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First Water to Canyon Lake
Superstition Wilderness
March 2, 2002
by Lee Hamel
The weather was about 10 degrees cooler Saturday than the rest of the days in the week for the Apache Junction area, but it was still a great way to start the day.

Get up at 5:30 AM, drive to the meeting spot, exchange keys with members from the Sierra Club, and get the hike started. Talk about a tremendous turnout! Ted Tenny had four hikers with him for the Sierra Club.

Lee Hamel had 11 hikers for the Motorola Hiking Club: Chuck Parsons; Michael Humphrey; Laurie Jacobson; Mike Wargel; Chris Harman, Melanie Harman; Elaine Cobos; Staci Sontag; Doug Hawkins; Autumn Palik; Jeff Kellum. I can’t fail to mention the dogs, either—Spackles (Laurie Jacobson’s dog, a shepherd mix?), Pepper (Autumn Palik’s dog, a pointer breed), and Klondike (Doug Hawkins’s dog, a husky breed).

The group started out on the First Water trail at close to 8:30 AM. The wind was blowing a bit, and it was around 60 degrees, so we all felt a bit cold. As we neared the old ranch at the bottom of the descent from the trail, we came upon a group of people that had camped there overnight and were making breakfast. The dogs, who led the way for nearly the entire hike, were VERY interested in what they smelled. We said hello and kept on marching along. As we entered the second canyon, we noticed that Klondike was nowhere to be found. Pepper was in the lead and came when called, but Klondike was absent! Doug and Jeff headed back to find Klondike while the rest of us made ourselves comfortable. After about 15 minutes, Lee headed back to find the group. After coming back out of the second canyon, I spotted Klondike running towards me, and Doug and Jeff not too far behind. Long story short, Klondike was hanging out at the camp site, probably begging for some good ’ol camping breakfast.

The Klondike incident cost us about 30 minutes. Ted estimated that our two groups would meet at the junction of Boulder Canyon and Second Water Canyon for lunch and to exchange car keys.

Because Ted and his group had to drive about 20 minutes to get to Canyon Lake before they could start on their hike, we figured it would even out and we’d meet at the junction as expected (and we did).

No blood, no foul; even Steven; we achieved an even keel with a crooked boat. As we approached Garden Valley – AKA The Valley of Jumping Cholla – I expected to see some spring flowers, but it has been so dry this there that we didn’t spot any during the entire hike. The group’s spirits were high and we were enjoying each other’s company, as were Pepper and Klondike enjoying leading the hike. This is the point where they both started romping around in chollas and getting stuck by the needles in their paws. At one point Pepper had to have one yanked out of the pad on her right rear foot, and she let out a yelp that made my stomach drop (I love dogs and have heard my black Lab mix make that sound). Fortunately, the dogs were fine each time but never learned from the previous times they romped around in cholla bushes.

We eventually spotted Battleship Mountain and Geronimo Head in all their glory, and knew that lunch was near. Ted’s group had made it to the junction only minutes prior to us, and Ted was having fun taking pictures of us as we marched to the lunch spot.

After refueling and resting for about 30 minutes, our groups continued on for more beautiful scenery and towards our one big climb: Cardiac Ridge.

I told everyone at the bottom of Cardiac Ridge that “I WILL LEAVE NO PERSON BEHIND” and set off on a moderately fast pace. The dogs were starting to tire at this point, and I was getting lonely at the lead, so I slowed my pace in order to get some company. Chuck and Michael were bringing up the rear so they could snap off some pictures (I forgot to bring my digital camera AGAIN), but I kept in radio contact with them. Chris was at the front with me, and along came Mr. Prez Wargel with his second wind! We regrouped at the top of Cardiac Ridge, and spotted the cool water of Canyon Lake in the distance.

The last 45 minutes or so was mostly downhill, and Mike informed me that his treat was getting an ice cream cone at the Canyon Lake marina. That sounded great to me, since the weather heated up a bit, and the blood was pumping from the 9 mile hike.

The group got to the marina, had some treats, and then went home. It took us less than 5 hours to complete the hike.

My rewards for the hike? Great company, awesome scenery, invigorating exercise, a yummy black cherry dish of ice cream, and an invitation to dinner at Elaine and Ben’s house (the dinner was SOOOOOOOO good — Elaine and Staci make the best stir fry).

Supplemental Report
by Ted Tenny

You always notice something new on a hike, even if you’ve been on the route several times before:
•  barrel cactus and cholla growing right out of the black rocks in Second Water Canyon
•  a window rock on the cliffs high above Hackberry Spring
•  vivid colors of the buttes east of the junction of La Barge Canyon and Boulder Canyon.

Didn’t sleep well last night, but it was time to get up and lead the Canyon Lake to Hackberry Spring hike. The pre-dawn morning was decidedly cool. I prayed the hiker’s prayer, got ready, and drove on down to our meeting place on Power Road.

Four Sierra Club hikers showed up to go with me from Canyon Lake to Hackberry Spring, while twelve Motorola hikers showed up to go with Lee Hamel from Hackberry Spring to Canyon Lake. The Motorolans were kind of confused about our car exchange. But I got them straightened out: we drove three of their cars to Canyon Lake and started hiking from there, while the Motorolans drove three of our cars to First Water Trailhead and started hiking from there.

The air was clean and cool and invigorating! Starting from Canyon Lake, the biggest climb is at the beginning of our hike—670' to the top of hill 2351. Then it’s mostly downhill for the next three miles. I took them by the Indian Paint Mine, a mine dug into some very colorful rocks, then we bushwhacked across Boulder Canyon and joined the Motorolans for lunch and car key exchange at the junction of the Boulder Canyon and the Second Water Trails.

From the junction it’s a long climb west up to Garden Valley, a curiously flat area of the Superstition Wilderness containing an archaeological site of the Salado culture.

Two of my hikers were seasoned Sierra Club veterans, while the other two were beginners. The beginners were glad to have a hike leader who knew the way and could tell them about the legends and the natural and cultural history of the Superstitions.

We turned north on an unmarked, unnamed trail across Garden Valley and continued west along the base of Hackberry Mesa to a place where three unmarked trails come together. From there I led them down to Hackberry Spring and a gorgeous section of slickrock along First Water Creek leading to the site of First Water Ranch. From the ranch it’s an easy walk on an abandoned road back to the horse staging area of First Water Trailhead, where our cars were waiting.

It’s been so dry that there are no spring flowers. But the rocks are bright and colorful and the day couldn’t have been nicer. We finished the 9 mile hike in less than 5 hours.


Superstition Ridgeline and Hackberry Mesa, from the Boulder Canyon Trail. [photo by Ted]
Rugged rocks below Garden Valley. [photo by Ted]
First Water Creek is mostly dry today. [photo by Ted]
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updated January 11, 2020