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.