My readers that live in Arizona are no doubt aware of the fact that the state is planning to close most of the state parks due to lack of funding. Without getting into too long of a rant, I think it is unconscionable that this is the way that the state plans on solving its budget shortfalls. One of Arizona’s main industries is tourism, and closing most of the state parks is a horrible, short-sighted way to save money. Besides, we still have to clarify what “closing a state park” means. Does it just give free reign to whomever can jump the fence or arrive via an alternate route? What about the state parks that have precious archaeological resources, like Homolovi Ruins? Do we just close these parks and hope that everyone is good stewards of the land and doesn’t take advantage of the closed status to go looting? The impending closings made it imperative that I check out two state parks before they closed: Picacho Peak SP and Lost Dutchman, both slated to close in June.
In Tucson, if the springtime is good for wildflowers, a trip up Picacho Peak is a must-do. The name is actually redundant, “picacho” means peak in Spanish, so it translates to “Peak Peak”. I hiked the steeper and more direct Hunter Trail last Monday, which takes off a short distance from the fee station. The trail climbs to the top of the peak in a short but steep 2 miles. I started early to beat the crowds, and I’m glad I did, because on the way down the trail was getting pretty crowded, even on a weekday. There were big patches of yellow poppies in bloom as I made my way up to the saddle.
After the saddle, the fun begins- there are cables bolted to the mountain so that there is something to hold on to while descending steeply from the saddle- my pictures barely show the steepness. This is a good point to put away the hiking poles and put on some gloves to grip the cables.
Several parts of the trail have the cables- since I had an early start I encountered no one going up or down at the same time, but at the narrowest part of the trail I met Bill Cole, from Phoenix, out to enjoy the park before its scheduled closing. I was happy that I was doing this hike on a weekday, because there is no opportunity for two-way travel on some of the parts of the trail- I would have had to spend a bunch of time waiting. I was on a bit of a time crunch this morning because I had to get back to ready the house for visitors that were coming that night. I haven’t hiked this trail in several years and I was surprised to see how much precarious (albeit protected) climbing there was to get to the summit.
The trickiest part went straight up the rock with great foot and hand holds. I unfortunately got my hiking poles (which were stowed in my pack) caught up in the cables and had to gingerly extricate myself before continuing on. When I arrived at the summit there was a couple just heading back down, so I had the summit to myself. There were wonderful views in every direction, and a Harris’ Antelope Squirrel that was searching for any dropped snacks.
As I was coming down from the peak, I decided to go check out the peak to the north for some views of Picacho:
I was really glad that I got an early start, because on my way down, I met many hikers headed for the peak, and even more people at the trailhead poppy-peeping. I talked to several groups that said that they were out there to catch the views before they closed the park.
Later in the week, I had to go to Phoenix to do two Arizona Trail Talks at both of the REI locations, so I took the opportunity to visit another park that is scheduled to close in June, Lost Dutchman State Park. I have been hearing about this hike called the Flatiron for a while now, so I decided to finally do this hike while I was in Phoenix for my talks. It turned out to be a perfect hike! I am somewhat disenchanted with dayhiking lately. For a dayhike to wow me, it’s got to be a good “bang for the buck” kind of hike. I have also recently gotten very into scrambling, which is basically hiking so rugged you have to use your hands to pull yourself up in places. The Flatiron definitely fit the bill! I hit the trail by 7:15. The trail to the Flatiron gets progressively more difficult as you leave the trailhead- from wide, flat trail to a well-maintained steeper portion and progressing to a scramble topped with a 10-foot wall to climb right as you reach the saddle.
As I reached the more difficult parts of the trail, I met a group of hikers that lived in nearby Mountainbrook Village. Several of the hikers had been to the Flatiron before, so I was able to follow them and use the path of least resistance, marked with spray-painted blue or white dots on the rock.
The 10-foot wall that I had heard so much about wasn’t too bad, just required a little thought into the hand and foot placement, and before I knew it, I had reached the saddle. Thankfully, my early start meant that the bulk of the climb was done in the shade, this would be one toasty hike at the wrong time of the day. At the saddle you can go right to the Flatiron or left toward Peak 5024. The group I tagged along with headed over to nearby Peak 5024, and I was glad I followed them. There were some parts that required me to take my pack off and shimmy underneath a passage in the boulders and hoodoos. This is one of my favorite parts of the Superstitions that I have been to thus far.
The summit was spectacular! Views all the way south to the snow-covered Catalinas near my home in Tucson, a view of Weaver’s Needle and the interior of the Superstitions, and the Four Peaks as well.
The peak was so wonderful that by the time I headed down to the Flatiron, it was a little anticlimactic. I would urge those planning to hike the Flatiron to check out the nearby peak as well, it is certainly worth it! I had to get back to town to get ready for my speaking engagement at REI, so after spending some time on the Flatiron, it was time to head back to the car. On the way down, there were many more crowds, and I was glad that I had started early. The downhill scramble was much easier than uphill, and I made great time getting down to the trail in Siphon Draw. It is called the Siphon Draw because it drains a large portion of the Western Superstitions, and the water has carved out a beautiful natural bowl in the rock.
Once past the Siphon Draw bowl, its back to good old trail again, and I would have flown down this area if I hadn’t stopped so many times to take pictures of the greenery and wildflowers. The brittlebush hadn’t bloomed yet, but there were great swaths of purple lupine, scorpionweed, poppies, blue dicks, and chicory all the way to the parking lot.
Hopefully, the state will figure out an alternative to closing the state parks. My two Arizona Trail talks in Phoenix went very well, and I was able to raise almost $200 for the Wildlife Rehabilitation Fundraiser. For today’s Wildlife Rehab picture, here’s a tiny Harris’ Antelope Squirrel.