Silly Mountain with the Boys
Hiking with the boys has, for the most part, been limited to short outings in San Tan or South Mountain. There are a number of loops in these parks that are less than five miles with wide, easy trails that are perfect for them to wander along. I've tried taking them to the Superstitions a few times with limited success - the trails are rougher and the drive is longer. Recently, a new option opened up that I had completely missed out on: Silly Mountain of Apache Junction.
Silly Mountain is located along US-60 just as it transitions from a busy city road to a rural divided road, a mere thirty minutes or so from our house in Gilbert. I've driven right past it a dozen times on my way to Peralta Trailhead and often chuckled over the name and short hills. It wasn't until I started doing some research that I realized how perfect it was. There are plenty of trails that fork and wind in the small park, most of which are shorter than a mile in length. Not only would it be the right difficulty level for the boys, it would be something we could revisit and try different loops. I picked a weekend and, waking them up an hour before the dawn, we headed out to explore Silly Mountain.
Superstition Ridgeline looked amazing from the parking lot. The sun was still trying to poke out over South Peak and brilliant colors stretched out towards us with crooked fingers. There were two other vehicles in the parking lot and I saw one couple slowly heading up the trail ahead, a nice change from the bustling trailheads of South Mountain. I got out, liberally slathered some sunscreen on the boys, plopped Thomas in the carrier, and held Noah's hand until we were a good distance from the parking lot.
As we passed by an ornate nature trail entrance I was surprised to see how bumpy the little mountain looked ahead of us. For so long I had assumed that Silly Mountain was a single bump, yet it turns out that it is a collection of bumps that hover from two to three hundred feet above the surrounding flatlands. Our trail split at a long fence and we veered right, heading around one bump on our way up another one.
Brittlebush Trail was surprisingly rocky. Noah had a few stumbles over boulders and soon learned to keep a close eye on the trail. I try to let him do his own thing out here without holding hands or anything now - he's old enough to be able to take a good fall and keep going. Thomas, on the other hand, throws himself around with abandon. I don't let him loose unless the trail is wide, flat, and clear of rocks and cactus.
Our trail made a few wide switchbacks over the relatively flat ground, possibly more to showcase desert flora and increase distance rather than make for easy going. At a trail junction with Old Mine we paused under a Palo Verde tree and sipped some water as some nice ladies passed by, both of which had nice things to say about the boys being out. You don't see that many 2-3 year olds on the trails around here, mostly babies in carriers and preteens. I'm not sure if other parents don't want to try hiking with them at this age or if I just haven't been on the right trail at the right time.
When the break was over it was time to tackle the main obstacle of the day. Well, at least the longest one. Old Mine Trail climbs 270' and is rated difficult, so of course I wanted to tackle it first. Noah handled it like a champ. When the steps were too high he pulled himself up, and when the ground was too loose or steep he used his hands for balance. He asked for some help at a tricky section near the first saddle, which I gladly gave. I can't carry both kids (like, sixty pounds?) for too long, but if the going gets tough I can suck it up.
We reached the first saddle and I let Noah down and took a break. I mean, stopped momentarily to take some pictures and totally wasn't out of breath or anything. The views were good and the area wasn't dangerous enough to stop Noah from exploring. To the northwest was the Goldfield range, with Usury shining its single bright stripe on the far left side, and beyond that was… dust. Huh. I didn't think it was supposed to be that dusty today. There was a slight breeze that helped cool down the mid-eighty temperatures, though not enough to kick up that much brown.
Beyond the first saddle was a slow, steady slope to the second saddle, the main one that sits between the two highest points of Silly Mountain. A fence sits alongside the path, either to protect some fragile desert growth or protect people from old prospects. This trail is called Old Mine, after all. Once we reached the top of the saddle we were hit full-blast by the morning light. I guess we had taken enough time on our climb for the sun to finally climb over Superstition Ridgeline.
From the saddle we had a choice. We could continue east along the Crest Trail, which slowly heads downhill towards Old Baldy (the easternmost bump), or we could make a quick detour up the spur path to the summit. I'd hate to walk away from this park without bagging the peak of Silly Mountain. It didn't look friendly for the kids, though. For a few seconds I stared up at it, trying to judge whether the risky climb was worth it today, and suddenly remembered that I was a Dad. Dads are supposed to do risky things. I let Noah walk along the path until it was too dangerous, then hoisted him up in one arm and clambered up the rest myself.
It was a short haul of 70', with the exposure at the top doing more to get the blood pumping than the actual climb. Before I let Noah down I carefully made a round of the summit. The ground was uneven with multiple tripping stones scattered around and the sides dropped quickly. As I let Noah back on the ground I told him to be extra careful and made sure he was within grabbing distance. Thomas stayed in the carrier. Hopefully some of the other trails would be flat enough for him to wander.
Noah and I had some fun at the summit. I wanted to get some good photos of him up here to show off to wife, who had stayed at home to sleep in this morning. The rising sun and Superstitions made for a great backdrop, even if he was more interested in playing with his hat's cord than striking a dramatic pose. Thomas was getting impatient behind me and Noah was starting to look bored after a few photos so I decided it was time to start heading down. There were a few spots on the descent that I had to set Noah down on a rock, drop down myself, and then turn around and pick him back up, but he had an inkling of how rugged this section was and cooperated. Soon we were back at the main saddle, looking out over the trail reaching to Old Baldy.
This trail was also too much for Thomas to handle. It wasn't steep, it was just narrow and cut slightly into a rocky hillside, and the rough ground coupled with the long, rolling fall was just too much for me to let him down. Even Noah complained about the hillside dropping away to one side, so I held his hand for most of it. At the far side of the trail was a shaded rock bench that looked like a great place for a rest. We had traveled just over a mile so far, which meant it was time for a snack. Even Thomas got a break here. I took him out of the carrier, sat him next to his brother, and they each had a fruit snack and water from Noah's Camelbak.
The temperatures were beginning to pick up now. That last section of trail, along the eastern face of a hillside, had been a bit toasty. There's a connector route that goes up and around this hill to the far eastern side of the park, offering the chance to do a full circumference hike of the park, that I decided to skip today. The day was warming up and we didn't have to do everything today. It was time to start circling back to the parking lot.
Old Baldy Trail is the easiest way back from the bench. It drops down the hill, connecting with Superstition View, which stays at the base of Silly Mountain and circles back to where we started. Old Baldy was a bit too steep for Thomas yet, so after he was done with his snack I clipped him back in the carrier and Noah and I started walking down. The trail crept in and out of the shallow canyon, long breaks broken up by short sections in the bright sun, and then we were at the base. A long, sunny trail lay ahead of us, void of shade as far as we could see.
I let Thomas down and held his hand over a few hundred yards. He was happy to stretch his legs, though I could tell he wasn't thrilled about the heat. Had to be ninety or so, or at least it felt like that. The three of us walked a short distance westward and ran into an older couple who stopped and chatted with us. The couple was very friendly, letting both of the boys play around and practice with their trekking poles, and we chatted about kids and hiking and such. They were shocked that I had let them up on the peak (again, risky Dad stuff) but otherwise were happy to see us out today.
Once we left the older couple it was a long drag to the end of Superstition View trail. I put Thomas back in the carrier when it was obvious that he was not interested in walking in this heat, and soon had to carry a tired Noah as well. The trail ducked down briefly into a wash before slowly climbing up to a small saddle, where it joined with Palo Verde and Brittlebush Trail. There was a large group of kids here, mostly preteens, and I let Noah down to wander and visit while I snapped some quick photos.
The dust was crazy. It rose up for no good reason, obscuring any view more than ten miles distant. Even the Superstitions were getting blurry, a relatively short distance to the east. I usually try to keep the hikes with the boys short for temperature reasons, yet today it seemed like we'd be caught in a dust storm if we didn't leave soon. Putting my camera away I called Noah to me and we started heading down.
My hope had been to take the relatively short Palo Verde Trail back to the parking lot. Apparently I forgot how to read signs at the last saddle, because a few dozen yards into the descent and I realized that we were on the longer and more roundabout Brittlebush. Oh well, it's only a difference of a hundred yards or so. Noah started to complain again about halfway so I carried him the rest of the way to the parking lot. He had been a champ today on the mountain and we were going on two hours out here - he could get a break.
There was ten or so cars in the parking lot as we finished things up, though the park absorbed the extra traffic well. Plus, there had been no bikes to dodge today, a welcome relief from our normal outings. This had been a good little hike, maybe a bit too hard for the boys, which makes a good candidate for repeat visits. By next spring I might not even have to bring a carrier for Thomas on a morning like this one.