Time and time again I am drawn to the Superstitions.
I am intrigued by the mystery of the area and the legend of the missing gold. You have to admit, the prospect of finding a hidden treasure makes any trip more exciting! Yet, I come here for another reason too. The Superstitions are beautiful.
Its multi-colored mountains, steep canyons, and unique hoodoos of volcanic rock thrust upward by forces long ago. The Superstition Mountains are a vast desert landscape of saguaro, palo verde, barrel cactus, and brittle bush. With spring upon us, the desert landscape was in color overload when I visited this past weekend.
The mighty saguaro was sprouting delicate flowers of white, while smaller hedgehog and prickly pear cactus had blooms of their own. Palo Verde trees, with their tiny yellow flowers, painted the landscape for miles. In short, it was a beautiful time to go out for a hike! I came this time to conquer the Superstitions’ most recognized peak- Flatiron. Named so because of its resemblance to the household utensil, its a 6 mile round trip to the summit. Not too bad, right?
The ranger at the entrance made a big spiel about how difficult the trail was, how I needed to make sure I was prepared, and how they were writing an article right now claiming that it was the toughest mile in the nation. As she rattled on and on I kept thinking… Come on! It can’t be as hard as Long’s Peak or Angel’s Landing or any other number of difficult trails I have done.
And it wasn’t, but I do have to admit it was pretty damn tough.
The way there began on a well maintained trail called Siphon Draw (Trail #53). The approach to the huge, jutting rock formations was tame. Meandering around cacti and across several small dry washes, the trail led to the foot of the formations. Here, the ascent began. Still a relatively nice trail, I followed it for another half mile or so to a huge chunk of slick rock worn smooth by repeated floods. This was the basin. And now the real fun began. After the basin, the trail is no longer maintained. A path is marked with blue and white dots spray painted on rocks, but they are pretty tough to spot. The hike becomes more of a scramble. I climbed boulders and scrambled up scree slopes, steadily getting higher and higher up. As I approached a group of three middle aged hikers and was about to pass them, the guy in the front of the pack suddenly jumped back. “OH SHIT,” he yelled, almost falling backwards. Ever curious, I bypassed the women and asked “What is it?”
“A fuckin’ Rattesnake!”
I know some people would’ve turned and ran as fast as they could back down the trail, but I was super excited. I immediately rounded the corner and took a look at the snake for myself. It was the first time I had come across a rattler. This guy was pretty big too. He was coiled up right in the middle of the path, letting us know no one was getting by without his approval. To further get his point across, he rattled at us. We stood in amazement. After a few minutes of ogling, he suddenly got camera shy and slithered off into a crevice in a nearby rock. I snapped another picture before quick stepping around the rock and continuing onward.
Somewhere along the way I completely lost the main route. I bushwhacked my way until I hit a sheer wall. It was only about 10 feet so I figured I would give it a go. The fact that I had just been rock climbing the other day may have boosted my confidence a bit as well. I hauled myself on top to find I had made it to the summit. The trail was 5 feet from the edge.
I rested for awhile, eating my meager sandwich and snacks. Then I ventured further, climbing a nearby hoodoo or two. At the base of a large set of hoodoos, a plaque commemorated the tragic plane crash that took place in 2011. Six people died in the private airplane crash, including 3 children. Sadly, it took place on Thanksgiving night.
The best view of the day was found at the top of North Peak. This is the highest point in the nearby area and provides insane 360° views of the Superstition Wilderness and Tonto National Forest. It was sick!
On the way back down from Flatiron, I was able to mostly stay on the path. I caught up to a pair of guys from California that I had bumped into several times already. We walked together for the last couple miles, talking about our various adventures. When we parted ways, I took one last look back at the peak I had just conquered. What a day!
How to get there:
Lost Dutchman State Park is out in Apache Junction. Take the 202 East of the city. Get off on exit 27, University Dr. Head East, (turn left) and continue to AZ-88 (N Apache Trail). Take this North to the entrance of Lost Dutchman State Park.
It costs $7/car to get into Lost Dutchman State Park. If you are close enough to walk or bike, the cost is reduced to $3/person.
You will be given a park brochure upon arrival that does contain a good trail map. Otherwise, you can print your own off on their website.