recommend starting at First Water, completing the loop counterclockwise, with the only precaution to not overlook the turn to Garden Valley. Rock cairns usually mark the spot, but not always! After the sign to Black Mesa, look for a trail veering left. After crossing the “valley,” the terrain changes. Keep to your right (easterly), and the trail will lead you along a canyon ridge with sweeping views. After 1.7 miles, you’ll arrive at a sort of rocky roundabout, you may be tempted to take a trail to the left, but stay to the right, Once you’ve descended into the thickly-grown springs area, you’ll have the bluff on your left. Continue along the creek; watch closely and you may see a dripping pipe protruding from the rocks. You’ve made it to Hackberry Springs! Continue along the creek toward the windmill and corral and walk up the old road to the staging area parking lot/trailhead or the main First Water Trailhead and parking lot.

Happy hiking!

 

 

 

Every kind of hiker will enjoy Hackberry Springs-Garden Valley Loop

First Water Creek

First Water Creek is the final leg of the Hackberry Springs-Garden Valley Loop

 

 

Once in a while I find a hike that has a little bit of everything, with enough variety to please most of the hikers in our small group of family and friends. Hackberry SpringsGarden Valley Loop is such a hike. The 5.5-mile hike, which starts at First Water Trail Head, is a combination hike. It’s a little bit of up and little bit of down; there are washes, canyon walls, flowing springs, colorful flowers, rocks for scrambling and plenty of views. Find the turn off to First Water Trail Head (FR 78) just north of Lost Dutchman State Park from SR 88.

Starting at First Water Trail Head, the first section of trail follows the old Jeep road downhill to an intersection with Dutchman’s Trail. Veer to the left, now following Second Water Trail for 1.5 miles.  At this point, the landscape is rolling hills and washes, typical of the Sonora desert. Once you pass a side trail leading to the right (Black Mesa Trail) you’ll notice a small mound of large stones. We’ve read that this may be the site of an Indian ruin. Keep walking for a couple of hundred feet past that mound and you’ll soon see another intersection. Again, stay to the left, and you’ll be heading to Garden Valley.

Garden Valley actually isn’t really a valley, more like a grassland plateau. It seems out of place in the otherwise rocky, craggy, wash-filled Sonora desert of the Superstition Wilderness. It’s a vast, wide-open misnomer. Garden Valley? There’s really not much growing here except scrappy desert broom, creosote bush and skeletal remains of a dearly departed “teddy bear” cholla. Follow the trail across this plain to the knobby hills heading northwest on the left. As the landscape opens up to an exhilarating expanse, you’ll notice a couple of structures across the valley. These are the remains of First Water Ranch, an old corral, windmill and some fence posts.

Garden Valley

At Garden Valley -- head for the hills

 

Continue along the trail around a large rocky crag. You will finally be rewarded by descending to a large creek area filled with brambles of acacia, palo verde, mesquite and hackberry, all dwarfed under a shaded canopy of cottonwood trees at the base of 200-foot cliff. When you reach a large clearing in the brush, start listening for running water of Hackberry Springs. Okay, so maybe it’s more of a trickle. It’s actually just a few drops seeping from a pipe jutting from the base of the cliff. Proceed ahead a few feet and you’ll see large shaded area of boulders  — a perfect spot for a rest stop and picnic.

springs

Molly enjoys a cold drink at Hackberry Springs

To complete the loop, continue to follow First Water Creek about 0.25 of a mile, until it veers directly south (to your left). Suddenly, you may be searching for the map in your pocket, wondering if you’re still on the trail. You should probably stop for a minute, since boulder-hopping and map-reading don’t mix. After you get your bearings, you’ll know you need to continue to persevere along the creek for another mile. Soon you come up and out of the creek bed, and you’ll see the abandoned corral and decapitated windmill that you spotted earlier from across the valley. Here you pick up a rutted-road trail, which leads you back to the horse staging and first parking area. You’ll remember you passed this in your vehicle, on your way into First Water Trail Head on FR 78.

mules

Three mules take a rest at Hackberry Springs

I found one website, Arizonesis.org, that has a good description of the area with details about flora and fauna.

If you’re still using maps, here are a couple of good ones: from 1) Superstition Search and Rescue and 2) from the trail head. We used the the latter for our hike.

Note to readers: I found several completely contradicting descriptions of the Garden Valley Loop. Plus looking at various maps, there appear to be many paths leading in to Hackberry Springs, so please use several resources when researching your hike.