Wave Cave of the Superstitions
When I exited the small restroom at the Peralta Trailhead I was tempted to simply jump in the car and head back to Gilbert. For the last two days I had been suffering from a stomach bug that left me feeling drained and weak. In a fit of optimism I had drove the long hour to this trailhead an hour before dawn only to be forced to the bathroom as soon as I parked. That drive back hardened my resolve. I didn't want to drive back in the dark and arrive at the house just in time for the sun to rise behind me and my two sons to crawl all over me, not when I felt this bad. I headed west on foot instead.
My plan today was a bit up in the air. There was a cave two miles to the west, Wave Cave, and between me and it were a few trails and an old gold mine. That was the least I could do. Ideally I would like to continue past the cave to West Boulder Saddle, up where Carney Trail climbs the Superstitions from the south, and find both Robber's Roost and Geronimo Cave. That ten mile loop over exposed ground with expected highs over a hundred seemed too much, especially in my semi-sickly shape. I'd have to reevaluate once I got to Wave Cave.
Walking west on the dirt road I drove in was pretty boring. Somewhere along here the Goldmine Trail broke off, the trail that would take me most of the way to the cave, but I wasn't sure where. Figuring that had to be a few footpaths that connect Peralta with this trail I simply cut off the road and picked my way carefully through the spiky desert undergrowth. My dim headlamp was enough to help me step over the worst of the chollas and prickly pears and, sure enough, I soon found a footpath heading east maybe a dozen yards from the spooky Dacite cliffs. Counting myself lucky I followed it as it wound and dipped over the rubble beneath the cliffs.
There was little concern about time. I wanted to be at Wave Cave before the sunrise and I figured it'd be easy enough to accomplish that. An hour to walk two miles seemed like a leisurely pace. Still, it'd be nice to find Goldmine Trail. And then the buildings showed up. One at first, then a few clusters, then well-maintained paths and three-walled cabins of sturdy firebrick nestled in the cooler ground. This was bizarre.
I had no idea what this was. I thought I was on wilderness land, where few buildings stood, yet here was an entire organized camp in good repair. Was this the remains of the old gold mine, or an old ranch, that was recently gobbled up by the wilderness boundaries? Or did I accidentally venture onto a pocket of private land? Whatever it was, it was pretty spooky, and I quickly walked past the dark buildings and pushed further west.
There was a barbed wire fence, which I hopped over, and then a trail showed up. Oh yeah. Goldmine Trail is not in the Superstition Wilderness. It skips along the southern boundary, starting near the Hieroglyphics Trailhead and reaching close to Peralta, yet never crosses over. So now I was on the proper trail. I took a deep swig of my water and let my long legs eat up the miles to the turnoff on Carney.
Ah yes, Carney. I've only been on this trail once and it made a deeply negative impression. Chris and I had been hiking all day along the Superstition Ridgeline and when we stood on West Boulder Saddle worn through and dehydrated the route seemed like a joke. The trail just plunges down a steep canyon with no interest in ankles or sanity for over a thousand feet. I wouldn't be on this trail for long today, just enough to reach the little cut-off trail that juts west towards Three Sisters and Wave Cave, but even the name gave me a bitter test in my mouth.
When I bumped into Carney Trail I turned right, crossed back into the wilderness lands, and within a few dozen yards I cut left on the use trail. This unofficial trail was pretty well marked except when it wasn't. It forked and re-merged a few times, faded to nothing to pick back up later, and had a few sudden twists. I was glad that the predawn light was enough for me to keep my headlamp off - this thing would be difficult to follow in the dark. I slowly gained elevation while rounding a little jut in the rocky hills between Carney Springs and the canyon to the west and eventually got another great view of the cave itself.
This cave got its name from an interesting rock formation at its mouth, a sandstone wave that rises from the floor in a frozen breaking position. My plan was to catch a photo of the sunrise from behind the wave. There was one thing I was a bit wary about: bees. I've heard that bees have taken over a part of the cave, a large nest in one of the back corners, and I didn't really want to mess with bees. Especially bees in the southwest. These things aren't friendly honeybees.
I reached the cave and pushed on to the right of the wave, admiring the odd sandstone formation yet more surprised about the size of this cave. This thing is easily larger than any of the other caves I've been to in the Superstitions. I had thought that the one off of Broadway was large, with the mine shaft sitting in the back corner, yet this one dwarfed it. The roof was fifteen feet above me and it stretched far to the sides and back. And all around I heard the drone of bees.
Not feeling up to exploring each nook of the cave and bumping into the nest of bees that was making all that noise I turned and climbed up the wave, sitting at the crest with my legs dangling over. From here there was a great view down on the Carney Trailhead and the green valley surrounding it. There was also no view of the approaching sunrise. The cave is nestled too deep into the hills and it'd be at least another hour before the sun would be visible. I would have to be content with the sunlight filtering down on the valley below.
As I sat on the wave and drank water a buzzing sound approached me. An ugly looking wasp landing a few feet from me and poked around on the rock, stinger lifting and dipping with ugly intent. Of course I was wearing a bright orange shirt - I probably looked like one great big target to them. With a gentle flick of my hat I tried to discourage it. Two more showed up, buzzing around my head. I got the hint. I grabbed my gear and headed out of the cave. The bees or wasps or whatever could have this cave.
On my way out of Wave Cave I turned back to get one last view of the wave and noticed a shifting dark spot underneath. Wasps. They were crawling on and around a white hole under the rock formation, thick enough to be crawling over each other in a moving patch of darkness, all seeming to center on a crack in the rock. That could explain why I didn't see a nest anywhere in the cave - why build one when you can just crawl into a pre-existing crack? I left the wasp hole in haste.
One of the interesting things about Wave Cave is how it sits under the flank of the Three Sisters. This is an imposing trio of rocky prows that push out from the Superstitions, some thousand feet of cliffs, and sit right between Carney Springs and Peak 5057. The little trail I followed up to the cave is supposed to continue past and climb up the side of the sisters to provide access to both the top and, eventually, Peak 5057 itself. That was on the original plan for today, but I had another idea.
On the way out here I passed some old trails that led to the base of Dacite Cliffs where an old gold mine once sat. I'm not sure how successful this mine was, or if there would be decent remains like the impressive ruins of the Copper Country, so I figured it was worth checking out. Backtracking on the use trail to Carney to Goldmine was easy enough, and it gave me my first look at the blazing early morning sun. The desert sun - I didn't miss it.
My floppy boonie hat is probably one of my favorite pieces of gear right now. It's light tan and very lightweight, and a snap on each side lets me pin half or the whole thing up. Leaving one side down blocks the sun from blinding me from that angle and the other side up gives me a bit more breeze. Beyond the technicalities is a deeper fondness. One of my childhood friends had a outdoorsy father who was always wearing a similar hat, only darker. Him and his two sons were always out hunting or camping or just tooling around in the woods, all three bronzed by the Midwest sun and confident in their skills. With any luck that will be Noah, Thomas and I in ten years.
Hat aside, I soon made it to the blocked path to the old mine and headed up it. The trail was loose and rubbly, promising signs for a deep shaft. I followed it to the base of the cliffs and then followed the cliffs to the right. There was no ruins yet, no old buildings or foundations, yet there was a ton of undergrowth here that could be hiding it away. My trail got rougher under the cliffs, through thorny brush and climbing loose rocks, and then I stepped around a bend and the shaft was there.
It was deep indeed. My headlamp did little to penetrate the darkness and my voice boomed far off into the distance. I could have easily squeezed through the two gaps in the bars. I decided not to. The shaft's low ceiling would have made for an uncomfortable stooping walk and I didn't feel like playing with bats in the dark. Maybe I could get Chris out here and sucker him into taking the lead down the dark tunnel. For now I turned around and started on the way out, content with today's findings.
Wave Cave was pretty cool, the mine was interesting, and the trails easy to follow. Oh, and there was that spooky cluster of buildings from earlier. I still had no idea what that was all about, though it didn't seem like part of the mine any more. They were over a mile east from this shaft. I'd probably end up walking past them again. Maybe, with the daylight, I'd see something new this time around.
Eventually I found my way back to Goldmine Trail and took it east and was surprised to find a trailhead after a short distance. I thought that it went all the way to Peralta. There was still another half mile or so until I made it back to my car, though. I wandered through the lot at the trailhead, unwilling to take the road to my car, when I noticed a driveway on the far side that continued east. Curious I followed it and found an ornate gated drive labeled 'El Dons'.
There was no signs marking the property as private and, even more curious, the gate was inline with the wilderness boundaries. I stepped around the gate and cautiously wandered in. A short distance inside the gate and the buildings were back, more numerous and fancy in broad daylight. I ventured closer to the sign to find out what this was all about and everything clicked.
So this was a camp, a club, of treasure hunters that probably existed long before the park did. And there was some sort of land agreement that kept the camp within the wilderness yet allowed them to keep their buildings in a semi-private manner. Interesting. I wasn't sure if I was supposed to be in here, though. I kept to the main drive, following it in a general eastern direction, and squeezed out when a break in the fence showed up. A few yards later and I was on the dirt road leading back to my dusty car.
When I swung into the car, pulling out a thermos of ice cold water for the drive home, I wondered about that long loop up and over to Robber's Roost and more. That'd make a fun all-day loop, I think. Today wasn't really a good day for an all-day loop. I still felt sickly and there was something much more intense coming my way soon. This was the last desert hike before Isle Royale. So while it was nice to get out of the house and find new things I had little interest in an epic adventure today. Nine days on an island in the middle of Lake Superior would be epic enough.