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Bluff Spring Loop Trail
The Superstitions,
   Land of Myths and Legends
January 26, 2002
by Chuck Parsons
  Trail Map 
11 anxious hikers gather
at the Peralta Trailhead.

At 8:25 AM on a cool and breezy Saturday morning, with the temperature still hovering around the 55 degree mark and a crystal clear, ice-blue sky overhead with just a hint of clouds on the far horizon, eleven Motorola Hiking Club members and guests gathered near the Peralta Trailhead sign for a group picture, with the rugged and mysterious Superstition Mountains in the background.

Mike Wargel, Susan Merchant, Sue Meinke, April Hull, Tim Reiling, John Hilty, George Mansor, Tom Caretto, Joyce Parrish, Geri Dull, and hike leader Chuck Parsons posed patiently for a few quick pictures, while anxiously waiting to hike.

The 9.1-mile Bluff Spring Loop combines a portion of the Dutchman’s Trail #104 with the Bluff Spring Trail #235.

It carries the hiker over some of the most spectacular and stunning terrain offered in the Superstition Mountains. From the trailhead, at 2,420 feet, we start climbing almost immediately, contouring around several small hills, as we make our way east out across Barkley Basin. Pedro de Castenada, an early Spanish explorer of the Superstitions and one of many looking for the fabled Seven Cities of Cibola, wrote in his journal dated 1545: “Granted that we did not find the riches of which we had been told; we did find the next best thing – a place of great beauty in which to search for them.”

We had not gone more than half a mile, when one of our new hikers, Geri Dull, had a close encounter of the unpleasant kind with a Teddy Bear Cholla at trail’s edge. Living up to its infamous reputation as a “jumping Cholla”, a segment easily attached itself to her left arm, as she accidentally brushed against it. Joyce came to the rescue and helped brush it off with the edge of a credit card, scraping away the nasty spines that imbed themselves in the flesh of the unwary. I believe all hikers, at one time or another, have a few horror stories to tell about this cactus. I have certainly had at least a couple of encounters myself.

The Dutchman’s Trail (previously known as the Miners Trail due to its historical origins) starts to gradually level off, after gaining roughly 150 feet of elevation, as we wind our way closer to the Coffee Flat junction. Reaching the junction at last, we are greeted with great views of both Cathedral Rock to the east and Miners Canyon to the north. This will be the start of a more aggressive ascent, as the trail soon transitions into a short series of switchbacks, snaking its way up the eastern edge of Miners Canyon, as we slowly make our way up to Miners Summit, looming over us in the distance at 3,260 feet. We would have to climb a total of 840 feet before reaching this lofty goal.

The temperature is warming up fast in the full sun (not much shade to be found anywhere on this trail), and we all soon start shedding a layer or two, as we continue our climb to the summit. A welcome breeze helps cool us off, as Mike and I stop briefly to admire and photograph Miners Needle, a classic landmark just west of Miners Canyon. High up off the trail in the upper right hand corner of the needle there is a small window, the eye of the needle so to speak, framing the bright blue Arizona sky behind it.

Miners Needle dead ahead!

This window is easy to miss if you don’t know exactly where to look, and many no doubt go right on by without ever knowing about its existence. Whenever hiking, it pays to really look around once in awhile and search out these “hidden” little treasures. All we have to do is open our eyes to the natural beauty that surrounds us.

John Hilty and company announce their arrival at the summit over the Motorola TalkAbouts, and by 10:30 the rest of us bringing up the rear finally top out at Miners Summit and take a short rest and water break before proceeding onward. This is also a great photo op, since we are now at the highest point on the trail, at 3,260 feet, and take in sweeping views of grand vistas all around us, including Whiskey Spring Canyon to the east, Barks Canyon to the west, Bluff Spring Canyon to the north, and of course Miners Needle just to our south. Although this winter has been drier than normal, and these mountains have seen precious little rainfall in recent months, this is still one of the most beautiful and lush areas in all of the Sonoran Desert.

From here the trail is a steady and gradual descent down the northern slope of Miners Summit, as it winds its way to the northwest toward Bluff Spring Canyon and the junction with Bluff Spring Trail. We are making good time now and marvel at how few other hikers we are seeing on such a beautiful day. Outside of the Fremont Saddle Trail and a few others, many of the trails in the Superstitions see very little traffic. It is not all that uncommon to hike for hours on some of these trails without seeing another soul – even on the busiest weekends. “Two roads diverge in a wood, and I – I took the one less traveled by, and that has made all the difference.” Robert Frost.

Shortly before 11:00 AM we hear from John once again that they have reached the junction and will wait for us to arrive for lunch. We are not too far away now and before long start to make our way through an almost surreal cactus forest – a vast forest of 5 to 8 foot high Chain Fruit Chollas, their namesake fruit hanging in large clusters from their arms. A strange sight indeed.

Cathedral Rock rises majestically
against a sapphire blue sky.

By 11:15 we regroup for lunch near the junction of the Dutchman’s and Bluff Spring trails.

Several in the group were veterans of last October’s Macchu Picchu trip and had some interesting stories to tell of that experience, including smelly porters with an aversion to soap and water, a porter strike, a porter developing a crush on one of the young women hikers, and eating roasted guinea pig (you got it – tastes like chicken).

When the discussion shifted over to Jello shots, I thought maybe we were talking about some new medical procedure that involved Jello injections for a quick energy boost or perhaps even a new type of collagen replacement to give women those big, pouty Julia Roberts lips. Then again, I was pretty naive a few years ago at a company Christmas party at some local watering hole, when I overheard two very attractive young women at the next table talking about sex on the beach. Straining to hear more of this potentially interesting conversation, I was soon surprised and a little disappointed to find out they were really discussing some kind of girly foo-foo drink. Dang! Guess I have been away from the bar scene a little too long.

Lunch over, we start back on the return portion of our loop hike, Bluff Spring Trail, which will take us due west for awhile before dropping south on its return to Peralta Trailhead. Not too far from the trail junction is an old horse trail to the top of Bluff Spring Mountain due north of us. This trail was discovered back in 1911 and was thought to be originally used by Mexican miners in the mid 1800s. This naturally fueled gold fever and prompted many prospectors to spend years, even decades, in this area searching for the legendary Lost Dutchman Mine. A lot of old mine tailings and long-abandoned pits and mine shafts were found scattered around the slopes of Bluff Spring Mountain, but no gold was ever found in the area. If any lucky prospector did actually discover any real gold here, he more than likely took the secret to his grave.

Now hiking through Bluff Spring Canyon and criss-crossing several times through a wash, we are soon greeted with a terrific view of the upper reaches of Weavers Needle, as it rises on the western horizon behind Bluff Spring Canyon Pass. The needle would play hide and seek with us for awhile, before finally revealing its full southeastern exposure to us, as it rose majestically into the bright blue Arizona sky at 4,535 feet. This begged another photo stop, as Mike Wargel and I snapped away with our trusty Nikons.

After a while our trail switches directions and carries us southward into Barks Canyon.

It is somewhere along here where Mike and I came across a couple of veteran Superstition hikers taking a rest break and stopped to talk with them for a while. Both were schoolteachers who have been hiking these mountains for many years and had many interesting stories to tell.

One of numerous interesting
rock formations along the trail.

The elder of the two, now retired and in his 60s, has been trekking these trails since 1960, while the younger one, in his late 40s, has been hiking the area since he was a kid. They told stories of colorful fur trappers and grizzled old prospectors they had run across over the years, of having bullets whiz overhead if they found themselves encroaching someone’s territory, of days long gone by when the idea of hiking in the Superstitions was thought to be utter nonsense to most.

The lower half of Bluff Spring Trail gets a bit tricky in places, especially where it begins its descent into the wash and seems to disappear at times. We had already received a warning from our lead group to ignore one of several phantom trails, this one departing the wash to our right, and continue straight ahead. Despite this, toward the end of the trail on our final approach to Peralta Trailhead, some of us managed to get off on yet another phantom trail, while we were almost in view of the parking lot. Luckily, the real trail was in plain view roughly a hundred feet below us, and we managed to scramble carefully down a loose, rocky slope before linking back up with it. Shortly, we were all back at the parking lot, resting, cleaning up, and bidding goodbye to one another, one more memorable hiking experience in the Superstition Mountains of Arizona behind us and stored away in the memory vaults of our minds. The time is 1:45 PM.

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updated September 9, 2010