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
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
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
Living up to its infamous reputation as a “jumping Cholla”, a
segment easily attached itself to her left arm, as she accidentally brushed
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
After a while our trail switches directions and carries us southward into Barks
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
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
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
The time is 1:45 PM.