Another summer hike with Chris, another predawn stumble down a dusty trail in the Superstitions. We were on the Lost Dutchman, headed towards Parker's Pass from First Water Trailhead, and it was dreadfully early in the morning. There were two reasons for starting so early: I wanted to catch the sunrise from Black Top Mesa and our planned route was 24 miles long. The more miles we could get behind us before the forecasted high of 90° the better.
Our route was a bit ambitious. I wanted to visit both Spanish hieroglyphics locations tied to the legends of Peralta Gold in the Superstitions. There is a basic map on top of Black Top Mesa, some five miles east from First Water, and a much larger and more famed 'Master Map' sat at Charlebois Spring. To visit both of these on an in-and-out hike was 18 miles, though I wanted to loop around a bit to avoid backtracking the whole way.
I was questioning the feasibility of this route less than an hour into the hike. Chris was soon complaining about his ankle, his old injury that flared up on random hikes, and I had forgotten a vital piece of equipment at home. I had left my inhaler behind. Now, asthma rarely holds me back these days. A few puffs in the morning and I'm good for the whole day of hiking. Without the inhaler my breathing was becoming annoyingly labored as we headed up the long, slow inline to Parker's Pass.
Unwilling to let my asthma end the hike permaturely I kept moving forward. We were soon over Parker's Pass, a mild climb of 300' at best, and the long descent down into West Boulder Canyon was much easier to handle. The bouldered sections still annoyed Chris's ankles, though. As we neared Boulder Canyon proper, where the east canyon merges in from the distant Carney Springs, the sky began to slowly light up in pale blue and purple streaks.
Getting to the top of the mesa before the sunrise didn't seem as important any more. The sky was cloudy overhead and we wouldn't see anything too dramatic this morning. Also, we had not made good time on the trail. Even with our early start we were just now at the base of Black Top Mesa, and thirty minutes didn't seem like enough time to get past Bull Pass.
Our climb was a two step process. First we needed to follow Bull Pass Trail up and over the pass on the north side of Black Top Mesa. The trail is a bit of a shortcut for hikers on the Lost Dutchman Trail, which loops around the south side, though it is a steep 500' climb. After we were up that we had to turn right and follow a use trail another 600' to the peak. Normally this would be nothing for us, but between my asthma, Chris's ankle, and the quick morning hike out here I wasn't too optimistic.
Bull Pass Trail was a gnarly little thing, all boulders and few switchbacks. It reminded me of a steeper Cavalry Trail from that hike a few months ago. A few minutes into it and my asthma re-triggered, leaving me huffing and puffing for no good reason. Chris was also not doing great. We struggled up the nasty climb, questioning our poor life choices that led us to this point, before finally breaking out onto the pass.
For much of the morning I had been sharing a theory on the gold buried in the Superstitions. While researching this hike I ran into some interesting articles online that seemed to go in a surprising amount of detail about the history of the Peralta family and how they, with many other Spanish families and the church, hid a fortune of gold in these hills from the US. The hieroglyphics here was part of a map of the different caches of gold located in the general Red Hills/Needle Canyon area.
It is hard to imagine that there would still be gold hidden out here after a hundred years of treasure hunters have scoured the land, but it did make for an interesting distraction. As we stood up on Bull Pass and peered over on the scrubby, rolling hills around Red Hills we tried to picture if this area made sense to hide the gold. After a few minutes of peering and catching our breath we slowly turned and started up the use trail.
The narrow trail climbed quickly up the side of the grassy mesa before leveling out near the top. The climb wasn't welcome, not in our sorry states, but we survived. Once on the top of the mesa we meandered further to the east between cacti and prickly trees until we reached the end. Black Top Mesa came to an abrupt end, jagged black cliffs dropping down into Needle Canyon, and a broad view opened up to the south and east.
Our narrow little trail ended right at the edge of the cliffs and we plopped down on a pair of rocks to regroup. Both of us we were well-stocked today, planning for an all-day hike, and we had more than enough for a decent breakfast. Crackers, peanut butter and jelly, trail mix, and Gatorade were passed around like a small feast. As we rested we talked about our hike and decided not to tackle more today.
Weaver's Needle and Bluff Spring Mountain were pretty impressive from here, anyways. The deep Needle Valley lay between us and did a great job at accentuating the steep rises across the way. Bluff Spring in particular looked formidable. Part of today's plan was to climb that via the Hidden Valley spring, tackling the waterfall on the north side and slowly traveling up to the peak itself, which looked stupidly impossible from this angle.
With the oppressive schedule shrugged off and full stomachs we slowly lumbered back to our feets. There was still the hieroglyphics to find, and so far we had seen no hint of them. On a whim we slowly headed north along the edge of the mesa. I was worried that they would be over the edge, forcing us to scramble around on the cliffs, and then Chris shouted out. He had found the carvings a mere five minutes into the search.
The hieroglyphics were over the brim of the mesa, though they weren't far and the ledge was easy to walk along. They made no sense. There were circles and connections and more recent scratches and it didn't look like a map at all. Still, it was cool to see a piece of (recent) history here, whether or not they actually point the way to the legendary gold.
With the 'glyphs found we began to meander back in no big rush. The sun was coming out and I wanted to get some early light pictures of Weaver's Needle. Sunlight felt good at first. All morning had been below sixty with a sharp wind, a bit brisk for a t-shirt, and the warm rays felt good on my goosebumps. Within twenty minutes it was already too hot. I took a few quick photos and we started backtracking down Black Top Mesa.
Light over the Superstitions made everything look a bit different. Deep shadows were cast where an hour ago everything had been muted. The view west to Black Mesa, Yellow Peak, and Boulder Canyon looked especially rugged from this angle. Even after all of our visits to those trails I was still surprised at how the day exposed the nooks and crannies over there.
Heading back down to Bull Pass and then to Lost Dutchman was a rolling trot over loose rocks and winding switchbacks. We still chatted about the gold, imagining what we'd do with all that wealth in an immature way, just to help pass the time. We had a long way to backtrack this morning and even the new perspective that day brought would do little on the dull walk to Parkers Pass.
On the long return my asthma was a constant burden and Chris's ankles slowed him. There were a few more breaks than necessary and our pace was mediocre at best. When we reached the spines we decided to stop for a longer break. Chris sprawled out on a boulder and sunned while I tackled the spines themselves. It was a fun scramble up and I was perched thirty feet above the trail. Weaver's Needle was already hazy with distance by now, the three spurs showing off from this new angle.
Some other hikers showed up, we chatted, and then we moved on. And then some more. The trail between First Water and Parkers is always quite busy with people looking for a relatively easy five mile trip. It's a good hike, with minimal elevation change and a decent view of Weaver's Needle from the pass, though it does make a return from our longer adventures annoying.
When we reached the trailhead we wasted little time piling into the Jeep and rolling back to the highway. If we were going to have the rest of the day free neither one of us wanted to waste it by dallying on the drive. I was bummed that we missed out on Charlebois, the main attraction when one is searching for Spanish hieroglyphics, though that meant a return trip would have to come soon. And I already had a few stupidly ambitious routes in mind to reach that distant location.