Originally, we had planned to hike the
Verde River Trail #11 that weekend, since we were unable to do so two weeks
earlier after having blown two tires on the road to the trailhead (see "Di-Verde-ed").
So, we decided to chance it again in hopes that we would finally be able to
conquer that trail.
But it just wasn't meant to be. Earlier that week, while watching the weather
report on the morning news, we heard that there was rain in the forecast for
Friday, meaning that the road to Sheep Bridge would be wet and muddy. Instead
of taking the chance of getting stuck in the mud with more flat and/or
shredded tires, we chose a back-up plan. John consulted a book about the
Superstitions and found in it the Marsh Valley Loop Trail: a series of four
trails leaving from the First Water Trailhead, just north of Apache Junction
along SR 88.
As the week wore on, the weather reports upgraded the chances of rain on
Friday from a slight chance to a seventy-percent chance, meaning that we were
definitely not going to do the Verde River Trail and that Plan B was now in
effect. (Of course, Murphy's Law was also in effect as it rained very lightly
Friday evening. The road to Sheep Bridge was probably as dry as a bone
So, Saturday morning, March 27, we awoke at 5:00 a.m. and loaded our gear into
the van; and by six o'clock we were on the freeway, heading towards Apache
Getting to the First Water Trailhead is very easy -- and surprisingly, most of
it is on pavement! We took US 60 to Idaho Road (in Apache Junction) and
followed Idaho Road until we reached the junction with SR 88 -- also known as
the Apache Trail. We took SR 88 for several miles; just past the Lost Dutchman
State Park is the turn-off for the trailhead -- an all-weather road leading to
a US Forest Service Fee Area. There is a $4.00 per day fee to park there for trail usage, and
fees are paid at a self-pay station located at the trailhead.
Though it was still early -- 7:00 a.m. -- there were already a lot of cars
parked at the trailhead, and John and I expected the trail to be very crowded
with day hikers and maybe a handful of backpackers. We, of course, like to
have our privacy when we are camping -- and we also prefer to hike less
populated areas -- so we hoped that we would still have a pleasant hike
despite the crowds.
We began hiking the first of our four trails at 7:15 a.m., beginning with the
Dutchman Trail #104. Four-tenths of a mile later, we picked up the Second
Water Trail #236, which continues north towards the Boulder Canyon Trail #103.
This portion of the loop trail is very scenic. It winds through Garden Valley,
a lush desert valley with tall saguaros and giant jumping chollas. As we
traversed the valley, we found numerous lizards and a rabbit, which hopped
across our path seeking refuge under a prickly plant.
Towards the end of the Second Water Trail, we came upon a tiny spring with
very little water, and we were convinced that we were lost because the book
indicated that we would not find this spring unless we were on the spur trail.
We stopped a moment to look around, and I found that the trail continued on
the other side of the spring. Instead of backtracking, we continued on that
trail in hopes that we would eventually rejoin the Second Water Trail...only
to find, once we reached the next trail junction, that we had never left the
trail in the first place!
We stopped to rest at the trail junction before we continued on the Boulder
Canyon Trail. It was there that we met up with a large group of backpackers,
who looked to be teenagers (probably on spring break). They had just hiked
from Charlebois Spring, which is along the Dutchman Trail. They told us that
there was water there and that it was very pretty. Naturally, that peaked
John's curiosity, so he decided to alter our trip a bit.
The Boulder Canyon portion of the trail proved to be much more difficult
because of the numerous creek crossings. Though Boulder Creek was bone dry, we
still had to do much boulder hopping in order to get to the other side of the
creek. Then, we found ourselves walking in sand, which is hard on the calf
muscles. It was a pretty riparian area, though, with many secluded camping
spots which would have been ideal had there been water in the creek.
We stopped for lunch along the Boulder Canyon Trail, and John consulted the
map and book to see if it would be worth it to go to Charlebois Spring to
camp. It would only add a couple of miles to the total trip, so we decided to
By noon, we reached the junction with the Calvary Trail #239 -- the last of
the four trails we would take. This trail was the most difficult as it climbed
steeply up Red Hills. Fortunately, it was a very short climb, and it leveled
out at the top before going downhill again.
Around one o'clock, we finally reached the junction with the Dutchman Trail
#104, meaning that we had hiked 8.2 miles in just under five hours -- and we
were almost at camp! We hiked an additional half-mile before we found a nice
campsite just off of the trail. It was partially secluded and covered with
trees and scrub oak. Just below our campsite was Boulder Creek, in which there
were a few pools of water that we could filter to drink. However, for the most
part, the creek was bone dry.
We dropped our packs off at the campsite then went to look for Charlebois
Spring. Another half-mile up the creek, we found more pools of water. We
thought one of them was the spring, and we filtered water from it before
returning to camp to set up our tent. On our way back to our campsite, we
hiked along the creek bottom, which required scrambling over boulders and
bushwhacking through reeds and other riparian foliage. We also found more of
our favorite plants: the PRICKER-BURRS! (Fortunately, they were sparse enough
that we could walk around them without getting them stuck to our socks.)
Once we had our campsite set up, John suggested that we go exploring, since it
was still early in the day. Armed with drinking water, trail mix, and the
Superstitions book, John and I wandered down the Dutchman Trail. We met up
with other backpackers, who were setting up camp near Charlebois Spring, where
we filtered some more drinking water. We handed them our camera and asked them
to take a picture of us because we have so few pictures of the two of us
together. Then, we hiked back to camp.
By the time we returned to camp, we were utterly exhausted, having hiked a
total of eleven miles that day. So we lay down in our backcountry tent, where
it was nice and cool, and we took a nap. We only slept for a half an hour, but
We spent the rest of the evening resting and admiring the cliffs of the canyon
and the beautiful rock formations on the surrounding mountains. The
Superstitions are full of these impressive rock formations: huge spires and
monoliths shooting towards the heavens, boulders balancing precariously upon
each other without falling over. It is one of my favorite things to see and
photograph there. Even more impressive is to see these rock formations during
first light or sunset, to see the various shades of reds and oranges mixed
with dark shadows. It is definitely worth the hike to be able to see such
And, of course, speaking of nature's beauty, John and I found yet another
opportunity to be naked in the woods. We added the Superstitions to the list
of wilderness areas in which we have had sex. (For those who are keeping
track, that would make three wilderness areas on the list.)
Though we still do not own Thermarests (lightweight sleeping pads), John and I
slept very comfortably that night. It wasn't cold at all during the night, and
John didn't struggle with his mummy bag. When we awoke the next morning at
5:45 a.m., just before dawn, we were refreshed and ready to complete our hike,
despite the fact we were still a bit sore from the previous day's hike.
We broke camp at 7:45 a.m. and began hiking along the Dutchman Trail, which
would bring us back to the First Water Trailhead, completing a 16.6 mile loop
(including the extra mile we hiked to and from our camp, but not including the
extra two miles we hiked while exploring the area). We only had 7.9 miles to
go. John figured that, based on our pace from the previous day, we would be
done by 2:00 p.m.
The highlight of the Dutchman Trail #104 was the view: we had some of the most
spectacular views of Weaver's Needle -- the most popular landmark of the
Superstition Mountains. We came within three miles of this monolith and, as a
result, managed to get some good photographs of it.
Our hike also took us through a dense forest of sugar sumac trees as we began
to follow another dry creek south. There were many secluded camping areas in
the area that would have been ideal places to be naked.
The downside, however, was the people: we passed many, many day hikers and
equestrians. We knew that the Dutchman Trail was popular, but we weren't
expecting to see THAT many people!
We completed the trail at 12:00 p.m., having hiked at an amazing pace of 1.75
miles an hour. After stopping at the trailhead to talk to the forest ranger,
who wanted to know if we had seen any snakes while we were on the trail, we
climbed into the van and drove home.
No, there were no injuries, nor did we blow any tires. We made it home
unscathed, early Sunday afternoon, and celebrated our successful backpacking
trip with a nice hot shower, a six-pack of Corona, and a bottle of Meridian