Thanksgiving Day is one of the few weekdays that I truly take off from work. Katie is busy with cooking and I like to spend the time with my boys doing things that we usually avoid on the weekends, like checking out popular hiking areas in the Supes. There was one destination in particular that I keep missing out on, a destination that sees a lot of foot traffic during the cooler months of the year, and so this Thanksgiving seemed like the perfect time to tackle it. Today we were going to visit Hackberry Springs.
Located a mile from First Water Ranch, Hackberry Springs is one of the few (mostly) year-round sources of water in the Superstition Wilderness. It sits right next to First Water Creek and there are well-trod use trails to it, connecting both to the ranch and to the Garden Valley Loop. Now, I've done the Garden Valley Loop at least three times now, and was just camping at First Water Ranch with Katie and Noah, and for one reason or another never tacked on the extra distance to visit the spring. So I was fairly anxious to check it out, both as a curiosity and as an important piece of knowledge for future overnights.
Noah, Thomas and I made it to the horse lot parking area a bit before seven. There was one large truck and trailer parked here. I suppose that most people park at the main trailhead, a half mile further down the road, but for us the quickest access was from the horse lot. With Thomas riding in the back carrier and Noah trotting next to me we cut over to the old track leading to the ranch and quickly descended into the valley.
Once we got to the ranch I let Thomas down so he could run around and warm himself up. It was cold out compared to what they're used to, in the low fifties, and they had the bright red noses and runny snot that all toddlers get during the winter. Well, most get it when there is snow on the ground and a bite to the air, anyways. Noah had a ball, running around and pointing where our tent had been set up and the campfire had been, and he started showing Thomas how to collect firewood. I just stood back and glowed. Maybe taking both of them on a camping trip this spring wouldn't be that bad after all.
We did have a hike to start on, so I corralled them back to the path and held Thomas's hand to help avoid the cactus arms. There is a lot of cholla in this valley, which is one of the funner thorny plants to deal with. Noah led us down to the wash, remembering the way from our last trip here, and then we turned and began following the creek bed downstream. It was easy going so I let Thomas go on his own, and they both made their way along the rocky banks unassisted.
Most of the creek bed here was over solid rock, which allowed the water to pool up in a few spots. Even the banks were solid rock. This creek must have really had to work to carve such a sharp contour through this stuff. There were a few gravelly locations, when a bend or an even slope allowed the sediment to accumulate, though I'd bet that it was back to solid a few feet underground. When the ground was finer the grass and trees held, creating small oases, with enough foot traffic to make steady paths through.
Noah and Thomas soon discovered the purpose of the many small water pools along the way - making splashes. Noah, being much quicker then his little brother, would spot a puddle and run ahead, grab several rocks, and toss them in just to watch the water splash. Thomas would amble up and get one good splash in before it was time to move on. So the little guy came up with the idea of carrying rocks along the hike so he didn't have to waste time looking for them near the water. It made for adorable photos and less-than-safe hiking over unsteady ground.
We had a lot of fun down here. I made a conscious effort not to rush them along, letting them play and explore on their terms. The only catch was their difference in speeds. I couldn't let Noah get too far ahead or Thomas too distracted. Even with the mild grade and safe sections we were still hiking in the desert, with plenty of poisonous creatures and a rocky path. One good fall would make for a hasty exit. I had to call out to Noah to come back a few times or hold Thomas's hand to encourage him to catch up. And then there was some times that they were perfectly happy to hike together and talk among themselves.
After an hour of hiking things started to get a bit more tricky. Steep banks forced the side paths to converge into the creek and things got rockier. There was one spot, with a huge car-sized boulder in the middle and large rocks piled on either side, that Thomas fell backwards and almost landed headfirst into a pile of jagged things. I caught him just in time and decided to carry both him and Noah past it. Other than that tricky spot they handled the terrain just fine.
The earth continued to turn and the temperatures slowly rose. Very slowly in the shaded creek. We all kept our sweaters on as we crossed over rocks, hiked along narrow paths on the banks, and then returned down to the rocks below. I began to worry that we'd pass by the spring. I didn't really research this hike and didn't have a GPS track or waypoint to follow. Eventually I noticed a pink ribbon tied to a tree and a path meandering over to the eastern bank, so we took a chance and followed it. We began to pass by campsites along the bank, which could mean that the spring was nearby.
It was near these campsites that Noah and Thomas had one of the cutest interactions. Noah turned to his brother and pointed out the campfire rings. Things must have clicked with Thomas because, as soon as he saw the circle of rocks, he immediately started collecting firewood. He must have remembered Noah's lessons from back at the ranch. He did a bang-up job, too, getting arm-fulls of dry tinder and then piling them up next to the fire pits. If I could teach them how to cook hot dogs and set up a tent then maybe camping with them would be easier than going alone!
After the endearing firewood scene we continued along the path, Noah leading the way and Thomas still looking for dry twigs near the path. We were about to cross back over the creek bed when I noticed the huge cottonwoods and a suspicious path leading up the root system. Plus there was a concrete step at the base. Concrete doesn't just show up for no reason, especially out here. I called over to Noah, who had already marched past, and we climbed up the bank. Sure enough, there was a healthy spring overflowing on the other side. We had found Hackberry Springs.
We had already stopped once, back by that pink ribbon, for a quick snack and drink, but I couldn't pass up a nice spot like this. I hauled out some crackers and peanut butter for the boys and made sure they were both drinking out of Noah's camelback. Oh yeah, that's right - Noah does a great job sharing his water with Thomas. One less thing for me to worry about. Anyways, they sat and enjoyed their breakfast, mostly peaceful, and I took a few photos of them and the spring.
Thomas was antsy to keep going, so we broke after ten minutes and headed back to the main trail. There were huge campsites here, enough room for a whole troop of boy scouts, though my discerning eye noticed the slope that would make for an awkward sleep. There was only a few pads near the outskirts that I would want to pitch a tarp at. I wondered idly if this would make a good overnight. It's very close to the parking lot and doesn't really connect easily to any longer hikes. Maybe as the first leg of a western Supes loop, if you only had an hour or two on Friday night, or as a quick trip with the boys. Personally I like Reed's Water for the Friday night option, as it sets up nicely for the central Supes and is further off the beaten path.
Our path meandered through the shade and weaved between palo verde trees. We finally bumped into another group here, two men doing this loop in the opposite direction. They were in the midst of a loud conversation and quickly passed us. When the trail forked we took the right turn, which slowly climbed up a shallow pass. It was time to hike in the sun and make the long (200') climb out of the creek valley.
Noah pushed on, still leading and being stubborn about waiting for Thomas and I. Thomas, on the other hand, hit a brick wall. He looked exhausted and moved slow, even though he adamantly refused my offer to carry him. When the trail got too steep he would drop to all fours, whine a bit, and then crawl up, and when it was flatter he would veer off in random directions in a distracted manner. Our slow pace allowed another group to pass us, this time going in the same direction we were, and then we were on our own again to straggle up the climb.
At least the views were good. We could see more of Four Peaks here with, shining brightly in the distance, and even Little Four Peaks was showing off. The latter was at a weird angle and we could only see three of them. Also, while the sun was up and we were out of the cool river valley, the temps were still quite reasonable. Both Thomas and I had taken off our sweaters and were hiking comfortably without sweating. Noah refused to take off his.
I had to carry Thomas up the last few dozen yards, between Noah's impatient pace and the steeper grade. When we got to the junction with the Garden Valley Trail, which sits in a little unnamed saddle between unnamed formations, all three of us enjoyed a decent break. Snacks and water were shared and I tried my best to stretch my back. It was hurting more than I had anticipated, with the frequent kid carrying, and I hoped that this little outing wouldn't spur another flare-up.
With the climb out of the way it was time to descend back down to First Water Ranch. This was an annoyingly familiar and steep section, so I just put Thomas in the carrier and focused on helping Noah down. He was really acting out by now, exhausted after three hours of hiking, and we had a few tantrums to deal with on the way. Every step forward was a step closer to the end, though, so I focused on keeping him moving (and keeping Thomas happy as he rode in the carrier).
It took a long time to reach the ranch so I opted to skip the planned break here. We had to get the heck out of here if we were to make our afternoon family commitments. Instead I scooped Noah up and carried him the last half mile or so, out of the valley and back to our car. Sixty or so pounds of kid really didn't feel good on the back, but at least we all got back to the car. They were both sleeping after a few minutes of driving and we had a peaceful drive back.
Even if it ended with a few meltdowns, this turned out to be a great outing. Close to four miles long, with hundreds of feet of elevation gain, is a lot for both of them. Especially Thomas. I usually carry him for most of a long hike like this one. Not only did he last through most of the distance, he kept up a good pace, stuck to the trail, and had enough energy to be playful for the first few hours. Maybe I can start leaving the carrier at home, or at least until baby #3 is ready for a hike.