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Rogers Canyon Day Hike
Superstition Wilderness
October 1, 2017
by Tamar Gottfried
  GPS Map 

I pre-hiked the Rogers Canyon trail in March of this year and was amazed by the lush riparian habitat, the accessible and well-preserved cave dwellings, and the beauty of the creek that runs through the canyon. Trying to replicate but improve the experience, I scheduled this hike for early October. When I saw the group of adventurous hikers who signed up, I polled the group and then changed the plan to do a loop, taking the trail past Angel’s Basin, up to Tortilla Pass, and back down the JF Trail to the Woodbury Trailhead, which would require a car shuttle.

Well, the best laid plans....

We met up prior to sunrise, even earlier than planned, due to weather that would hit close to 90 degrees even at our 3500-4500 foot elevation for the hike. From the Mesa meeting place to the placement of cars took three hours, due to the roughness of the forest roads. Michael went up to the Rogers Trough Trailhead, dropped his riders, came down the precarious three miles, met Andy’s car at the Woodbury trailhead, picked up Andy and his riders and went back up to Rogers.

We started hiking at 9:00 AM. It was relatively cool at this point, and although there were other cars at the trailhead, we saw only two other groups on the first part of the trail. It was immediately obvious that conditions had changed since I did the hike in March. The creek was bone dry. The three initial water crossings on the Reavis Trail were just rocks. The vegetation and views were still nice.

We turned off onto the Rogers Trail at the 1.5 mile mark and noticed that the trail wasn’t as well groomed as it normally would be—lots of catclaw acacia stretching onto the trail. The hike to the ruins was pleasant, but less pretty without the water in the creek. More boulder hopping. More monotonous. Very quiet though.

A sign marks the Rogers Canyon Cliff Dwelling. [photo by Li]
Rock wall at the entrance. [photo by Terry]
Imagine who lived here. [photo by Tom]
Let’s see what’s inside. [photo by Li]

We got to the area opposite the ruins and a few hikers scrambled across the creekbed and up to investigate. A few of us stayed behind to rest and snack. We soon realized that there were a few bees and wasps who were interested in us and our snacks, and a few stings occurred. The cliff explorers also came back more quickly than expected, due to the discovery of a hive of bees in one of the cliff rooms. A few more stings had occurred. Luckily, no one was allergic.

Hmmm, seems like there was more water here last time. [photo by Li]
Time to move on. [photo by Tom]

We continued down the creek to Angel’s Basin. My beautiful lush green meadow was now a tinderbox of dry grass with very little shade or comfortable seating. We crossed it and went down into the wash to stop for a break.

Angel’s Basin is sure dry. [photo by Li]
Let’s enjoy the view while we’re here. [photo by Li]
Four Peaks are off to the northeast. [photo by Tom]

Somewhat refreshed, but noticing the temperatures climbing to the low 80s, we began our climb to Tortilla Flat on the continuation of the Rogers Trail. Almost immediately we noted that the trail was flanked by aggressive catclaw on either side. We slogged on slowly, with those of us in shorts or short sleeves yelping regularly as we got snagged in stickers. Once our legs were torn up and bleeding, even the non noxious plants extending into the trail hurt when they rubbed against our skin.

Onward and upward. [photo by Tom]
Did you say we have a mile to go? [photo by Tom]
This is rugged country. [photo by Tom]

The trail itself was moderate with a slow ascent and nice vistas. However, by the time we made it up to the pass, most of us were frustrated by our bleeding limbs and snagged clothing, combined with the sun, the heat, and the climb. We took a break and I wrapped my legs in ace bandages, which helped. The views of four peaks and all the hills of the Superstitions and beyond really were breathtaking.

We continued onwards, barely even noticing the transition to the JF Trail (as the sign was on the ground) and did our 1000 ft descent on loose rock, with not only catclaw, but now prickly pear, agave, ocotillo, cholla, and other forms of bushes flanking or covering the trail in parts. We crossed the wash and started our last little ascent. At this point, with about a mile left in the hike, we had been out for seven hours and a few hikers were out of water. Luckily we had a little to share. Energy was waning and we were eager to reach the end of the hike.

Saguaros mark the way. [photo by Tom]
It’s getting late in the afternoon. [photo by Tom]

Luckily, the windmill of the JF Ranch was soon in view and we began to encounter cows, some whom were questioning our right of way. Using my downloaded track to confirm that the correct direction at the junction of the Woodbury and JF trails past the windmill and water tanks, was right (staying on the JF, the Woodbury trail goes up to the forest road on the way to Rogers Trough), we followed a Jeep road and reached the waiting car by 5:15 PM.

Tired enough? [photo by Terry]
Yes, we can all fit in here. [photo by Terry]
We finished the hike before sundown. [photo by Terry]

We were quite glad to be at the car, but the adventure wasn’t over yet, as we still had to retrieve the second car from the other trailhead, five treacherous miles away. As the moon was visible and we were cut and tired (but not thirsty, Michael had cool water and a few other beverages waiting in a cooler), we decided to expedite things by piling all eight of us into the car for the two mile ride to the main road. This required three hikers to pretzel themselves into the back. We were let out on the road to wait for the drivers to go up to the trailhead, grab the second car and come back down to get us. We passed the time pulling stickers out of socks and shoes and legs, watching the moon and stars come out and observing bats flying around.

Finally, like knights in shining armor, the two vehicles arrived and we had an uneventful drive back in the dark to the US 60 and then back to Mesa. It was 7:30 PM when we exited the dirt road to blacktop.

In conclusion, this was an exciting hike with great people, expansive vistas, and a taste of what it is like to be in the middle of nowhere in the Superstitions.

In retrospect, I would only do this again in the winter or spring, when there is water in the creek, because it is so much more beautiful then. I would emphasize the need to take the full three liters of water and then some on any rugged trail, especially when the creek is dry. I would also recommend heavy-duty long sleeves, pants and gloves for the JF Trail and the second part of the Rogers Trail, because I don’t think it is ever groomed any better than now.

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updated October 5, 2017