The bags are packed, the checklist is hanging on the front door ready to be looked over one last time in the morning, the alarm clocks are set, and we are off to bed. The excitement of tomorrows event makes falling asleep difficult, but 5am will come fast, and sleep is going to be needed to make it through the day. When the alarm sounds, it is one of those moments that can best be described as a child ready for a big vacation to a fun destination. There was no sluggish steps like a normal day getting ready to head into the office. We were up, dressed, and ready to go before we had a chance to realize it was early, and we were tired. Waking up early on your day off always brings the thought “why are we doing this to ourselves”? As we drove into the foothills of the Superstition Mountains with the sun starting to break through the darkness creeping over the peaks and illuminating the valleys our question was answered. This is exactly why we do this!
The dogs, Melman, Nika, & Maverick were all very excited to get going. We got their packs ready first and let them play around while we situated ourselves. When it was time to head out we asked a group of day hikers to snap a photo of the group, headed over to the sign in log and made our mark. We went over the trail one last time as a group so we all knew where we would be going. This time around it was decided we would keep to the roots as much as possible, and other than cameras there would be no gadgets. The GPS was left behind and the map & compass took the front seat. From the Peralta Trail Head we headed up the Dutchmans Trail #104. The morning sun gave a small hint to the warm day we were expecting ahead. The sky was clear, the flowers were in full bloom, and our first few hundred feet of elevation gain was behind us. We were feeling great! One of our followers Oldslownas asked us to try and find a “Ginormous” saguaro cactus, he thought was about 1.5 miles past the Bluff Springs Trail #235 junction. This became a giant Easter Egg Hunt for the whole crew. In a forest of cacti we began the search. 1 mile, 2 miles, 3….we had almost given up, but then we found it (about 3.5 miles in I would guess) so we thought. It was not quite as impressive as we were thinking so we were not completely sold on the idea that this was it, but the search for it was pretty fun anyway. By this time we had began circling around Miners Needle. The trail to this point had been pretty mellow, along the way we had passed a few other backpackers packing up camp from the night before and several day hikers out early to beat the heat. As we passed around the needle and started heading to the Whiskey Springs Trail #238 junction we got a small taste of what it feels like to climb with packs on. As we approached the junction we all posed for a group shot and shared in a small little swig of whiskey, it really does not get much better than that!
At this point we had not really stopped for breaks. The excitement of everything was keeping us going strong, so we found this really cool boulder that had a hole through it and took 5. The Arizona sun seemed to have something to prove today and was warming things up quickly, the heavy breeze being forced through the hole in the boulder felt amazing. After a quick glance at the map we decided that Crystal Springs might be a good spot to find a place to enjoy an early lunch. Continuing on Dutchmans Trail we are pretty sure we just found the cactus that we spent the first few miles looking for. I believe it is about 5.5 miles in from the trail head and it is HUGE, I would say over 35 feet tall. The Easter Egg Hunt is complete, so now its time to move along. Just past Crystal Springs we found a beautiful riparian area covered by enormous trees, blanketed with cool moist dirt, and surrounded by luscious green plant life. There were some day hikers taking a break here and they welcomed us to join them. For lunch some of us had PB&J and some had Tuna, but the big hit was the beef jerky I had made. I believe it is now the most coveted item of our future journeys. We shared some with the group that was with us and they enjoyed it as well. As we had finished up lunch, the group of day hikers were replaced with a huge group of Boy Scouts (Troop 99). They had planned on setting up camp here, and it looked like they were going to have a great night. We hung around a while longer enjoying the shade and letting the dogs rest, then we were back to the trail. The next point we planned on taking a break would be Oak Springs.
Along the way the desert changed frequently, areas of creeks, water, springs, greenery, the scenery could not get more perfect. We came across what Chick and myself believe was the most amazing sections of trail for this trip, between LaBarge Spring and Oak Spring. Just after passing LaBarge Spring you begin a transformation from the Arizona Desert and into a Rainforest like environment. A wall of trees and shrubbery is parted by a dark passage way that leads you into a canopy of falling leaves, vines, the sound of running water. There is really no way to explain the beauty of this place. Just as you make your way through you are then dropped right into Oak Springs, another beautiful place. Huge Oak trees drinking from the flowing spring, tall grass, flowers it was remarkable. We decided this would be a good time to fill up on water just in case the rest of the trail was not as wet. You could tell the group was starting to get tired, were were taking more quick breaks along the way. Fall Gal’s pack was causing her some issues and the dogs were now following right on our heels like a pack of trained trail horses. As we came to the junction where you can head off trail to Charlebois Spring we made the decisions that we would skip the spring in order to press on and get to camp. Because of our deadline for day 2 we had planned on camping near Needle Canyon. This was later determined to be a bit more than what we should have tried to accomplish in 1 day, but we are learning as we go. We made it to just east of White Rock Springs and set up camp just off the trail with Black Mountain towering over. After resting for a bit, camp was set, and we did a little scouting on the creek so we could find water for the morning. We enjoyed a spectacular sunset while beginning to start a fire so we could get to cooking. Chuck Norris had brought along his new camp grill and we all had steaks for dinner, the fallen mesquite trees made for a great taste! The grill worked perfectly and he will be posting a “how to” soon. The night was a bit short, we had all hit our max and were ready for some rest. We all talked about some lessons learned, the highlights of the trip and enjoyed the fire. We one by one trickled our way from the fire to our tents, and continued the silly camp banter back and forth for a while until everyone had passed out. I had stayed up a little longer, broke out my head lamp with red light and my Moleskin Journal to write a few things about the day and then it was time to sleep.
The morning came quickly with the sounds of the desert coming to life. There was a chill in the air and being the first one up I gathered some dry grass and small sticks to start a fire. After the rest of the group slowly crawled out of their tents the morning routine began. We, for the most part, are avid campers so this part was natural to us. Water was boiling for coffee, tea, and oatmeal. Bags were being shuffled around with moans of stiff muscles and sore feet. Just before the realization of tackling another 6 miles for the day sunk in, there was a sudden quiet among the group as all of us soaked up our surroundings and really enjoyed the moment. After a pretty slow start Chuck and I went to fill up everyone’s water about 100 yards behind camp as the girls started to clean up and begin packing their bags. The amount of time it takes to get out of camp and start hiking again really was a lot more than any of us expected. I think for our next trip we will be a little more prepared and wont burn as much daylight. Water was filled, camp was down, bags were packed again, and the fire was out. The first half mile or so really was slow goin. Everyone’s muscles were stretching and unwinding from the day before, but then things started picking up again. Until we got to Terrapin Trail #234 and things took a very quick change. I don’t believe the trail was really that difficult looking back on it now, but after the miles we did the first day mixed with mistakes of being rookies the next 4 miles were brutal! It felt like there was nothing but up, every dip in the trail just meant there would be two more climbs ahead and our spirits were being tested. The views along this trail were flat out spectacular however. Weavers Needle felt like you could reach out and touch it, the valley floor was distant and traveled as far as you could see. There were 360 degree views of an endless mountain range, even the dogs from time to time would seem to stop and soak up the view. We found a nice grassy spot with some shade somewhere near Bluff Saddle and had a quick snack lunch while the dogs immediately took the opportunity to take a nap. The uphill battle continued and eventually led us down into Barks Canyon where we met up with Bluff Spring Trail #238. We saw the sign and our map said we had 2 miles to go, there was a brief celebration and perhaps a little to early! I must admit I somewhat dropped the ball here. I was expecting the entire Bluff Springs Trail to be downhill. I normally spend days looking over the maps, plotting things with my GPS software, etc. but I overlooked Bluff Springs Trail. If you have been following along with other posts you may have noticed our route changed slightly based on the recommendation of a reader. He gave us great information and we were glad we made the change, but I was lazy and took his recommendation without much of my own research. Although the last mile or so of the trail is very torturous downhill stuff, there was a good mile of going up on the back side! Physically I don’t think this was an issue, it was the mental beating we took when we started climbing higher and higher even though we all were telling ourselves once we get to the last 2 miles it will be all downhill. The group started to thin out on that last climb, a gap growing further between each person, we were locked into finishing out the day and none of us were going to stop in fear we may not start again! As we made it to the peak of the trail you could see the cliff face that overlooks Peralta Trail Head and I knew we were close. Once the Truck was in sight we waited for each person to round the corner, regrouped, and finished the hike together. There were some not so high fives (to tired to get it up there all the way), we signed out on the book, loaded the dogs in the vehicles and parted ways. The 40 minute ride home was just enough for everyone to get stiff and sore so it became a group decision that we were meeting at the Wicked Witch’s house to soak away our pains in her hot tub! We talked about our mistakes, lessons learned, favorite moments, and future trips.“There is something to be said about the beauty that is found in wilderness untouched by the common man.” ~ Slimms