My original plan for this week was to start hiking the Grand Enchantment Trail in the Superstitions from Roger’s Trough to First Water Trailhead, the western terminus of the GET. Again, this strange winter weather we’re having hampered my plans. A storm had dumped yet another bunch of rain on an already saturated landscape, and as a result, there were several creek crossings that were either washed out or impassable. I decided to be flexible and re-arranged my plans to spend three days going from the Tortilla Trailhead to First Water instead, about 25 miles. It left an 11-mile stretch that I will have to come back and complete at another time. I now have an excuse to come back…
My shuttle person for this trip was Shawn Redfield, a recent retiree who will be starting a thru-hike of the Arizona Trail in the coming weeks. We had a nice time talking about his planning for his hike- I am so excited for him to experience the AZT in it’s entirety. After Shawn dropped me off, I had to walk an access road into the Superstition Wilderness for 3 miles, then another mile to reach the Grand Enchantment Trail. Even the access road was pretty, and I enjoyed taking in an area which I’d never seen before. I soon came across three dayhikers, one who was carrying the sole of his shoe in his hand. These were the only people I saw all day. The recent rains meant that every wash and tiny rivulet was running, and the hillsides shone with small cascades of water.
I reached the Tortilla Ranch area, and entered the Superstition Wilderness on the unsigned JF Trail. It was about a mile to reach the Grand Enchantment Trail route, which uses the Hoolie Bacon Trail in this area. Both the JF and Hoolie Bacon trails were named after ranchers in the area. I have only hiked in the eastern Superstitons, which are higher elevation and have a different feel than the western part. But both are interminably rocky.
Once I was on the Hoolie Bacon Trail, I had to cross Tortilla Creek several times, but was able to make it across with some creative rock-hopping. Tortilla Creek was more than knee-deep in places, so I was happy that I could make it across without getting in. Most of the crossings were not so bad.
After I crossed Tortilla Creek for the last time, I loaded up with 3 liters of water, because I was not sure of the availability of water on the Hoolie Bacon Trail. I shouldn’t have worried, parts of the trail had water cascading down the middle of the trail, some with pools large enough to filter water from. As a trailbuilder, I must say that the Hoolie Bacon Tr. could use some water control structures. Can I get a nick or a waterbar? I saw on my Grand Enchantment Trail map that there was a “viewful saddle” coming up at Horse Ridge. I prefer ridgetop camps to canyon camps, so I was looking forward to seeing what was in store.
Perfect! Views north to the 4 Peaks, incredible views south and west, plus a small wall constructed as a windbreak for my sleeping area. Home for the night. I enjoyed my dinner while watching the sun set, then read some of my book about Ernest Shackelton’s Antarctic adventures before falling asleep. After reading Shackelton, it’s kind of hard to complain that you’re cold at night. I could hear the water rushing down in the valley below as bats chirped overhead.
During the night, I had a vivid dream that there was a silver and blue robotic praying mantis that attached itself to my eye and I had to rip it off with both hands. When I awoke the next morning, my right eyelid was all swollen and tender and I wondered what on earth it was that bit me in the middle of the night. I still think that sleeping under the stars is worth waking up with a strange bite every now and then. I decided to lounge around in camp for a while, reading, writing in my journal, and doing some yoga.
At about 10:30 am, I finally got moving and headed south on the Hoolie Bacon Trail toward the Red Tanks junction. Along the way, there were some very interesting rock formations in the distance.
I took a break at the Red Tanks Jct. and saw one backpacker, he looked pretty surprised to see a solo female backpacker. He asked if I was alone, and I answered: “Are you?” We exchanged a few words, and then I was on my way toward the Upper La Barge Box. What a beautiful area!! The canyon had large, dramatic walls with a beautiful stream rushing through it and I saw my first wildflowers of the year.
I took my time hiking through the La Barge Box, taking a bunch of pictures and enjoying the scenery. There was a little campsite about halfway in, it would be a beautiful place to camp, but I wanted to get some more miles in so that I didn’t have such a long day tomorrow. Once out of the Upper La Barge Box, the Red Tanks Trail began crossing and recrossing the stream many times. I decided to hike the last couple miles to La Barge Spring in my camp shoes. It was interesting how I had to walk differently without my boots for support- it slowed me down, but was not at all uncomfortable as long as I paid attention to where I was placing my feet. The weather was perfect for a refreshing splash across the creek time and time again.
Soon, I reached La Barge Spring, and I walked past one person’s campsite to see if there were any other good campsites nearby. It turned out the only good site in the area was not too far away from the occupied campsite, so I decided to try and find the person that was camping there before making a decision. I met Randy from Prescott, he was surprised to see anyone out there during the week, especially a woman. I talked to him for a bit and decided to make my camp at the other campsite. Randy seemed friendly and after eating dinner, I went back over to his camp and we talked for a while. He was very knowledgeable about the history of the area I was hiking through and told me all sorts of interesting stories.
I had to put my tent fly up because of condensation from the creek, and I read a little before falling asleep. I was awoken from a dead sleep by the sound of a helicopter flying right overhead and shining a light onto my tent. It freaked me out! By the time I realized what was happening, it was gone. I had seen a helicopter looking for someone all day, and I was surprised that they hadn’t been found yet.
The next morning, everything sparkled with dew, and I soon reached the Dutchman Trail, which I would take until I reached my car at First Water Trailhead.
I hiked in my camp shoes again, because the trail kept crossing La Barge Creek. Soon I reached Charlebois Spring (pronounced “Charlie Boy” by the locals), a very deep pool that has water even in the driest of times. I saw a lot of pottery sherds and stone tool-making fragments in the area, so I decided to go hunting around for petroglyphs. I looked and looked, and was just about to give up and leave, when I saw Dale, the only person I would see all day. He had just come from seeing petroglyphs in the area and told me where to find them.
I took a video of the petroglyphs, and I was playing around on YouTube to put some music with it. It had a “choose random song” option and this is what it picked. I don’t know why, but this really cracked me up, so I left it.
After all the fun near Charlebois Spring, I continued on the Dutchman Trail, and got my very first close-up view of the Weaver’s Needle. WOW!! The Needle is a giant spire that is 4553 ft elevation at it’s highest point. I have seen it from as far as Oracle and Payson but never been anywhere near it. What I really would like to do is climb it- I have read up on it and the hardest pitch is rated a 5.4. I have climbed a 5.6 on Baboquivari Peak, so I think it is within my abilities.
I had great views of the Needle the whole way back to the trailhead. As I neared First Water Trailhead and the western terminus of the Grand Enchantment Trail, I kept waiting to run into other hikers, because this is a very popular trailhead right outside of Phoenix. Amazingly, I saw no one, not even in the parking lot. I kept waiting for the trail to get less rocky as I got closer to First Water, but the Supes stayed rocky till the end. My feet felt like they had been beaten with hammers from the last three rocky days of hiking. It was all worth it, though. I am so impressed by the route the Grand Enchantment Trail takes through the Superstitions. What a rocky, rugged, wonderful place.
It’s baby bunny time at the Miller’s Wildlife Rehabilitation- we have about 10 of these tiny guys right now and more to come as spring is almost here.
You can see the full set of pictures from this trip here:
|Grand Enchantment Trail Segment #1 3-2-10|