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Black Mesa Loop Day Hike
Superstition Wilderness
November 9, 2003
by Joe Orman
  Trail Map 
Michael Humphrey, Liz Elliott, Joe Michalides, Joe Orman
This is my first visit to First Water Trailhead, which gives hikers access to the northwest corner of the Superstition Wilderness. Any lingering daydream that this road-end is a remote jumping-off point into untrodden wilderness is quickly dispelled by the fee collection station and the plethora of vehicles in the parking lot. Indeed, we find it difficult to frame our group photo at the trailhead without at least one car in the background. Still, once we are a couple miles in on the Garden Valley Trail, I am surprised how few people there are. As always, the majority of people do not venture far. I am also surprised, and gratified, that we have hiked into an area that is largely untouched. Of course there is the trail, and trail signs, and an occasional airplane far overhead. But mostly, the views in all directions reveal a raw landscape of jumbled volcanic ridges, canyons and slopes, almost all dense with a delightful variety of desert flora.

The weather today is perfect for hiking, just cool enough to be comfortable, but with a touch of warm sunshine. Our first break is at Garden Valley, a misnomer perhaps, since this desert flat is far from lush. And it is more a plateau than a valley, an incongruously level area within the jumble. On the topo map, I see that it gently drains to the east through a gap in a volcanic ridge, into Boulder Canyon. I gaze through the gap at beckoning spires of colorful rock, but today our path does not go that way. Instead, we turn south and follow the gently rising trail to the top of Black Mesa. There, a short scramble through cholla and over boulders brings us to a ridge with stunning views in every direction. Back on the trail, we find ourselves steadily hiking toward the dramatic landmark of Weaver’s Needle. As midday approaches, we find a sandy, shaded wash for our lunch break.

What is it about a desert wash that I find so inviting? There is something sheltering about that soft sand and cool shade that makes me want to linger. And I find that just being still in one place brings delights to my attention that would otherwise go unnoticed. A tiny fishhook pincushion cactus hides among the rocks at my feet. On the hillside opposite, a large cactus wren nest is held in the arms of a giant cholla. Distant towering cliffs snap into sharp relief; I seem to be able to see the tiniest crack. As always, the desert has sharpened my senses.

Our rest stop over too soon, we follow the trail down into Boulder Basin, which is not only a confluence of creeks, but of trails as well. Again I feel beckoned by the places these trails lead to: Aylor’s Caballo Camp, Boulder Creek, Black Top Mesa, and Weaver’s Needle itself. But we have covered enough miles already, and even this far away we feel the pull of the city, the lateness of the hour, the other obligations waiting for us. To complete our loop, we take the fairly direct and level Dutchman’s Trail over Parker Pass and back to the trailhead. We agree that our hike was a very good one, but as I drive away I cannot help thinking of those other trails, the ones not taken. Someday I will return.

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updated December 4, 2017