This was the second time my parents were visiting us down in Arizona. The first time had been a few weeks after Thomas was born and we spent most of the time fawning over the newborn and getting things done around the house. We did fit in a quick hike over to the San Tan Regional Park, though it was so rushed that I didn't even bring a camera along. I didn't make the same mistake this time. If Noah was going to go hiking with his grandparents I wanted to capture the event.
I drove us up through Apache Junction to First Water Trailhead. As we neared the lot we were all surprised to see just how green and lush the desert. It wasn't just the flowering cacti and shrubby trees; the sandy floor was thickly covered with weeds and brush. When we parked I briefly explained our route up and over Garden Valley, though they didn't care too much about the details. We were in the Superstitions on a sunny morning and Noah was in relatively good spirits. It was time to hit the trail.
The descent from the trailhead was a bit boring, as I've taken this trail numerous times now, though my parents seemed to enjoy it. We chatted about different cacti and I pointed out the nearby formations while Noah swayed behind in the carrier. I was planning on letting him out soon enough, just not on these rocky sections.
After we swung around the main bend in the trail things started to climb. I had been worried about how much the parents wanted to tackle today, as they are not used to the heat or the sun but they did just fine. Noah fussed a bit on the way up as he started to get impatient. He wasn't hurting, just bored, so we let him fuss and crested up onto Garden Valley.
Our path opened up on the valley and was soon more sand than rocks. I let my son down, gave him a drink, and he was off. There are only a few cacti up here along the trail, mostly trees and normal undergrowth, so I gave him free rein. Noah had a great time running in between me and my parents and generally letting off energy.
Once we reached the main fork for the Black Mesa Trail I kept my eyes open for a second fork. We were looking for an unmarked and unofficial trail northwest to Hackberry Springs. The track was easy enough to find, though it resembled a cattle run more then a hiking path. We turned and headed off of Garden Valley Trail.
This path was much more green than our last one, as we were heading into the thicker 'woods'. Trees grew up around us some ten or fifteen feet high and thick grass lay in between. It was still fairly sparse, probably due to the thin soil, but with a bit of imagination I could pretend this was an open field in the Keweenaw. Ignoring the 80° weather in March, that is.
I started to get distracted by the eastern view. There is a cut between Black and Hackberry Mesa that offers a view up towards Geronimo Head. We were heading west, meaning we could get a view of Malapais and Battleship Mountains if we were lucky. Between my parents and I we kept Noah out of trouble while I kept glancing east. I was pleased when a view opened up, though the bright sun made anything in that direction difficult to see.
Noah was starting to slow down, distracted by sticks and grass and maybe getting a little tired. He had walked well at least mile by now, which is pretty far for his tiny feet. When we began to near the yellow rocky hills on the west side of Garden Valley and the trail began to get rugged I decided that it was time for him to get back in the carrier. He screamed and fought it for a good ten minutes before he realized he wasn't going to his way.
The descent came quickly. One minute we were walking along a flat and rocky trail on the west side of Garden Valley and the next we were dropping along the side of Hackberry Springs. The sides of the springs were sudden and our trail was quite steep. Steep enough for us to wonder who dared to leave horse tracks along the way.
As we dropped in elevation again the slight breeze we had enjoyed in the valley abandoned us. The sun beat down and our trail stretched far ahead. It didn't take long for Noah to nod off and his head to bob around behind me. I was pretty sure I knew where we were going, that the old First Water Ranch would be ahead of us, but I did start to get a little worried. There had been a few forks off of the Garden Valley Trail and one or two more once we dropped down by the springs.
While we were crossing a small creek in a shallow rocky bed a few gunshots rang out and echoed around. It was hard to tell where they came from, if they were distant and had bounced their way in or if a gun had been fired nearby, and it was enough to set us on edge. We bumped our pace a little bit until we saw the remains of the old ranch ahead of us, other hikers milling around in the shade.
We weren't interested in stopping and visiting. Noah had fallen back asleep and the rest of us weren't enjoying the warming temperatures. We pushed on up the last climb, leaving the little ranch behind, and were back to the road within five minutes.
On the drive back we talked more about the Superstitions and hiking down here in general. It was good to get them out here, to enjoy a little taste of the wilderness, even if it had gotten warm near the end. I had some other hikes in mind for them while they were down here, some shorter ones up near South Mountain and such, but I was glad that we got a chance to hike the Superstitions together.